One to One Coaching

I offer free 30 minute telephone/Skype consultations for people wanting to find out more about coaching on the 'baby decision'. Email me at mailto:beth@ticktockcoaching.co.uk and assistant Laura will respond and arrange an appointment with you. Visit http://www.ticktockcoaching.co.uk/ for more information about my coaching services.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Random Research

According to the UK Office of National Statistics in 1996 mothers over 35 years of age 14,952 had their first child and in 2001 there were 27,468 mothers who had their first child over the age of 35 with the total number of women having a first child remaining relatively consistent. Fertility rates reveal that between 2001 and 2004 the number of births per 1,000 women increased from 669,100 to 716,000. Over the past 30 years birth rates have increased for women aged 30-40 while they have fallen for younger women

A report from Finland ‘Trends in Social Protection in Finland 2004’ stated that

‘There is also an increasing number of women who remain childless. At the moment, 15 percent of middle-aged women are childless. In the future this figure is expected to rise to 20 percent. Childlessness is most common among highly educated women.’

At a recent European summit on population and family policies across the European Union, Joakim Palme, Director, Institute for Future Studies, Stockholm, described the findings of their recent report: Sustainable policies in an ageing Europe: modernising family polices. This analysed social trends in Europe: an ageing society, declining marriage, fertility and birth rates, and an increased female labour force.

Mr Palme said that if the European social model was to be sustainable, policy-makers needed to make wide-ranging reforms to current social protection systems and fine-tune the relationship between encouraging higher birth rates, improving Europe’s skills base and increasing the labour supply to enlarge the future tax base.

Education plays an important role, as building up Europe’s “human capital” (i.e. a highly-skilled work force) will increase GDP per capita growth, providing revenue to care for an ageing population.

However, the study also found that, in some Member States, prolonging education reduced fertility levels as women delayed having children to continue their studies and some then decided not to have children at all because of the negative impact this would have on their employment opportunities.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Interviews for book

I'm keen to interview women who have decided not to have children, have decided to have children or who are still trying to decide. All the interviews will be anonomised and used as case studies to help women who are trying to decide whether to have children or not.

I was going to send questionnaires via email but having done a few interviews I'm finding that I tend to just have conversations and think that sending out a questionnaire I would lose quite alot of valuable information. Anyhow, some of my regular blog readers like decide have said they'd be up for being interviewed so if you still are, please email me at bethATticktockcoachingDOTcoDOTuk (I've done that to avoid the lovely spam spiders which search for email addresses!). Even if you live overseas, I'd be happy to ring you and conduct the interviews via phone.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

I love the Office of National Statistics!

I love these people.

I've been working on my book proposal - slowly but surely.

I really need to have some hard data that shows the trends for women having and not having children.

I remember a few years ago seeing a report in the paper showing that only 40% (or so) of women who were 35 had children - and this indiciative of a steady decrease over the years.

So I went to their website but I couldn't find what I wanted. I noticed a number to call so I rang them - the first person I spoke to couldn't help but she put me through to another department. As soon as I explained what I wanted, the woman said 'Yup. I know what you want. What is your email and I'll send you the relevant reports.'

YEAH!! And it's a free service - love it!!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Research on the effect of having children on your relationship

In the Saturday Guardian, I came across this interesting response to a query on how having children will affect your relationship. Appartently there has been research to suggest that there is quite a high impact on your relationship - which doesn't surprise me at all.

It's one of those things that you have to weigh up when making the decision or whether to have a child or not.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,,2241725,00.html

Anyway, it's good to see that there is research about this - and more research to add to my book proposal - which I really must work on this week!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

So you want to be a single parent and Baby Borrowers - useful TV or total tosh?

Last night, there were two programme featuring people who don't have kids who volunteered for two reality TV shows to look after children for several days, on their own (with a nanny in the background as backup and of course, the TV crew!)

They were abit different - 'So you think you want to be a single parent?' took celebrities (including Rhona Cameron who I also spotted today on the down escalator at Warren Street) and had them look after children (in a single parent family) for a week. And the 'Baby Borrowers' took teenage couples and had them look after babies for a weekend.

The idea was to show us how hard parenting is and, in the case of the teenagers, put them off getting pregnant too young.

Are these programmes also useful for people trying to decide whether or not to have kids? Would they help someone with the decision? I'm really not sure.

