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What are the risks of not offering coaching to new parents?

Parents, most often mothers, who take time off from paid employment to take care of their child(ren) face a variety of feelings as they adjust to returning to work. Having experienced a critical life transition, they find themselves trying to re-discover their professional identity when this is often in conflict with their new role as a parent.

This is a deeply personal transition that will be different for everyone. For some, the return will feel relatively seamless, but for many, it can feel like a roller coaster that can take some time to settle into something resembling a new normal. Furthermore, given the magnitude of the change brought about by having a baby, mental health often takes a hit. It is well documented that women can be vulnerable to post-natal depression post birth affecting 1 in 10 women in the year post-birth and this can also impact fathers (NHS). Research by Pregnant then Screwed found that 30% of mothers who return to work do so with mental health issues (Josie Brearley – The Truth about the Motherhood Penalty, 2021).

Returning to a job in which you established yourself and your ways of working that enabled you to deliver to a high standard can be challenging when you need to return to that same job, but with a small child at home. Women can experience a lack of confidence after spending several months out of the workplace, immersed in taking care of a baby whilst battling a lack of sleep. The reality of returning to work and feeling under pressure to prove herself, speak with authority on topics she was an expert in and deliver the same volume of work as before can be daunting. In addition, the reality of juggling childcare drop off and pick up times with a long working day and a commute, whilst still short on sleep and possibly fighting off illness brought home from childcare by their little one means that for some women, the return can feel overwhelming and unmanageable.

The experience can also differ between children. For example, my personal experience of returning to work after my first child was relatively straightforward, but when I returned after my second it felt completely different. Not only did I now have two children under the age of four at home, but I was in a global role that required conference calls during late afternoon or early evening. I was trying to work on a part-time basis but felt that I was failing at delivering at work and not succeeding at being the mum I wanted to be at home. I made the choice that many women make in this situation – to leave full time paid employment.

There are some startling statistics about the impact of having a baby on women’s careers. A report by Careers After Babies found that 85% of women leave the full-time workforce within three years of having children. 19% leave the workforce altogether, most often because their work cannot offer the flexibility they need, or the cost of childcare is too high. For most mothers in this study, it seems that working full time alongside having a family is neither feasible or desirable.

So, how can coaching support new parents return to work successfully? I can honestly say that if I’d been offered coaching after the birth of my second child my career would have headed in a different direction. I felt so overwhelmed and unable to cope that I felt I had no option but to leave. My line manager at the time didn’t check in with me to see how I was doing post return, and I felt unable to speak up about my struggles. The risks of leaving new parents to navigate this complex transition alone include losing talent, increasing levels of stress leading to burnout and mental health challenges. This doesn’t need to be the case.

Organisations who are sensitive to the realities of being a working parent understand the need for flexibility, ensure that all line managers receive training on how to manage the transition carefully and put policies in place that actively encourage family friendly ways of working. They also proactively budget for coaching to support all parents as they return to work, and a big part of this is supporting fathers to take shared parental leave and championing equal parenting across the organisation.

Coaching provides a safe space for parents to share their feelings and reflect on the impact of the changes that have occurred. For many women in my coaching practice, the reality of having a baby and the impact this has on them as a person; their priorities, their values and how they see themselves, has fundamentally changed. This often comes as a surprise, and having a confidential place to work through these is enormously valuable. Parents whose organisations offer this kind of support report feeling valued and appreciated and may even use their coaching sessions to help them prepare for conversations with their line manager about working hours, workload or wellbeing. If I’d had the opportunity to have coaching after the birth of my second daughter, I would have used those sessions to help me work through was I could control and what I couldn’t, to ask for help, seek support from other parents in the organisation and to speak to my line manager to share how I was feeling.

Coaching is often viewed as a one-to-one intervention, but increasingly organisations are seeing the value of offering group coaching as a way of bringing new parents together and developing a peer support network. Training for line managers is, in our view, imperative because coaching alone is not the solution if the organisational culture is not understanding and supportive.

There are numerous studies that demonstrate the value of retaining female talent and the impact this has on the gender pay gap and diversity at senior levels of the organisation. Coaching certainly helps with this. However, if you want your people to truly believe they can be parents and have a successful career, coaching is a key enabler in making this happen.

Please get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more about the coaching solutions, we offer which includes one-to-one, group coaching and line manager training.

My colleague Sarah Turner and I have been busy creating content highlighting the importance of organisations providing support for working parents. As part of this, we created this video series exploring the entire journey of maternity leave, from before the leave starts, through to preparing to return and then the first few months back at work. If you or your organisation would like to understand more about how to support your employees as they take parental leave, please get in touch.  

This blog post is a collaboration between Maternity Coaches Laura Duggal and Sarah Turner. They are working together, sharing their experiences and bringing the best of their joint advice and knowledge to you.

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