Order Out of Chaos...One Step at a Time

Chaos in a living system is to be expected as part of the normal course—families included. But too much chaos over time can be debilitating, draining precious energy and creative potential. Parent coaching, as Jeanne’s story shows, can begin the step-by-step process of organizing for more order, and with it, re-awakened parental satisfaction and family happiness.

I remember with a smile the first time I talked to Ericka. She had mentioned to me once that she might want to try parent coaching but just never seemed to find the time. This day she realized she needed a coach immediately. With four children under the age of seven, every day was an adventure. But the day she called was the worst. It began by getting her seven-year-old, Joe, and four-year-old, Emily, up and ready for school. She couldn’t even walk through Joe’s room because of the clutter. She tripped over a mystery object cracking her head on his dresser. When she went to Emily’s room she found a melted ice cream pail under her covers that she had obviously gotten from the freezer during the night. Emily had also finger painted with the ice cream all over her wall. Two-year-old Nate took his diaper off during the night as he usually does and well, you can imagine that disaster. The five-month-old baby, Seth, was screaming to be fed.

After dropping Joe and Emily at school and preschool, Ericka had two hours to herself. Well, it seemed like to herself with only the two youngest children to care for. It was 8 o’clock in the morning and she was exhausted already! She decided to stop at McDonald’s and let Nate wander in the Playland area for awhile (secretly hoping he would be tired and take a good nap later). Knowing that Nate is a “runner”, she tried to watch him closely. As she was calmly nursing the baby someone yelled that there was a young child standing in the middle of the busy street...and sure enough it was Nate! She handed the baby to the closest stranger and ran to retrieve him with nursing apparatus hanging out. As Ericka packed the two children in the car, she just breathed an exhausted, frustrated breath. For just this moment they were both strapped in and safe. Where would she get the energy to get through the day?

When she returned home and the three younger children were all in beds for naps, she decided she needed a parent coach! She walked through the living room, past the six baskets of laundry to be folded and put away. She ignored them and called me. What a glorious journey we were about to take. As always with a new client, I wondered where to start. Ericka had four challenging children, an exhausting schedule, housework well behind and problems mounting day by day. She never had time to enjoy her family. Coaching would change that. I knew I could help her find that joy again.

Our first obstacle was finding time for coaching—with only 24 hours in a day, it seemed daunting to find a quiet time for our phone coaching conversations. We tried one week to talk during the proposed naptime but found that all three children never napped at the same time. We needed to find an uninterrupted time. At first we arranged to speak early in the morning before the children were up. It worked but I knew we’d find a better way!

As with all coaching journeys, Ericka and I stood shoulder to shoulder examining the situation together, seeing the situation through different eyes. Looking at it from Ericka’s perspective it appeared her children, her life, her home were all in chaos, and it looked like an overwhelming intertwining of problems with nowhere to start. As her coach I saw the potential. I asked her to step out of the situation for just a moment and look non-emotionally at the stress and chaos of her family.

Together we looked at her situation from a different angle. We talked about all the things that in fact were working. At first Ericka had a very difficult time seeing even one thing that worked well in her family, but once we opened that dialogue, the positives flew. Positive thinking fueled her creativity. She noticed that the core of her family was solid, but there were many loose strings floating about. If we could catch those loose ends and weave them back into the fabric of the family, things would work better. After several conversations listing all the things about her family that brought her joy, Ericka was ready to take an action step.

Focusing on the first loose end she could wrap her mind around, Ericka took a first step to ask for help, though she didn’t have the foggiest clue where she would find someone. In one session we brainstormed all of the possibilities she could think of. Far down her list was her church community. This was an exciting ah-ha discovery for Ericka! She put her need out into the church family and was excited that a few retired ladies offered to help her.

With a retired grandma coming over one morning a week, we finally had a set time for coaching. The woman was warm and caring to both Ericka and her children; her nurturing support was a welcome relief. We did our coaching part of that morning leaving a snippet of time for Erika to tackle some chores that needed to be taken care of. It was amazing what one hour of uninterrupted time gave her! Her energy and zeal for life was returning. She felt as if she was accomplishing things—being proactive instead of reactive.