Anyway, these random thoughts are probably distracting me from my main task for this month - mainly to revise my book proposal in line with advice I've had from a literary agent. I really must get some more discipline!!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Celebrities or figures in the public eye as examples or case studies?

I was talking to someone today about this issue and she asked if I could point to anyone in the public eye who sort of represented some of these issues.

I'm not the most up-to-minute with celebrity gossip person and the only one I could think of off the top of my head was Jennifer Ainston. The last I heard she had broke up with her current boyfriend and was wondering whether to adopt a child or not. Her dilmma does reflect that of women who are thinking about whether they should go it alone or not. (Of course, she has the luxury of lots of cash to employ help which most of us don't have and certainly most single mothers don't have!)

A friend of mine mentioned she saw a film on the TV by one of the BBC new readers - Natasha K I think? about her decision and angst about it a year or so ago.

So does anyone have any other celebrity types or people in the public eye who reflect women who might be working through this decision to have a child or not?? All suggestions welcome!

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Choosing to be Childfree

In regards to this decision, there are often fears that people have that if they choose a childfree life, they might regret it when they are older. That's why I felt it was really important to talk to older women who had made the positive choice to be childfree. I've done one interview with an older woman in who had done this and I think her story is so positive and interesting.

In her early 60’s, Margaret is an artist and Librarian, living happily on her own in South London. She was brought up in ‘an austere age’, the 1940’s by her widowed mother, whose strength and independence she admired. While her sister always loved looking after younger children, she thought it was boring. ‘Even at that early age, I was put off looking after little kids; I wanted to get away from them!’

She started working in public libraries and briefly dabbled in teaching. ‘I’ve always been interested in education and helping kids get a good education, particularly kids from a similar working class background. I benefited enormously from the 1945 education act and I got an excellent education. So I started teaching in Bermondsey but I soon realised I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. I sympathised too much with the kids and took too much home with me.’ So I went back to work for the libraries and did my Librarianship training.’

In her mid twenties, she toyed with the idea of going to art school and started to build her portfolio. Having kids would have got in the way and ‘put me off what I wanted to do. If I had had a child, I wouldn’t have gone to art school’ She went to Camberwell College of Arts at the age of 33. ‘I enjoyed it so much, they were the best years of my life. It was so open and free, it taught me to take nothing for granted, it broadened my mind and stretched me. I just grabbed it with both hands. My family, being from quite a working class background couldn’t really understand, they thought I was just off the wall, crazy! But they accepted me.’

Margaret’s desire to be childfree had an impact on her relationships. At university, she had a relationship with a student 11 years younger than her and one of the reasons she thinks they broke up was that ‘in the back of my mind was the knowledge that he might want to have kids and I didn’t. I didn’t want him to be bitter or be a martyr, so I ended it.’ She nearly got married at age 24 but called it off 2 weeks before. ‘It was during the Cold War and I felt strongly that I didn’t want to bring a child into this world. He disagreed and felt that children were lovely and could bring you a lot. I didn’t think it was just about what children could bring you but what you could bring a child.’

There was one moment in her life when she did want a child. Margaret had a passionate affair with a married man, 25 years her senior who was the love of her life. ‘I wanted to have a child with him and he would have been a wonderful father.’ The affair ended and so did Margaret’s desire for a child.

The culture of the period she grew up in influenced Margaret and her decision. ‘I always wanted to be a strong and independent woman – not dependent on a man. I’ve always had boyfriends but they’ve never been the centre of my world. In the 60’s, even though there was a lot of talk about liberation, you didn’t have a child on your own if you could help it so the idea of having a child as a single parent was not an option. The idea was that you married and had kids – that was it. If you weren’t married, you were on the shelf, you were a spinster. I think there was a lot more pressure to ‘fit in’, to be socially acceptable, to fit a neat, little box. Now, there is much more freedom to live how you want to.

The decision for Margaret has never been cut and dried. ‘I do feel like I have missed out on some things and now, when I see some of my friends with their grandchildren, I do have a slight pang. Of course, I have the usual worry of who will look after me when I’m old but I have other friends who are single, and we have agreed that we will all end up in some big house together and look after each other!. I would have liked to have brought a kid up ‘from scratch’, to see a child’s development from the beginning.

