After establishing movement and music classes for preschoolers, Cara wanted to make a greater impact. She now works with mothers and fathers who want to become the best parents they can be, thereby transforming their family lives.
Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago. My parents divorced when I was very young and I lived with my dad, with whom I was very close, until middle school, when I ended up living with my mom, stepdad, brother and sister. I was still very close with my dad and felt immensely loved by my parents, siblings, stepparents, and extended family. Sometimes children of divorce don’t have a feeling of belonging but if they are loved they can get through it, especially if the parents put loving the child, not fighting their ex, as their priority. I was lucky.
I graduated from Indiana University in 1988 and had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought I’d like to become an attorney but, before committing to law school, I wanted to determine if I’d like working in a law firm. So I went to paralegal school at Roosevelt University and then worked at a very large law firm in Chicago. Working there made it clear that I didn’t want to practice law at a private firm. While going to law school to work on social justice causes was still appealing, my life took me in a different direction.
I married my husband, Barry, in 1992 after knowing him for many years (he was my cousin’s best friend). Several years later, we had our first child, Conley, and I stayed home to raise her. I had our son, Griffin, three years later, and then another daughter, Kendall, four years after that. I always volunteered to keep active outside the home but my most important job was being a mom. I volunteered at my kids’ school; I was president of the board of Li’l Bud’s Children’s Theatre Company for five years; I helped organize Family Mass at Old St Pat’s and co-chaired the Family Advisory Board for the church. I chaired and named The Parents at the Heart (PATH) committee at my kids’ school, an outreach group for families in a time of need and also organizes all-school community-building events.
When did you start thinking about making a change?
Around 2005, when I was 39, I started to think about working but wasn’t sure what I’d do. When Susan, the owner of a kids’ music and movement program called Sing and Dance, asked me to teach classes, I said yes. Since most of my recent experience was being with kids, not only as a mom but also in my volunteer capacities, it seemed fitting to get into teaching kids.
When Sing and Dance closed soon after, I searched for jobs that had to do with helping others, counseling, family law, and creativity. I checked out The Parent Coaching Institute, which trains coaches to help mothers and fathers become the type of parents they want to be, and I thought it sounded incredibly interesting and right up my alley. It encompassed all of my passion, talents and things I cared deeply about. But I put that idea on the back burner when Susan and I decided to start a business together.
We launched Away We Play: Movement, Music and Messy Arts in fall 2009, and rented space at the Menomonee Drucker Center, in Lincoln Park, Chicago. We were still building our business four years later when we ended up losing the space at the center.
Susan decided that we would never find another space and that she would leave Away We Play because she had been teaching for 33 years. I was once again not sure what to do.
I probably searched the same keywords and came across The Parent Coaching Institute (PCI) once again, my memory was immediately jogged and I thought this might mean something. I wasn’t sure what the program would actually entail, what the instructors would be like, or what I’d do after its completion, but it felt right, and I took a leap of faith.
What is your next act?
I am a parent coach with my own firm, Cara Pollard Parent Coach. I love coaching because it works: It transforms people’s lives for the better. To be part of this transformation is such an honor. When I begin working with a new client, and hear the situation, I feel the parent’s pain but I can also imagine the child’s pain. It’s exciting to know that I can help my clients. I believe that if they dedicate themselves to the process, they will obtain miraculous results and their lives will be changed. I also know that their child’s world will be transformed at the same time. Coaching is a gift that I receive because I enjoy creatively joining forces to come up with a way for families to live more joyfully, happily, and positively.
I work with all types of parents and situations. I coach couples who are going through a divorce, to help them keep their children’s needs at the forefront despite often difficult circumstances. I coach parents whose children are going through Chicago’s selective high school enrollment and college application process, as these are times of stress when I can help parents focus on the process rather than the results. Sometimes these parents lose sight of their children as people, rather than products to be marketed. We say we want what’s best for our kids but it’s easy to manipulate what’s best for them and what’s best for us. I’ve had great results when I coach someone whose child is in therapy; Coaching the parent while the child is being treated usually has double the positive results.
I also enjoy doing workshops and presentations, with large and small groups. I have done presentations on self-care, balanced parenting, motivation, and the use of screen technology and social media.
I enjoy the connection people find in my group workshops, where they are able to share their experiences and feelings. I would like to start a group for divorced women to facilitate that kind of connection. New mothers are another group that could use support. As the facilitator, I would help these groups find joy in their experiences, rather than just find a way to get through another day.
Following one of my talks on social media, I ran into one of my attendees. She told me she thinks of me every morning because she follows my advice: Instead of looking at her phone first thing, she seeks interaction with a real person, her spouse or child. If you want your kids to use their phone appropriately, you have to set the example. For someone to think of me every morning because she has made a very simple positive adjustment to her day is very touching; it means I’m making an impact.
What is your process when you work with clients?
I get most of my referrals from word of mouth. I have had clients start after a 10-minute introduction with me, and others spend a lot more time inquiring about coaching before committing to working with me. Once they do commit, we set up a specific day and time to talk each week. I have done shorter timeframes but the ideal is a 10-12 week series that encompasses a process I was trained for by the Parent Coaching Institute.
