Coaching Case Study By Catherine Ferguson
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
An exploration of how coaching can support maternal wellbeing and growth
I hired my first life coach almost 10 years ago when I was 27. I wanted to make a career transition and felt completely overwhelmed and at a loss of how to move forward.
Life coaching was new to me. I had never heard of a life coach until I found the coach I ultimately hired.
Going through the coaching process changed me because it made me realize a few very important things:
- I have more control over my life than I think
- My expectations are the hardest ones to live up to
Those big realizations impacted how I approached and navigated my life, with all of its changes and transitions.
And my biggest transition of all when I became a mom to a son in 2016.
There is nothing to prepare you for becoming a parent. You can read all of the books and take all of the advice from family and friends, but you won’t fully understand it until you walk that path yourself.
A mother is also born when a baby comes into the world. There is a word for this process – presence – which is defined as the psychological development a woman undergoes when she becomes a mother. She has to get to know herself again in this new role.[i]
And this isn’t isolated to the newborn and infant phases.
It’s a lifelong journey.
During pregnancy, there is a ton of focus on the pregnant mother. People dote and buy gifts. And in our Western culture, the focus shifts almost entirely to the newborn baby when they arrive. The mother is often forgotten.
As mothers, especially in our Western culture, we tend to jump back in quickly to doing mode. We plan for ourselves as well as the baby. We carry the mental load of the household.[ii]
It’s easy for women to take a back seat in their own lives. It’s easy to put the kids first and forget about their own goals, or they just don’t set them at all.
What results is a generation of women who are overworked and uninspired. Who is going through the motions because it’s what they think they should do. Who thinks it’s selfish to stop and think about what would be best for them.
What I realized very early on into motherhood was that now was the time to make a change I had long been wanting to make. If I hadn’t done it before in my life up until that point for ME, I was going to do it for my kids.
Many mothers feel this same way. They’ve hit a breaking point. They don’t like what their life looks like in the future if everything stays the same.
But they don’t know how to navigate making such a big change:
- They may have stopped dreaming because they are putting their family first.
- They may have an idea but logistically can’t figure it out because how does that work with the kids?
- They feel selfish for even wanting more because they feel it will be taking away from their family.
- They are scared to take a risk because they have been chasing perfectionism their whole lives.
These women are smart, compassionate, hungry, and motivated. But since we’re not taught how to manage our minds and emotions, these women take the apprehension, anxiety, and uncertainty of staring these goals in the face as signs that something has gone wrong.
And this is where coaching can help change everything.
For the busy mom, coaching can:
- Create a trusted space for her to speak freely and openly about her struggles.
- Bring awareness to the emotional patterns of worry and overwhelm and how those are keeping her stuck.
- Identify goals and values that up until now, she hasn’t given herself the time to explore
- Make progress towards those goals by prioritizing and outlining tangible action steps.
Creating a trusted space
Gina is a client of mine who came to life coaching looking for support while going through a divorce. She has a young son and the end of her marriage was sudden and painful. Not only was she dealing with the intense emotion surrounding her relationship, but she also had a lot of concerns about how to navigate this next chapter of her life. From how to handle the divorce with her son, to figuring out the next steps in her career, to organizing her home, to navigating the divorce process, Gina had a lot on her mind.
Gina and I work together in one-off sessions. She contacts me when she wants to talk, and our sessions happen approximately every 3 weeks. At the start of each call, Gina typically begins by “talking it out”, as she calls it. She tells me what has happened since our last session and gives me any updates she feels compelled to share.
Within the first 5 minutes, Gina is usually able to identify the topic that is weighing on her mind the most, sometimes with very little or no questioning from me at all. Now that we’ve worked together for about 8 months, Gina feels very comfortable sharing her life with me and trusts that I am there to listen without any judgment.
It’s this type of coaching relationship that can be so beneficial to moms who often don’t feel like they have someone in their lives that they can confide in. They may talk to their partners about some things, their friends or family for others. But a coach is there to listen to it all support them at that moment.
This is proof that sometimes, just knowing there is someone to listen is powerful itself.
Alyssa is a client whom I’ve been working with for a few months. She is married, works full time at a demanding job, and has a 3.5-year-old son. She sought a coach initially to figure out which steps to take next in her career, with the life of her family forefront in her mind. Alyssa is a very intelligent, self-aware person and is curious about coaching tools and philosophies. She is the type of client who is interested in understanding the various concepts that one can use to self-coach and find her answers. As such, it’s normal that our conversations can get quite detailed into thought and emotional patterns.