'I became very close to my cousin’s son. The same things made us laugh, he was very funny and so interesting. I think I influenced him a lot and we stayed close even when he was a teenager. He was very special - not just to me, but to everyone he knew. He had strong views about the world, rooted in socialism. He invented things which were taken up by industry (he attended a school for gifted children in the summer vacations). He was also extremely entertaining with a really witty sense of humour. He was very challenging, and taught me a great deal. He died at the age of 17 of Cystic Fibrosis, which means he managed to fit a lot into a short life. His death was a deep tragedy for me.’

Margaret doesn’t regret her decision not to have children. ‘I wouldn’t do it any differently if I could go back. I’m sure that if I had had children, I would have been as positive about that life as well. I wouldn’t have gone to art school and I wouldn’t have led the life I did though.

My art can be my legacy, my ‘babies’ live on in the British Museum and the V&A!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

How to hold the contradictions within this discussion?

I've been really reflecting on the contradictory nature of this blog!!

And that highlights a key problem that I need to address if I'm going to write a book on this topic - can I actually 'hold' the contradictions that come up when discussing this issue?

As I mentioned before, in my first post, the nature of the decision to have children or not means that women are coming to the discussion from wildly different points on the continium - all the way from being 'pretty much want to be childfree' to 'pretty sure I want kids'. As I'm dealing with the individual 'where they are' - the coaching isn't the same for all women facing this dilemna - I'd suggest different things for women at different points in the continium.

Sure, the common point is my main belief that the important thing in life is that you live a life that is in alingment with your values, that whatever you decide to do - what is important is that you feel that you are living fully, that you are living your 'Big Agenda'. You can do that regardless of having kids or being childfree.

But then, there are decisions we need to make in life that feed into the Big Agenda - and having or not having kids is one of those decisions. And if you think you want something - like you are learning towards having kids but something that is within your control is stopping you then I think you should be able to reflect, look at the issue, identify what you want and go for it!

When I'm writing these blog entries - I'm aware that the things I want to say to women who are in different situations is of course completly different. i.e. What I would say to a woman who pretty much wants to be childfree but worries that she might regret her decision is different from what I would say to a woman who wants kids but whose partner doesn't.

But of course - sometimes this might appear that I'm saying contridictory things, that I'm giving off contradictory mesages!!

A friend of mine pointed out last night that it's very difficult to find a common message across women who are facing this decision - without the usual 'Do what feels right'. Which isn't particularly helpful!.

So my question to blog readers is 'How can I hold all these contradictions within one book or blog?'

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

What if you want kids.... and your partner doesn't?

Note: I've revised this orginal blog post in light of some valid criticisms and have explained this in the comments section.

Janet is thirty-one and soon to be thirty-two. She wants children, has always wanted children.

‘There has never been a point when I didn’t always know that it was a given that I’d have children.‘

She’s now with a partner who she has been with for six years who is the same age as she is. Yet, although he wants children some day, for him now is not the time.

‘Mark has a fear of giving up what he enjoys about his life now. None of his friends have kids yet and he has no role models his age with children. His best friend is talking about having kids but Mark sees it as pressure on him. His career is taking off, we have all these grand plans with the renovation of the house, he is worried that now is not the right time.‘

Janet is all too aware of the biological clock and the problems that she might have in conceiving.

‘At thirty-two, I wanted to be in the position of at least trying to conceive. It’s a very practical decision – I want more than one child and if we don’t start until my mid thirties conceiving the first, then I will be older when we conceive the second.‘

For Janet, the problem is around the unpredictability of what may or may not happen.

‘You don’t know how long it will take – it took a friend only two to three months to conceive. If I was to conceive now, it would be too soon. Yet, I know it could take much longer and then if there were complications, we’d have to go for tests and procedures.‘

Janet feels the unfairness of the situation – that men don’t have the same pressures or worries.
‘Men in their thirties still feel that they are young – they don’t feel the urgency of the situation. So many of my friends are in the same position. He is in denial'.

One contributor to this blog said:

'It is my observation among many of my friends (I am 31 by the way) that while my female friends are aware that this is a crucial time for fertility etc. their male partners are still keen to live their life as they did through their twenties. They are often reluctant to fully commit to their relationship let alone contemplate having kids. Newspaper articles berate 'selfish' women yet often fail to mention the other side of the story: men that are refusing to grow up and follow our biological lead.'

