Parent Coaching?!?....Why not just ask your Mom?

A few months back, a friend and client of mine shared the Personalized Parenting website on her Facebook page, and received a comment: "Lol....Don't you know this stuff yet? There seems to be a doctor for everything??? Just ask your mom how it's done!"

I have engaged in lots of healthy dialogue about the process of parent coaching, and this isn't the first time that I have communicated with someone who initially responds to the idea with skepticism, resistance, and misunderstanding.  

I hear from a lot of people that the concept of reaching out for advice on "parenting" seems very strange to them. In my experience, this usually means that the person who feels this way has the lucky experience of a supportive network, or a child with an easy temperament, or just doesn't feel like this is an avenue of support that is right for them. I have, and continue to work, as a licensed child clinical psychologist providing traditional services to children and families. And I love that work, and have had the pleasure and honor and supporting families through difficult times. I found in that work, however, that there was an underserved need for parents to connect and get reliable support for situations and challenges outside of the traditional context of therapy.

Being a parent can be challenging, and just like any challenge in life, I applaud and support those that ask for help during those times (in any form - including asking their mother). There is not only one way to seek support, to learn, and to be a parent. I believe that mother's have a wonderful, insightful perspective on parenting, and they can give very helpful advice. I would not say my support is "better" - it is different.

I can say that the parents I have worked with sometimes find comfort in having an outside person offer them support. I have also seen that this support, while tackling some typical challenges, can really help a parent and a child. In the end, I think that each person has the right to maximize their happiness, and go about doing so in the way that feels comfortable for them. While the comment did not offend me, I am protective of the parents who ask for my help , and we shouldn't laugh at anyone who is seeking support.

The conversation continued, with the commenter explaining her position further:  "I of all people understand we all need help. Here's where I'm coming from; I believe there is just too much outside advice response to [original poster's name removed] was intended to mean that I know her upbringing and believe her to be a stable person whom, if uses her common sense, I know she wouldn't need a doctor to help her raise her children...So I guess I'm saying that we all could stand to take the advice of our mothers, grandmothers etc verses a stranger who has "clinical" experience. It's not rocket science. It's consistency and love that wins in the end! It's also not easy. It's the single hardest, sometimes loneliest but fulfilling job on earth! In this world we live in today, everyone's looking for the easy way out or for someone to tell them a better way...There are too many cooks in the kitchen people! Parenting is hard. Use your God given common sense to raise your children. Sorry if I've offended anyone."

My response included a great deal about my perspective regarding my work, my philosophy, and my beliefs about parent coaching, and I wanted to share it with anyone potentially seeking support:

I am a big believer in the importance of engaging in healthy dialogue with those that disagree with us, so I am grateful for your perspective and the opportunity to talk about your points. First, I appreciate your explanation regarding your intention to not be mean or hurtful. Intentions are important, and sometimes we need to recognize that while our intentions might be in the right place, our actual words and actions might be hurtful.

My primary concern is actually that some of the sentiments you shared could be hurtful to parents who are seeking support. In that vein, I want to address a few things and share my perspective. We can often build bridges with those we disagree with by starting with a focus on what we share in common - and we actually agree on a fair amount. First, please know that I consider myself a fierce advocate for parents and mothers. My work does not at all imply that I believe they are unstable, incapable, or there is something wrong with their children. Quite the opposite. I find that parents who are willing to reach out, learn more, and ask for support when needed are some of the most capable, brave, and strong parents I know. I have endless admiration for the parents I work with.

Secondly, I agree that there is an unbelievable amount of advice about "how to parent" out there today. Amazon alone carries over 6,000 titles. This access to information can be overwhelming and confusing to parents. So, you are onto something there. And, science agrees with you - parents today, despite an increase in information, report more stress than any generation of parents before (partly because of that increase in information), and less certainty about decisions regarding parenting. To make matters worse, the most harmful kind of information is the type that only presents a single solution - sleep train vs. don't, potty train at 2 vs 3, and also - get support vs. don't get support.

The second most harmful kind of advice is that which implies that if parents can't figure it out - they are incapable. I can assure you that the majority of parents I speak with have read books, gone online, talked to their mothers, and friends, and still feel like something isn't working. I promise that if telling them to use their common sense was the solution - they would do it. When parents are overwhelmed by advice (often contradicting), and then told that it isn't "rocket science," they feel more hopeless, anxious, and more "like a failure." That isn't kind or helpful.

My work starts from the belief that parents are the experts on their child(ren). My work is actually not to give specific advice on "this is THE way" because it worked for me, or anyone else. I work collaboratively with parents to understand their unique children, their own values, their specific challenges, and we discuss (based on information about child development and research), some things that might be a good fit for them. This requires genuine support, a belief that the parent is capable, and serious, true, respect for a parents values (not my own values and opinions). I feel this way about all topics, and don't have a single agenda I am pushing. That makes it about the person who is giving the advice, not the person who is seeking support.

Finally, many of the things that arise in my coaching practice (vs. my clinical work) are things that would "pass on their own" - sleep struggles will end, the child will learn to use the potty - but when parents are in the thick of things, they might feel like it is a worthwhile investment in their happiness to reduce the stress by having someone to talk to. A parent relieved to have some strategy gets to enjoy all the joys of parenting a bit more - that's a win for everyone. A person who isn't going to tell them to do just the way they did it, who doesn't have an agenda, who isn't going to tell them to "suck it up," - but genuinely wants to help, can feel like an immense gift. If it reduces stress and brings more joy - I support it.

I have worked with mothers who have lost their mothers and don't have the luxury of their advice, or parents who DID try the well-meaning advice of others and are working SO HARD (and feel so frustrated that it isn't just "common sense"). These parents want someone to talk to about something that (in the moment) feels overwhelming and hard. If this isn't needed for someone - I celebrate that too, truly. My deepest desire is for ALL parents to feel supported and celebrated. As you said, parenting is hard. And I believe as women, as parents, as people - we can only make it easier by supporting one another, lifting each other up, and respecting the MANY different perspectives and ways to parent.

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