Exploring the 3 Phases of Parenthood: Parent, Coach, Mentor

by | Feb 14, 2020

As the founders of Birth2Work, we’ve spent years helping families expand their understanding of what intentional parenting involves, including the transformation parents go through as their children mature.

Keeping an eye on the big picture of enabling our children grow to become happy and caring adults, ready to fulfill their dreams is easier said than done. Learning to “let go” and shift gears into becoming a coach and mentor is a challenge we all struggle with.

A Mother’s Day card Elane received from one of her daughters put it bluntly: “The first 40 years are the hardest.” While funny (and true) there are some strategies that can help you make the transition between parent, coach, and mentor a little smoother.

3 Phases of Parenthood: Parent, Coach, Mentor


  • Provide unconditional love
  • Establish a sense of safety/security/stability
  • Provide for basic needs like food/clothing/health when children are young
  • Model family life and instill values


  • Act as an instructor to teach and develop life skills by instruction and demonstration
  • Typically create scenarios to practice skills and improve capabilities
  • Help ensure development stays on track by monitoring progress and taking action to help with shortcomings and increase strengths


  • Function as a trusted counselor who actively listens and observes without judgement
  • Model behavior and share experiences, outcomes, and learning from experiences
  • Provide feedback when asked
  • Make recommendations but leave decisions and consequences of actions to the mentee

Transitioning Between Phases

We all start out as parents. As our children get older, however, it becomes necessary to incorporate the coaching mentality and ultimately act as mentors. For us, the question is not “are we parents, coaches, or mentors?” It’s more about “when is the right time to make the transitions to coach and mentor while always being parents?”

When we start out with a bouncing bundle of joy, our primary focus is about providing a safe environment so that our children can move, grow, eat, and sleep. We are the ultimate caretaker tasked with attending to every need at every possible moment. That’s the blessing of parenting a newborn.  

Becoming a coach:

By the time our children become toddlers, we can start coaching:

  • At age one, children can start putting toys away
  • Between two and three, toddlers can make their own beds and help sort laundry
  • Between three and four, they can more easily dress themselves and start helping prepare snacks
  • Responsibilities for daily activities, interactions with school and other members of the community increase from here. We share tons of examples in our free guide The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Personal Responsbility

Will they do it correctly every time, of course not! For basic activities like these, however, you can become a coach by showing them how to complete a task, then ensure they follow through each time. You can always step in to help them do it better/safely, but the default response is to have them be primarily responsible for the action, not you!

And should they choose to not fulfill their responsibilities, holding them accountable is extremely important. To be clear, that does not mean punishment in a traditional sense. It means allowing them to experience the consequences of their choices.

Holding your child accountable for basic responsibilities, even at a very young age, will pay extraordinary dividends in the long term.

Here’s an example: When your 10-year-old wants you to do something, like take them to an event or see a friend, do you first confirm that they’ve completed their responsibilities? (Cleaned their room, taken out trash, etc.) If they’ve chosen to disregard what is asked by the family, you have no obligation to respond to their request for a ride!

If you consistently hold your position about responsibilities before fun, or reasonable needs of the family before wants of the individual, your child will soon get the message. They’ll complete their responsibilities before asking you for something they want.

Helping them learn about consequences is an important part of being a coach.

Moving to Mentorship:

As your child gets older and closer to leaving home, it’s time to transition into the mentor role.

You’ll know they’re ready for a mentor by observing the decisions they are making on their own.

Even though the decisions won’t always be the choices you might make, it’s incredibly important they experience the larger societal consequences of their choices so long as they don’t put themselves in harm’s way.

Here’s an example: Your teenager is out with friends. (You know who these friends are and where they went because you’re already fulfilling the parenting and coaching roles.) They know they’re expected home in time to eat dinner with the family. Whether or not they come home in time to eat is their decision. Not home in time, no dinner that night.

Here’s an example: Your teenager has school work, chores, and other activities that all require time management. Have you sat down with them to show them your planner and explain how you manage your time? Do they have their own planner? If yes, then let them figure out what works best for them. There might be some late nights early on, but over time your child will learn what works and what doesn’t when creating a schedule that works for them.

Allowing your child to figure things out on their own helps to strengthen the sense of trust that is so critical between parents and children.

Parent, coach, and mentor … as parents we take on all three roles so that our children can become happy, caring, and capable adults.

So even though “the first 40 years are the hardest,” you now have some strategies and a few additional resources to make them and the rest of your parenting journey a little easier.

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Rick Stephens

Rick Stephens is a co-founder of Birth2Work. With 33 years of experience as a top-level executive at The Boeing Company and having raised four children of his own, he is able to support parents and grandparents by incorporating his knowledge of business, leadership, and complex systems into the family setting. In his “free time” Rick enjoys road biking, scuba diving, visiting his grandkids, and generally trying to figure out which time zone he’s in this week. Read full bio >>

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