Being a mother of five — who somehow manages to keep her sanity — Bridgehampton resident Anastasia Gavalas said she is often asked, "How do you do it?"
Gavalas, a family life teacher and educational consultant, said she thoughtfully answers that question in her new book, "Wing It: 6 Simple Steps to Succeed as a Modern Day Parent." She spent two years crafting and revising the book, she said in an interview Thursday, explaining that it is separated into two parts: how to give your children roots, and how to give them wings.
“I was tired of hearing about different methods or trends that were the extreme, whether it's helicopter parents, or free range, or attachment parenting,” Gavalas said. Her parenting method is not one-size-fits all, and it lets parents use their common sense, she said. “You have to personalize parenting for yourself, and you have to learn to shut out the fear-based ideas that society shouts out at you — that the media shouts out at you.”
Gavalas said she encounters those societal fears in her clients, who are afraid to let their children play outside alone, or fear in pre-kindergarten that their children won't get into a good college. Parents needs to understand who their children are, and what will make them, personally, happy and successful, she said. “Most decisions made by parents are based out of fear, rather than looking at the actual situation at hand.”
Gavalas' children range in age from 6 to 14, attending all three schools in the Southampton School District, and she said they are each very different, with different likes and preferences. "I recognize that I have to parent differently, but at the same time I was creating the same foundation for them.”
She said that first part of her book is about choosing the right foundation for your child. "We always say, 'it takes a village,' but you have to build your village, and it has to be a village that supports your goals."
That entails parents learning to communicate with their children, and asking a lot of questions. As Gavalas puts it: "engaging in courageous conversation."
“When you ask questions rather than command and choose for them like many parents do, you receive these profound ideas and the wisdom of children that can then lead to you having a better connection with them,” Gavalas said.
The second half, "Wing It," is an acronym for her six steps: Welcome children into the process, Intuit your success, Navigate their life-education, Get real simple, Inspire independence, and Teach and engage.
The idea is to give children their "wings," and launch them into independence.
One of the great things about her philosophy is that it works across races, religions and socio-economic barriers and for all parenting dynamics, she said, whether it be for working parents, stay-at-home parents or single parents.
Gavalas said she has received very positive feedback from readers. “They like the simplicity of it, and they like that it’s doable," she said. "The books changes their perspective and allows them to really follow their gut — follow their intuition.”
Gavalas, who hold a master's degree and a degree in Student Development Administration, got her start as a teacher in Oceanside for a year, then at Hewlett-Woodmere in Five Towns for five years, before she had her first child.
While at Hewlett-Woodmere and living in Island Park, she was tasked with developing and teaching a multicultural education course for all sixth graders in the school district. Her course went over so well, she said, she was called into other districts in Nassau County. She then trained with REACH — Respecting Ethic and Cultural Heritage — based in Washington, to become an educator on understanding and appreciating diversity. She also became an anti-bullying and anti-bias trainer and teacher, and began leading parenting workshops and taking on private clients.
Gavalas moved to the East End with her husband, George Gavalas of Gavalas Builders in Bridgehampton, 10 years ago, and had their fourth and fifth kids.
She continues to work in educational consulting, but said what she finds it most fulfilling to work with parents who are struggling. “In a one-hour session, I change their lives,” she said.
"Wing It: 6 Simple Steps to Succeed as a Modern Day Parent" is available from Gavalas' website, wingitparenting.com, in softcover and eBook format, and it is coming to Amazon.com soon.
Gavalas has two upcoming events planned at Hampton Library in Bridgehampton. On Wednesday, she will have a book talk at 5:45 p.m. about "Wing It." Then on Jan. 12 at 2 p.m., she will host a workshop titled "Wing It: The Simpler Way to Parenting." Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 631-537-0015 to RSVP.