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.

Friday, 12 May 2017

It's Mother's Day.... but I'm not a Mom

It's Mother's Day in North America this Sunday (Mother's Day has already been and gone in the UK). If you aren't a mother for a whole host of reasons including that you are trying to decide whether to become a mother, you're trying to get pregnant but haven't had any luck, you do want a child but you can't because you're partner said no, or you have simply decided that you don't want children, Mother's Day can feel a bit exclusionary.... particularly if most of your friends are mothers.

I've been looking at a number of blog posts and other articles on the topic.  This one from That Girl called Mother's Day When You Are Not A Mom  had some good practical suggestions and some amusing of what to do on the day itself including:

Baby sit – I know! You are confused! (There is a reason why this is #13). If you have a single mom in your circle of friends who really deserves a quiet day to herself to try any of the above activities offer to take her kids for a few hours! You might even end up with your own waffles or refrigerator art at the end of the day!   Cat Wilson, That Girl Blog

Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women (for women who are childless not by choice) wrote this powerful piece for Red Magazine What Mother's Day Feels Like When You are Childless    In it, she talks about the importance of owning and accepting the range of feelings you might be feeling today - the full range from sadness to anger to bitterness.  

Anger has vital work to do, if only we’d let it. I think bitterness probably has a lot more to do with not allowing ourselves to take the actions and have the conversations (both individually and culturally) that anger wants and needs us childless women to be having!

Silencing ourselves for fear of sounding bitter is much more likely to make us bitter. We need to understand that anger is an entirely valid emotional response to the unfairness we’re forced to make our peace with.  -  Jody Day

This week, I also had a discussion with an older Gay Anglican priest who made a wonderful point.  In the Anglican tradition, Mothering Sunday is sometimes seen as an opportunity to celebrate anyone who has taken a mothering role in some aspect of life.  This might be a teacher, a minister, a favorite aunt, a volunteer and so on.  This article echoes that view http://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2017/05/12/mothers-day-marjorie-s-rosenthal

If you are reading this and feeling down about Mother's Day, perhaps this is a chance to reflect on some of other people's ideas about the day.  Take some time to just acknowledge and be with your anger.. but then, perhaps there is a way you can celebrate your 'inner mother' - the part of you that is nurturing and caring.... whether you have children or not.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Maternal Ambivalence

Last week on the blog, I talked about the role that ambivalence plays on us when we are trying to work out wither we want to be parents, whether we want to have children or remain child free.  Today I want to look at the topic of maternal ambivalence which effects new mothers.

For years, psychologists have recognised the existence of maternal ambivalence .  In my experience, it's not often talked about.  But it's surprisingly common and many new mothers will talk about the  they were surprised to experience such ambivalence just after the birth of their child.

'I had an urge when I was out shopping with my new baby to leave her in the buggy in the changing room.... and walk away.  I didn't of course... but to be honest, I'm surprised that more babies are left all over the place, the feeling is so strong.' - A new mother attending a local mum and baby group.

I remember a few days after I gave birth to my son I had an overwhelming sense that I had made a terrible mistake.  I was completely unprepared for this feeling, this ambivalence to being a mother and for having all this responsibility thrust upon me.

Naomi Stadlen is one of the leading professionals ambivalence and identity of new mothers    I always recommend her book 'What Mother's Do...Even When it Looks like Nothing.' to women who are having or who have just had children.  This quote below perfectly sums up my experience:

'First-time mothers usually collect information about babies.  They..... go to preparation classes.  But for many women, even though they have attended preparation classes, the reality feels excessive.  Surely someone along the road would have stepped in to warn them?  They had expected a slight shock at having a baby but what they experienced was a massive shock.'

Stadlen's version of maternal ambivalence is kinder and more compassionate to women than earlier psychologists view.    When we consider the full reality of motherhood and the shift that many new mothers feel in going from a fully independent person who is able to head out the door to see friends, go to the cinema and even for a pint of milk with no encumbrance.  Yet a new mother suddenly finds that she has another person who is constantly dependent on her, and completely vulnerable.

This points to polarity struggle that I sometimes work with my coaching clients - that of independence vs dependence.  If we are used to being and living mainly in the pole of independence, I think the shock of having a baby who is completely dependent on you AND who your ability to move and live is also dependent on, it can feel unbearable.

As I write this, I hope this is helpful for you, my readers who are coming to this blog trying to decide whether you want to be a mother or not.  I think it's important to know that even if you do make the decision to have children, that decision can still contain ambivalence .... at least for those initial weeks and that it is normal.


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Accepting Ambivalence

There isn't much room in public discussion on the decision of having babies for talk about ambivalence.  Many of my clients said that they feel odd or isolated for feeling ambivalent about whether they want children or not.   'But surely I should know, surely everyone knows one way or the other?'  is a common question.  When I tell strangers what I coach women on, I'm sometimes meet with incredulity.   'I can't imagine not knowing one way or the other.!'

Yet, ambivalence around whether we want children and indeed, ambivalence around being a mother is more common than we think and more common than popular culture would suggest.   Merriam Webster gives this definition of ambivalence:

1. simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (such as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action

2.a :  continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite)
   b :  uncertainty as to which approach to follow ambivalence about their goals

Ambivalence is the main state my clients find themselves in when they come to me.  They are experiencing contradictory feelings/attitudes towards the idea of having children, feeling like they are continuing fluctuating or switching between wanting and not wanting children, and feeling uncertain about which path to take.

I have long been fascinated about an approach to coaching (and life) called polarity & wholeness.  In this approach, we look at poles which represent opposites.  For example, Order & Chaos, Independence vs Dependence, Vulnerability vs Strength.   On the face of it, it seems as though we have to choose between one or the other and that they are incompatible.   Yet, what has become evident to many - from the Taoists who explored the power of the Yin/Yang symbol to Gestalt therapists is that we need to be able to hold the tension or contradictions of opposites in order to be whole human being.    We need to be independent and able to function independently of others.... and we also need to be able to lean on other, to allow ourselves to be dependent.  Too much independence means that we can find it difficult to be in relationships. Too much dependence means that we find it hard to be on our own.

'Philosophers and psychologists have long stressed the importance of dealing with
paradoxical tensions for growth and learning. In his book “No Boundary”, Wilber (2001)
classified all major traditions in psychotherapy as ways to transcend the dividing lines
that we draw between our self-image and our unaccepted shadow parts, our mind and
our body, and our individual identity and the environment. When these lines are taken as
battle lines, with enemies imagined in the other camp, people become tense and unable to
respond to life’s challenges in an effective way' (from the paper 'Polarties in Executive Coaching by Ursula Glunk and Beth Follini)'

All this leads me to believe in my work with clients that one of the ways forward to making the decision is to - paradoxically - accept that ambivalence is often a part of life.  We can never be totally sure we are making the right decision and we can never completely overcome ambivalence.   As I will explore in my next blog post, even when women have children, many women feel something called 'maternal ambivalence'.



'


Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Thoughts


Easter weekend has just passed and I'm recovering from eating way too much chocolate!  But, I've decided that I will write a blog post every Monday and so, here I am, with one hour to go till Easter Monday is over.

Easter  is a time of year associated with new beginnings, new life, fecundity and with family.   Perhaps you have just had a gathering with your family over the Easter period and felt the decision weighing down even more heavily than usual.  (for more thoughts on the holidays and the challenges they can bring, go to my blog post on the challenges of Christmas holidays Christmas Time and Not Having Children )  Easter can be a hard time for those who are trying to make the decision whether to have children or not. This can be doubly true for those who are attending church or who are regular church attenders.

If you have a faith, you may find that some religious leaders in your faith encourage you have children as a expression of the values of your faith. (see a blog I wrote last year on comments the Pope's view on being childfree.   I've worked with clients who have found it difficult when have been advised by ministers or pastors to have children as an integral part of their religion even when they aren't sure they want children.  When coaching someone in this situation who feels conflicted about the advice or messages they are receiving from their minster/pastor, I ask this question 

'What do you hear when it's just you and God? When you are alone, perhaps praying, to God?' 

