Working With a Parenting Coach Saved My Family From Itself

published Sep 21, 2021
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You know how people always say, “Kids should come with instruction manuals,” and we all nod understandingly and then continue on, somewhat blindly, parenting our children with a mixture of personal baggage and instinct, for better or for worse? It had never really occurred to me that there were resources that, if not instruction manuals, per se, could nonetheless provide clarity in the wilderness that is raising humans. Fortunately, I found those resources when I really, really needed them.

Why We Needed a Parenting Coach

In 2017, I was pregnant with my second child. My 6-year-old, Lily, was in kindergarten. Things were peaceful enough. But the farther along I got in my pregnancy, the more palpable the tension at home felt. I began to feel like I was on a rollercoaster, ticking up and up. I couldn’t get off, and I wasn’t exactly sure when the drop would come, but the anxiety was steadily mounting.

The transition from preschool to kindergarten was a tumultuous one. We saw our inquisitive, big feeling kid struggling in a way we hadn’t expected, with a challenging classmate and an overburdened teacher. And, though she never said it outright, I think Lily was worried about how the baby would change her role as the star of the Ganz Family. She started acting out — reacting explosively to “little” things, constantly seeking attention, and rejecting bedtime with a fervor that, frankly, scared us.

Lily’s behavior felt like a cloud over the house. My husband Seth and I bickered with each other over how to handle it, and that spilled over into non-parenting discussions, so that, eventually, I wanted to avoid both Lily and Seth and went out of my way to do so. In our increasingly rare moments of connection, Seth and I agreed that we needed help.

Credit: Jaime Torres

How did we get started?

While in preschool, Lily befriended one of the counselors, MegAnne Ford. I followed her on Instagram, where she shared insight in her capacity as a parenting coach. I had never thought about working with a parenting coach before. I read the books you’re supposed to read when you’re pregnant, and I thought that was enough to get me through, but I was beginning to see how wrong I was. So I reached out to schedule a private session.

I had never heard of anyone working with a parenting coach before, and looking back, I wonder why that is. It’s aspirational to work with a financial planner and enviable to have a personal trainer in your corner, but in my experience, people get squirrely when the subject of working with a parenting coach comes up. Maybe it’s the stigma of being a “bad parent” or the idea of paying someone to tell you how to raise your own children, but I can assure you, working with MegAnne didn’t feel like either of those things.

MegAnne provided something I didn’t realize I needed so much at that time — an ear. She listened without judgement, and though her gifts are many, that may have been the most important one. Week after week, we met with her via Zoom (a true lifesaver for busy parents running around). Seth and I shared, overshared, occasionally fought (though you’re always on your best behavior on these consults, aren’t you?), cried, lamented, and wondered how it had gotten so bad.

What did we learn?

Once she had listened to us, MegAnne began to go to work. She started with a simple illustration called The Mistaken Goals Chart, and in its four rows and six columns, I discovered that most of our conflicts could be boiled down to two things — Power and Undue Attention. And, fortunately, there were strategies for dealing with those issues beyond an endless cycle of yelling, threatening, and punishing.

Instead, working with MegAnne taught us to first listen to Lily and then react with compassion and kindness, but in a firm and consistent way — just as MegAnne had done with us! In our own relationship, we slowly began mirroring the behavior that we wanted to see in Lily. We fought less often and connected more easily. 

She recommended we read “Positive Discipline” by Jane Nelson. It was a life-changing book. It felt exciting to have something bringing us together instead of wedging us apart. We absorbed the lessons of treating Lily in a way that was neither indulgent nor quick to punish. Yelling was down; connection was up!

It took us months to get the hang of using our new tools, and it didn’t always feel intuitive. Honestly, it was hard work. There were failures and regressions, but there was never regret, and a powerful side effect became apparent: Seth and I were working together and from the same playbook. And that felt amazing.

Credit: Getty Images | MoMo Productions

How to work with a parenting coach

Parenting coaches are as different as the parents themselves, and each one provides a unique offering. Some work exclusively on a one-on-one basis, while others prefer group sessions or workshops. That means, fortunately, the cost can run the gamut from a sizable monthly investment to a one-off online workshop that costs less than an evening of eating out. 

One way to dip a toe in these waters is to follow some coaches online. It can provide an entrypoint to the discussion and some food for thought to share with partners who may be on the fence about working with a coach. 

Here are a few coaches who can help in a variety of ways: