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:email@example.com 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, 21 October 2016
So, back to the topic of this blog! This week, someone asked me the question which is the title of this blog post - Is there a 'best' time to have children? Is there a right age to have children? A few years ago, commentator Kirstie Allsopp caused controversy when she said that, with all the problems associated with fertility, women should consider starting a family as early as they can ( see this article in the Guardian Kirstie Allsopp tells young women: Ditch university and have a baby by 27 ).
Personally, I think that there isn't RIGHT age to have a child but there are pro's and cons to having a child at each age as I've outlined below:
20's - The big bonus to having children in your 20's is that your fertility is more likely to be in a good state during this time and you are more likely to get pregnant than if you waited. You are also more likely to have more energy and need less sleep! The downside is that if you are not yet established in your career which may make taking enough time off for maternity leave tricky. If you are in your early 20's, you might find many of your friends are travelling, socialising and doing very different activities that you are able to do as a mother
30's - In your 30's, you are more likely to feel like 'now is the right time'. You'll have more life experience and will probably feel like you are ready for a new phase of life. You will be more established in a career or work path and feel able to take time off from work without it damaging your career too much. The downside is that if you are in your late 30's, you may find yourself facing some fertility issues. Another issue has been highlighted in this short article 'It's a Tough Time: Challenges for Women in their 20's and 30's' - as the author points out, this is a time women can feel overwhelmed by the many life choices they have to make.
40's - You are likely to feel as though you have the life experience and maturity to be a mother. You might be more senior in your work which can make it easier to organise flexible and family friendly working. You may also feel more financially able to have children at this age than when you were young. If you are considering having a child on your own, you may feel that you have the means and ability to do this now. The downside of having children in your 40's is that it may take longer to get pregnant and that you might feel more tired and have less energy than when you were younger.
I think the important thing is to start considering whether we want children or not as early as possible. Particularly when we are looking at choosing our life partner we need to consider whether they are on the same page in wanting or not wanting children.
Friday, 14 October 2016
I was wondering today about what statistics there are on the numbers of women who are thinking about and planning to having children. I had assumed that, because of the falling birth rates that more women continue to make a decision to be childfree. However, when I went to look into this question, I found an across an interesting article by a writer called Megan Thielking, More US Women Plan On Having Kids in the online magazine Stat saying that current research is showing that more women are planning on having children than they were a decade ago.
I found this surprising, as it appears that more and more women in the US, Canada and Europe are choosing to be childfree. Some statistics put the number of childfree women at around 1 in 5. And, according to the 2014 US census, 47.6% of women between 15 - 44 have never had children, which is the highest it has been. (Huffington Post A Record Percentage of Women Don't Have Kids ).
The Stat article points out that the birth rate fell dramatically in 2008 when the US and other countries were experiencing a major recession.
'Having kids is not an inexpensive life decision,” said Dr. Hal Lawrence, the executive vice president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “When people are concerned about the economy, they shy away from having children or more children.”
Fertility rates fell dramatically in the US in 2008, which experts have said was closely linked to economic insecurity brought on by the Great Recession. But as unemployment rates continue to fall, Lawrence said, potential parents could be growing newly comfortable with the idea of having children. And indeed, in 2014, for the first time in seven years, the birth rate increased in the US.'
The articles author Megan Thielking, points out that other factors in the US might also be at play. When Obama Care was brought in, it made health insurance more accessible, taking away some of the strain of the worry about the cost of giving birth.
Thursday, 29 September 2016
'It's getting to the crunch point... I'm 42 and my husband is in his early 50's. He really worries about being an older dad. He doesn't think he will have the energy. And I am aware that it's not ideal for me to be having a child now. I do feel that, although I know I will have less energy and I know that I will be the mother of a teenager when I am nearing 60, I also feel like I am very established now. I have a good career, we have secure finances. And, more importantly, I feel like I've done everything else I've wanted to do - I've been a night owl, I've travelled extensively.
When I was younger, I felt like I would be giving up too much. But now, I feel that I won't be missing out on anything if I do have children.'
When I was researching this blog post, I came across a number of very negative articles on older parents which contained a number of judgements against having children later in life. A common one is that it's not fair on children who have older parents - mainly due to the embarrassment factor of having an older parent AND due to the fact that an older parent is more likely to die earlier in their child's life. I can speak from personal experience. My partner is 20 years older than I am and he is often mistaken for my son's grandfather.
And yes, this can cause some embarrassment. My son is also more aware of his father's mortality and is likely more aware of the possibility of the death of his father than he would if his father was younger. And, I do think in many situations children have to face embarrassment and worry about their parents - no one is immune. I did find this excellent article Me and My Old Man which interviewed adult children about growing up with a father who was significantly older than parents of their peers. This is a lovely quote from the piece which very much sums up my thoughts.
'For all the fuss about older parents, age is just one risk factor when it comes to life and death. No parent can honestly promise to be there for his or her child, regardless of when they conceive. I watch my cousins and friends who have lost fathers younger than mine, and I feel guilty, and grateful, that he is still here. I think my dad does, too. But they also show me that the relationship between father and child cannot be measured in years spent together. That’s not how love works.'
There has been much less written about older mothers - a few years ago I reported on a study about older mothers in a blog post Women Feel Judged for Leaving Having Children Till Later in Life. I'm on the lookout for any other articles or research on older mothers and hope to write more on this subject soon.
Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Although I think this has always been true, it's only recently that we have begun to discuss and unpick some of the paradoxes and ambivalence that go along with parenthood. In the past, having children and becoming a parent was just something that everyone did - it wasn't thought about or mulled over. It was just something most people did.
A book has been published in August called the Gardener and the Carpenter. While it is aimed at parents I think many of the key messages in the book are relevant to people trying to make the decision. As this Guardian article by Alison Gopnik points out, it addresses that age old question - What is the point of raising a child?
'Why is taking care of children worthwhile? It’s hard work, badly paid if paid at all, and full of uncertainty, guilt and heavy lifting. And yet, at least to most of us, it seems like an absolutely fundamental, profoundly valuable project. If you asked most parents about their deepest moral commitments, and most agonising moral dilemmas, about what gives their lives meaning, they would talk about their children. But caring for a child is very different from any other human relationship, and the standard ways of thinking about morality and meaning don’t apply very well to being a parent'.
What is very interesting and relevant to those making the 'baby decision' is that implicit in some of the arguments made in favor of having children is having children is part of making the world a more caring and nurturing place. However, as Gopnik points out, people can be caring and loving towards their own children and at the same time be indifferent towards other people's children. And many people who choose not to have children are caring and nurturing in other ways. In my discussion on Women's Hour a few years ago with Christine Odone, one of my arguments was that just because people who choose not to have children, it doesn't meant that they are not living values of caring and nurturing in their lives already. Having children doesn't imbue people with a more altruistic nature - we can point to many dictators or tyrants who have had children who were still able to be callous to other people and other people's children.
Friday, 26 August 2016
Thinking about friendship and the importance of friends in my life has sparked me to explore a difficult issue on the blog today - what happens when a friend has a child. Does it impact a friendship negatively? Is there indeed a divide or barrier that can be put up between parents and non-parents?
This article recently appeared in the Stylist magazine Female Friendship and the Great Baby Divide - written as a one person story from a new mother on the impact that having a baby had on her and her friendships. One of the key factors the writer talks about is that of suddenly being in a very new and different situation from friends without children means there is a need to connect with other new mothers.
You’re at your most vulnerable post-partum; your relationship feels like it’s taken a battering, your body is a mess, and your mind has scarpered to some far flung place. And yes – you desperately want to tell your child-free mates the initial horror of it all. But you don’t want to scare them off the locomotion of tears, Teletubbies and tantrums. Equally, you don’t want to dish out the breast pump blather – they’re too sassy, they’re lives are too polished for this social lumber.
I really could relate to this very well. As many of my regular readers know, I came to coaching women on the baby decision due to my own indecision. After a year of wrestling with my own ambivalence I decided to have a child and I had my boy Sam.
However much I thought I was prepared, I wasn't. I found the first year very difficult. And what I hadn't anticipated was would be the distance I would feel from old friends of mine. I had someone entered a very different world - one where I was perpetually tired, obsessed with nappies and sleep routines. I also found my ability to travel round and get places with a baby very limited. I moved from being as someone used to hoping on and off public transport with ease to cross London to visit friends to being someone who rarely left her neighborhood. Looking back, I can see how difficult to understand my limited availability was to my friends without children. Like the author of the Stylist piece, I also didn't want to burden my child-free friends with boring and obsessive baby musings. But I also treasured those occasions of being with my friends without my child - of being able to meet for coffee without a baby to worry about, to be able to go see a film or have a drink. And as my child grew older, these became more and more frequent. Now that my child is more independent, I feel as though I have gotten most of my old life back - most of my ability to socialise freely has returned.
For those without children, it can feel like you've been abandoned. Many of my clients say that they end up feeling isolated - particularly if they are the only one of their friendship group who isn't a parent. Sometimes they find themselves excluded which can be hurtful - for example when children's birthday parties are held and only the parents with children are invited.
So how can you maintain your friendships across 'The Great Baby Divide'?
Remember that the 1st year is the most difficult and absorbing for new parents. If you are the friend of a new parent, you will probably find yourself making more of an effort to visit and travel to meet your friend and her baby. You'll probably have to listen to many stories about baby-hood that seem boring but know that this is just a phrase and it will pass.
New parents can remember to connect with old friends even though you will definitely need the support of new mom friends whom will sympathize with current struggles. Sometimes just acknowledging the situation and that you are aware that for a while you might not be as available but as soon as you can you will be up for a trip to the movies/dinner/a drink.
Friday, 19 August 2016
Today I am thinking about purpose - and what it means to live our live on purpose. Many of the people who come to me about the decision to have children or not also find themselves questioning the idea of purpose. 'If I don't have children, then I want to be leading a life with meaning and purpose?' is often a question posed by my clients..
One of the points I always make about purpose and the 'baby decision' is that I don't think that having children gives you your life's purpose although for some people, this may be the case. However, in addition to my 'baby decision' clients, I see many clients for general career and life coaching who are also parents. Many of the parents I see are also struggling with the concept of purpose.... and the questions they are coming to coaching include: how can we live a live with purpose, how can we make a difference in the world and have an impact? Something I learnt from the wonderful US coach Dave Ellis who works with high-net worth individuals is that someone might have all the material wealth and success in the world but if they are not living life on purpose or making a difference in some way, they will not feel fulfilled.
I came across this very thoughtful piece in the Guardian from early this month by Oliver Burkeman called Misery, failure, death and a slap in the face. The premise of the book, written by James Hollis is we need to look beyond the ego - or the surface part of us that wants to be happiness. Most techniques for happiness and becoming happy, claims Hollis, are bound to fail because we are staying on the surface level of the ego. We need to listen to what Hollis called 'the forces of unconscious' want from us. I love this because part of what I try to do as a coach is help people get underneath the surface of the ego and find ways to tap into our intuition.
Hollis had a wonderful question - which I think of as a coaching question - which he felt would help people who are at a crucial crossroads of their life. The question is 'Does this path, this choice, make me larger or smaller?' Usually, at some point during my coaching with baby decision clients, I tend to ask a similar question. Because a question about happiness - whether the decision will make me happy or not, never has the same resonance.
Friday, 15 July 2016
This week Jennifer Aniston also spoke out about speculation that she may be pregnant in this article for the Huffington Post For the Record This is a particularly brilliant quote:
'Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own “happily ever after” for ourselves.'
On Sunday, I was reminded of the power of determining our own happily ever after. I had brunch with a friend who is in her mid 50's. She never had children and it is a choice she is positive about. She also has good relationships with friends children. She is aware that not having children has allowed her freedom and ability to do more with her money than she would have if she had children. Unlike the woman interviewed on the radio show, she didn't feel that she was often judged for the choice she made - but she did feel that not having children meant she would face particular challenges as she got older. This is one of the structural issues that we have to address as a society. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog on a post called Aging Without Children, assumptions that older people who go into hospital or care will have adult children to support or advocate for them are prevalent and we need to look at new paradigms which address older people's care and support.
Saturday, 9 July 2016
It's very dispiriting that with all the progress made for women in our society that personal lives and personal decision of women are still used against them in work and in personal life. It's an issue that is never relevant for discussions of the suitability of male politicians - and it would be laughable if this statement had been made by a male politician.
Women are often judged and regulated by their personal choices in a whole host of areas. For example in terms of personal appearance do they wear too much makeup? Or not enough makeup? Judging women is a past-time of the tabloid press and popular magazines - commenting upon women celebrities bodies and life styles with vindictive glee.
Women who are mothers and enter political life often find their commitment to motherhood challenged or questioned. And if they don't have children, then as has happened just now, their suitability to lead is also questioned! The implication is that a woman who doesn't have children is slightly suspect - they are not as rounded or able to connect with the public as those with children in public life. Another implication is that women who don't have children are in some way selfish
Last year, I took part in several radio debates when the Pope made comments saying that people who did not have children were selfish. (see Are people who don't have children selfish? ) My position is that there are many, many ways for women and men who are not parents to be connected and to have a stake in the communities they live in. Often people without children have more time to dedicate to volunteering in their communities, they may be also looking after elderly relatives, they may be spending time connecting and sustaining community groups and organisations or they may simply be doing what they love to do in work and in leisure time.