And usually the answer is very different from the message the person has been hearing from their minister or leader of their religion. 

If we have a faith, we know that we can listen to and trust our own relationship with our faith and with our God.  Religious leaders can be wise and thoughtful but they are humans and like all humans are informed by society views and norms on having children. 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Being a step-parent - without having kids of your own

I recently received an email from someone wanting to know if I could refer her to any articles for step-parents who wanted children of their own but found themselves in relationships with people who already had children and who didn't want any more kids.

I realised that this is an important topic that I haven't covered very much on the blog.  It is something that I have seen as a coach.  I have had a number of clients who have been in a relationship with someone who has their own children and they have found themselves in the step-parent role and part of a 'blended family'  Yet, this can be fraught if you also want children of your own.

Common issues experienced people in this situation include:

- Feeling 'left out' or a 'spare wheel' at family gatherings .
- Linked to the above, having a question about  'what's my role?' in this family (a client explained to me once that if she had a child with her partner she felt her role in the blended family would be more solid)
- Resenting your partner for having a relationship with his children that you wonder if you will ever have with your own.
- Having to take on a parenting role with step-children without being able to have a child of your own.
- Not feeling valued as a step-parent or the role

In a recent article on Huffington Post Help for the Childless Stepmom , author Mary Kelly says

Feeling like an outsider in one’s stepfamily system is to be expected. You feel like an outsider because in a very biological sense, you are.  It is a humbling position stepmothers and especially childless stepmothers find themselves in. It’s hard to not take it personally when stepmothers show real and genuine care for their stepchildren only to have those feelings rejected or pushed away.

So what do you do if you find yourself in a relationship where you are a step parent and you do want children?

To start with, I always encourage clients to do one last push to see if their partner will reconsider having a child with you.  Sometimes, when clients are clear, confident and centered, partners can change their minds.   Particularly if clients can 'speak from the heart' and express from a deep place why children are important to you.  I've worked with clients to help them do this and sometimes, it has worked.

If you have done this or your partner is very firm about not wanting children (and you don't want to leave the relationship), I suggest exploring how you can own and be confident about your role as a step-parent.  I've worked with clients who felt un-confident about their role and yet, the feedback they received from their step-children was very positive.  Sometimes, if you are able to own your importance as a step-parent and give it more value, it can make you feel more positive about your role as step mom.  Unlike the author of the above article, I do believe that you can have an important and positive role in your step-family as a step-mother.  You need to keep talking to your partner and need to keep looking at how you can move from being an outsider to an integral part of the family system - regardless of whether you have children or not.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Does coaching on the 'baby decision' help?



If you are struggling to make the decision to have children or not, you will know it can be isolating and difficult to work it through on your own.  But you might be wondering if coaching on the baby decision could actually help you or how it helps.   Some of my clients have written about what they have found helpful about coaching with me and I thought I would share it with you

'I came to Beth because I was in a panic about the decision to have children or not.  I was afraid to make the wrong decision and regretting this forever.  I have come to realise that there is no wrong or right decision and that I can live with the decision that I make.  I feel that I have fully explored the issue and am relieved to know that I will not look back on this time in my life and think that I didn't have the courage to address it head on.  Taking the time (6 months) to explore the question with Beth was the best thing I could have done to enable me to move forward on the decision.' (Cassie, Central London, 39)

“I initially came to coaching because I was struggling with the decision on whether to have a baby. I did not feel that I had friends and family who would have discussed this topic with me without having their own agenda.  Beth was just what I needed – she was very supportive but provided guidance in a completely neutral way. I eventually understood that the dilemma was actually a reflection of larger issues in my life, and we went about tackling those first. After 11 months working with Beth,  I completed coaching with greater insight on a number of areas in my life, in addition to clarifying the baby decision.” (Crystal, NYC, 36)

