Written by Jenn Winiarski
In my early twenties, with no experience other than with the kids I had babysat as a teenager, the only thing I was certain of was that I wanted my relationships with my sons to be different from the relationship I had had with my parents.
I quickly discovered that my decision to do so would be considered controversial, by my parents as well as others. I had made what was considered a radical choice back in 1986. I was going to raise my sons without using physical punishment. It shocked me to discover that choosing to follow what was right for my husband and I would be considered a total rejection of my parent’s values and the values of others.
I remembered once hearing a joke about how intellectuals read a book or take a course to do what others do naturally. So I signed up for parenting classes through my local recreation center. The coaches had us purchase a book in conjunction with the course. I took this as a sign that I was on the right track.
What I did not understand back then was just how difficult it can be to change, even when we are actively seeking change. It was one of the most challenging and exhilarating times of my life. Even today, almost 24 years later, I smile when I recall the Post-it notes stuck on the walls of my home. Yes, those little neon pink, yellow, orange, and blue pieces of sticky paper plastered to the walls, fridge, and mirrors. On some I had written words of inspiration, on others I scrawled out statements like, “when you ____, I feel ____.” I was quickly learning that new ways of responding when one is feeling stressed is no easy task. I needed all the help I could get and I lived by my post it note cheat sheets.
How impossible it seemed to me at that time that I would ever be or react differently. In fact, my frustration only seemed to increase with each passing week of the course. I lived in fear that my kids would behave in a way that would open the floodgates of criticism on my new-fangled parenting ideas. I desperately wanted the change that I was seeking to be swift and easy. And what I wanted more than anything was for my kids, husband, parents and the world in general, to change. Realising that we cannot change others, only ourselves, and how we choose to respond to any given situation was one of the most powerful learning experiences of my life. I cannot even begin to imagine how I would have navigated that tumultuous time of change without my coach. She assured me that what I was feeling was normal, pointed out areas where I was making progress, helped pick me up when I was down, and most importantly, held me accountable when I made excuses.
After twelve weeks of coaching I knew I could still do and be better so I signed up for another round, much to the amusement of my coach. To this day I am glad I did. Round two was when life got interesting; where the magic began to happen. I relaxed. It was probably out of sheer exhaustion but that’s okay. I realized that I was reacting differently to situations as well as having very different conversations with the people in my life. Somehow I had stopped expecting everyone else to change. I had taken Ghandi’s advice “Be the change you want to see in the world” without even realizing it. And best of all, I was learning to trust that I knew what was right for myself and my family even when others did not approve.
As the second round of coaching came to an end much to my surprise and I will admit, horror, my coach asked me if I would be interested in becoming a coach. Me? Coach? I saw my progress, but I could not help but wonder what I could possibly have to offer as a coach when my kids, life and self were still not perfect. This was not the right time. So I asked myself when the time would be right. And that was when it hit me. There was never going to be a right time; my kids were never going to be perfect; I was never going to be perfect; life was never going to be perfect. Life is not meant to be perfect, it is a journey. Sometimes life is messy, complicated and confusing, and that’s okay for those are the times that push and challenge us. It is when we are most uncomfortable that we are the most motivated to change. We must always be brave, do our best, say sorry when we mess up and take a chance once in a while. With a deep breath I said yes. I took the coaching course. I took conflict resolution courses. I took mediation courses. I took leadership development courses. And then, even though the timing was not perfect, I took a chance.
When I recall the evening I became a parenting coach, I can still feel my heart pounding, my face flushed by the fear I was feeling. I was younger than most of the parents I was there to coach; all my insecurities were being expressed by that little negative voice in my head. Why would they take me seriously? Since they were older would they not be wiser than me? How was I going to help them? I took a breath, dug deep, and forced myself to speak. My voice sounded foreign and off to me, like I was speaking far too loud for such an intimate setting. I was shocked when one of the fathers asked me if I could talk louder. But talk I did, and so did the parents. Somehow we made a connection; we helped, supported, and learned from each other over the following twelve weeks. With each new session, it became easier and more natural.
My confidence grew with each new batch of parents who walked out the door feeling better not only about themselves but their ability to take on the hardest job in the world.
Since then I have used the skills I learned as a coach to help myself deal with difficult challenges in life as well as adventure sports. I have helped fellow parents, athletes, friends and even total strangers switch the gears in their heads. What I have learned is this; it does not matter if you are a young mom from the suburbs, a world class athlete or the CEO of a major corporation, we ALL have that little voice inside us that tells us to stand down. We all hear the voices of well meaning family, friends, and co-workers, who for whatever reason tell us we are doing it wrong, that we are not smart, pretty, talented, creative, and skilled enough.
Coaching is about getting the very best out of people. Sports franchises and Fortune 500 companies have always known this. In fact if you look at almost anyone who is at the top of their game, they have had some form of coaching. Coaches help us see the truth; we are enough, and each and every one of us has something beautiful and brilliant to contribute to this world. We must find the strength and confidence to deliver that gift. That is what I love the most about being a coach; the moment when someone sees not only their true potential but how to access it. The moment when they step up; take a chance and go for the life they want. Because this is what I know for sure; life is short, time is precious. Please do not waste it living someone’s life or settling for less than you deserve. If you hate your job, find a new one. If your relationships are not what they could be, fix them, right now, today. If your health or finances are lacking, take the steps to correct the problem. If you are playing small with your life, stop. “Your life as you live it is a movie that has emerged from your imagination. You’re the producer, writer, director and star. You’re in complete charge and can change the script at any time.” And just for the record you can take boys and raise them into good men by a means others may not think right. How do I know this? My sons are 27, 25 and 17 and while they may not be perfect, they are men that my parents are proud to call their grandsons.
Jenn Winiarski’s coaching, mediation and conflict resolution training began in the late eighties with training from the Justice Institute of British Columbia & other facilitator training organisations. She began as a parenting coach in her local community. Since then she has used her training to help not just parents but a diverse group of individuals throughout Canada and the USA achieve their goals. Inspiring, Motivating and Supporting others as they discover their true potential is something that Jenn is not just passionate about, she excels at it.
When she is not out there backpacking the world with her teenage son you can find her taking on some pretty tough challenges. Jenn has spent the past ten years as an endurance athlete running ultra marathons, competing in and finishing some of the toughest adventure races on the planet. Always looking for new ways to push herself and her limits, her latest challenge by choice is mountaineering.
The life lessons learned from these endeavors has prepared her to literally deal with anything – to handle any situation and any chaos with calm assurance. They have also strengthened and deepened her understanding of what it takes to support personal growth, behavior modification, and goal setting. Jenn is the one you want in your foxhole.