What I think needs to be pointed out time and time again that this debate is another way in which women and women's choices are regulated - in particular the choices we make in our personal lives are used to restrict and regulate us in the workplace. Sadly, this is something that women can do to other women - when we've challenged our our internalised sexism, we might find a way out of this trap.
Friday, 1 July 2016
Living in the UK at the moment, the political energy feels very uneven and unstable. Whether you voted to leave or remain in the European Union, one thing is undeniable: This is a time of great change. And with change comes fear, anxiety and worry.
I've been trying to write a blog post every week on my Children or Not Blog . My intention is to write posts that resonate with people wondering whether to start a family, who have doubts about their choice to have children OR to not have children, who are feeling unsure whether they want children enough to go it alone as a single parent or go through the stress of IVF. I know how stressful and anxiety raising it is trying to make this decision. And so far, touch wood - it's been working.
But in this past week, with so much upheaval and anger and uncertainty, I've really floundered to bring my attention and energy back to the topic of this blog. I found it very hard to focus my attention - I've felt scattered and unable to bring my focus back and be present.
Then last night, I had dinner with a coach friend of mine. A wonderful, lovely energetic lively coach working with women in the corporate sector.
She was telling me how the political uncertainty has impacted on her clients and the businesses they work in. No-one knows what the new reality means for business and people are holding off making business decisions until there is more certainty. But when will that come? And how can we move forward in uncertain times?
After we spoke, I realised that these are the same issues and questions that are facing everyone out trying to work out whether they want children or not. Even if we don't see ourselves as very political or that don't take strong opinions or positions, the EU referendum has had a huge impact on the wider system we are living in by bringing us all into an uncertain era
So, how do you move forward on the decision to have children when faced with a wider system where many things seem uncertain, unstable and unreliable?
1. Find ways to connect with your inner wisdom/centre/Wise Self . When we breathe and centre we can connect to the 'bigger picture' and we can feel more trust in our ability to move forward.
2. Think about times in your life when you have been challenged or experienced difficult periods in your life. How did you move past through those times, what did you learn about yourself? Now imagine that you have stepped forward into the unknown - what are you taking with you from the past? What do you now know about yourself and your ability to deal with the unknown that will help you face whatever the future brings - in a future with kids or without
3. Have compassion for yourself. Find ways to be kind and compassionate when you are feeling angry or frustrated at yourself. And then, find ways to be compassionate to other people - to stay open and in connection with others even when you are feeling like closing off. This is particularly important if you are in a disagreement with your partner or husband about having children.
Monday, 20 June 2016
However, maybe someday it could pay off financially to have children. In the article Parenting: It's Payback Time journalist Douglas Fraser looks at some economic research that poses some interesting questions for our assumptions about finance & child-rearing.
'What if the choice of having children were an investment decision? What if you could have offspring, spend a huge sum upfront on rearing, feeding, watering, and educating them, and then, hand them the bill?'
That does seem ridiculous of course. Untill, as economists Juan Carlos Córdoba of Iowa State University and Marla Ripoll at the University of Pittsburgh argued in their research, that in the early part of the 19th Century, parents were paid the wages of their children. When child labour was outlawed, then fertility rates went down.
Today we don't make our kids go down the coal mine or up chimmey's to help the household income - so how can having kids pay, asks Fraser.
'So, what about payback time? The researchers say the present value of the lifetime earnings of a low-income child are £460,000. A profit of at least £56,000. For higher income couples, the investment is significantly higher, and so are the returns'
Unfortunately for parents, adult children tend to spend their earnings on themselves and their own children (if they have them). The researchers suggest that there could be some sort of smoothing where the grown up children hand over some of their earnings to ease the process of old age.
Of course, the above is really one of those theoretical arguments that economists love to have.
At the end of the article, Fraser makes a very important point that I would concur with.
'It's just my hunch, but most parents seem to choose to have children because it seemed like a good idea at the time, or because it was a bit of an accident. Not many consult their financial adviser on parenting as part of a balanced investment portfolio.'
Even clients who come to see me, who are trying to take a very balanced view, do not end up deciding whether to have children or not purely on the finance. As one woman I interviewed for my book said:
'Money is part of it - but I think at the end of the day, we'd manage - loads of people manage to have kids who live in all sorts of situations and I think if I wanted kids, we'd cope as well - but do we want to?
Monday, 13 June 2016
I recently saw a fantastic TED Talk by Dan Gilbert called the Psychology of Your Future Self which I think points to why the baby decision is so very difficult. AND, it shows to me the important role of coaching techniques that help clients imagine a different 'future self' (or wise self), that helps clients see how what they want or will be like in the future will inevitably change.