I approach each client with a desire to really help them, instill confidence in them, and learn about their strengths, hopes, and dreams. I find ways to use those strengths to help them define a parenting style they’re comfortable with, and motivate them to fulfill that goal. Each coaching session lasts about one hour. I coach in person—in the client’s home or in my studio. I also work remotely, via phone and Skype. I help clients across the US, and am currently working with parents in Chicago, Seattle, New York and Wisconsin. Between sessions, I give “homework” and we may email one another updates or information.
I had a client that came in for help with her morning routine, which sounded like a fairly straightforward case. However, we ended up doing three series of 12-weeks of coaching. She changed her relationship with not only her children, but also her husband, her extended family, her friends, and her colleagues. Coaching was a cultural change catalyst for this woman. She started to view her world differently and was able to stop herself from a negative spiral out of control state that she didn’t like to be in. It was truly miraculous. Everyone around her noticed the change too. She adapted very well to the process and techniques that we came up with for her to use. They were things she knew she could do and stick with. By discussing them each week, what worked and what didn’t, we were able to create some strategies and ways she could stay on track.
Another great result was garnered by coaching a woman, whose son’s grades in his first semester in college were not good. This mother is practical and results-oriented in her parenting and believed she should stay out of her son’s daily life so as not to be a helicopter parent. While she understood that kids of overinvolved parents often suffer from poor self-esteem, she was far from that kind of parent and her fear kept her too distant from her child. The problem was that her son is very much a connector; he likes to relate to people, especially his mom, whose opinion matters greatly to him. My client had been so good at teaching him, from an early age, how to be independent and successful. While he has the skills to reach his goals on his own, he still yearned to share his successes with his mom. She started reaching out more, connecting with her son through texts and even visited him in school. Through our coaching work, my client implemented the new strategies we agreed on; her relationship with her son became much closer and his grades improved significantly.
Why did you choose this next act?
I chose this act because it’s the culmination of my life’s work. It weaves my professional and volunteer experience with my talents. It’s a way to use what I’ve learned in classes and textbooks with what I have learned in my day-to-day experiences. It combines my EQ with my IQ because I use my early childhood development teaching with my Parent Coach Institute training, as well as my desire to help people. I knew that I was really meant to share my gifts in a way that would impact the world. I think not becoming a parent coach would have been denying myself the desire to be what I was meant to be.
How did you get started?
I started by taking the Parent Coaching Institute’s program. I applied, interviewed, obtained reference letters, and was accepted into PCI in the summer of 2013, at the age of 47. The Parent Coaching Institute is a 14-months long, distance-learning master’s level course out of the University of Seattle. It’s a rigorous course with a selective acceptance process.
The people who apply are nonjudgmental, brilliant, established, empathetic, highly creative professionals who are good listeners and truly want to help parents advocate for families and change the world. They are doctors, lawyers, therapists, with master’s degrees, and some even doctorates. I was intimated to let them into my world. It was the best thing I could do, as it helped immensely with my parenting.
Going through PCI is life changing for everyone who experiences it. First off, to be a coach you have to be coached. You have to dig deep inside and figure out who you are what you stand for and how to make the important things in your own life really count. You’re held accountable to yourself. Once you realize what you stand for, you must honor it. Some people are very afraid to do that work.
I was directly coached on letting go of my own fears and worries about my kids. I was approaching them with that fear and anxiety, which was inherent in all of our communications. All it did was push them further away from our relationship. It sounds so simple but letting go of fear is hard. With the help of my coach, I did it and we are all better because of it. I think back to the strife I caused and I am sad for my kids and me as a mom, but at the same time, I am so grateful that I was able to learn, change, and grow.
It requires hands-on learning with 100 pro bono practicum hours, a case study, many papers and assignments, as well as group work. The textbooks used in the course provide deep learning on a variety of subjects. Many theories and processes are presented that combine appreciative inquiry, living systems principles, and childhood development data. We learn from authors including business professors, new age science philosophers, early childhood doctors, and psychologists. The founder, Gloria DeGaetano, has written many renowned books on media violence. She co-authored Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence, wrote Parenting Well in a Media Age: Keeping Our Kids Human. She actually wrote these books and started The Parent Coaching Institute as a result of the Columbine tragedy and many years of research.
We need an army of graduates to help safely raise kids in today’s society. We do not know all the effects social media, screens, and technology will have on the generation we are raising. We, as parents, need help in doing so. While it’s always been said that’s there no manual for parenting, it’s particularly true today since none of our parents had screen technology around when we were being raised.
What happened to Away We Play while you went back to school?
I had to work to pay for the Parent Coaching Institute tuition and wanted to keep Away We Play operating at the same time as I went back to school. I had built this business and I knew my classes had a very positive impact. I didn’t want to give that up. But, with Susan gone and no classroom space, I had to figure out a new location. Within a couple of months, I found two new spaces in Chicago that I could rent for my classes. One was a storefront studio in my own neighborhood, Old Irving Park, and one was a room in River North. The storefront was over my budget so I partnered with Scott Barbeau, who owns Upbeat Music and Arts, a program that teaches music lessons. We split the rent at the studio because he teaches older students after school and I generally teach in the mornings.
