HomeParenting Dilemmas

Do you need a parent coach?

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By Leslie Crawford

Buyer beware

With an increasing number of parent coaches offering their services, PCI's DeGaetanosuggests that moms and dads look for coaches with extensive professional training and experience. "It's important to look at the person's credentials and do your research," says DeGaeto, whose parent coaches all have backgrounds working with children and families, including social workers, counselors, community health workers, and child care directors.

Adele Faber, co-author of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (among other breakthrough parenting tomes) — and who could arguably be described as the mother of all parent coaches — encourages parents to be cautious when inviting an "expert" to provide parenting guidance. "I'm loathe to say go ahead [with a parent coach] until you know something about this person's basic belief," says Faber, who notes that parenting is an intensely personal matter. She advises that along with asking for references, first get a sense about the person's approach and make sure that it will mesh well with yours. And if you find your very own Mary Poppins? "If you're lucky enough to get a good coach," Faber says, "that could be something special."

A mom-and-pop miracle worker

Ryan and Tia Ribary weren't looking for a parent coach. Like most fledgling parents, they were experiencing sleep and other toddler-induced challenges with 18-month-old Rowan. "Like a lot of parents," says Ryan, "we wanted to be great parents but kept finding we were butting our heads against the wall." Tia adds that because she and Ryan "weren't exactly sure of the 'best' way to respond to a situation, it was easy to waver or not act on something, which created inconsistency and arguments. There are so many parenting tips out there, as well [our] different backgrounds [as] parents…We found that we questioned ourselves about the right way to handle things and were not always in agreement, either." They shared their parenting war stories with a friend who knew a parent coach based in their home town of Vancouver, WA.

Tia explains that her initial response was, "'Wow, is there seriously someone like that out there?!" Despite some ambivalence, they were willing to give it a try. To kick it off, coach Sheila Wenger conducted an initial home visit, had them complete the multi-page questionnaire, and write a family mission statement that Ryan and Tia would heed whenever a domestic kerfuffle threatened to undermine their family's happiness.

Wenger, a longtime high school teacher before becoming a PCI-certified coach, says her work is so satisfying because coaching brings about tangible, lasting improvements. "Parent coaching is designed to be a true transformation," Wenger says. "Because the changes are so positive and impactful, the parents have a natural motivation not to go back to how it was. [It gets to the point] where they say, 'Gosh, I'll just never do that again.'"

After more than a year of regular consultations, the Ribarys say that thanks to Wenger — according to them a veritable mom-and-pop miracle worker — they are a family transformed, evidenced by the fact, attests Ryan, that Rowan, now four and a half, to date has had only one 30-second tantrum, which Ryan and Tia knew how to put the kibosh on instantly.

The education (and transformation) of a family

"I'd love to say we're amazing parents," Ryan says. "But honestly I have to say that [because of Wenger] we're well-prepared." Parent coaching, "simply makes your life easier. It gets Mom and Dad on the same page. It's made our marriage better and cut down on stress of family life," he says.

"The biggest advantage to us has been a much happier home," agrees Tia, who notes that there's simply more family harmony: Rowan knows the rules and she and Ryan are clear on how to enforce them. "It has given me way more confidence as a parent," adds Tia. "Each time I have a session, I think, 'Why on earth would someone not do this?'"

True, close-to-perfect parenting doesn't come cheaply, but Ryan insists it's been worth every penny. "People routinely say to me, 'It costs this, it costs that.' I tell them that beyond all the investing we have done for college and retirement planning, this is the best investment we've ever made." And it’s one Ryan believes will stand him in good stead as Rowan grows into the creature that can be the undoing of even the most stalwart parents: a teen. "Well, I hope it will," he says with only the faint hint of a nervous laugh.

Next: Survival tips for parents

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

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