FARGO — Parenting has always been a journey fraught with a certain level of anxiety about the unknowns. Adding a global pandemic to the mix heightens all of that uncertainty and anxiety exponentially.

That's why Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota and North Dakota's Behavioral Health Division's Project Renew is offering a free virtual event aimed at giving parents a safe space to talk about their concerns with trained counselors who can offer professional advice and personal insight.

Demand for the Tuesday, Aug. 4, "Parenting in a Pandemic" event was so great that a second event on Aug. 13 from 6:30-8 p.m. was scheduled nearly immediately. Professional counselors with experience ranging from behavioral concerns to maternal mental health to children and family mental health will be available during the discussion.

The genesis of the event stemmed from facilitator and Project Renew team lead Terri Burns seeing many parents on social media sharing their concerns about the upcoming school year specifically but also about other issues of child care and mental health during these months of social distancing at home.

Burns, who has two small children, realized parents would benefit from the opportunity to have a conversation about their concerns with trained professionals.

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"When I approached leadership about the idea for the event, it received an enthusiastic reception," she said. When she asked her Project Renew team members to volunteer for the event, several people immediately raised their hands, including Sarah Wicks, a Jamestown-based master social worker and mother of three.

"As parents, we're always listening to others, but with this event, we have a space to talk about what's on our hearts and minds," Wicks said.

Burns said she hopes parents who participate in the discussion will find it easier to talk with professionals who don't have a stake in the important decisions being made regarding education and child care, but can instead offer tools and resources for managing the anxiety of parenting during this unprecedented time.

Both events are being capped at 15 participants to provide ample opportunity for sharing and discussion, but Burns said that more events may be added if the demand is great enough. Out of respect for participants' privacy, neither event will be recorded.

The discussions will be loosely structured, but Burns said she and the other professionals are hoping parent participants will guide the event naturally. Wicks said parents do not need to prepare anything ahead of time and can plan to simply share what's on their mind at the time.

"We want parents to leave feeling some sense of solidarity about parents experiencing similar things," she said. "We want to bring back the concept that we're all in this together."

The professional resources are different for the two events, but everyone has children and they are in varying stages of parenthood, from pregnancy through high school.

The events are free, but registration is required. Learn more about the Thursday, Aug. 13 event here. The deadline to register is Tuesday, Aug. 11.

Project Renew offers crisis support, education and referrals for free to anyone experiencing COVID-related stress or concerns. Learn more at www.projectrenew.nd.gov or by emailing renew@lssnd.org.