In the fall of 2013, just as I was starting my PCI course, I opened my new locations and Away We Play won an award for best art classes for kids in Chicago. In May of 2014, Away we play was also hired by a private school, Frances Xavier Warde, to be the music provider for 188 preschoolers. At first I hired one teacher, then two, to help me with Away We Play, and ran from one location to the other to teach classes. I finally had to give up the River North location but am still today at Old Irving Park and teaching at Frances Xavier Warde.
Luckily, my parent coaching and Away We Play are sister businesses and compliment each other well, but juggling both is hard. The fall is very busy for Away we play because new programs start along with the start of preschool sessions but I’m getting the hang of it and am starting to feel like things are running smoothly. I am teaching a few days a week and coaching the others.
How supportive were your friends? What did you learn about yourself?
Most of them were extremely supportive but some were not. For many people, it’s hard to know what parent coaching is because it’s not as known in the United States, versus the UK or Australia where it’s widely used. I’ve been surprised by the people who don’t know about parent coaching yet won’t ask me about it. I think they are fearful and I get that.
Also, many people told me that there was no possible way to run Away We Play and go through a master’s level program at the same time. I was glad to prove them wrong. I learned that I am very strong and can accomplish way more than I think I can. I learned to trust my intuition and to take the quiet time I needed to figure things out. Sometimes we busy ourselves to avoid something that’s bothering us. When I dedicate myself to finding an answer, it appears.
What challenges have you encountered?
The biggest challenge is to get people to be open up enough and desire change to try parent coaching. However, once they experience it, they are hooked because they immediately start to see small changes if they are committed to them.
When I think about giving up, my staunchest supporters always seem to say or do the right thing, at just the perfect moment, to remind me to stay the course. They truly believe that this is exactly what I should be doing. My parents, my husband, and my own kids really help me to keep going. My other relatives and friends are very helpful. My clients also are so supportive of me and believe in the results they’ve obtained. My coaching colleagues from PCI are some of my best cheerleaders. I have only talked to them over the phone but they know me so well.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife, and maybe even becoming a parent coach?
If you are seeking reinvention, try it. I can attest to the fact, that it won’t kill you and it might be wonderful, so it’s worth a try. Change isn’t comfortable but its not supposed to be. After the discomfort, we are new and whole again, and definitely more aware and happy.
If you’re a parent, consider getting some coaching. We’ve added many luxuries and conveniences to our fast-paced lives. I believe adding some coaching and committing to being a joyful family is something every parent should do.
If you’re interested in parent coaching, enroll in The Parent Coaching Institute; I think it’s the best training program available. It’s affiliated with a university and it allows for the student to experience their own transformation while learning.
I believe an effective parent coach must have certain qualities: Being a compassionate, loving, friendly, smart, caring, inner-directed but other-focused type of person is best.
Referrals are a key way to grow your clientele. My current clients, as well as teachers, doctors, health care professionals, clergy, family and friends have all sent new clients my way. I have also been asked to coach in a research study project where a school in Boston hired 30 coaches because of the change they witnessed from one parent who was coached. The findings of the study will be collected and evaluated.
Speaking engagements are another great way to gain new clients. I have spoken at schools, churches, Away We Play’s studio, Balance Health and Wellness in Chicago, and an AT&T women’s group. I co-presented at several schools with Cathy Cassini Adams of Zen Parenting Radio. And I’ve done many self-care presentations and workshops with Jennifer Bryant, who is a health, nutrition, and fitness expert.
What resources do you recommend?
Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age by Dan Kindlon, PhD
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel
The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door by Barb Mahany
Terry Nelson Johnson’s Soul Play
MindUp, The Hawn Foundation
The Family Institute at Northwestern University
Positive Mindful Parenting
What’s next for you?
When it comes to my parent coaching, I’d like to work with schools to offer coaching services and parenting talks, in order to create a more cohesive school environment where parent, teacher, and child are working together. I’d like to coach members of the whole community: teachers, administrators, parents, and students. I’d like to lead discussions on the high school application process, the college admissions process, and bullying, in conjunction with authors’ presentations.
I’d like to work with nonprofits who serve children to create parenting programs or programs for kids without parents because a mentor or guardian should be coached too. I’d also like to develop a program and curriculum for ways parents can teach empathy to kids. I’d like to partner with law firms to have coaching become a mandatory part of divorce proceedings.
Finally, I’d like to work with large companies to enhance their employees’ lives outside of work so they can be more productive on the job.
With respect to Away We Play, my plan is to keep that business going as well but I am hoping to hire a manager to help with the day-to-day operations. I’d like to hire a variety of teaching professionals across a spectrum of art media, to run programs at the studio, as well as in schools and other outside locations. As the founder, my main role will be one of collaboration to ensure Away We Play has a wider reach and higher enrollment. At the same time, as a parent coach, I can offer coaching services to those audiences to present dual opportunities for those communities and vendors.
Contact Cara Waldron Pollard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-305-8218
I love to do group talks but my favorite thing is one-on-one coaching, as I get the best results there. So contact me to discuss how we can work together.