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Being a parent isn't easy, especially at this time of year when the added pressures of preparing for "the perfect holiday" can seem insurmountable.

It's nice to know that you are not alone. It's nicer still to know that you can pick up the phone at any hour of the day and find understanding and support at the other end of the line.

The Parent Help-Line (892-2172) is the number to dial when you feel under stress or need someone to talk to.

The Help-Line is one of a number of services offered by Parents Anonymous of Buffalo & Erie County, a confidential, self-help program founded in 1973 to help families under stress.

"Our clients can range from anyone who feels isolated, without support or totally distressed to someone who just needs a friend," noted Barbara K. Ray, Parents Anonymous resource developer.

"During the Christmas season, some parents call because there's not enough money to buy their kids what they want. They feel bad because they can't afford to celebrate the holiday the way they would like to or how they remember celebrating Christmas when they were little," said Kathy Loeffert, a Help-Line volunteer who has a degree in psychology and is a mother herself.

"There are a lot of parents, also, who are alone -- single moms and dads and those who have no families or friends nearby," she added. "That's a depressing situation at this time of year, when you feel you should be sharing joy with others."

The Help-Line, Mrs. Loeffert emphasized, is non-threatening, anonymous and available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

"You don't have to give your name, you don't have to give a phone number. You can just call up to say your kids are driving you crazy. After we talk, you can just hang up," she explained.

For others, the Help-Line often is a first step in seeking additional assistance.

"If we in Parents Anonymous have a service they need, such as parent and youth support groups, or our in-home family support program, I'm more than happy to take their names and have someone get back to them," Mrs. Loeffert said.

"We also can steer them to other community services."

While the majority of parents who call Help-Line are mothers, Mrs. Loeffert said she's talked with a number of fathers.

"One called because his daughter was acting up in the supermarket. She wanted this and wanted that, but he wouldn't give in. He wanted to know if he handled the situation well. I felt he did, and he was relieved with that reassurance.

"Another father, who was hospitalized, called recently for personal support. He mostly wanted to talk with someone who would care that he was in the hospital. He was going through a difficult separation and his wife had custody of the children," Mrs. Loeffert said.

Volunteers are the heart of Parents Anonymous, added Miss Ray. In addition to a need for volunteers for the Help-Line, positions are available as child care workers, mentors who offer support on a one-to-one basis, in-home visitors, group leaders and drivers who can provide transportation to and from weekly group meetings.

Volunteers receive specialized training, professional support and supervision.

All Parents Anonymous services are offered free of charge. Self-help support groups include specialized programs for children, teen-agers, teen parents, young parents, parents of teens, Spanish-speaking parents and mothers with substance abuse problems.

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