Often, the problem isn't that their partner has decided he wants to be childfree - the problem is that there is a lack of communication between the two about what they really want in their future, whether they want children or not.

If you are in a relationship with a man who doesn't want children, in your mid thirties and want children, you need to be bold and take the 'bull by the horns.' Questions to ask yourself before approaching your partner include:

1) How long am I prepared to wait before we start trying for a child?
2) Have I established whether he does want children?
3) What is my 'bottom line' and what am I willing to compromise on i.e I am willing to wait one year before we start trying and what am I not willing to compromise on i.e. I need to have a definate start date and I need to have a clear answer from him about whether he wants children or not.

Then, set a time and date to have a through discussion with your partner about the issue. Express your worries and concerns. Ask him is he really sees children in his future. Ask him what HIS bottom line is and what he is willing to compromise on.

I sometimes meet women who are desparate for children but in relationship with men who are very reluctant and who are constantly stalling the issue. At some point, these women have to face the issue - if having a child is so important to me, and my partner doesn't want to even discuss having a child, is this relationship viable?

I'll end this post with the story of Laura - a single mother I've interviewed for the book.

Laura had several serious long-term relationships in her early twenties and thirties. When the issue of children was brought up however, the men always prevaricated – it wasn’t the right time, they were too young, they weren’t sure - there was always some excuse.

‘I just accepted it – I thought the decision should be mutual, consensual and I shouldn’t put pressure on them. I wasn’t so worried at first – not about my fertility and I thought I had plenty of time. Most of my friends were younger and didn’t have kids and fertility didn’t seem to be a big issue.‘

As she got older, a few warning bells started to ring. Her sister and her husband were having trouble having kids and a friend of hers who left it till her early forties and was now desperate for a child made her more aware of the limitations on fertility.

At thirty-five, she spilt up from a long-term boyfriend and was single.

I was at a real crossroads – I decided to leave a job I hated and go travelling, do some volunteer work in a developing country. I was in a casual relationship - nothing serious and no demands. And then three weeks after I had left my job, rented out my flat and moved into a temporary house share, I found out I was pregnant. It was a complete accident – it just happened because I forgot to be careful.‘

Laura assumed that it would be difficult to get pregnant, that it would take planning and would take a long time but, as it happened, it didn’t.

‘I can’t believe that if it hadn’t happened like this, by accident, it might not have happened at all. My only regret is that I left it so long and that I didn’t force the issue earlier with my previous partners. I always deferred to their needs and their indecision. Now, I always say to women just get on with it! If you want kids, don’t hang about and don’t let your partners block your decision either. Waiting around for the perfect relationship or perfect time is ridiculous. I wasn’t in my ideal situation - I didn’t want to be a single parent but I am and I have this lovely little boy now. It’s a life I wouldn’t change for anything.‘

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Article in the Observer

Today an article came out in which I was featured on a panel of experts helping 7 readers with different problems/dilemmas. I'm matched with a women who is trying to decide whether she wants children or not.

You can read the article at http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,,2235546,00.html

Saturday, 5 January 2008

My fake child or the commodification of desire

I was going to write more about the role of men in the decision to have a child but I haven't been able to get a 'documentary' TV show I saw a couple of days ago out of my head.

A brief synopsis of 'My Fake Child' is this: There is a new market of dolls called 'reborns' which are made to resemble newborn babies. They can come equiped with heartbeats and breathing mechanisms. The women (and it appears that buyers are 99% women) who buy them dress them like babies and wheel them around in prams.

I don't really want to comment on the women portrayed in this programme because I hate the way TV programme makers take real people who have deeper issues which could be explored and portray them as freaks. The programme confirmed my general wariness of TV makers - which is why when I've been approached by TV companies to do a programme featuring me and my clients I've said no.

What I've been thinking about is how this programme highlighted - in quite stark terms - how our culture seeks to commodify desire and happiness in relation to having children.

Unfulfilled? Unhappy? Want more connection with others? Want to nurture something? Dress it in pretty clothes? Buy a doll! OR have a child!

This is why I think the decision to have children or not can be confusing. It is so often framed around being able to be fulfilled - as if fulfillment is something that comes from something outside ourselves. Many of the women clients I see who are on the childfree end of the scale say that they get lots of comments from others about how having a child would be so fulfilling, it would make them 'complete.'

