Working parents often feel isolated so sessions at work which bring together everyone from factory floor workers to senior managers can make them feel less alone, says corporate parent coach Debbie Channing.
“It can be difficult to admit that parenting is hard in an office environment,” she says, “but when you realise there’s someone else sitting a few desks away from you that is facing the same problems as you it is empowering.”
Debbie, who also works as a family liaison officer for Essex County Council, leads lunchtime workshops on parenting as chief executive of Time 4 Change.
She has been involved in parenting work for over 20 years, mainly in the voluntary and public sector after retraining in childcare and running a nursery.
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She started her parenting training with Family Lives, then Parentline Plus and still does some work for the organisation, such as training call takers. She is also a qualified life coach and is mentored by Lorraine Thomas, chief executive of the Parent Coaching Academy.
She has worked with parents in many different settings, including children’s centres and with teenage mothers, but feels there are very little practical resources for supporting working parents. It is for that reason she has been working with companies delivering interactive workshops.
Debbie believes that through workshops delivered at lunchtimes when time-poor parents can attend she can both reach parents and have a positive effect on their employers, showing the links between supporting parents and increased productivity. “It’s a win win,” she says, “and the employees’ children also benefit so the community as a whole benefits.”
She says the issue most parents are concerned about is work life balance and she knows what that’s like from a personal perspective, having been a single parent, although her three children are now grown up. “You feel guilty about your children and your employer. You’re rushing around and you’re snappy when you get home because you are tired,” she says. “Resourcing yourself as a person is vital in a stressful environment, for instance, taking five minutes in the park at lunchtime instead of shopping and doing the shopping online.”
Parents often feel that they have to live up to impossible standards too, says Debbie. “It can help to have someone objective to talk to about parenting strategies, someone who can help you to feel happy about being a good enough parent. The perfect parent does not exist.” That good enough approach includes not overdoing activities with children and giving yourself time as a family to relax.
Communication can also be a problem. Even if parents have positive intentions they can sometimes not think about how the way they talk to their children influences how their children talk back to them, says Debbie.
Other problems that come up regularly in parenting sessions are setting boundaries for your children in the tween years, not trying to be your child’s friend, finding time for each child even if it is just 10 minutes and finding time to focus fully on your children rather than constantly checking work emails which makes them feel work is more important.
“I often start by getting the parents to realise that their behaviour has an effect on their children, that they are modelling all the time,” she says.
Debbie is not judgmental in her approach. It’s not about blaming parents, she says, but empowering them to work things out for themselves and supporting them. For instance, she also helps them to negotiate work life balance with their employer and believes the workshops help employers to understand the challenges parents face. “Parents and employers need to be more transparent and put their needs on the table. That way they are more likely to find a compromise,” she says. “It’s like two teams in a tug of war. You have to find a place where you can meet in the middle, where the employee feels valued and the employer gains in terms of increased productivity and loyalty.”
*Debbie will be blogging regularly on the Workingmums.co.uk site starting on 15th July. If you have any questions about parenting issues, email Debbie via firstname.lastname@example.org.