Monadnock Profiles: Bonnie Harris has advice for all the parents out there

  • Bonnie Harris of Peterborough founded the River Center many years ago and it has allowed her to grow as a parent educator and help many others along the way. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Bonnie Harris. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/17/2019 9:13:50 PM

Bonnie Harris admits she wouldn’t be where she is as a parent educator without her daughter.

While her first born son Casey was the definition of a perfect child, Molly was what she would describe as challenging.

“I thought I was the best parent in the world,” Harris said. “But here I was in this struggle with this little girl who was pushing my buttons every day.”

At the time, she was well into her second career as a parent educator, after leaving acting in the rearview mirror, but having never experienced this kind of stress as a parent, it gave her a new understanding into the mind of a child.

And it was a moment she witnessed between her husband Baxter and Molly that gave her a new perspective.

“I realized nothing saves you when your buttons have been pushed,” Harris said.

It gave her an idea, why not write a book? So she did, “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons: And What You Can Do About It.” She never realized the impact it would have both on her and other parents.

“There was absolutely nothing wrong with her,” Harris said. “It was about me changing and understanding where she was coming from. It’s the parent who needs to do the work.”

It also allowed her to see how parents are formed.

“It’s about the psychology of the parents and how our parents, how we were raised, drive most of the choices in our lives, especially how we parent our children,” she said.

While it seems like Harris was always destined to work with parents, it was tough when she decided to say goodbye to her life as an actress. But she knew she couldn’t have a family and pursue that lifestyle. At the time, she was attending a parenting group in the city with Casey and it got her thinking about her next step.

“I assumed I could live the life of Meryl Streep,” Harris said.

She points to this moment standing in her kitchen where this wave of emotion came over her.

“It was just something that told me I had to do something else,” she said.

She went back to school at Bank Street College of Education and immersed herself in everything child related.

“I just loved talking about parenting,” Harris said. “So I knew whatever it was, it would have something to do with counseling and have something to do with children. I’d say my son was my catalyst for getting into the field. My daughter was my true teacher.”

Over the years, Harris has counseled countless parents through both her private service and classes at the River Center. When she came to Peterborough from New York City in 1986, her children where 8 and 3, and she connected with someone at Monadnock Community Hospital about starting a parenting group.

It was in New Hampshire where she wrote her thesis (she has a master's degree in Early Childhood Education with a specialization in parent/child development), and designed and taught a workshop for effective parenting for ages 1 to 5. She’s held trainings all over the world in places like London, Canada, Australia and Singapore.

When the hospital underwent renovations, Harris branched out on her own to create a parenting guidance center, which has evolved and expanded into the River Center.

In the early years, Harris had to do everything and “I learned very quickly how not good I was at that.”

She didn’t have any money and feared it was going to fold. Then Margaret Nelson came on board as executive director and Harris could get back to what she does best.

Every situation fascinates Harris “because the people and the dynamics are always different.”

And while she is the teacher, Harris has learned things along the way, nothing more important than a child’s need to feel accepted and understood.

“Acceptance is so much more important than love because 99 percent of the parents on this earth love their children,” she said. “And to think that this work has made a child’s life better is terrific.”

In recent years, Harris has thought about scaling back, but it continues to get pushed to the back burner.

“I feel as long as people want to hear what I have to say, I’ll keep doing this,” she said.

Harris is the grandmother of three (all from Casey) and is now witnessing the unique perspective of her child being a parent. And at the same time feels for her son and his wife.

“Could you imagine having your mother or mother-in-law as a parenting expert,” Harris said. “I wouldn’t want to have me as a mother-in-law.”

While her acting career seems like a lifetime ago, Harris is a frequent visitor to the Peterborough Players, where she served as an apprentice in 1969 and both her and Baxter worked as equity actors. It was actually during one of her stints at the Players where they saw the potential for Peterborough as a home for their family.

“We just thought this would be a great place for the kids to grow up and two years later we were here,” she said.

At the time, it was a difficult decision to stop acting. Harris admits she was depressed over the decision for quite a while.

“I have no regrets about not being an actress,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight.”

Because now, she couldn’t imagine doing anything different.

“It’s actually amazing that I still love it so much. It’s really a passion,” Harris said.

When she’s not trying to educate parents of the world about how to interact with their children, Harris enjoys yoga and pilates, gardening and reading.

She’s thought many times about writing more books, but hasn’t really found the time or the topic that would make her dive into it.

She enjoys her relaxing activities and her classes at the River Center (which pick back up in the fall) and helping parents out there who need a little guidance. Because she’s seen just about every situation in her work – and thanks to Molly.


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