One session, Alyssa came to the coaching call with the topic of how to handle meetings at work with her CEO. She had noticed that in these meetings, she lost her nerve, got nervous, and said things she didn’t mean to. She didn’t “perform” as well, as she put it, as she did in other meetings with other colleagues. She wanted to get to the bottom of why this was happening, so she could figure out a way to fix it and have more confidence in her next meeting with him.
Through my line of inquiry and her exploration, she recognized that her underlying thought when she went into meetings with her CEO was, “He doesn’t care about this.” That thought made her feel defeated and hopeless before the meeting even began. And from that place, she didn’t show up in these CEO meetings with her normal, assertive, strong energy.
Through our discussion and her realization of her underlying thought, Alyssa began to reframe her situation. She said that actually “it wasn’t true” that he didn’t care about the topic of their meetings together, and she had evidence to prove to herself that was the case. This alone began to shift her energy on our call.
Together, we came up with a plan for her next meeting with him.
First, we recognized the need for an intentional thought to counteract her underlying belief. “I know what I’m talking about” was one that Alyssa liked and believed. Second, we addressed her concern over her nerves before and during the meetings. As her coach, I noticed that she had a lot of judgment over the fact that she felt nervous. I asked her, “What if it was OK if you felt nervous before the meeting?” That question hadn’t occurred to her. It gave her permission to feel her feelings and not judge them.
In our next session, Alyssa told me that she had “opened up her energy” to her CEO, and their meetings had been much more comfortable for her and more productive overall.
Working moms juggle not only thoughts and emotions about their family, but the nuances of what happens in their workplace. Coaching can be a very productive way to help them sort through the mental noise quickly and get to the heart of the matter, without judgment.
Identify goals and values
My client Nicole sought coaching at the encouragement of her husband. After being a stay at home mom for the past 9 years to her two sons, she was feeling adrift and confused about what to do next as her sons grow and need her less. She knew she wanted to make a change, but she wasn’t sure what that change was or how to go about figuring it out.
We started by discussing her values. What was important to her? It was clear from Nicole’s voice the nervousness she had around committed to this type of work for herself. She didn’t trust herself that she could figure out what to do next or to see it through to completion. Digging into her values was therefore a wonderful way to start going deeper. She talked about creativity, sustainability, and community. She admired people, businesses, and causes that embodied these values and wanted more of them in her life.
Identifying her values was like laying the foundation for Nicole. It was with these values in mind that we could move on to setting goals for her to work towards and taking action.
Goal setting felt difficult for Nicole because she had a fear that she didn’t know what she wanted. Through coaching, we recognized that this constant questioning was what continually led her to not taking any action towards ANY goal, which is what resulted in her seeking coaching in the first place.
So we reframed the goal as simply a direction to aim towards, knowing that as she started taking action, the destination would become clearer.
Our biggest focus was breaking her big goal down into very small steps. While her big goal was exciting, it also overwhelmed her. Identifying the best next action steps for her to take each week was critical in helping her start to make progress towards building the interior design business that she had been thinking of for years.
And since the line of progress is never linear, there were weeks when Nicole didn’t take action or accomplish what she said she wanted to. These were opportunities for us to pause and identify the limiting beliefs that were holding her back, and then reframe to find thoughts that served her better.
Before she began coaching, Nicole had a dusty vision of a dream. It seemed impossible and like it would never happen, and therefore she never took action. Now, after about 5 months of coaching, Nicole has started to transform what her days look like. In her business, Nicole has finished several projects, made local connections, begun a course on taxes for self-employment, and even made a handful of sales! She has built up momentum and the lightness in her voice is tangible call after call. Now that she feels like she has found her footing in this area, our coaching has naturally expanded to other areas of her life, as she recognizes that each piece is not compartmentalized, but interplays with one another.
Nicole is a shining example of how small, consistent action can begin to yield significant results.
Even in 2020, mothers still suffer emotionally because they try to do it all. From working to housekeeping to childrearing, they often fall into the trap of putting others’ needs first and ignoring their own. This leads only to a generation of women who lose touch with their own needs and desires and burn out in the process.
Coaching as a modality can solve this problem, by giving women the chance to be heard, to feel safe, to dream bigger than they have before, and to start taking action.
[i]Sacks, Alexandra. “Matrescence: The Developmental Transition to Motherhood.” Psychology Today, 8 April 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/motherhood-unfiltered/201904/matrescence-the-developmental-transition-motherhood
[ii]Barberio, Joseph. “This Comic Perfectly Explains the Mental Load Working Mothers Bear.” Working Mother, 2 November 2018, www.workingmother.com/this-comic-perfectly-explains-mental-load-working-mothers-bear.