Parents First!™ Journey

The Parents First!™ Journey is a stimulating and nurturing brain-based learning experience focused on strengthening you as a parent, family member, and individual. Structured around themes and principles that will assist you in being the best parent you can be, the Journey engages your intellect in considering new ideas, your creativity in testing them out in the real world, and your heart in reflecting on all that you learn and accomplish.

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey

Over 28 days, we guide you through instructional videos, in-family projects, personal journaling, meditation, and more. Each day, you will watch one, two, or three short videos; initiate an interpersonal conversation or activity; and, record your discoveries in your Parents First!™ journal. This three-step learning process of exploring new ideas, testing them out in action, and then considering how they impact your life is a proven structure for adult education.

Your daily time commitment is roughly 45 to 60 minutes, though you can “binge learn” for several hours on a weekend if that works best for you. In addition, at the same time you are engaged in the Journey, you will have access to Master Classes and Huddles™ (see below), one-on-one coaching and guidance, and other practices that can supplement and strengthen your learning.

Here is a detailed look at many of the important topics you will address in the Parents First!™ Journey:


What's the Use of Worrying? Be Concerned Instead

Worrying is a normal part of most people’s lives. But, worrying doesn’t make anything new happen. And even worse, worrying can be paralyzing, because your focus is on brooding about the future rather than taking action to create what is important to you. On the other hand, being concerned is good news, because it reminds you of something important–that you love your children! The experience of “being concerned” can only arise because you long for something to be different. You want the future to be better than the present (or what you fear the future currently holds). Concerns, though often uncomfortable, move us to vision, commitment and action. What are your concerns?

To Live or Not to Live, That is the Question!

Life is a continuous unfolding of moment-to-moment events and interactions. Most people interpret the events of life through the filters of their history, the way things have always been. If something worked in the past, our mind believes it will work in the present; if something was unsafe or unsuccessful once, we tend to believe it will always be that way. This thinking pattern is the embodiment of a “reptilian” survival mechanism buried deep within the most ancient parts of the human brain. This resistance cycle is automatic and reflexive. Our inherited resistance to change unconsciously ensures that we face new events in the same way that we faced past events. The result is that the future can be nothing more than a continuation of the past, and we experience life as a struggle.

The Discovery Cycle, on the other hand, is a distinctly human invention for engaging your brain in new ways. In fact, you can re-design your own brain by shaping your life from your vision of the future. By facing “what is” and identifying and consciously declaring what you intend to create, you empower yourself to create an unprecedented future rooted in your commitments and goals. Living in discovery requires courage and risking. It allows you to break out of the past and become the author of your own future.

Who’s Ready for the "New Parenthood”?

Parenthood is much bigger than parenting. Parenting is, at its simplest, the array of actions we engage in as we rear a child. But actions alone are not enough. We have all heard stories of institutionalized infants failing to thrive because, though their physical needs were met, their emotional needs were unattended and unsatisfied.

Parenthood, on the other hand, is a practice that focuses on serving and learning. One thing doctors and lawyers have in common is giving their best to their patient or client, and being willing to invent new ways to reach their goals. To be successful, they embody a set of values and practices and accumulate the best learning and knowledge available. What makes a great doctor is not merely medical instruments; it’s the vision to see patients in a special way. Even when a doctor loses a patient or a lawyer loses a case, they keep going. They don’t close up shop. They review what they did and search for what they could have done differently, and they incorporate that learning into a better-informed and wiser practice.

Parenthood is exactly the same. The Parenthood Practice is not focused on a limited body of knowledge and skills that is learned once and then executed uniformly for 18 or so years. Being the best possible parent goes far beyond learning how to change diapers, set limits, offer praise, and so on. These bits of knowledge may be necessary, but they are not sufficient to sustain the practice of parenthood and nurture healthy, well-adjusted children. Mastering the ways of being, attitudes and skills that enable you to nurture an independent and self-sufficient child is a life-long learning process more like being a compassionate doctor or dedicated lawyer.

Perfection is the Enemy of the "Good Enough" Parent

When we expect ourselves to be perfect parents, we are unable to contribute to our children in the present moment. We see situations rigidly, falling back on tired old prescriptions that may not address the current situation. Or, we question ourselves, searching for a perfect answer that is always “just out of reach.” And most of us are driven to do these things even while we know intellectually that there is no such thing as a perfect parent.

Being an effective parent, on the other hand, is always available to us. Effective parents are intention-oriented. They focus on their primary goal: raising secure, loving children who feel safe in and connected to the world. Effective parents address what is happening in front of them, accepting who their children are and guiding them with the values by which they themselves live. Effective parents look at the results their parenting practices create for themselves and their children, and they adjust their strategies and actions accordingly. Effective parents nurture secure, loving and independent children.

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Being an effective parent is not about your children; it is about you. Why? Because your children learn about life almost entirely from how you live, not from what you say. If you place yourself first in your own life, your children will do the same. If you sacrifice to prove your love, they will imitate that. If you put their wants above your needs, you are setting yourself up for suffering and your children to feel entitled or guilty throughout their lives. What if you saw yourself as important as your children?

Mom, Dad and the Forces that Shaped Me

Every one of us has had a mom and a dad. These two people–and there could be more than two, or different men and women who filled these roles–profoundly influenced our development. We learned how to be human beings from our moms and dads.

Beyond impacting our individual identity, our parents also gave us much of what we know about being parents. Today, most of us are either trying to be exactly like our parents, or exactly the opposite.

When I’m able to see how the specific ways in which my mom and dad parented are simply one example of how parents can be, I have the opportunity to invent my own parenthood practice.

Acknowledging what happened in my childhood–the pain and shortcomings, the good my parents imparted–and forgiving their errors and omissions as well as my own allows me to be a parent in my own right, not an imitation or rejection of my own parents. Inventing myself anew as a mom or dad is a gift for me and my children.


Can I Choose My Life or Is It Out of My Control?

Moment to moment, life occurs to us as either an opportunity or an imposition, something to step into or something to avoid, a chance to create or a situation inflicted on us from the outside that must be overcome. Each of these ways of seeing the world has its own rewards and requirements. How you operate moment to moment–choosing your life or experiencing it as happening to you–has everything to do with the quality of your relationships and your sense of yourself.

Intention and Results: How Can I Achieve My Most Important Goals?

Clarifying the link between intention and results can assist you to make important things happen with less effort and less stress. What does it take for you to create results that matter to you? How can you most easily accomplish your goals? Why do you sometimes set out to accomplish your goal but not quite finish the job? How is it that you sometimes end up with a result that is different from what you said you wanted? And how can you be better at creating the results you truly desire?

Promises Big and Small--They All Matter

Promises are the speech acts that make things happen. A promise consists of our stated commitment to create specific, measurable results by an agreed-upon point in time. We either keep our promises or we break them, generating rewards and consequences for ourselves and the people we care about. Honored promises generate intimacy, trust and self-confidence; broken promises reduce them.

As a parent, you are a promise to your children, even though many of your promises are implicit rather than explicit. Most of us would never say, “I will make sure you have enough food every day,” but we implicitly make this promise to our children by being their parents. More explicit promises relate to activities, nurturing, punishment and rewards, and so on. How well we handle our promises to our children shapes their self-worth, relationships and sense of safety in the world and greatly impacts our own sense of self-worth.

Climbing Out of the Junkyard

Most of us spend a lot of time “living” in the past. We examine and reexamine the unpleasant events of our lives. We fret about our mistakes. We recount the ways people have wronged us. We live in regret and recrimination. Getting out of the junkyard of regrets is an opportunity for liberating our energy and reclaiming personal purpose, power and focus.

Forgiveness, Gratitude and Freedom to Live

Forgiveness can be defined as, “giving forth love as before.” When I truly forgive, I renew my relationship with the person I have forgiven. Whether it’s my parents, my child or myself, my willingness to forgive allows me to invent a new relationship with that person. At the same time, when I forgive, I reclaim the energy that I have been spending to hold on to how I was wronged.

While forgiving is valuable for me and others, it’s not always easy. I must look at what occurred. Sometimes, I need to let myself re-experience the pain associated with the events. And I have to ask myself some difficult questions: Why have I not already let go of these incidents? What do I gain from holding onto them? What keeps me unwilling to forgive? Am I ready to move on? WHat am I trulyt grateful for?

Taking Charge of My Dominant Emotional State

What is my relationship with my emotions and my life energy or mood? Am I striving to control my emotions, or do I surrender and allow myself to fully experience them? Underneath all of the ups and downs of daily life, what is the dominant emotional state that underlies my experience of life? And what impact does it have on my children, family and friends?

The Ben Franklin 360º Personal Assessment

We live in a world of relationships, so it is important to consider the external conversations we create–meaning, what others think about us. People in our lives have a wide range of impressions of us based on how we interact with them, our ways of being and doing that impact their lives. And, of course, how we show up with our children has everything to do with how we touch their lives. Whether we are compassionate and good listeners or bossy and demanding lives in their experience of us.

What are my strengths as a parent? Where do I need to learn new ways of being with my children? How can I most clearly see myself? Considering how others perceive us offers valuable information in calibrating how we impact our world, and where we might need to shift our communication and engagement with others to have a greater positive impact. We may develop more fully as parents when we are willing to appraise our actions and underlying beliefs in light of the real results we create in the lives of the people around us.


How Does the Future Look to You?

The human brain is an amazingly powerful tool, and it can be cultivated to accomplish the things we envision. How we think and talk about the future generates the ways in which our lives unfold. What we will do and how successful we will be live in the conversations we implant in our brains. Scientific studies have shown, for example, that basketball players who envision their play half the time and practice half the time perform better than those who merely practice. Your future is gestating right now, largely unconsciously in your mind. What are the values that truly matter to you? How can you incorporate them into your thinking processes to generate the future you truly long to create?

Listening is Magic

The most powerful tool in improving relationships is listening. When I am willing to listen openly and non-judgmentally, other people feel heard and understood. A meeting of hearts and minds is possible, and the likelihood of positive outcomes increases. But listening in this way is a challenge; the mind prepares rebuttals and questions. The ego wants to “win” the argument. Learning to listen patiently and openly is an art that one can master, and the result is increased energy and connection..

Play Your Way Back into Life

You may have forgotten, but you were once a child who loved to play. Most adults have given up on this most important aspect of childhood. Play is the creative use of time for fun and enjoyment with no purpose other than fun and enjoyment. Most adults are too busy with the serious matters of jobs, parenting, health issues and such. But play can be a magic wand in our lives: it’s is good for the heart, the mind, our creativity and learning, and especially our joy in living. Play can liberate you as a parent.

What is Your Role as a Parent?

Parents have many roles in their children’s lives. Understanding which role fits which situation is your job. Parents who are always telling children exactly what to do or directing them on a single path provide a negative environment for their children and all around them. Oppressive parental models include the general, CEO, tiger, elephant or helicopter. “My way or the highway” is their operating principle, with the parent being constantly frustrated and the child resentful and self-doubting. These roles disempower both child and parent.

On the other hand, living into a powerful metaphor — gardener, coach, storyteller, dreamer, expert-companion  — empowers parents both to raise their children and treat themselves compassionately. A parent can be like a farmer growing a tree, having a vision for how their tree will mature. Their job is to nurture the seed that they planted, letting the tree grow on its own while giving it all the support that it needs–nutrition, protection, reinforcement, occasional trimming. The tree will grow of its own accord; pulling on it will not make it grow faster, taller or stronger. The tree’s growth follows a schedule of milestones, and the farmer’s interventions are intentional, not gratuitously imposed.

Am I Responsible for or to My Child?