'At every stage of our lives we make decisions that will profoundly influence the lives of the people we're going to become, and then when we become those people, we're not always thrilled with the decisions we made. So young people pay good money to get tattoos removed that teenagers paid good money to get. Middle-aged people rushed to divorce people who young adults rushed to marry. Older adults work hard to lose what middle-aged adults worked hard to gain. On and on and on. The question is, as a psychologist, that fascinates me is, why do we make decisions that our future selves so often regret?'
Gilbert explains that we continually under-estimate how much we will change in the future. We see ourselves as finished, as everything we have experienced as contributing to our 'finished selves'. We somehow find ourselves unable to imagine how we might be different in the future - how our values might change, how our likes and dislikes might be different in 10 years - just as they were different 10 years prior.
I find it very fascinating because it supports some of the exercises I do with my clients. Many times in coaching, my clients feel stuck because they can't imagine what it might be like with a child in the future. Often they focus on feels of anxiety or worries of what they will lose from their current life. An example is freedom and independence. When we get to our 30's, we can feel like we've achieved a certain freedom and independence - we have ARRIVED! And having a child can feel like a threat to this. But what if our sense of freedom and independence was always in flux - what if it would change even without having children? OR what if we could expand our imagination to move past a feeling of worry that we might feel unfulfilled if we don't have children to imagine our future selves as living a full life but perhaps a different fulfilled life without children.
I use a creative visualisation that helps clients move past their rational minds to imagine what this future self might be like and might be enjoying from life. I think why this is so powerful is because it does what Dan Gilbert in his TED Talk says we find hard to do - it gets us to stretch our imagination.
Another exercise I use is to ask clients to reflect on their past and look at all the changes that have happened in the last 10 - 20 years. I ask them to think about key experiences in their lives where they have overcome challenging situations and what they have learnt about themselves. I then ask them to take everything they have learnt about themselves in the past and think about how they will take that learning into the future, to approach and deal with new challenges - whether they have children or not.
One thing is certain - whether you decide to have children or you don't, change is part of the experience of being human. You'll change whatever decision you make!
Wednesday, 1 June 2016
It's something that I often hear from clients who can't decide whether to have children and it's a big question. If we are happy in our relationship, why chance it by having children? As a woman from the USA, who interviewed for my book said:
'We're really enjoying our life and our relationship. We travel - we are going on a 2 week trip to Europe in the summer which we are excited about. My husband has his own business which is going really well and I am working part-time and am doing volunteer work as well. When I go to visit friends with small children, they seem so stressed! I notice them snapping at each other, getting really cross. And everything revolves around the kids! All they do on Saturdays is run around and take one to baseball and the other to ballet. On Saturday night, they were so exhausted that we all just stayed in and watched a DVD - and they went to bed early. It really seems like a lot of hard work - and I worry that we will lose the enjoyment that we have for being in each other's company.'
As Matthew D Johnson, author of the Guardian article and the book points out, young children put a great deal of stress on relationships.
'It seems obvious that adding a baby to a household is going to change its dynamics. And indeed, the arrival of children changes how couples interact. Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting. Mundane basics like keeping kids fed, bathed and clothed take energy, time and resolve. In the effort to keep the family running smoothly, parents discuss carpool pickups and grocery runs, instead of sharing the latest gossip or their thoughts on presidential elections. Questions about one’s day are replaced with questions about whether this diaper looks full.'
Recently, a writer published an article in Self magazine I've Choosen To Be Childless and It Made My Marriage Stronger - it outlines her experience of having a happy and fullfilling relationship without children.
Another interesting perspective on the issue is that many people report that despite the stress in the beginning, they still report that they glad they had children. This is backed up by other research showing that parents do have similar satisfaction levels to their pre-birth levels. This study Having Children Later Makes You Happy? also takes into account other factors which can influence parent satisfaction levels. Interestingly, the study shows that people who have children later in life, the more satisfied they will be.
Research reports can provide some interesting information and context to make your decision but many people don't find them extremely helpful.
One thing that clients of mine have found helpful is to find out more about their friend's experience of having children - particularly if they are able to 'get beneath the surface' of their friend's decision. I have a questions that you can use to do this which are:
1) What unexpected joys/pleasure do you get from being a parent that you didn't realise before?
2) What do you miss from your life before children? Both as an individual but as a couple?
3) What would you like more in your life now?
4) How do you negotiate childcare and household responsibilities? [note: This is a big area of disagreement for parents!]
5) What, if any, would you think is the 'pay off' in having children?
Find out as much as you can - and try to talk to several couples if possible!