It's about how you live your values, how you honour what is important to you. You can have kids and be unhappy or happy - you can be childfree and unhappy or happy too.

I was asked the other day by a friend who is a parent whether I'm not tempted just to tell people to have kids because I know how wonderful it is. She was shocked when I laughted and said no, not at all! Because no matter how wonderful I find having my son, I know that if I had choosen a child-free path, I'd be finding my life wonderful as well.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Role of Men

What really angers me about debates around fertility and having children is how the role of men is often overlooked.

Hysterical newspaper articles focus on the sterotype of the 'selfish' woman, too busy to have children.

But so often, when a woman is struggling around the decision to have a child or not, it is related to the decisions that men make.

A member of my Facebook group on this issue pointed out that she resents the fact that if she was a career minded man who had a child with a woman, she could count on her female partner taking at least half the responsiblitity for helping to raise the child. But as a heterosexual woman, she can't depend on the man in her life to take this responsiblity if they had a child.

And the reality is, despite advances by the feminist movement throughout the years, the role of women as the ones who take the majority of responsiblity for raising children hasn't changed.

One the days it's my turn to pick up my kid from nursery, it's mainly other women picking their kids up - although a significant percentage of parents like me and my partner do seem to be sharing the task equally. Alot of these women are working parents who do live with a male partner or husband. They are getting the kids up, getting them dressed, take them to nursery, do a full day's work, pick the kid up, get them home, fed, bathed, put to bed.

And then, more often than not, the male partner comes in after this has done.

I knew someone who had a high powered career with a male partner in an equally high powered job. When she returned from maternity leave, she found herself on the receiving end of snide comments about how she always had to leave at 5pm sharp to pick up her child from nursery. And everytime her child was sick, it was she who took time off to care for him. So not only was her working day made more stressful by the fact she couldn't just leave the house child-free or come home to a child who was fed, bathed, etc - she also was facing discrimination at work.

The complicating factor in all this is that women do collude in their own discrimination and don't demand/ask for men to do their equal share as well - for example, my friend wouldn't consider that her partner would be able to share in the nursery pick-up as his place of work was much further from the nurse. When her child was off sick, she wanted to be the one to care for him.

So when we are trying to decide whether to have children or not - we know that it is them who are going to be shouldering most of the burden of child-care, they know that it is women with young children who are the most discriminated against in work. And for those of us who do want our partners to share equally in the raising of their own children, we know it is really difficult to find men who are really going to do this!

There is another issue revolving around men in this decision - which is the 'kidult' syndrome which affects so many men in their mid 30's - but this will have to be another blog post!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Identity

Central to the decision to have children or not are fears around how having a child would change our identity.

'I don't want to be thought of as just a mum'

It's really hard for us as women to see how we would still be able to hold on to the identities which are so important to us if we were to become mothers.

Can we still be the traveller, the social animal, the career woman, the free spirit AND be a mother?

When I was trying to decide on having children or not I was really worried that I would be lost in an idenity, that of someone's mum, that I wouldn't have choosen and that I wouldn't like very much. I also didn't want to lose aspects of myself that I was fiercely proud of - that I loved. I did love being independent - being able to go off and sit in cafe's or go to afternoon matinee's on a whim. I knew this would change - that I would have to let go of that part of me, that I would forever have responsiblities that I couldn't escape from.

But life isn't so black and white. It's not - despite what papers like the Daily Mail tell us - necessary for women to completely abdicate aspects of ourselves that are important. Like careers or going to cafe's when we have children.

What aspects of your identity are you firecely protective of? What would you not want to change if you had children? What would you compromise? How could you ensure that you are able to keep these bits of your identity that are important to you? What do working mums think about these questions and how do they manage? How do people who are childfree see how not having children has allowed them to maintain their identity?

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Sterotypes of women trying to decide

Media stereotypes of women who are in the midst of this decicesion are rife. The driven, career mad women who doesn't want to give up her high powered career, or wild nights out.

The infamous postcard 'oops, I forgot to have children.' bubble above a cartoon woman looking surprised and confused.

It presents these women as being driven or ditzy or selfish or callous.

In fact, the stereotype of this woman is a cartoon. It's a cardboard figure - someone to be pitied or to laugh at.

When get asked about what type of women comes to me, I can honestly say that there isn't 'one type.' They work in all sorts of careers, come from a range of backgrounds and cultures.

[Insert case study?]