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 and assistant Laura will respond and arrange an appointment with you. Visit for more information about my coaching services.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

What is the point of raising a child?

One of the reasons the decision to become a parent or not is so difficult is the different, paradoxical issues that the nature of parenting and raising children raises.

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

How to maintain friendships across the 'Baby Divide'

Another sunny week in London!  In London, everyone seems more relaxed and happy - the pavements are full of people relaxing and socializing.  I've also been finding myself meeting friends more often as the nights are lighter and the warm weather makes for relaxed and easy socialising.

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

How do we determine our life path?

I've been having a break from the blog as I have been on vacation - I had a lovely time in Canada (in beautiful Nova Scotia actually) visiting friends and family.  And I then flew down to one of my all time favorite cities, New York!  London and NYC are the same kind of world class, cosmopolitan, diverse city.  And yet, there is such a different energy about each city - NYC has a particular vibrancy about it. London is still my home and it's nice to be back in the UK and back to the old routine.  I've been coaching a number of clients from different parts of the world over my vacation  - what is great about Skype is that I can still coach clients whether I'm in Nova Scotia, NYC or London.

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

My Week: Interview on BBC Radio & Jennifer Aniston hits back

Following on from my last blog post on  women are judged for their life choices around having children or not, I was invited to speak on the BBC radio tees radio show to discuss the issue. (And the next day, Andrea Leadsom resigned - probably not in response to my radio show!)  Prior to my interview, the show featured an older woman who had decided not to have children but she felt that she was often subject to comments and felt sometimes like a second class citizen.  I concurred that judgements are still made towards women who do not have children and that unthinking comments such as those made by Leadsom are still all too common.  Leadsom has said that she did not have any malicious intent and I do believe that this is the case. But many of my clients report that friends and family members still make unthinking comments that are hurtful.  I think that we all need to challenge our own assumptions about mothers and women who are not mothers - that's the only way to start to have better conversations about the choice to have children..... or not.

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

Why are we still judging women on whether they are mothers or not?

This is the headline article in the Times today.  In the piece, Ms Leadsom (one of the two candidates to be the next leader of the Tory party and ultimately, the next Prime Minister) says that she thinks her rival Theresa May must be really sad not to have children.  She goes on to say that Theresa May 'possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who will be directly part of what happens next.'

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

Moving forward in uncertain times

'There is now a great need for bridge-building, for reaching out to one another in love, trusting that below the political differences lie a shared humanity and a wish for flourishing communities.' - From Quakers in Britain, Building Bridges after the Referendum

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

Having kids: Does it pay?

Everyone knows that having kids costs money!  Estimates vary but it's in the region of between $150,000 - $400,000 from birth to 18. When we look at the figures so starkly, having children can seem like a terrifying prospect. How does anyone ever find the money to raise children?  And when faced with such a huge financial burden, why would anyone choose to have children?

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

Making a decision on children your future self will be happy with

One of the real difficulties for my clients is that they are often trying to make a decision in the present time that their future self will be happy with. All my coaching clients don't feel 100% sure of what to choose.  And some feel happy now ..... but they are aware that, because of their age, they need to make a decision now, because in 5 or 10 years they may not have the luxury of choice.

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

Will having kids effect my relationship? Questions to ask your friends who are parents

New research shows that having children leads to problems in marriage.  ( see this article published in the Guardian Want to save your marriage? Don't have Children )

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!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Getting Older Without Children

This morning I was interviewed for BBC Radio Tees on the issue of getting older without children.  Aging without Children, has been raising this issue in the press ahead of their June Conference - both to the wider public and policy-makers on the issue of aging without children.   Many of my clients who are coming to me for help with  the decision to have children or not,  express anxiety about what will happen when they get older if they don't have children.  It is a big fear for many people who come to see me for coaching.  (You can also read more on a blog post What will happen when I get older? I wrote about this last year)

As a coach, one of my roles is facilitate my clients trust  their ability to deal with life challenges.  One of the ways I do this is through developing skills that will help them develop mental resilience or the ability to cope with stress and life challenges.  As the report produced by Community Links Looking Forward to Later Life states, by encouraging older people to develop their mental resilience, we will be encouraging greater mental well-being.

From the age 70, rates of depression  rises sharply.  This  has a strong impact on mortality rates.  A key risk factor for mental health problems in later life is lack of social ties and relationships. Protective factors for mental health include living in a supportive and enabling physical environment and having social ties.

When I work with someone who is worried about getting older without children, we'll explore how they could start to build their mental resilience now and importantly, how they might begin to build up some of those aspects of life which support good mental health and happiness in later life.  Social ties, relationships and contentedness is absolutely crucial - and some of the ideas that clients come up with when we explore this issue have included:

- Nurturing relationships with children and young people of friends and family.  Many young people love to have adults in their lives you are non-judgemental and who they can turn to.
-  Brainstorm clubs and activities that we either engage in now OR that we might wish to get involved in when we are older that engage people from across generations.  Choirs, church groups, residents groups, etc.
- Considering our living arrangements and thinking about where we would like to live in the future that would nuture inter-connectness and feeling part of the community.

Some of the work I do with clients to help them with stress which include teaching them simple reduction techniques and tools can help people deal with stress and depression at difficult transitions at certain points in our life.

Alongside working with people individually, I  very much agree with  people from AWC that the government and society needs to take on work the issues. As the Community Links report states that as a society we need to develop structural tools to help older people (and older people without children) in particular navigate the transitions and challenges of getting older.

'We have suggested the need for insitutions to help us plan for our choice years, to support social connection and meaningful contribution, to guide us through transitions and to reduce health inequalities as we age''

Their report proposes a number of practical interventions that the government could make - encouraging the establishment of what they call 'Ready Institutes' to support older people in this transitional period and which would create networks of support.

