Friday, March 19, 2010

Bench Me, Coach

I was up at 4am, had the local news on t.v. and was fumbling with the coffee maker, trying to brew the elixir of life which keeps me functioning, when I heard a news story about the dangers of over scheduling your children. ( It talked about how today's kids are becoming stressed from so many classes, play dates, sports practices and family obligations that parents were seeking new ways to slow down their lives. But when they got to the part about how many new parents were hiring parenting coaches to help them de-clutter and de-stress their lives, I almost dropped the coffee pot on the floor.

Parenting coaches? Apparently, it is a relatively new and unregulated profession, an off-shoot of life coaches in some ways - where people with no real credentials and/or very little formal training other than just being a parent themselves, get to hang out a shingle and charge around $300 a month per client for other parents to call or email them for advice. They also provide such services as overhauling your family schedule to limit the family's activities and bring order to the house by sorting through and throwing out the growing mountain of outgrown toys and clothes.

Whatever happened to asking a mother, sister, brother, neighbor or friend for advice? And that's free. What happened to taking responsibility of your own home and schedule by limiting your own family activities and cleaning out your own toys and clothes? I don't see why you have to hire out to do this. Parenting coaches argue that asking friends or family for advice brings an agenda ridden response which isn't helpful. In some cases, yes, that may be true. But for the most part, even in a friend of neighbor's personal opinion, you can always find some helpful part that may work for you. And if not, move on and ask someone else until you do find something useful. Or pick up a parenting book and do some reading.

Customers of parenting coaches say they love the service because any time they have a question about how to toilet train little Suzy or wonder if little Johnny should be biting in the first grade, they can pick up the phone and call for help without the judgment a friend or family member might impose on the question or the expense or stigma of going to a therapist. When my oldest, Nicole was younger, any time she started doing something unusual, which to us as new parents seemed like every other minute, I'd pick up the phone and call my father, a child psychiatrist and ask for his advice. I'd think, how great, I have one of the country's leading child experts on speed dial and I don't even have to pay a session fee. I'd get Dad on the line, tell him what we were observing and then ask for his opinion. The conversation always went something like this:

Me: So, what do you think?

There would be a long pause on the other end of the line and then,

Dad: Did you read that parenting book?

I'd laugh and ask again, and he'd point out how helpful the book could be. Sometimes he would weigh in with his opinion, but he didn't want us to get into the habit of throwing up our hands and turning to others every time we had a parenting question. As parents, we needed to learn to work through and solve issues on our own using the tools we had.

If some parents can and want to pay $300 dollars or more a month to have someone manage their parenting issues, then that is their choice. But think of how much more empowered and accomplished and confident they would feel about their parenting skills if they didn't relinquish that power to someone who, in many cases isn't any more qualified to be a parenting coach then they are.

The article compared a parenting coach to a baseball coach, saying that they are there for support and guidance. They help you improve your swing and hit a home run. They help you to feel comfortable on the field, and pull you off when it is too much. I'm not against getting help from time to time when issues seem insurmountable, but to have a personal coach on call to help with every parenting concern seems like overkill. If anything, all I'd want my coach to do is bench me, preferably by convincing my husband that I need a break from dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, school pick ups and drop offs, work, and fixing up the house and would do better with a week or two or three on a tropical island sipping rum punch. Do you think I could get the parenting coach to recommend that?

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