'I came to this coaching practice in an utter panic, pushed this way and that on whether to start a family by relatives, friends and my husband, all of whom had definite (and different) opinions on what I ought to be doing. The decision to start a family is extremely personal, yet even strangers seem to have perspectives on it, and it's easy to feel badgered and bullied even by well-meaning people. Beth helped me separate my own feelings from those of the people around me and to assess clearly what I wanted. I found the experience very calming. I would recommend that any women ambivalent about whether to start a family go through Beth's process - particularly if she feels she has no disinterested party to turn to.' ~ Virgina, 38, Writer

"Life coaching has given me the opportunity to reflect upon my life and self  chosen goals. I have made some positive changes, one of which is to  take more risks in life! I am more motivated and confident to change the  areas that I am dissatisfied with.  Beth has been extremely supportive and       with appropriate guidance and homework exercises has allowed me the  opportunity to grow on a personal and professional level. I would  recommend life coaching to anyone who seems frustrated or disillusioned  with the direction that their life is going in. "  -  Penny, 41, Teacher

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Co-parenting with a friend

I often see a number number of women coming to see me who are  trying to decide whether they would want to have a baby as a single parent. Sometimes it can be because they haven't met the right person to have a child with or a long-term relationship has broken up.

This forces many of the women who come to me to look at the option of having a child on their own.  But this can be a daunting prospect.  The emotional and financial burden of being  a single parent can be of great concern to many of my clients.

Co-parenting can seem like a way forward - where the demands of parent hood can be shared.  I've had clients who have approached gay male friends to see if they would be interested in being the father of their child and take an equal role.  The benefit is of using a male friend is generally that there is easy access to sperm.

Interestingly, I didn't even explore the possibility of what having  joint co-parenting arrangement with a close female friend who you are not romantically involved with.  This is exactly what the women in this article did, becoming the first friends to have their parenting relationship legally recognised:

So is  'Is co-parenting the right choice for you?'
Yes if:

- You are looking for more than a sperm donor and want to have the
involvement of the another person - a female friend or male who you are not romantically involved with in your child’s life.

- It’s crucial to you to have the emotional involvement of another parent in
raising your child.

- You feel comfortable and happy with negotiating, compromising and
making decisions with someone else in regards to most aspects of your
child’s life.

The key thing to remember is that unlike donor insemination where the biological
father of your child will have no say or involvement in your child’s life growing up (at
18 years of age children conceived by donor insemination can legally now contact
the sperm donor).  In a legal co-parenting arrangement, the other parent (male or female) will be an equal parent and will be involved in your child’s life.    By law, they are legally the parent of your child and will be entitled to seek access and visitation. If you are choosing co-parenting, you are choosing to be ‘tied’ to your co-parent through your child for a very long time!

I have worked with clients who have decided that in the end, they feel that they would rather be the only parent and not have to deal with the potential entanglements that may come of a legal co parenting relationship.  But for others, the benefits of having another parent to share the load with has tipped the balance in favour of this unique approach to parenthod





Sunday, 26 February 2017

Parents who regret having children


'I was reading this article on the train and my son kept looking over my shoulder - is it true Mum? Do some parents regret having children?' - Mother of a 12 year old in London

I was talking to some mothers I know about this article Breaking the Taboo: Parents Who Regret Having Children which was published in the Guardian weekend section a couple of weeks ago.  I've been meaning to blog about it earlier but life has got in the way.  And, I've been wondering how to blog about an issue which I'm sure worries many of my readers to this blog.  What if they decide to have children and regret it?

The issue that the article raises is at the heart of many of the conversations I have with women (and some men) who are considering whether they want to have children or not.    The parents represented in this article do represent what to many of my clients is their biggest fear - that they might decide to have a children and regret it.   And yet, what was telling in the article was that many of the the parents said that they still loved their children - the regret was often about aspects of motherhood or loss of their identity.

Corinne Maier sends me a long, precise email. She agrees that it’s taken for granted that children make their parents’ lives complete. It’s her job as a writer, she says, to fight the “It’s obvious…” ideas such as, “It’s obvious that my child is the most important thing. I have never said that I do not like motherhood at all; it is just that I sometimes regret having children. That’s enough to trigger a worldwide controversy. A thing a woman cannot say, apparently.” She sees a mismatch between the increased freedom that women enjoy and what she sees as the increased pressure on them to be “good” mothers.