Similarly, Aging Without Children want to:
- Set up local groups where people ageing without children can meet together to get support
- Ensure that people ageing without children admitted to hospital or residential care have someone to   speak up for them if they need it or are unable to do so themselves
- Work with other organisations, the NHS and local government to ensure that people ageing without    children are not forgotten or ignored when services for older people are being discussed and      

I wonder if we lived in a world where the elderly were cared for and looked after by the whole community, would there be such a fear of not having children in old age?

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Regretting Motherhood

A few years ago, I took a short course with the a charity for parents in the UK called the NCT that supports new parents. The course was for people who wanted to be trained  to support women who were in the post-natal period.  There were a few reasons for this - as a coach coaching on the baby decision I thought I would be a good idea to have some further training and expertise in the challenges that new mothers face. I was also considering facilitating Post-Natal groups or courses that are offered by the NCT.  But my main reason was personal. As some of you know, after a couple of years of trying to decide whether to have children or not, I did decide to have my son Sam (I write about how this process led me to coach women on the this decision in this article on my website Why I Decided to Coach on the Baby Decision  

I was spectacularly unprepared for the mixture of emotions I had just have birth in those first few weeks.  I had expected this to be a glowing, wonderful period of calm and feeling happy.  Instead, I felt anxious, worried and very ambivalent about being a new mother.  In fact, on my third day of my son's life I wondered quietly to myself if I had indeed made a terrible mistake.   I thought I was very odd, maybe the only one who ever felt this way.

 But it turns out that I was not an unusual case.

Rachel Cusk was a trailblazer in talking openly about her experience of maternal ambivalence in the Book 'A Life's Work'   In this article I was only being honest written for the Guardian in 2008, she writes about her shock at the extreme negative comments she received.

I was accused of child-hating, of postnatal depression, of shameless greed, of irresponsibility, of pretentiousness, of selfishness, of doom-mongering and, most often, of being too intellectual. One curious article questioned the length of my sentences: how had I, a mother, been able to write such long and complicated sentences? Why was I not busier, more tired? Another reviewer - a writer! - commanded her readers not to let the book fall into the hands of pregnant women. The telephone rang and rang. I was invited on the Today programme to defend myself. I was invited on the Nicky Campbell programme to defend myself. I was cited everywhere as having said the unsayable: that it is possible for a woman to dislike her children, even to regret having brought them into the world.

Recently more media attention has been given to the issue of maternal ambivalence - shadow side of motherhood.  As the article in the Guardian Love and Regret points out, more research on women who do regret being mothers has been done in different countries around the world.  Interestingly, all the research shows that the women still report loving their children while regretting motherhood.

For my work, this issue has very particular resonance as the fear that they will regret their decision is one of the fears about deciding to have children that  I've heard from clients coming to see me.   I've written a number of times about regret here on the blog  (most recently on the topic Will I Regret Not Having Children  )

So what should you do if you are worried that you might regret having a child?

What I do with all my clients is ask them to get out all there fears and tell me what they think they might lose or regret by having children.  I do believe that we are much less likely to feel regret if we have given ourselves the opportunity to really explore and express our fears and worries before making a decision.  There is no point hiding or pretending that motherhood might not come with some loss.    I work with clients to look at that loss - for example, a loss of freedom (particularly in the early years although this gets less as your children get older).  Is it unbearable?   If you knew you would have aspects of your old life back when your children grew, would it be more bearable?  And, if you did have children, would you be embracing?

The more we can get away from the simplistic notion of motherhood as being this wonderful ideal and the more honest we can be about the shadow side of motherhood, the more we can make positive choices that are right for us.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Vulnerability and the baby decision

Most of us will do anything to keep from feeling vulnerable.  For many of us, being vulnerable is associated with shame, embarrassment and being exposed.  Yet as Brene Brown points out,  'Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think'. ~ Brené Brown

I have noticed how often the fear of being vulnerable comes up for my clients who are wondering whether to have children or not,   This isn't surprising as the whole issue of having or not having children feels a very exposed place for many of my clients.   One woman I interviewed for my book Baby or Not?

'This is such a personal decision and I feel very exposed.  In most other areas of my life, I feel very in control - if I have a difficult presentation to make to the partners at work, then I know I can stay up late and practice.  I also am confident in my professional skills.  But I have no idea what I would be like as a mother - I don't know how to 'get expert' at being a mother.  If that's what I even decided to do of course!   AND then, I feel I'm already exposing myself to judgement and criticism if I were to decide to be child-free.  Most of my friends either have or are planning to have children and I'm feeling exposed as the 'outsider' in the group.  I want to feel strong but I'm feeling very weak.'

One of the things I do with clients is to look at ways they can - in the coaching session and as homework experience vulnerability.  (I find exploring the polarity of vulnerability vs strength very helpful in this - this previous blog post on freedom vs commitment explains a little bit more how I work with polarity in coaching).  When we actually allow ourselves to 'go into' vulnerability we can find ourselves emerging, with more resilience and less fear.  For my clients struggling with the baby decision, this can result in a shift in how they are able to look and be with the decision they have to make.   The client who was fearful that motherhood might expose her to feelings of dreaded vulnerability can find that actually being vulnerable and not knowing is bearable - although she, like most of us, may still find it hard to embrace fully.  The client who find herself stiffing when someone asks why she doesn't have children yet may find that she is better able to be with that initial feeling of exposure/vulnerability so that she feels more comfortable with telling people she has decided to be child-free.

The poet David Whyte also looks at and explores vulnerability.   I find this an incredibly powerful quote.

'Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.'

Vulnerability has many hidden gifts - it is a place of richness and exploration in coaching and in our lives.