Busy Mama: Olympia woman helps parents draw a map

Tumwater resident Michaela Winkley thought she had a good handle on parenting. But then the teen years hit, and her son began high school.

“Parenting got really challenging and probably, if anything, scary,” said Winkley, who has three children. “I kind of felt like, ‘Man, I don’t know how to do this.’”

At the advice of some friends, Winkley attended a class taught by Candyce Lund Bollinger, who has led parenting workshops in South Sound for nearly 30 years.

She enjoyed the experience so much, Winkley worked to bring Bollinger’s workshops to the Tumwater School District.

Now parents in the district can attend Bollinger’s monthly classes for free to learn about such things as positive communication and emotional intelligence.

“She’s just amazing to me,” Winkley said. “I could not have survived the teen years without her.”

Bollinger, 64, grew up in Kent and is an associate professor in South Puget Sound Community College’s Parent Education department.

She has lots of jobs — in addition to teaching at SPSCC, she runs a private counseling practice, conducts parenting workshops on weekends and speaks at schools.

“I love my job because it’s jobs,” she said. “I love the variety of it.”

Soon, Bollinger hopes to add the title “author” to her résumé and business cards. She has written a newsletter for several years and plans to incorporate many of the lessons written for it into a book, which will address topics like discipline and overindulgence, resiliency, and respect.

“Years ago, I wanted to do a book, but I was a single mom with four kids,” she said.

“I feel like parents don’t have a map,” she said. “They know what they want, but they don’t know how to get there.”

She hopes the book will come out in about a year.

Parent education is a second career for Bollinger. She moved to Olympia about 35 years ago from Seattle, where she had worked as a physical therapist.

She took a job in a school district working with developmentally challenged toddlers and preschoolers.

In 1981, she was invited to teach a parenting class at South Puget Sound Community College. About the same time, her third child was born.

“I decided not to go back to physical therapy,” she said.

Instead, Bollinger took a trip to Africa and enrolled in classes at The Evergreen State College, where she studied to become a counselor. She spent several summers in Africa.

“I started a small preschool in Ghana,” Bollinger said. “I studied the effects of stress in Dominica. I sort of saw (Africa) as my graduate school.”

And she often incorporates experiences from her travels into her teaching.

Discipline and boundaries have always been extremely popular topics, she said. But science, societal trends and demand for certain topics has changed her job over the years.

For example, Bollinger now offers classes for parents with college-age kids. “Parenting doesn’t end,” she said. “We know that adolescence goes up to age 25.”

“Restructured families are really big now because we have such a high (rate) of divorce,” she added.

About a year ago, Bollinger began leading monthly parenting workshops at the Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia.

“They’ve been really well attended,” executive director Patty Belmonte said. “She’s a very popular adult educator. My kids are in their mid-20s, and I took classes from her when my kids were little.”

Belmonte said Bollinger’s known for her teachings on positive discipline. She also encourages parents to share their own experiences during workshops, so they’re less like a lecture and more like a discussion, Winkley said.

“I think her legacy is making parents feel more competent and confident in their jobs as parents,” Belmonte said.

Bollinger is beginning to see parents whose parents attended her workshops. And grandparents often attend her events, too.

“Structures of families are so diverse now,” she said. “Families are so complex.”

Bollinger has two sons and two daughters, ages 41, 40, 31 and 23. And, yes, she said she’s struggled without that elusive parenting map.

“The parent I was (with the oldest children) had some real entitlements that I didn’t provide my second and third group,” she said. “I think I also evolved as a parent.”

Olympian reporter Lisa Pemberton is one busy mama with three children. Reach her at lpemberton@theolympian.com or 360-754-5433.