Eleanor Leads the Way

Eleanor Leads the Way

I love this photo of Eleanor and Brian. For me, it’s a great parenting metaphor. Keeping your balance on a beam or a tightrope is a challenging situation that takes careful and considered behavior. But there is always the potential for a slip, a fall. That loss of control is what brings surprise, novelty, and yes, sometimes injury. It’s what we do when we stumble that shows our children who we are and what we believe.


Balance is Bullshit

How many of you struggle to find balance in your life? Whether you’re a parent or not, most of us seek that elusive state of balance in our lives. For me, a sense of being out of balance means something is unresolved or about to change. It might be a conflict that is simmering, a plan that is awaiting action, or a relationship that is struggling. My reflex in these types of situations is to smooth things over and get back to normal as quickly as possible. I am uncomfortable in the in-between parts of life.

Recently I read something on the subject of balance that challenged my modus operandi. Here’s a short excerpt from a chapter in Margaret Wheatley’s book, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World:  

All life lives off-balance in a world that is open to change. And all life is self-organizing. We do not have to fear disequilibrium, nor do we have to approach change so fearfully. Instead, we can realize that, like all life, we know how to grow and evolve in the midst of constant flux. There is a path through change that leads to greater independence and resiliency. We dance along this path by maintaing a coherent identity and by honoring everybody’s need for self-determination.

This made me stop and think about how much I try to control my environment and circumstances by inhibiting change, conflict, and the unknown. It is a fear-based response to the unknown that motivates this need for balance. In an effort to protect myself, and the life I have built, I unconsciously sabotage the growth that is necessary for healthy evolution. Perhaps a better response would be to approach change with openness and trust. Trusting that I have the core identity to move through disruption and yet remain stable.

If we understand that balance is a myth, that no living system remains in equilibrium, than maybe we can begin to let go of our fear. If we also understand that equilibrium is actually a neutral state, one where nothing new is actually being produced, than maybe we’ll see it as less desirable. 

A more helpful concept than balance could be rhythm. Rhythm allows for the movement and tension in life that is so necessary for growth. A better use of my time and energy would be joining in the rhythm, rather than teetering on a false balance. 


What’s Giving You Life?

As I’m nearing the end of Course 1, the most powerful concept I’ve come across so far is Appreciative Inquiry. AI is the coaching core process methodology. Simply put, AI is a method that focuses on what an organization is doing well, rather than on what it’s doing wrong. In the case of parent coaching, the organization we are applying AI to is the family.

What I like about AI is that instead of focusing on deficiencies, like so many problem-solving methods, it starts from the belief that within every system (organizational, familial, etc), and every person, there are positive aspects which can be built upon.  First comes the appreciation part. To appreciate something is to assign it its proper value. It is an act of recognition and honoring. Getting to a place of appreciation comes from inquiry. To inquire is an act of exploration or discovery. It is about asking questions and being open to new answers. AI would not look at a situation and ask, “what’s wrong?” because in the very asking of such a question, the outcome is fixed. So, AI assumes that the inquiry – the questions we ask – will focus our attention in a particular direction. The direction AI seeks to go in is always positive. That may sound “pollyanna-ish” but there is good research and application of AI in organizations to back this method up. It has a strong track record for initiating and sustaining positive change. AI does not ignore problems. It simply approaches them from a different angle.

Here’s a better definition from the people who developed it, David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney:

Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them…it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential (Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change, Stipes Publishing, 2000, p.5.)

I got to experience the beginning phase of AI with my parent coach recently. One of the first things she asked me was, “What’s working in your life right now?” She broke it down into categories: family, extended family, friendships, marriage, children, school, work, etc. This exercise made it clear very quickly how much strength and positive potential there already is in my life. It was a humbling experience, because my mind constantly wants to frame things as ‘wrong’ or ‘problems’ when life is not going exactly the way I want it to. My coach, Julie, outlined the steps to AI as follows:

Appreciative Inquiry Framework (Not linear- more like a cycle)

  • 1.   Discovery: What is good now
  • 2.   Dream: What I want in the future
  • 3.   Design: Micro-steps to get to that future
  • 4.   Destiny: What you have matches what you want

One of my tougher assignments was to express what I appreciate about myself as a mother. This took some thought, but of course it’s important to know if I am to understand my role in how our family system operates.

