Cultural Maturity and PCI Parent Coaching

Gloria De Gaetano

by Gloria DeGaetano
Founder, Parent Coaching Institute
CEO, Parent Coach International

The concept of "Cultural Maturity," developed by Seattle psychiatrist and futurist, Dr. Charles Johnston, is introduced in his latest book, Hope and the Future (ICD Press, 2014). Dr. Johnston recently presented a one-day workshop at the PCI Annual Conference, held June 27-29, 2014 at Eaglewood Resort, near Chicago. It was a day of deep thinking and high energy. Since the PCI students and graduates attending had read the book beforehand, they were well-prepared participants eager to contribute relevantly. Determined to apply Cultural Maturity in our work with families, we brought a concentrated effort to learn all we could.

Cultural Maturity is both a concept and a process. Johnston explains, "The concept of Cultural Maturity proposes that our Modern Age worldview cannot be an end point, that further changes are necessary—and happening." (p.3) Johnson shows the necessity for us as individuals, and as a collective, to grow up—not in the traditional sense, although that's definitely an integral piece. But to grow up in ways that will equip us to ask more appropriate, effective questions, come up with increasingly innovative, productive ideas, and embody real meaning and purpose in our actions and decisions. Cultural Maturity at its core is the "reorganizing of our thought processes" to include (but not limited to) refined holistic thinking, systems approaches, clear willingness to bridge polarities, and consistent effort to see the world and others clearly as they are with their strengths and limitations and without our projections.

While Cultural Maturity reflects basic changes in how we think and understand, it also changes the way we relate to others and to the collective. Johnston writes: "Cultural Maturity involves two related change processes that are each today fundamentally reordering the human experience. The first change process concerns our relationship as individuals to culture as a whole; the second concerns basic changes in how we understand." (p. 6) (For a more thorough understanding of the concept of Cultural Maturity, I highly recommend you read Hope and the Future. I am a novice here and certainly can't do it justice in a short article.)

Since our conference, I have reflected upon Cultural Maturity in relationship to how PCI Coaches bring in elements of it during their coaching process with parents.

So far I've thought of three basic ways PCI coaches are taking steps toward a more culturally mature framework in family support.

  1. PCI Coaches strive to hold, reflect, and refer to "a both/and reality" for the parents we coach.

    Most of us have ingrained habits of thinking in polarities of "either/or" such as saying to ourselves: "Either I will solve this problem, or I won't be happy." "I won't have peace of mind until this thing is resolved." It seems normal to think this way because it is a stretch for most of us to move beyond polarity thinking. By framing reality as "either/or" we see the world in opposites, reality partitioned off into one way or the other. We fail to see that these polarities actually encompass a greater reality. As Johnston points out, "The concept of Cultural Maturity proposes that the reason we still too often miss the 'obvious' fact that polarities reflect larger systemic realities is that getting our minds around a more systemic picture requires a maturity of perspective that we are only beginning to be ready for." (p. 32)

    In our PCI coaching process, we work to open the door to that "maturity of perspective" by helping parents get more comfortable with the larger reality of their current situation. For instance, entering into a coaching process, a parent is usually fraught with anxiety, worry, and at her wit's end about a parenting challenge. This is normal. Otherwise, she wouldn't be seeking our help. Of course, she wants relief from this discomfort—quick and simple, preferred. She usually also wants expert advice—someone who "knows better than me, tell me what to do." And she wants to see the results appear in her child/children—overnight would be nice—after all, she is paying you to be her coach.

    If parent coaches "bite" any one of these three hooks, we fall off into polarity thinking and can't be a competent professional or a conscious catalyst for the client.

    Caught up in the reality of the problem, it's so human not to see the "other reality"—the reality that exists in a "both/and" world. Showing compassion and understanding for the problem, while at the same time pulling the curtain aside to reveal some of the good in the situation—without dismissing or trivializing the problem—requires new sensibilities and skills from family support professionals. PCI Coaches are trained intentionally to put. and keep, both realities "out on the table" during the coaching process:

    1. The reality of the suffering, the challenges, the problems.
    2. The reality of the parents' strengths, as well as the children's and family's strengths; the resources presently available; the good in the situation that is present now.

    The first reality is draining the parent and the system, so much so in many cases, that the other concurrent reality is no longer seen, acknowledged, or appreciated. In the early stages of the coaching we listen with great care and empathy, being wise about when and how to ask about any of the good in the dilemma. I like to begin my coaching with two empty baskets—either real or metaphorically—and let my client know that in the first conversation we will be filling that basket with the problem areas and what is not going well—all the troubles. Then in our next conversation, we will fill the other basket with the client's strengths that have gotten her this far in her parenting and in life; along with her child's/children's strengths, the family's strengths, the resources available to her—external and internal—and anything else that she can think of that energizes her and helps support her in feeling creative, competent, and confident.