Ericka had all the answers on her own. As a coach, I helped her identify where she wanted her energy to be spent. She realized that the constant distractions and crises were using all the energy she wanted to use appreciating her active children.

We talked about what she most appreciated about her family and then how to get there. The coaching process offered her an opportunity to slow down and concentrate on deliberately parenting. Her reasons for choosing to be a mother came back into focus. Ericka found satisfaction in being a mom and found joy in everyday things her children did. As she began smiling at them more, they relaxed and were more compliant. As a coach, catalyzing such a change of heart is overwhelming. Just to hear the energy in her voice building each week makes me proud of what I can offer families.

Sitting quietly and just taking care of herself for an hour once a week helped Ericka focus attention on really enjoying her children. So much of her time was spent cleaning up or reacting to what was happening while exhausted. Little time was left to create memories with her children. When I asked her what she wanted her children to remember about being her children, she realized that the constant chaos robbed her of time for hugs and play! She wanted them to remember fun times, laughing, playing games, doing crafts, reading stories, and eating together.

One of the activities that Ericka and her children loved was drama. The children enjoyed putting on “shows” or acting out favorite stories. Ericka had ideas for beautiful costumes she wanted to create for those times. There just was never a good time to take on those projects. “Why not provide some fabric pieces or large scarves and let the children’s imaginations create the costumes?” I suggested. It turned out wonderfully. She created a dress-up box with large pieces of different colored fabrics and recycled accessories that soon became many different characters! By keeping play simple and imaginative, it took one more “should do” from her list of responsibilities. Ericka now had more time to laugh with her children. This soon became their favorite afternoon activity! Even Nate joins in, finding his niche in each vignette instead of running away.

The momentum Ericka gained from experiencing these grounding activities with her children pushed her to make a plan for what it would take to get that hour or two a day just for the family. It was clear that she needed some household help on a regular basis. Through our coaching she realized she had many support systems available that hadn’t been tapped. The one morning per week help soon turned into two mornings. Ericka cleared those two days a week of driving her two kids ten miles back and forth to school by carpooling. She used those two days to get her house organized that cleared room for play so she wasn’t tripping over things, losing things and just plain being overwhelmed at the mound of chores waiting for her attention. It took her three weeks to organize the playroom so it really was a playroom. Now there was at least a place to play and relax with her family. At this point she decided to hire a cleaning crew to tackle the remainder of her house. The chaos was quickly becoming manageable, as more order was created one step at a time.

It was truly amazing to see the transformation in this mom. Being more organized gave her more time and energy for positive things. The “coming-home-from-school” ritual now included sitting at the (cleared) table for a snack and chat with the kids. They choose activities together and everyone helped keep track of Nate. As the days became calmer, Dad started coming home from work earlier and earlier.

Every week I talked with Ericka, she marveled at how those same challenges presented themselves to her as before the coaching started, but now but she looked at things so differently. For example, Nate is still a runner, making it difficult for Ericka to interact with her friends at public places. But instead of feeling helpless about the situation, Ericka proactively searched out a park that is completely fenced in. Now she and her friends meet there frequently so she can get some social interaction with adults and know Nate is safe. Three months ago she would have given up taking him anywhere, keeping herself confined because she couldn’t see a way out. But, with all the work she did organizing her life with children, step by step she had the time to think the situation through and find a creative solution—meeting both her needs to keep her child safe and to have peaceful time with friends.

Ericka’s days are happier and she is a more nurturing mother. She tells me that coaching gave her the perspective to see her children through appreciative eyes. I believe coaching gave her another set of shoulders to hold her vast responsibilities while she sorted through them, choosing the ones she believed were valuable to her and delegating the rest. Coaching helped her love being a mom again!

Jeanne Koehler Labana
Milwaukee, WI

Parent Success Stories