FARMINGTON — Elisha Snow gives her kids choices and second chances. It helps them be part of the discussion on how they're going to grow up.
"I don't think any parent is perfect," she said Thursday, as two of her three young boys sat quietly on the couch. The youngest was napping. "I'm definitely learning as I go."
Ryan, Kyler and Myles Snow, ages 6, 4 and 1, are big fans of anything Star Wars — it was Batman before that. And while Snow acknowledges it might not be the best source of inspiration, she always encourages them to "be on the good side."
Their days are sprinkled with other positive influences as well.
"It's hard. They're young and I know that there are going to be bigger issues as they grow up," Snow said, adding that she often consults other mothers, magazines and websites to help her tackle parenting questions. And she's not the only one looking for help.
Parenting expert Abbie Vianes said there are specific ways that parents can help their children grow up.
"It is not really a throw of the dice. There are many, many things parents can do to up the odds of success," she said. "It is not easy. Parenting is one of the hardest things we do, but also one of the most rewarding in the long-term."
Vianes is vice president on a board directing the Uplift Utah Families initiative, a cause near and dear to Utah's first lady Jeanette Herbert. Herbert has made the organization her platform and is hosting a two-day conference on parenting in May.
"I know that when I was a young mother and had children of my own, I just felt like I needed additional information and resources," she said.
Herbert, a mother of six and grandmother of 13, will be meeting with a group of community, religious and ethnic leaders this weekend to discuss the upcoming conference. She also announced the launch of www.UpliftUtahFamilies.org.
"By parents giving children the skills to succeed, we can turn the tide of juvenile problems that we see as a growing threat to our society today," Herbert said. "Families really are the cornerstone of our society. If we are going to have a strong, viable state, we have got to have strong, viable families."
Herbert said research indicates parental influence is the No. 1 reason that children stay away from drugs, alcohol and anti-social behaviors.
"The prevention of these negative societal influences begins in the home," she said.
Parents, she believes, need to set boundaries and give clear consequences for actions of their children, and let them know "who's in charge." She said kids also need to know they are loved.
It's probably the most valuable thing Snow has learned in her six years of being a mother.
"I want them to know that no matter where they go in life, no matter what they're doing, as they start school or as they deal with friends and people who are maybe not nice to them, they can always come here and have a safe place to be, with parents that love them and siblings that love them," she said.
Vianes said Snow is on the right track.
The idea of the upcoming conference is to teach parents the skills they need to give their kids tools to combat whatever comes their way.
"Parents are fearful for their children more and more these days and they're overwhelmed with parenting," Vianes said. "They don't really know how influential they are."
In a recent study of Utah families, a majority of parents put themselves behind their child's peers, the media and teachers, in terms of importance. When children answered the same question, parents came first, before all other influences in their lives, Vianes said.
"We want to make (parenting) more joyful and less worrisome," she said.
The organization is making huge efforts to invite parents from all walks of life and from every community, to attend the conference, at the Salt Palace on May 4-5.
Dozens of experts are preparing to teach parenting courses, each centered on the basics of rearing children. There will be discussions on trends, how to have fun with kids, where to find additional resources, and more, as parents learn the importance of recognizing where their children fit on the developmental scale and how best to respond to their growth.
And while parenting techniques can be tricky to navigate, Vianes suggests three areas of importance: bonding, boundaries and monitoring, adding that parents aren't keeping an eye on their kids as much as they used to.
"We all have room to grow," she said.
And parents can learn from each other, as well as from their children.
"The biggest thing I've learned is to love them unconditionally," Snow said. "There are going to be mistakes, there will be things that come up. As long as they know we love them, they have that security to make it through whatever."