    When these initial coaching conversations are completed, we have a fuller picture of her current reality. The contents of the two baskets then interplay within the coaching process, helping to bring insights and practical ideas. For instance, the research in positive psychology shows that using our strengths consciously to proactively deal with a challenge can be extremely effective. When clients are in touch with their strengths as they deal with worries and anxieties, the "both/and reality" serves them well. And often, it is surprising, but usually reassuring, to realize that life consists of problems and solutions both, ever dynamically interacting. Our goal in PCI parent coaching is not to solve the problem, but to help empower the parent to address their problem with creativity and integrity from their highest self for the best solution/s available at the time. Practicing "both/and" thinking helps us be present to a larger reality for our client and increases the chances we will meet this goal.

  2. PCI Coaches are parent coaches, not parenting coaches.

    This is an important distinction. We coach the person who is the parent, who does the parenting. Therefore, we are parent coaches.

    In developing the Parent Coach Certification® Training Program between 2000-2003, I was acutely aware that there was no such profession as "parent coaching." I carefully and intentionally used the word, "parent" and not "parenting" because I wanted to highlight that we were working with the parent as a "whole person," not working with a mom or a dad to "cure" a parenting issue.

    Becoming a teacher in the early 70's set me on a trajectory in a quest for "wholeness" in my work with children and families. Back then that meant to address the cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of the child or parent—as many aspects of the human as possible. In fact, a book, aptly title The Possible Human by Jean Houston, impressed me with the notion of growing our capacities as human and therefore our "wholeness."

    Today, to address the "whole child" or "whole parent" means different things to different people. Daniel Siegel, for instance, wants us to consider the "whole-brained child" and rightly so. However, Scott Shannon and Emily Heckman in their book, Parenting the Whole Child offers advice on supporting the child's bodily and nutritional needs as well as his mental ones. This is another important way to consider "wholeness." Dr. Sears' popular approach takes into account the family system—if baby isn't sleeping through the night, it's not enough to address baby's needs, but that of the whole system, as well. Of course, wholeness of the child, the parent, the family, and the system are all dynamically alive within each and with each other—and the concept of wholeness in any one of them just got a lot more complicated.

    In our workshop with Dr. Johnston, we saw first-hand how difficult it was to describe "whole parenting." With a list of positive adjectives such as compassionate, caring, and empathetic, he pointed out we didn't include traits such as boundary setting or making difficult decisions. Oops, we just left out the other polarity. It was easy to get complacent and fall off into "either/or thinking" despite our best efforts not to.

    But even though it is a difficult task to address the "whole" parent or "whole" child, it doesn't mean we don't continue to strive to do it. In "whole parent coaching" we remind ourselves to be vigilant in what we are noticing; to stay our of labeling and to focus in the present on what the person, who happens to be a parent, is relating to us.

    In Hope and the Future, Dr. Johnston reminds us, "…personal maturity…mean(s) that we better bring the whole of ourselves to our determinations." (p. 109) As PCI coaches we look within and strive to be as conscious of our own wholeness during the coaching process. This fortifies us for the tasks ahead in order to be the best catalyst for a positive change process that we can be. We use our expertise to recognize more of the wholeness of the parent, and to that end, draw out new understandings and capabilities during the coaching process.

  3. PCI coaches work to construct relevant, meaningful questions during the coaching process.

    Our year-long parent coach training program gives family support professionals plenty of practice in constructing questions. We focus on "questions of hope" in the attempt to help parents stay energized while dealing with a difficult issue. However, in considering the "both/and reality," and the value of "wholeness" as aspects of Cultural Maturity it's important that we don't "fall off" into only asking questions of hope.

    Constructing a question that frames the larger picture and retains a "both/and reality" can be challenging as most of us experienced during the workshop. But when we came up with a question that really "worked," wow! Talk about an a-ha moment. Developing more "holistic questions" often meant we had to move out of our comfort zones or forgo pre-judgment, or both. Our minds were stretched while our hearts opened during this powerful exercise.

    As we continue with PCI coach training, after such an experience, there has been an exhilarating and responding, "Yes," among the students who attended the workshop. "Yes, I want to get even better at asking questions." "Yes, I realize the need to craft the questions I ask during the coaching process more carefully to encompass the client's purpose." "Yes, a holistic approach to asking questions is very powerful and I want to and will do more of this."

    (It is important to note here that Dr. Johnston's next book out on Cultural Maturity will be released in January 2015 and has more details on developing such questions. I will definitely keep you posted.)

At PCI we know that these three areas ("both/and reality," coaching the whole parent, and constructing meaningful questions) we address in our training and in our parent coaching are merely baby steps in beginning to engage Cultural Maturity in our work. But baby steps we know we must take, understanding that as we do, we grow our capacity for a "maturity of perspective" that will make our work with parents that much more productive and fulfilling—for both coach and client!

Copyright © 2014 Gloria DeGaetano, all rights reserved.

Gloria DeGaetano, an internationally acclaimed educator and author, is the creator of the Parent Coach Certification® Training Program and the founder of the Parent Coaching Institute.