You cannot live your child’s life for them; that’s their responsibility. Your role is to be their parent. Parents can and should be responsible to their children, but they cannot be responsible for their children. A parent’s job is to create a family environment that nurtures their children and allows them to grow up and prepare for successful adulthood. “Responsible for” is the illusion that a parent can manage their child’s life in a way that eliminates failure and pain; “responsible for” doesn’t work, and it actually prevents your child from reaching their full potential.

Don’t ‘Should’ on Me!

Each of us lives with an invisible yet quite real mental rule book of “should’s” and “should nots.” We measure our performance as parents against these self-imposed requirements, generating pressure, guilt and shame for ourselves. Our “should’s” consist of prescribed methods for dealing with various parenting issues. We often adopt them unconsciously from sources outside ourselves, typically our own parents or our religion, culture and society. “Should’s” sometimes offer powerful and appropriate shortcuts to effective action, but too often they force us to deny our own experience and judgment. Learning to replace inappropriate “should’s” with more empowering messages is an on-going challenge.

What is Winning for My Loved Ones and for Me?

We live in a competitive world. We are constantly striving to be the best and beat the competition. In business, this is often necessary but, in personal relationships, it can be destructive. What is winning in our relationships? How do we ensure that the people we care about receive our support in their endeavors? What is the balance between competition and cooperation that works best for our children?


Choosing Intimacy as a Way of Relating

Connecting fully and with an open heart with other human beings is challenging for most of us. We are busy; it never seems to be the right time; we are scared of getting hurt or of hurting the other person. By connecting heart to heart, we may achieve a profound mutual recognition that is sustaining and enriching. In doing so, we invent a new conversation for our relationship and our own sense of self-worth. Of course, every moment of life is not about intimacy; often, we are busy with tasks or spending time alone. But increasing our capacity and fluidity for shifting into intimacy with the people we care about–especially our children, partners and family–creates added richness and fulfillment every day.

Standing in the Future

Envisioning the future in a rich, detailed way is a creative process that enables parents to create the future as they dream it can be, rather than continually recreate the past. While there is no dishonor in doing what you have been doing up to this point–after all, it has worked to get you safely to this moment in your life–there is also no new possibility available in doing what you have always done. Standing in the future is the most potent means for identifying and working toward unprecedented results.

Communicating With Heart...the Challenge of Vulnerability

“Does this path have a heart?” wrote Carlos Castaneda, the Peruvian-born author of The Teachings of Don Juan. Here, he was speaking about a human being’s life journey, how easy and joyful it is when we follow a path that calls to us, how difficult and exhausting it is when we follow a road that is not true to us.

Every communication can have a heart as well, or lack one. Are we communicating with compassion, making an effort to understand our child’s experience and point of view? Or, are we interacting with indifference or impatience, seeing our child as an object to be managed or manipulated?

Communicating with heart increases intimacy and connection, and it’s easier than holding back or controlling. Just as telling the truth is easier than lying–when I lie, I have to remember what I said, but, when I tell the truth, I don’t have to remember anything!–sharing my heart moment to moment is, with a bit of practice, far easier than trying to figure out the right thing to say.

Would You Rather Have Great Relationships or Just Be Right?

“You can be right, or you can have your relationship, but you can’t do both.” What am I being right about in my relationship with others? Is how I see the world the “truth,” or is it just my point of view? Where do I draw the line between what I think and what my partner or child thinks? How do I know I am doing what’s best for us all? Am I more committed to being right and maintaining control than having the relationships work? How can I ensure that my relationship works without sacrificing my own needs and opinions?

The Parenthood Practice: Licensed to Love

Moving from vision to accomplishment requires action, and a personal development plan supports you to put in place the changes you want to make in your life–as a parent, partner, child, friend, colleague. Your “Personal Development Plan” will consists of goals you declare and negotiate, and a timetable for implementing the specific changes you are committed to make in yourself and your family.

