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Patsy Riley announces new statewide hot line for parents

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — There were times 25 years ago when First Lady Patsy wished there was someone she could talk to about the struggles of sending her two young children off to school and having them cling to her, not wanting to leave her side.

"I'd come home and cry for two hours," Riley said Tuesday after announcing a new statewide toll-free hot line to help parents. "You're afraid to admit to your friend or your mother that you don't know quite what to do. I would have loved a confidential line to just say, 'What am I going to do with this child that refuses to potty train?"'

The Parenting Assistance Line, or PAL, has been available since March, but Riley held off on the announcements until organizers were sure everything ran smoothly.

Confidential help

Organizers hope to give parents a chance to get help without feeling ashamed or embarrassed about their parenting skills and "talk out" their problems instead of "taking it out" on their children.

Wal-Mart, the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama and state agencies including the departments of mental health and human services are funding the toll-free (866) 962-3030 line, which will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday.

"I don't care what age, if you are having trouble with a newborn baby and you're not sleeping and you're not eating, then you're going to get just as cranky as that newborn baby," Riley told those gathered for a news conference outside a Wal-Mart Supercenter near downtown Montgomery.

Parents need care, too

"Yes it's your responsibility to look after the child, but who's looking after you? Now you have a confidential phone number," she said.

"They can't give you a shot and all of a sudden you've got sleep again, but they can give you some great advice."

Stephanie Wheat, a mother of four children ranging in age from 1-7, said she planned to call the number as soon as possible to get some tips on finding baby sitters.

"I can see myself calling it today," said Wheat, who manages a Wal-Mart bakery and has been alone with her children since her husband left for Iraq seven months ago. He'll be stationed there for eight more months with the Army, she said.

"It's kind of hard for me to raise all four of them by myself, getting them to school and coming to work," Wheat said, rubbing her fingers over her children's names tattooed on her arm. "They're good kids — it's just that I don't have much time to spend with them or time for myself, either. When I get off work, it's already dark."

There are currently two counselors working at the PAL phone center housed at the University of Alabama's Child Development Resources department, but a total of six have been hired, according to assistant department director Valerie Thorington.

Center director Sally Edwards said while the line is meant for parents whose children are ages 1-12, the phone operators are child development experts who can address a wide-range of issues involving up to early adulthood.

First time parent Emily Blejwas said she welcomed having the free service available to her and her husband while they raise their 16-month-old son.

"I think to have an outlet like that is really important because it's not something that's talked about and I think a lot of parents feel guilty about being frustrated at their kids," Blejwas said after a shopping trip with her son. "It's nice to have something else to do besides just walking away and take a deep breath. Having someone to talk to should be really helpful."

Angel Fore, a Montgomery mother of six, agreed.

"It would come in handy on mostly bill days," joked Fore, whose children are ages 1, 2, 3, 6, 8 and 9. She stocked up on the free magnets with the PAL number to give to her church and daycare. "It's fun and I love being a mother, but it's stressful. If your kids are stressed, you're going to be stressed."


On the Net:

Parenting Assistance Line:

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