SHARON WEINGARTEN, MSW
Sharon Weingarten is a teacher and licensed social worker. When her children were in high school, she went back to school also, earning her MSW summa cum laude from Loyola University of Chicago. She has worked in both public and private schools, as well as in the Therapeutic Day School of the Department of Adolescent Psychiatry of NorthShore University HealthSystem. Sharon has also had the unique experience of working in the South Pacific. She has conducted classes for teachers, parents and students in both schools and hospitals on the islands of Samoa, Tinian and Saipan. She is especially proud to have been the “Founding Mother” of a writing project for Mental Health America in 2003 that still that continues annually.
She is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers, the National Association of Social Work, the American Group Psychotherapy Association and the Illinois Society for Clinical Social Work. Sharon serves on the Institutional Ethics Committee of Northshore University HealthSystem and the Interhospital Education Subcommittee and is an active member of the Steering Committee of the Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute for Mental Health Education of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. In addition, she serves as a consultant and advisor to a wide variety of organizations, including the Agency Oversight Committee of New Trier Township, and Erika’s Lighthouse. She enjoys her work as a volunteer for the Community Council of International Students at Northwestern University and Rotary International and she particularly values her role as a member of the Professional Advisory Board of Northwestern University’s Camp Kesem, a national program for children who are impacted by a parent’s cancer.
Sharon created What I Wish You Knew Conversations® to encourage dialogue in families, schools, therapeutic settings and everywhere communication is important. She is the mother of three adult children and lives with her husband in Northbrook, Illinois. She can be reached at WhatIWishYouKnew@gmail.com
HOW IT BEGAN
The idea for What I Wish You Knew Conversations was born from a personal experience. Many years ago when one of my own children was in college at the University of Queensland, my husband and I experienced every parent’s nightmare. We received a call telling us that our daughter had been seriously injured in an accident. I was on the next flight to Australia. Fortunately, the injury was not life-threatening, but it did require a prolonged period of bed rest and recuperation. Because the doctors advised against her taking the twenty-hour flight back home right away, the plan was that after her release from the hospital she would return to the University, where she would rest and have physical therapy while she recuperated. I was allowed to stay in one of the empty rooms in her dormitory until she was able to travel.
During that time I had the opportunity to experience something that most mothers don’t. For over a month, knowing that my husband was at home taking care of our other two children, I was undistracted by normal demands of home, family, work and other responsibilities. I was living in a girl’s dorm on the other side of the world and had the luxury of not having to multi-task, of really being able to live in the moment, to be there for my child and to think. I also had the opportunity to get to know many students.
The kids were kind and helpful and curious and forthright too. After a while, I stopped being a strange phenomenon and they began to accept me. They told me about their “mums” and about other things too. They asked questions and talked about their lives and gave me some advice to pass on to other parents.
One of the things they told me about was a friend who took her own life earlier that year. They told me about her parents who said, “If only we had known what she was going through…” and “If only she had talked to us and confided in us…”
A lot of what the kids shared was their desire to be able to talk more easily with their own parents. Probably because I was not their own mother and because there was a degree of anonymity in talking with me around, they did so easily. I was just like a fly on the wall.
Being respectful of what they had to say and of their privacy, I created for them to have a safe place to express their thoughts and ideas and opinions. I have had the privilege of communicating with teens from around the world. I have since interviewed hundreds more students in classrooms, in libraries, in a homeless shelter, in youth agencies, and, through an interpreter in a school for the deaf.
In addition, through my work with WorldTeach, I had the opportunity to introduce the What I Wish You Knew Conversations writing project in schools in the Pacific Islands.