A few months ago, I was watching an episode of Madame Secretary where the oldest daughter—a rebellious 19 (or 20?) year-old named Stevie, much-disliked by the audience—is heatedly arguing with her Dad because she is dating a man more than twice her age. Not to go into the argument of whether Madame Secretary‘s family life is believable or even necessary for the series, I think that the conversation between such Madame Secretary (aka Elizabeth) and her husband (aka Henry) after the father-daughter argument is very telling and perhaps even quite useful for us Parent Coaches when we coach couples. The vast majority of my clients have been mothers, and I very much enjoy the coaching journey. Watching Henry’s pain and frustration got me thinking about how many fathers out there would welcome and benefit from extra-spousal support, and I mean Parent Coaching. Don’t get me wrong, I think Henry was doing the right thing questioning his daughter’s choices and being upset, but the coaching process is not about my personal opinion. In other episodes, it is Elizabeth who is directly challenged by their oldest daughter. What really got my heart was when Henry tells Elizabeth something along the lines of: “Oh, so when our daughter hates you it is a major crisis and when it is my turn, it is just natural progression.” Elizabeth, not having been impressed by how Henry handled the boyfriend’s age argument with their daughter, indicated in a very nonchalant way that the rebellious daughter needed to tear the Dad a bit in order to make room for herself. Again, as a coach, I am not going to question the validity or lack thereof of the argument. I want to tell you what a Parent Coach could do: validate Henry! Not only on his pain, but on the very clean mirror he lifted up for his wife. All this while also capitalizing on the usefulness of Elizabeth’s comment(s) as they may be helpful for the systematic discovery of what brings life to their family, and again, validating Elizabeth on her own emotions towards the status quo.
Validating emotions is a powerful tool not only because it is always authentic—as it is impossible to deny how somebody feels—but also because it invites rapport, empathy, and a certain softening that may provide fertile soil to evaluate, explore, or even question one’s parenting agenda at any given time. As a Parent Coach, one has to understand that each member of the couple may have his or her own timelines for discovery. Yet, the dream and the design phases of how they want to relate to one another (what is working?) as co-parents and to their children’s liveliness need to be pretty much a common goal or at least a compatible vision. I am not saying both parents need to relate equally to their children, but that the parenting individuality needs to be working for both members of the couple with the common goal of a healthy family.
As we have emphasized all along, Parent Coaching is not couples’ therapy. However, the core of the coaching process is parental connectedness, effective communication, and identifying the shared vision and resources available to create the circumstances to reach their goal. Each parent brings his or her own strength, perspective, and experience. Identifying those traits and putting them to work for healthy functioning, healthy co-parenting, and family development is attainable through skillful parent coaching. As parents, sometimes we need third party support to coach us back to the common and shared arena of Two Family Commanders in Chief, where every member of the family is dreamt of as thriving and being cherished wherever we may be in life and development. A Parent Coach can of course also identify if the couple or the whole family would benefit more from therapy and perhaps even offer recommendations.
It is my hope, however, that the coaching experience, coming from a non-medical and non-therapeutic approach, with its living systems and appreciative inquiry working models will make a difference in the quality of life and every day interactions within the family, starting with how the parents value and recognize each other. When a parent or couple seeks parent coaching, they know the time is ripe to pursue change. Whilst painful emotions and a perceived or real everyday chaos can sometimes make us feel a loss of direction, seeking support is a sign of clarity and strength. Because I trust my clients’ inner core resources, through three to six months of weekly, collaborative, hard work, fundamental shifts can and usually do happen.
Elizabeth and Henry would perhaps rediscover their parenting agendas and what makes each feel alive, while honoring one another’s strengths and identifying circumstantial roadblocks. Together, and through effective communication, they should be able to design and implement steps that support Stevie as she leaves ‘the nest,’ making room for her own mistakes, all the while supporting one another through the very challenging phase of youth rebellion and still enjoying their other children and each another. This living system continues to be the whole family.
Entering the supportive and collaborative relationship that coaching entails is not a “walk in the park.” In principle, it should be very energizing, but requires a commitment to work, be open and willing, to dig deep, and to participate actively is a must. As a coach, it is my job to bring the necessary skills and knowledge to inspire both parents and co-create a space of safe, joyful, and responsible co-parenting on their own terms and timing.