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How Coaching Our Son Prepared Him for Independent Living by Jeff Williams

Oct 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Parent Coaching - Guest Posts

The year of truth was upon them.  How would Ben Horst apply everything his parents had taught him for the past eighteen years if given the freedom to make his own decisions?

Professionally trained and certified Leadership Coaches Gary and Tina Stoltzfus Horst* decided that their best chance to help their son transition to responsible independent living would be to coach him through his senior year of high school to make the shift for decision making about his life to him.  That put a lot of trust in a coaching approach to parenting, and a lot of confidence in Ben.

“It was late summer 2005 when we sat down with Ben to tell him that they were going to give him freedom to make his own decisions to help him to prepare to take more responsibility for his choices when he began college the following year” said Tina.

How did they decide to use a coaching approach to parenting?

“Essentially, we made the decision based on our belief that it’s not a great idea to send kids away from home without them having a chance to make their own decisions. We wanted Ben to have an opportunity to take responsibility for his own life and to process any mistakes while still living under our roof.  This kind of arrangement gives teens a chance to make a bad choice with their parents close by to help them process it so that any bad choices become an opportunity to learn and to build character.  We’ve seen kids leave home without having the opportunity to make their own decisions.  It seems to us that they are more likely to flounder when they go to college or start living on their own.” said Gary.

Essentially, the Stoltzfus Horsts wanted Ben to have the opportunity to exercise his decision-making muscles so that he would be more comfortable and confident about evaluating his options and making his own choices when he began to live on his own in college the following year.  The process of him differentiating to become his own person was happening anyhow.  As parents they simply decided to help it along by being intentional about blessing Ben to make his own decisions while he still had them as a safety net.

Ben compared the experience to learning to swim.  “Having my parents there was like learning to swim in the shallow end of the pool.  I could put my feet down if I started having trouble.” That’s exactly what Gary and Tina had in mind, and it worked well, even if it wasn’t easy.  Tina remembers struggling to remain silent as Ben pushed college scholarship applications to the last minute.  “I so wanted to make sure that it got done, but was determined to let Ben decide how and when he would do it.” But, it all worked out as Ben is now succeeding in his senior year as an honors engineering student at Purdue University.  He is also proud of his ability to manage independent living responsibilities.

“I don’t have my parents telling me when to pay my rent or how to handle things with my landlord.  Some students here never deal with anything like that because their parents take care of everything.  But I don’t want it that way.  I want to get invoices for my bills in the mailbox, and I like knowing how to handle things.” It is clear that being coached during his senior year put Ben a step ahead of peers who didn’t practice independent living before they left home.

Gary and Tina admit that deciding to coach Ben wasn’t a huge risk because he didn’t get into things that some youth do. “Ben was such an innately responsible child all of his life.  He wasn’t hard to pull back if he was headed for trouble. Through high school he was never the kind of kid to be staying out till 3am, drinking and drugging or having sex with his girlfriend, so taking the step to give him more responsibility wasn’t a huge risk” said Tina.

So, how did they do it?

“Basically, when we sat down with Ben in August we told him, ‘We expect that you won’t do anything immoral or illegal. . .here’s a monthly allowance for clothes, toiletries, entertainment, food away from home, gas, (basically covering any expenses he would have that his part-time job did not cover).  We expect you to manage it though a checking account and that you get a debit card.  When you turn 18 we want you to get a credit card, and we’re here for you to ask questions about how to do these things or how to manage money.  You’re in charge of your own curfew, who you hang out with, what movies you choose to watch, what games you play; we only ask you to be considerate of us and let us know where you are and when you will be home.  When you need to make major decision or really mess up, we want you to talk with us.  When you need to talk through decisions, we’ll ask you challenging questions, help you figure out what’s important to you and how to get there, but we will not tell you what to do.  If you want our opinion you’ll need to ask for it!'”

“My parents weren’t terribly restrictive in High School in general.  Some events became optional.  I definitely felt like I was making my own decisions and it definitely helped me to be ready to decide how and when to take care of my responsibilities.  They gave me opportunity to manage my own time, so I had to learn to balance school-work, family time, hobbies.  I learned how to focus on schoolwork and still have fun.

Upon reflection, neither Ben nor his parents would do anything different his senior year.  Ben is glad he was given freedom to make decisions and that his parents were available to ask and listen without telling or requiring certain behaviors.  He thinks that this style of parenting significantly reduces the chances of rebellion.  “We want to explore all that life has to offer, but not necessarily rebel.  Some parents restrict experiences to such a narrow band of life that kids see rebellion as the only option.”

Gary says that their expectations played a big role in the success of their coaching plan.  “We weren’t interested in perfection, but growth…that Ben would learn through the experience.” It seems clear that he did, and that another benefit of the plan was the cultivation of a healthy and enjoyable ongoing relationship for both Ben and his parents.  That was evident throughout our interview as they laughed, kidded and chided one another, and as Ben both implied gratitude to his parents for their confidence, trust and support.

Ben hopes that other parents will seriously consider a similar approach to parenting, but cautions that kids are different and that they have to be ready for this kind of responsibility.  Gary and Tina hope that such a parenting approach will become more prevalent because it helps kids to launch successfully.  They are all available to share more about their experience with you, and can be reached through comments on this article, or  by email: Tina at or Gary at

*Gary and Tina were both trained through Life-forming Leadership Coaching,  Tina directs Coaching Mission International, CMI,, and Gary helps to run Mission Woodworking,, which was founded to support Christian mission work.  They live in Goshen, Indiana and also have a daughter, Rosie who started college this fall.

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