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.

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'. ~ BrenĂ© 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.