Personal development, Self-improvement

What can the “missing generation” of parents teach us?

Is a work-life balance possible when you're a parent? It is. Clara explains that by learning from our past mistakes, we can create the balance we need for the future.

Through my work as a Coach, I speak to many Mums and Dads who are further on in their parenting journey than some of my clients. Their children are now at school, college, or even starting to have children of their own! When we speak about their experience of parenthood, and how they felt returning to work, I hear a similar phrase:

“I wish I had known about you when I returned to work.”

This “missing generation” of parents can tell us what it feels like to not have support when they return to work. Whilst I could only intervene now through some sci-fi type of time-travel, taking the time to hear what worked (and didn’t) for them, can help me support parents currently returning to work.

I am constantly collecting feedback from parents about what they need to have a career to enjoy. To help them stay in work, to stay fulfilled and purposeful. Coaching is one way to support this but by no means the only way! It is part of wider support and employment framework to help all families thrive. We know that EVERYONE deserves pay that allows for a healthy standard of living, working conditions that support flexibility, success measures that value output, rather than presenteeism, and interview practices that engage with skills and potential. But do we feel empowered to ask for it?

I hope by now you are familiar with how coaching helps with career plans and wellbeing. However, I want to talk about what we can learn from a missed generation of parents who weren’t offered this. Those that were expected to return to work with a newborn, were driven to prove themselves with little acknowledgement of their new needs, goals and challenges.

When I speak to these parents and ask what this lack of extra support created, it’s common to hear a common theme of struggle: They have:

  • Left their work due to lack of flexibility
  • Impacted their confidence due to limited opportunities
  • Lowered ambition due to assumptions about their options
  • Poor personal well-being due to stress and pressure

When asked what they needed from their employer to help them have a positive return to work in the past, and a long-standing, enjoyable career, it won’t surprise you that they are the same things that parents ask for now. Some of the key areas include:

  • Flexible Hours
  • Acknowledgement of their role and responsibilities as a parent
  • Belief in their abilities and skills
  • Investment in their career

One way to show your team that you do care is to provide a Coach; someone who is independent, and can support that person to build self-awareness, develop tools and techniques to support their career, and have honest conversations about how to juggle their varying responsibilities. However supportive you feel your organization is, there are things that a parent won’t share. Without a non-judgemental, independent “critical friend” there is a risk that the concerns and challenges get internalized and start to impact their self-esteem and wellbeing. To put it bluntly, you risk losing staff, whilst they lose themselves.

But don’t just take this from me. I was very honoured to hear from one parent, who feels that coaching would have helped them navigate their return to work after parental leave. Let me hand this part of the blog over to them:

“In brief, my experience was that I’d worked hard to gain a leadership role at work in my very early thirties. Work was a big part of my identity and I was really, really good at it. On becoming a parent I think subconsciously acted to hold on too tight to that. The reassurance that I was successful, valued, and capable. I threw myself back into the workplace after just a few months, telling myself and everyone else that my little one was much better off with his childminder: a professional who in her area of expertise, knew exactly what she was doing.

In doing that, I see now, I didn’t give myself the space that I needed to maintain any part of my life or role I was trying to play. I didn’t allow myself room to learn, to be bad at something (or if not bad, then just not really good). I absolutely didn’t ask for help. I didn’t draw strength from people around me or let them support me.

I was living the dream, I had a beautiful home, I had ‘work-life balance, I was a modern woman who had it all. When Facebook shows me memories of this time, that’s not what I remember now.

Instead, the smiling faces that I see provoke a different set of memories: I remember crying in the shower a lot. I remember the overwhelming urge to run away – I’d get the train to the city centre for work and think about how I could head for the airport instead of the office, I’d mentally calculate the balance of bank accounts, credit cards, my overdraft.. and then I’d put my game face on and walk into the office and maintain the pretence for another day. I remember all of the pain that I caused when I couldn’t keep it all going anymore, and put myself and those closest to me through a year of self-destruction, and changed the course of my marriage, (and in so doing) my child’s life, and my career.

I know that sounds dramatic. But it was – what I know now, after a lot of support and love from amazing people (and things are great now! I write this from a good place), is that had I had a non-judgemental coach, someone who had been through the early stages of parenthood and had an appreciation of some of what I might be feeling, I would have been able to take control more constructively and positively. Therapy was great for me afterwards, but actually, I could have done things differently had I not let myself get to the stage that it was therapy that I needed.”

The power of coaching

So, how could offering return-to-work coaching offset this? It tells your team you are aware that this new stage in their life will take an adjustment. It’s setting a culture of progression and reflection and allowing people to review what is important to them. You are leading from the front to generate a coaching culture; once people have experienced the impact of coaching, they are more likely to bring that into their everyday interactions. To put it simply, you are showing the parents in your team that they matter.

If you, as a manager or leader have benefited from coaching, then it’s time to pay it forward to the parents in your team. We all know, deep down, what we need to keep our staff engaged; but let’s stop treating them like numbers in a production line and begin with people first. Don’t assume that your staff will ask for help when they need it. Offer it as standard, and you will be surprised how it can help!

Clara will be leading a workshop on inclusive recruitment at our new conference – From Here to Diversity. Learn more and register here.

This was originally published on The Balance Collectives website, click here to see.