One of the other interesting things about the article is that a common theme experience between most of the women which was tension between the ideal of motherhood as being the ultimate fulfilment and the reality that having children often is not the thing that makes your life 'complete'. This chimes with much of what I do with clients - which is to find out what their values are, what they feel is their purpose, what they are meant to bring into the world.   Because while having children can certainly give you a focus, it isn't the same thing as giving you a purpose or total fulfilment.

I think the more we realise that parenthood is filled with ambivalence the more we can have honest conversations about motherhood.  Parenthood can feel like an unstoppable train that you can't get off us and that might take us to a strange and unwelcome destination.    It might not be the train journey for us - we might want to embrace another journey.

 So how did my friend answer her 12 year old's question that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog?  She said 'You know, yes, there are some things I regret and miss from my life before children but as you get older, I can see that I'll be getting some of that old life back  and you'll now be a part of that too.'






Sunday, 5 February 2017

It won't always be that way

One of the fears that women who come to see me is that they might suffer or experience post-natal depression after the birth of their child.  Sometimes a client might have experience of depression or perhaps they have seen a close friend of relative who has suffered from post-natal depression.

Post-natal depression affects up to 10% of women so the chances are that you won't experience full-blown post-natal depression.  I came across this excellent first person report from a woman who discusses her experience post birth.   A Zen Yoga Teacher Gets Real about PostPartum Depression

In this article, that describes an experience of post-natal depression, the author describes some of the experience that many women have after the birth of their child.  The challenge to your identity and the shock that motherhood brings.  Says the author Rachel Meyer,

'I mourned every aspect of life that had disappeared overnight: urbanity and autonomy, cocktails and solitude. Sleep. Teaching. Quiet mornings reading the news over coffee. My sanity-sustaining asana practice, the long creative hours alone, my previous monastic-ascetic writer’s life. The freedom to shower, to brush my teeth, to leave the house.'

I believe that this mourning is often part of having a child and becoming a mother - and it can be a shock, particularly when, as the author points out, you weren't expecting it.

'I was a yoga teacher. I was supposed to weather the storms of parenthood with grace: be positive and perky, measured and resilient, lose the baby weight in a flash, thrive on green juice and quinoa whilst wearing my baby like a kangaroo.'

Yet, what is important to know is that this isn't a state that will last for ever, it is impermanent.   I often work with my clients on helping them access their sense of trust and intuition that they can whether difficult times, even if they do not know what it may be like.   For Meyer, the phrase 'It won't always be that way'  helped her though her post natal depression, allowing her to know that there would be a next stage in her journey once she got through this difficult and stressful period.  This is something that can provide us with reassurance - knowing that even if we are feeling down and worried, that it will not last and that we can move through this.  When we have a sense of this possibility, it can make the decision to have children much less difficult.  


Friday, 13 January 2017

Imaginary Children

I was at a drinks evening the other night for people working in the charity sector.  Although the main thing I do is coaching, I still do some work in the charity and not-for-profit sector to 'keep my hand in' and it also makes a nice contrast from working one-to-one

Everyone was enjoying the free wine and chat. As the evening wore on and people found out about my niche coaching women who were trying to decide whether to have children or not, people began to open up about their stories of making the decision to have children or not.  Two of the people I spoke to spoke very powerfully not having children even though they had always thought they would have children.  One because she had never met the right partner and the other because of infertility.   I often coach women who find themselves in a similar position and then need to decide whether they want children enough to explore options like having children on their own as a single parent, adopt or try more invasive IVF methods.

One of the most thoughtful pieces of writing on this topic is an essay by Bella Boggs called Imaginary Children.  Boggs writes about the the pain of not being able to have children.  As a secondary school teacher, she also explore  how child-less people and couples are portrayed in literature and plays and what impact that has on her students.

