Sitting on the deck of her Malvern home, Lisa Corcoran displays an ease that doesn’t seem possible for a mother of six boys and three girls. She’s just back from picking up her 6-year-old son, Johnny, at St. Norbert Elementary School in Paoli after he had a run-in with a chain link fence at recess. Of her three oldest kids—Joseph, 22, Kelly, 21, and Maggie, 19—two are home from college for the summer; 18-year-old Ryan is headed for the University of Colorado in the fall; and youngest son Andrew, 3, couldn’t be happier to have so many siblings at his disposal in the middle of the day. “Something always is going on here,” Corcoran laughs.
This year, Mother’s Day greetings didn’t come in the typical way for Corcoran. In lieu of homemade artwork and sentimental greeting cards, all nine children offered a touching tribute.
Kelly rallied her brothers and sisters to write essays on what their mom means to them. The intention was to mail the collection to the producers of the Ellen DeGeneres Show and Oprah with the hope of giving Corcoran a national platform for promoting her latest online venture.
And while the kids’ plan didn’t work out, it doesn’t discount the fact that hundreds of area parents have benefited from Corcoran’s “effective parenting” seminars and workshops. This fall, she plans to broaden her reach beyond the Main Line, when her website, The Parents’ Almanac, officially launches.
“These lessons are so life-changing that I want everyone to be able to learn them,” says Corcoran.
Her Internet-based educational forum provides parenting advice through videos and articles. The series of brief situational videos featuring Corcoran addresses common struggles parents encounter, from sibling rivalries to temper tantrums.
“Parenting is a hard job,” says the 48-year-old. “It doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it if we’d adjust our approach with a few basic principals. There are tools and resources out there, plus tiny little things you can do differently that will make a huge difference in your relationships and the outcome of your children.”
Corcoran was busy taking care of four kids, all under the age of 4, when she took her first course through the Family Forum parenting center in Wayne. At the time, her son was a student at nearby Central Nursery School. Its director, Carol Tatta, founded the course, which had been well received by other parents. But Corcoran was skeptical. “Even though I was a relatively new mom, I had four kids, so I thought I knew it all,” she says. “I’d gone through the infant stage three times, and I potty trained twice. I felt like I was doing everything right. Hindsight is always 20/20.”
Family Forum’s “Systematic Training for Effective Parenting” essentially teaches parents how to approach their children in healthy and cooperative ways. It’s rooted in the Adlerian theory, which advocates encouragement as the most constructive tool in helping kids feel valued, significant and competent.
After just one course, Corcoran was a believer. “I was extremely humbled,” she says. “I obviously had a lot to learn. It was a life-changing experience for me.”
She started putting what she learned into practice at home and saw immediate results. Corcoran took the class a few more times, then decided to study under Tatta so she could lead her own sessions. “I felt so lucky to have learned these tools that I immediately wanted to share them with other parents,” she says. “I believe so strongly in it that I think it should be against the law for parents not to have access to this information.”
Once she had the skill set she was after, Corcoran had to consider how she wanted to make her mark. Families had changed dramatically since Family Forum began. Parenting courses held during the day were impossible for many working and single parents, and evening seminars were tough for over-scheduled parents and families.
For Corcoran, the Internet and social media became the clear way to reach an audience on the Main Line and beyond. It would also allow parents to have access to coaching at all times. They could refer to the site as they encountered different obstacles, from potty-training pitfalls to talking back.
It just so happened that Corcoran’s cousin, Matt Gillin, is CEO of his own technology company, Relay Network in Villanova. He came on as a partner and adviser along with his wife, Lisa Gillin. A father of two boys, Matt had taken Corcoran’s class and found it life-changing. “There’s a need to help parents with the most important job in the world,” he says. “Lisa is so dynamic, and she has an engaging peer-to-peer approach.”
And Matt believes Corcoran’s teachings can be effectively translated to the Internet. “Parenting is Lisa’s life mission,” he says. “It’s wonderful that her teachings are now available in another format to an unlimited audience.”
Everyone has the potential to be a great parent. That’s what Corcoran believes, and it’s what drives her. “It’s about building a relationship with your child,” she says. “There’s so much energy exerted by parents getting their kids involved in activities and securing tutors. But none of that really matters if you’re not spending time together and having family dinners.”
Parents need to stop over-complicating the process. “When I’m grocery shopping and I see a parent yelling at their child, it’s really sad,” she says. “I realize, though, that they haven’t been exposed to any other option.”
Corcoran is hoping to change that—one parent-child relationship at a time. Wayne’s Julie Lim sought Corcoran’s guidance after losing her job last year. She had to let go of her nanny and reestablish herself as a stay-at-home mom. It was quite an adjustment for Lim and her two sons, age 6 and 4—one that wasn’t working out as smoothly as she’d hoped.
With her sons’ behavior deteriorating, Lim attended the Family Forum’s introductory six-week Parent Quest seminar (formerly known as S.T.E.P) with Corcoran at the helm. “I was at my wits’ end,” she says. “I can honestly say that taking this course was the best thing I’ve ever done for my family.”
Within three weeks, Lim saw dramatic changes in her household. She stopped yelling at her sons, and they began listening to her and being more cooperative. “Lisa taught me how to change the way I was approaching situations,” says Lim. “By changing my approach, I changed the way my sons reacted to me.”
If anyone is used to the craziness that comes with family, it’s Corcoran and her husband, Joe. Growing up in Villanova, Lisa was the second of seven children. Her husband is one of nine. Nowadays, having more than four children is an anomaly. “I’m always asked, ‘Are all the kids from the same father?’” she laughs. “They always look surprised when I say, ‘Yes, and I’m still happily married to him and love him.’”
Corcoran’s Catholic faith plays a major role in the way she lives her life and raises her family. “It’s everything to me,” she says. “I was lucky to have parents and grandparents who were grounded in their faith. It’s always reminding me to dig deeper and strive to live higher, which is not always easy to do.”
In her previous life, Corcoran was high-strung and controlling. “If I can change my ways, anyone can,” she admits.
And while the Parents’ Almanac has all the makings of a success, time will tell. Corcoran’s ability to connect with so many parents lies in her willingness to be real and vulnerable through her courses. She’s the first to admit that she doesn’t have perfect children. She believes perfect children don’t exist, and even if they did, she wouldn’t want to have them. “I have normal kids,” she says. “They’re nice human beings and they care about others. That’s what’s important to me.”
She’s also refreshingly candid about her own shortcomings. The idea of a perfect parent doesn’t exist in her world, either.
“I never want to come across like I have it all figured out,” she says. “I’m a work in progress.”
To learn more, visit parentsalmanac.com.