by Shaun Kieran

I hesitate to call myself a Parenting Coach. In the professional coaching world it’s a growing sub-specialty that has its own professional association whose size increases every year. That obviously speaks to the depth of the need, but I still chuckle when I remember Garrison Keillor saying something to the effect that when he was a kid in Lake Wobegon, the parents “didn’t take parenting classes,” and I’ve been heard to say a few times myself that people without formal training have somehow managed to bring up good kids for at least 8,000 years.

But it’s one thing to make a sardonic comment about not over-complicating things, and another entirely to deny that things ARE different these days, and that some otherwise highly competent, good people have been thunderstruck by how totally out of control things have gotten at home. Among the most grateful clients I’ve had were ones who felt I’d helped them be better with their kids – and even small improvements were deeply appreciated. What’s interesting is that so often, parenting wasn’t the identified problem at first, but as we explored relationships generally, parenting problems bubbled up as sources of inadequacy and great anguish. It’s a powerful blow to the life you imagined, and how you see yourself, to be in constant conflict with people you love.

I don’t have a one-size-fits-all parenting philosophy - there are simply too many threads, too many variables. Plus I’m far from perfect, so I’m modest about how certain I am about anything. I’ve done some learning though, so I believe in making adjustments based on perceptions and experience, noticing whether the adjustments are working or not, then making more adjustments. Kids do need structure, discipline, expectations, and consistency - in addition to unconditional love - but no one really denies that any more. It’s riding the tiger with kids who have far more energy than you do, and a determination to outlast you, that does so many people in. And as much as kids get parents hugely angry and anxious, it’s mostly the sense of inadequacy about not helping them - whether you totally indulge them or use iron discipline - that makes it so troubling. Ironically, of course, those parents truly open to being helped are already further along – even on their worst day - than the clueless ones who never ask. Those are the folks who endlessly deny and avoid the situation so they won’t be forced to notice how messed up their relationships with their kids have become, and certainly don’t want to know the part they may have played in getting there.

Sometimes working with parents simply means helping them think about what they need to do in special circumstances – as parents of children with various formally identified problems or disabilities. There is so much to do, and so many people who come into play, and dealing with the cast of characters can be overwhelming. In that role, I help parents navigate and interact more productively with school systems, teachers, Special Ed departments, clinical professionals, etc., as well as - on the home front - siblings affected by all the effort and attention, the stressed marital relationships, etc.

And, as we all know in this postmodern age, adult children can stay around, or return to haunt a family. Every year I deal with more people who thought they were “off duty” when their kids graduated or left home the first time – only to find themselves more immersed than ever in parenting, and this time it includes lack of motivation, unemployment, depression, dysfunction, legal troubles, mental illness, alcohol, divorce, non-cooperating “exes,” parenting the grandchildren, and on and on. It’s a wild world out there.

Getting help to parents is critical now, so it’s gratifying to help, when and if I can. And this highlights why coaching is getting so big now. It’s a more freed up, transparent, results-oriented process. You’re not enmeshed with a specific mental health provider covered under your health insurance. In coaching, you try it out, see how it feels, see whether you’re comfortable with the coach’s style, values, and direct advice; see whether you like how you feel about yourself as you attempt to get on top of things – or not. That’s the point. The parents aren’t stuck - and by the way, I’m not either. I can usually tell whether we’re getting somewhere or not, and have no problem concluding that maybe something or someone else should be tried.

So, even though I don’t declare myself a Parenting Coach, I’m definitely a coach who can help some parents get focused, change a few things, and feel better about this difficult, but critically important - and very fulfilling relationship.

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