It occurs to me how many of the female characters we have talked about most—Hester Prynne, Miss Havisham, Sethe—have been defined by their relationship to children, a subtle reinforcement, for my students, that who they are is at the centre of someone else’s life, their very identity. In reality, this is both true and not-true; some have doting parents, while others have parents who have disappeared into work, addiction, or other relationships. Still, even the most neglected cannot seem to imagine a life that does not involve parenthood as a milestone.

Literature holds up a mirror, reflecting our views on society including women and the family.    And, literature can also influence the views and present an alternative view to the norm.  I'm going to be thinking about finding examples in literature of child free women who present a more positive and affirmative view of people without children.



Friday, 6 January 2017

Are your brain and heart pulling in opposite directions?

Happy New Year to one and all!  Although I do love the laziness of the Christmas holiday's, it does feel good to be back working again.  This week, I've seen several new coaching clients who all have the intention to resolve the 'baby decision'  in 2017.    And a common theme that I have explored with all of my clients this week is their feeling of being conflicted within themselves, as if they are being pulled in two or more directions at once.

This is a very common issue for most of my baby decision clients and it can feel like an overwhelming jumble of emotions.  (A few years ago, I found an article which described this tension very well, it's mentioned in this blog post Why does anyone have children? In  order to help people make sense of this jumble, one place I like to start with my clients is to explore the tension between our head (brain), heart (emotions/feelings) and our core (also known as our gut, in this schema we say that the core is the seat of our confidence and power).   It's a technique I learnt from my teacher Wendy Palmer helps to pull apart the tensions and arguments with us particularly when we are trying to make a decision.

Last month, I came across this write up on the great site Upworthy which was reporting on a comic which was exploring the very issue of tension between the heart and the brain.  The article, describing the work of comic Nick Seluk, creator of The Awkward Yeti 17 comics that illustrate the tricky relationship between your heart and brain. beautifully illustrated the the conflict between these parts of ourself.   As the article points out:

 'When your heart and your brain aren't on the same page, it can feel like the worst thing ever. How can you make a decision when your heart and your head want different things? The escapades of Heart and Brain in Seluk's comics often reflect his own experiences and will likely reflect some of yours too.

I've included one of his comics below that was featured on Upworthy and you can see more by going to his website at The Awkward Yeti.





 '




Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas Time and Not Having Children

Christmas has been and gone for another year.  I hope wherever you are you have had a restful and relaxing time. I've been enjoying having a complete break for a few days after what has been an exceptionally busy few months for me.   I am aware I haven't been posting on this blog as much as I have been intending.  One of my New Year Intentions will be to write weekly posts again - I know from the messages I get that people do appreciate and read the posts here so I will be redoubling my efforts in 2017.

I'm very aware from working with coaching clients that many people making this decision can find this time of year to be a challenging one.  If you are in the midst of trying to decide whether to have children or not, being surrounded by others in traditional family arrangements can be stressful.

As I wrote in a blog post last year, you might have found yourself in an uncomfortable and 'less desirable' sleeping arrangement in the family house (see my post Relegated to the worst room in the house ) than siblings with children.   Adverts on the TV focus on traditional families with parents and children abound.    It can feel like the only way to be a 'proper' member of a family is to have a child.  And yet, many people around the world and throughout time do not have children - either though choice or through circumstances out of your control.

It's a particularly difficult time for those people who do want children but find themselves in a situation where this will be a challenging choice.  I have clients who constantly find themselves on the receiving end of advice and pressure to have kids and at Christmas, this pressure combined with the prevailing view of conventional family arrangements can be overwhelming.

I was recently talking to a woman who really would like to be a mother but she is finding herself 'Childless not by Choice'.   One of the topics I will be exploring more of in 2017 will be the challenges facing this group of women.  Whether because of fertility or because of having partners who do not want children, being in a situation where you find yourself childless not by choice is one of the most challenging positions I think it's possible to be in.

If you have felt out-of-sorts this holiday, I encourage you today to go out and embrace something you LOVE to do!   What is the one thing that you enjoy more than ANYTHING else?   Go do it today and remind yourself how fantastic you are!