Celebrating a New Beginning

One of the great joys of any journey is sharing it with people who matter to you. Our special “Celebration” Huddle includes a heartfelt acknowledgement of your journey and the discoveries you have made plus acknowledgements of with your family and friends, and a chance to introduce them to the Parents First!™ Journey.

Parents First!™ Master Classes

Parents First!™ Master Classes complement the Journey by offering a deeper dive into important parent and child issues. These 90- to 120-minute sessions are facilitated by experts in parent, family and childhood issues and present the latest thinking and success strategies concerning brain-based learning, family dynamics and stress management. Led by psychologists, doctors, educators and other experts, Master class topics include: being the parent of a child with unique gifts or challenges; building on the brain/mind duality in crafting a great life; thriving in a volatile social environment; and, strengthening positive attachment and interdependence with your child.

Master classes may be taken in conjunction with the Journey, but they are also offered as stand-alone learning opportunities. The twelve Master Classes are given on a repeating cycle throughout the year, and package pricing is available.

Some of the topics of Parents First!™ Master Classes are:

What Am I Attached to?

Your attachment style shapes the relationship you have with your children and the lessons they are learning about how to connect with other people. We will learn about the qualities of healthy attachment, conduct individual self-assessments and develop prescriptions for enhancing our own attachment style. This workshop will reduce any anxiety you may have about the effect of your personality style on your child and assist you to embrace a healthy attachment style that leads to your child’s self-sufficiency.

What Makes a Child “Special”?

Our point of view is that every child is special, in the sense that they are each and every one unique and beautiful. But, we typically think of “special needs” as being a problem that requires extra attention. Actually, every child flourishes if they receive attention; the challenge is to determine which kind of attention is needed by which child! This workshop addresses neurodiversity, racial and gender diversity, physical and emotional impairments and gifts. You will gain greater compassion for your child and your situation and greater understanding of what makes each child “special.”

How Powerful Am I, Really?

Many of us believe that our attitudes and actions are the only things shaping our children. In fact, they are also shaped by numerous biological, trans-generational, social and cultural influences. We briefly examine the role of genetics (DNA in our cells that is inherited by our offspring and conveys certain traits and proclivities) and epigenetics (the activation of certain cells–by nature or nurture–and the effects such gene expressions have on our lives). We look at  the issue of traumatic experiences and the importance of post-traumatic growth. Lastly, we discuss cultural and social influences on individual development and life success.

The Parenthood Practice

Parents embody many roles with their children, some preferring a laissez-faire, free range approach; some driven to be controlling-style “tiger” parents. Still others try to be their child’s friend or act as a coach. In this workshop, we look at the liberating role of the “expert companion.” An expert companion provides support and guidance as they encourage autonomous decision-making by the child. The expert-companion maintains clear boundaries between the adult’s life and that of the child. The child gets to have her own results, good or bad, and experience the natural consequences of her behaviors. The parent is thus a resource and guide who encourages the child to excel in her own right rather than blindly perform up to the parent’s expectations. Like learning to walk, the child is encouraged to stand on her own two feet. Despite occasional missteps and falls, she will succeed. And the expert-companion gives her the support and the space to do just that.

The Leading Parent

We often think of leaders as being elected officials, diplomats or military officers. What is possible when we parents envision ourselves as leaders? This workshop starts with a visioning process and then explores the many themes addressed daily by the parent-leader: enrollment, integrity, accountability, responsibility, communication, independence/interdependence, the family as a community, and connection to the outside world.

Parents First!™ Huddles

Our intimate Parents First!™ Huddles allow you to enter a community of fellow learners. Huddles offer you a warm and encouraging learning environment that complements and strengthens the Parents First!™ Journey and/or the Parents First!™ Master Classes. Conducted via live videoconference with our trainers, outside experts and your fellow students, these 90-minute weekly sessions are fun and exciting, providing information, ideas, support and encouragement so you can truly flourish in your parenthood. In each session, we address your questions and concerns, challenges and victories.

Sessions are available on either Tuesday evenings or Saturday afternoons.