The parent coaching initiative which I introduced to my church is nearing the end of its first year. Three weeks remain. The last of three ten week sessions is about to conclude. I have learned a few things during this process about coaching, about some of the parents, and even about myself.
When I set out on this journey I never expected it would take the form of coaching. That is more a matter of my growing understanding of what coaching is than a change in the design of the initiative. My version of VIP, very intentional parenting, was inspired in large part by Karl Bastian’s Kidology Leadership Lab #4- Partnering with Parents. Yet it looks much different. This is mostly because my circumstances are far different in terms of my skills, life situation, church situation, and so on. Yet there is a crucial similarity which goes beyond the name of the initiative. Like Karl, I invite parents into a mutually negotiated agreement. Whereas his lasts one year, mine lasts ten weeks per agreement. And it is a coaching relationship, rather than a more intensive partnership as outlined in the leadership lab.
So, after going through this process for nearly thirty weeks, I think it is helpful to begin identifying what I am learning from it. I list them in the order they occur to me.
- For the sake of clear communication with prospective parents, simplify the intent and content of VIP. Don’t muddy the lines of communication with unclear jargon.
- The small weekly connections will gain traction for deeper conversation over time. Don’t lose heart if it seems that parents are playing it safe in their responses. It takes time to build trust.
- The goal is to encourage parents in two-parent homes to converse deeply with each other about parenting. That is a sure sign the initiative is having its intended result in their homes.
- In single parent homes, the goal is to provide a place for them to think through their parenting challenges while inviting them to make multiple connections with other parents and leaders.
- Be adaptable to the communication preferences of each household. One will prefer email. Another, text messaging. Still another, facebook. But most likely prefer face-to-face or phone.
- It seems that women generally are more interested than their husbands in long email dialogues.
- Men generally prefer face-to-face conversations.
- Craft good questions, listen actively, and then when necessary reflect back to the parents what you understand them to say for the sake of clarity.
- Encourage them to tell their stories and listen non-judgementally.
- Ask them to talk about their current routines. What is life like for them now? How is faith a part of that routine? What is their self-perception about their intentionality concerning faith in God and their daily activities?
- Occasionally I may be able to suggest a resource to them.
- Parents are far more open to interacting with and even being taught by a never married children’s pastor with no children than I expected. This is a direct result of the posture I have chosen which places me as a learner alongside them, rather than an expert.
- Even if most of your communication is via email, it is helpful to have at least one face-to-face conversation during the year, preferably in the family’s home if it is a two-parent household. Indeed, I recommend such a meeting at least once per ten week session.
- Email has certain advantages in terms of carefully crafting what you want to say. However, it should not completely replace face-to-face interaction. Most of our communication is nonverbal. Email cannot perceive that which is not seen.
- Although there is a definite start and finish, I recognize the value of allowing a late adapter to opt in mid-term. The latest example in my situation has resulted in a godly family entertaining new possibilities concerning their faith life outside of their normal comfort zone. Thus, even strong families can be strengthened further when they are open to learning.
Perhaps I will think of more later. I recommend this approach if you are wanting to do something for your parents but are not able to begin a full-fledged family ministry program at your church. It is a good start to get the conversations rolling in the homes you influence through your children’s ministry.