In the seminal book ‘The birth of a mother’, the term used to describe the psychological change that happens for women when they first become a mother is the ‘motherhood mindset’. The transition that women go through at this time is divided into 3 phases – pregnancy, early motherhood and returning to work.
There are different challenges associated with work at each of these 3 phases, and coaching can help with all 3. By creating an environment where women can feel safe to be honest about what they’re thinking, feeling and planning, effective coaching can take place. Through increasing self-awareness, discovering alternative perspectives and gaining personal insights, solutions to dilemmas can be found.
The first phase (pregnancy) is made up of 2 potentially conflicting parts: 1) the increasing importance of the woman’s non-work identity in preparation for when she is not at work, and 2) ensuring the validity of her work identity just before going on extended leave. Often, women can increase their sense of their viable employee identity by spending time thinking about who it is important that they have crucial conversations with before they go off on leave – and having those conversations. Emphasising their commitment to their employer and their career at this stage can set the scene for their return. Talking about what communication they want – and when – during their maternity leave, can reduce anxiety in the women and their managers. Finally, and importantly, if women leave work feeling positive about the support and communication they will receive, this will impact on how they feel when they return.
Working with a coach can help women to identify who they need to talk to, to make a plan of when they are going to do it and give them the confidence to have these conversations. Thinking about what they love about their job and what their strengths are, can provide a good baseline reminder for when they are thinking about returning. They can then feel free to enjoy their maternity leave without the shadow of uncertainties at work hanging over them.
Resource: ‘The Birth of a mother. How motherhood changes you forever’, Stern D, and Bruschweiler-Stern N (1998)