James Lehman’s Legacy: How He Continues to Empower Parents Every Day

Posted May 23, 2012 by

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I remember the day James Lehman passed away two years ago—I was driving home from a doctor’s appointment, and my boss, Cheryl Kepner, called and told me to pull the car over and that she had some difficult news to share with me. I already knew what she was going to say—I’d spoken to James a few days before he was rushed to the hospital and knew he was gravely ill. He had struggled with emphysema for years, a result of the smoking habit he’d picked up in his teens and kicked decades before, and the disease was starting to shut down his respiratory system. In spite of his poor health, James was so charismatic and full of life it was hard to believe he was actually sick—and later, to come to terms with the fact that he was gone.

After James died, Empowering Parents went into what can only be described as a deep mourning period, because, to put it simply, the man who was at the heart of our mission was gone.

(You can read the original tribute to James—and all the amazing comments from our readers— here. )

A few days after James died, I had a dream about him. It was a beautiful summer day and we were sitting on the patio of a coffee shop talking. “James, I’m so tired,” I said. “I don’t know if I can keep going.” And I was tired, and very sad and wondering how Empowering Parents was going to survive without James’ advice and support. And to be honest, I missed my friend.

“I understand,” he said, “but you have more work to do.”

And he was right. After he passed away, the staff of Empowering Parents sat down and decided that we would not only continue, but that we would make something that would be a true and lasting legacy of James’ work. Pretty soon, everything started coming together. Janet Lehman, James’ widow and the co-creator of The Total Transformation Program, came on board and started writing articles for EP. Debbie Pincus joined our team of experts, bringing her “Calm Parenting” style and advice with her, and then Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner, two therapists who work with oppositional, defiant teens—and who get what it’s like to parent them—joined our ranks.

I can’t help thinking that James has had a hand in all of this somehow.  Maybe it’s because we’ve renewed our commitment to his philosophy of honesty, responsibility and non-judgment—and because of that, more parents have come to us  and thousands more families have been helped.

Here’s to you, James. I hope you’re proud of what we’ve done and of where we’re going. And you’re right—there’s still a lot of work left to be done.


Elisabeth Wilkins is the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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