So, here goes. My list of what I appreciate about myself as a mother:

  • I’m pretty silly with my kids. I make them laugh a lot.
  • I express love with lots of hugs, kisses, and snuggles all day long.
  • I try to answer every question they ask me without showing irritation.
  • I discipline them lovingly and consistently.
  • I apologize to them when I’ve hurt their feelings, or when I’ve made a mistake.
  • I let them do stuff on their own and in their own way (well, I’m getting better at it)
  • I seek out fun and creative things for us to do together.
  • I get involved in their play.
  • I’m thinking about their needs and making sure those needs are being met.

Now that the hard part is over, I’m ready to get to the dream phase. Here I get to ask, “what would my life look like if it were organized to maximize the positive qualities at my family’s core?” I’m feeling inspired!



Who Needs A Parent Coach?

Many of the new students in the PCI (Parent Coaching Institute) training program are able to work with a senior student who is practicing their coaching. This allows new students to get a taste of how the process of coaching actually works, while senior students get  practice doing it.

I was lucky enough to get paired up with a lovely woman named Julie. The night before my first conversation with her, I was asking my husband what he thought some of our parenting issues were. I wanted to be prepared and have ideas of what to work on. At that moment, we were both feeling hard-pressed to find anything very wrong. Sure, we have our challenges, but we couldn’t think of anything that warranted getting help from a coach. Had we just become desensitized to our issues? Complacent? Then my husband summed up his feelings by saying, “I just don’t think I’m the kind of person who would use a coach”. Hmmm.

So who uses parent coaches? Who needs them? After two sessions with Julie, I’m convinced the answer is: every parent.

In my situation, I am very fortunate to have good friends who are also on the parenting journey. I am also close with my mom and have a sister with two boys close in age to my girls. So my support network is strong. I talk to these people often about my kids, parenting issues, life issues, marital issues – whatever. We vent to one another, commiserate, cry, laugh, dream, and make plans for our futures. And yet, as I am now starting to realize, these relationships – as valuable as they are – cannot give me what coaching can.

The relationship between the coach and the parent is unique, as is the methodology of coaching. Coaching gives the parent an opportunity to work with a professional; someone knowledgable of child development who has an understanding of age-appropriate behaviors (as well as a whole lot of strategies for dealing with those behaviors). Gloria DeGaetano (Founder, Parent Coaching Institute thepci.org) describes the coaching experience this way:

Compassionate understanding, non-judgmental listening, and open curiosity are part of an inquiry process that over time has profound outcomes…Coaching not only provides context-specific practical strategies in a timely way, but also an opportunity for parents to reflect upon what is important, choose ideas and applications to try out, and explore what works best in his or her unique situation.

Talking with my friends and family makes me feel better in the moment. Sometimes a really good conversation may hit a nerve or bring up an idea that serves to enlighten me in some way. Mostly though, my parent friends and I are in the same boat, and we’re struggling together to chart unknown waters.

That’s why a parent coach is so amazing. I get the space to explore my parenting with someone who knows the right questions to ask. Many of us are not living consciously, let alone parenting consciously. We are just trying to keep our heads above water. A parent coach can help you stand strong in your parenting identity. Do you have a clear parenting identity? I thought a lot about this when I first became a mother. And then life got busy, and busier. The answers stayed vague in my mind. If we know who we are as parents, we can stand strong and clear in our beliefs against some pretty daunting influences. Parent coaches help you build that identity, and so much more. I’d love to write more on the subject, but life is busy and I have children pulling at me.

Lucky for me, I’m meeting with Julie tomorrow.