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By Leslie Crawford
When DeGaetano founded PCI in 1999, she says she recognized a gaping need that wasn't being filled: a lot of stressed parents seeking solutions. “They want something better for their family, but they didn't know how to get it," she explains. While PCI has a specific approach to parent coaching — best described as an informed, gentle guide — there are many different kinds of coaches out there. A "gentle guide" coach might listen to parents describe their day and ask questions to identify pain points. For example, to the mom who transformed into a screaming meanie in the car, DeGaetano says that instead of doling out quick, facile advice ("Pull over and take a breath"), a coach would help her client focus on the singular goal they are both working toward: becoming the kind of mom she wants to be. ("What do you want to be when you're driving?")
Another approach coaches take is to offer specific solutions to solve prickly problems parents face regularly, including how to avoid power struggles, manage sibling fights, lay down firm boundaries, or stay connected with a recalcitrant teen. Coaches also prove valuable, says DeGaetano, with a myriad of school issues like getting kids to do their homework without drama and being an effective advocate with your child's teacher and school. A good coach also helps parents create a plan so they're not winging it from moment to moment but instead deftly navigating the often dizzying 18-year roller-coaster ride.
PCI's certified coaches — all of whom complete a one-year training and have experience as parent or child therapists or educators — do initial interviews with clients and have them fill out a questionnaire in order to assess their parenting styles. A coach may or may not do a home visit, but most coaching takes place over the phone — a practicality, says DeGaetano, for time-crunched parents. Some will offer unlimited email access so that parents get a timely response to a sudden problem.
Coaching usually runs anywhere from $75 to $125 per hour; depending on a parent’s needs, 8 to 12 one-hour sessions typically does the trick. (PCI, a nonprofit, offers pro bono help to families who can't afford a coach.) To make sure they stay on track, or to bolster skills when new challenges arise, some parents return for an occasional parenting tune-up for months, and even years, following their initial coaching sessions. In the moment (and by the hour), it's an expensive form of help. Pricier, say, than a mother’s helper or a little extra babysitting. But then again, this is skill-building time, not a break.
Every coach interviewed for this article says that critics of parent coaches echo a familiar refrain: "A parent coach? Our parents didn't need a coach!" After all, long before the word "parenting" ever existed, moms and dads were just plain old parents, no fancy-smancy training required. In previous generations, the very idea of asking — and paying — a stranger for advice would have been as preposterous as saying to your child, "Honey, I'm sorry you're so angry we have to leave your play date. I can give you fifteen more minutes…okay?"
But, argues Kerrie LaRosa, a Bay Area parent coach who is also a licensed clinical social worker, "Our parents also didn’t go the gym. They didn't have house cleaners. They didn’t utilize counseling services and didn’t go to the doctor as much. There are a lot of services we use now to make life easier." Besides, LaRosa points out, today's parents "have these busy and complicated lives" made no easier by the fact that so many families have two working parents, live far away from relatives, and are struggling to parent wisely while trying to keep at bay the relentless influence of pop culture and the media.
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