Out & About: Montshire invites parents to discuss climate change

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-19-2023 3:33 AM

NORWICH — Parents will have an opportunity to share their grief, worry and fears about climate change during two peer-supported groups the first Saturday in December.

Called climate cafes, the two sessions — the first at 10 a.m. and the second at 1 p.m., both at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich — will be led by peer facilitators. Child care and free museum admission will be provided to all participants. Registration is required at mms.formstack.com/forms/climatecafes and more information can be found at montshire.org/calendar/event-detail/climate-cafes.

“Parents may be worried about the future for their kids but not want to be the mom who brings it up in conversation with other moms because they don’t want to bring the mood down,” said Elizabeth Bechard, senior policy analyst at the New York City-based nonprofit organization Moms Clean Air Force, which has 27 chapters throughout the country, including in New Hampshire. Bechard will be facilitating the climate cafes along with Maria Finnegan, director of communications at the New Hampshire Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization.

While the groups are facilitated, Bechard said the parents who are part of them are the ones who drive the conversation.

“We’re here to share whatever is on our hearts and minds about this,” said Bechard, who moved to Vermont around a year ago. “There’s no pressure to take action. There’s no expectation with how we’re supposed to think or feel about it.”

While parents may have been thinking about how climate change can — and could — affect the lives of their children, it was driven to the forefront even more this summer, Bechard said. She cited the floods that displaced Vermonters this July and smoke from wildfires that hung over New England this summer. Parents also may feel overwhelmed after being inundated with headlines about heat wave records and melting glaciers, Bechard said. There’s an awareness that can settle in that the childhood experiences they had may no longer be possible for their children.

Parents may wonder “how to prepare (their children) for a world that will be very different form the one most of us grew up in,” she said. “Our hope and intention for these cafes is to offer a space for parents to come and have that sense of community, that sense of not being alone.”

While there has been a lot of attention paid to the effect climate change has on youth mental health, Bechard said, there is less recognition about parents’ mental health.

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“There’s more and more awareness of that, but what doesn’t get as much as attention is the fact that parents’ mental health and children’s mental health are closely related,” Bechard said. “It can be very validating and relieving to hear other people share emotions you may be feeling.”

Montshire Executive Director Lara Litchfield-Kimber said the climate cafes are part of the museum’s expanding mission to address climate change. Since starting her role at the Montshire around a year and a half ago, Litchfield-Kimber has met with community members about how the museum can be more active in the Upper Valley and what topics they’d like to see the museum address.

“Concerns over the change in climate were probably just as equally voiced as the mental health crisis, especially post-pandemic,” Litchfield-Kimber said.

She connected with members of the Climate and Health Initiative for Children in Kearsarge & Sunapee and New Hampshire Healthcare Workers for Climate Action to bring parent-focused climate cafes to the Montshire.

“It’s not quite group therapy, but it’s meant to be an empowering experience for participants,” Litchfield-Kimber said.

If parents want to continue to meet or are empowered to take action based on discussions they’ve had at the climate cafes, she said the Montshire could help support those efforts.

“The larger museum field … is realizing that a doom-and-gloom approach to talking about climate is not what’s going to help us to realize the resiliency we have as humans,” Litchfield-Kimber said. “Instead we need an empowering hopeful approach. A key aspect of that is the social connections we have.”

A follow-up webinar will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday. Dec. 4. Learn more and register at nhclimatehealth.org/our-events/parenting-in-a-changing-climatehow-parents-can-support-their-childrenthemselves-in-a-warming-world.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.