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The Realities of Shame in Working Parents

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

This blog post is a collaboration between Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner, who are both Maternity Return coaches. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you. In this blog we talk about the time after you’ve returned to work and some of the typical themes that come up in coaching conversations.

Feelings of guilt are all too common amongst working parents. Figuring out how best to juggle all the different demands that they face and the multiple decisions they make every day can be stressful, exhausting and lead to feelings of overwhelm and burnout.

It is this juggling act which led Nora Roberts to describe her philosophy of plastic and glass balls - she said that the key to juggling is to know that some of the balls you have in the air are made of plastic and some are made of glass. And if you drop a plastic ball, it bounces, no harm done. If you drop a glass ball, it shatters, so you have to know which balls are glass and which are plastic and prioritise catching the glass ones. In other words, some child-related things may be glass and some may be plastic, and sometimes to catch a glass work ball, you have to drop a plastic family one and that might be ok. But equally, sometimes to catch a glass child-ball, something at work may have to give.

Making these types of decisions is a new experience for first time parents who have not previously been faced with the emotional dilemma of having to choose between being committed to their career and being present for their children. Learning how and what to prioritise and accepting the consequences of these decisions is challenging and can lead many to feel that they are failing both at work and at home.

Cynthia Wang, a clinical professor of management and organisations at Northwestern University, US researched what happens when working parents feel they are falling short of their own and other’s expectations. Her research found that when parents felt they were not being a ‘good parent’ their productivity at work suffered.

This is a topic that comes up time and time again in our coaching with working parents. Creating the space for parents to share and reflect on their experiences, examine their new and evolving identity and explore the expectations they place on themselves can be transformational. In coaching we often look at increasing a parent’s self-awareness so that they are able to make choices that are aligned with their values and create the support around them to set themselves up for success.

For organisations serious about supporting their working parents, creating opportunities for them to open up conversations about their reality and enabling them to support each other can help to ease feelings of shame and guilt. Normalising their experience and recognising that they are not alone in how they are feeling can be enormously valuable.

If you’d like more information about how we can support you and your organisation with return to work coaching, there are links to both our websites in the descriptions below.

About Laura

Laura is an EMCC qualified and accredited coach with a background in HR and Recruitment. She has 15 years experience of coaching individuals around their professional and personal development. Her own experience of returning to work after having her daughter highlighted that there was a need for more robust support through this transition which lead her to specialise in maternity return coaching. Clients share that they find her to be warm and down to earth, giving them a renewed sense of self belief, motivation and tools to cope in a fast paced and often challenging world. Her coaching approach is grounded in Positive Psychology focussing on mental health and well-being. She see’s her role as providing a safe and calm space for those facing uncertainty and making big changes in their lives.

About Sarah

Sarah is an Executive and Maternity coach with a background in HR, Diversity and Inclusion and Occupational Psychology. A mum herself, Sarah has experienced maternity leave and she has coached numerous women and working parents as they navigate their own journey into parenthood. She brings compassion and empathy to her maternity coaching, priding herself on offering a supportive but empowering space where her clients feel heard and able to find their own way through this stage of their lives.

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