Who do I work with and why?
Most of my clients are parents, predominantly mothers, who are juggling the responsibilities of family and other activities (sometimes work). I have been drawn to this area because of my personal struggle with self-worth while staying at home with our children and giving up my career. Even though my husband and I made the right choice for our family at the time – for me to stay at home during our children’s early years – I felt judged (by others and myself) that this was not ‘enough’ of a job. Having spent 7 years at University and 10 years working professionally before starting a family, the transition into parenthood as a vocation was difficult and although I loved being a mum, I no longer felt valued as an individual. The value society placed on a parent staying at home to care for young children in the home is eroding. There is mounting pressure for parents to return to some type of paid work as soon as possible. In Australia over the past 10 years there has been a 10% increase in the proportion of mothers returning to work, (Baxter, 2013). Similar situations can be found elsewhere in the developed world, and the increasing pressures on parents is highlighted in Schulte, (2014) who explains the tug-of-war that ensues when parents are expected to be the ideal parent and the ideal worker and the ideal provider. Judgments abound, to the point where stay at home mums can sometimes be subject to prejudice akin to racism (Bingham, 2013). Amid this stigma, whatever decisions are made by families regarding child rearing, there is often a big transition for parents when children begin school. This is especially the case with stay at home parents who may find themselves with time to themselves for the first time in years. I feel that coaching can provide enormous benefits in this particular area of life transition.
Designing the Group Coaching Program
I devised an 8-week Pilot Group Coaching Program for parents and offered it at a local primary school. This pilot program comprised sessions of 1-½ hours conducted weekly. I had wonderful support from the school and received permission to send a letter out to parents in late February 2014. It took me over 3 months (and countless drafts) to finally say in my letter what I wanted to say (Appendix 1). Once I had the letter, I finally found the courage to send it to 40 families, to which I received only 1 response. Unperturbed I decided to send the letter to a further 250 families. Three weeks later with 6 participants and a friend helping me we began.
Running the pilot program
Prior to the pilot program beginning I had a broad overview (Appendix 2) for the program planned, but wanted to leave it as flexible as possible. I planned each session in the week prior to running it, taking into account what happened in the previous session. The overview was based on the early ideas for my Coaching Model and involved various exercises to assist participants and create a focus for group discussions.
Before the first session I sent out a Personal Information and Pre-Program Questionnaire (Appendix 3). This was to capture a baseline for participants. I also conducted a short telephone discussion with each of them to determine their expectations for the program.
A post-program questionnaire and evaluation (Appendix 4) was completed by each participant during the final session. It is from these evaluations that I collected the majority of the data for this paper.
For this project the measurement of happiness used was similar to that used in the World Happiness Report 2013 (Halliwell, 2013) based on the Cantril Ladder. Participants in the World Happiness Report were asked to rank their happiness for life in general. For my purposes I have broken this down further into 12 life areas, which approximate those used on the Wheel of Life Exercises (ICA, 2014) The original 8 wheel of life areas were expanded out for my purposes by separating friends and family into friends, extended family and children, while also adding the life areas of, fitness and spirituality (Appendix 3 & 4). These life areas more clearly represent the focus of my client base – parents.) Providing 12 life areas allowed participants to more precisely identify the areas in their lives that they would like the most improvement. Participants were asked to rank the areas of their life somewhere between 0= not happy and 10= extremely happy.
The Participants’ Stories
(Participants names have been changed to ensure confidentiality)
Kim is a stay at home mother of two (ages 5 and 6) and has been in a defacto relationship for fifteen years. She and her partner are seeing a counselor. She came to our group “to do something for myself and to gain confidence to be the best parent, partner, friend I can be. Be the best influence especially for my daughter.” She came to the group wanting to find herself, her interests, and to plan for the future.
Kim came to our first session of group coaching to apologise in person for not being able to make it. She had been unable to find care for her five-year-old son. You could hear the relief and gratitude in her voice that she was able to stay, as we set her son up with stickers and pencils on a table in the back of the room.
Kim is a vibrant, caring, bubbly person who shared in the first introduction that she felt like she was two different people – the one she showed the world and the other, the real one she didn’t…
Over the course of the 8-week program Kim became increasingly excited about the changes she was able to make in her life. She was a fantastic support to others in the group and really thrived on realising that she was not alone in her struggles and concluded that the most useful thing to come out of the program for her was to openly take on accountability. Her biggest learnings from the program were:
- That she wasn’t alone
- That planning enables her to achieve
- That she is worthy
She was able to move from a state of blame and frustration to taking responsibility. When asked what things most surprised her about the program, she said: “I can express my emotions well and that the things I think people don’t like about me are my strengths”. When asked what she would like to tell others who might be considering doing the program she said: “Life coaching has changed my life. Whether you need to find your own identity again, have a passion you want to pursue or further yourself in all areas of life, then this (program) is a must.” Kim wants to continue with group coaching next term.
Sarah is a stay at home mother of four (ages 1,4,6 & 8) and has been married for ten years. She came to our group because “the letter (Appendix 1) that came home seemed just at the right time.” She wanted to sort out her priorities and feel more in control of her life.
Sarah was a quiet, contemplative member of the group and her contributions were always well thought out and a bit guarded. It was a little difficult some times for her to concentrate as she usually had at least one, sometimes two of her youngest children with her. She seemed to be a little uncomfortable in the group situation, but got a lot from just listening to the other participants. At the end of the program she said that the most useful part of the program was “listening to others work out their blocks and goals and applying that to my situation”. Her biggest takeaway was that everyone had similar setbacks, so it is a matter of putting the self constructed ones aside and worrying about the ‘real’ problems that can generally be sorted out though organisation and assistance. Sarah has signed up to do private coaching next term.
Tanya is a stay at home mother of two girls (aged 10 & 12) and has been married for seventeen years. She came to our group because she had been made redundant and was uncertain about her next career/job. She wanted a bit more clarity around her life goals and direction.
Tanya was a wonderful asset to our group. She brought a great deal of wisdom to the group, having gone though a long period of self-discovery and renewal. She was very constructive regarding suggestions of strategies which may help others and was a wealth of knowledge regarding books to read and other self help tools.
Tanya found the most useful thing about the program to be the making weekly commitments to the group and her biggest takeaway was to take baby steps to achieve her goals. The thing that surprised her the most was “how so many other women feel exactly like me about their lives!”
Tanya is not continuing with coaching next term, but has initiated a group of her own, something she has wanted to do for many years!
Lisa is the mother of two boys (aged 7 & 11) and has been married for fourteen years, having also been married previously. She came to our group because of changes in her life including recent redundancy and the illness of her spouse. She wanted some focus and direction to pursue for herself. She had struggled with combining working and being a mum for many years taking up work and leaving numerous times over the past 11 years. She struggles with health issues and really wanted to revitalise her life.
Lisa was a very enthusiastic participant of the group. She provided very insightful observations and was particularly supportive of other mums having issues with their partners and helping them work through these. Lisa found the most useful thing to come from group coaching for her was setting manageable commitments for the week. Her biggest learning was that baby steps are okay and to just keep moving. The biggest surprise for her was “that others had similar thoughts regarding overwhelm, motherhood and the daily churn.” When, in the final week we reviewed how far we had each come in the past two months, she said she was “blown away (with) big noticeable differences in the areas I focused on. Small commitments each week paid off and have improved other areas as a result.”