Taking small steps

Like many women, Karen Moxom has changed careers after having children. She tells Workingmums.co.uk how her work with Neuro Linguistic Programming helped her with bringing up her son who has Asperger's.

Like many working mums, Karen Moxom has changed her working life several times and sometimes in unexpected ways. She came to her latest job running the Association for Neuro Linguistic Programming almost by accident.

When her second son was born 10 years ago and was diagnosed with Asperger's, she was drawn to NLP – an approach to psychotherapy, self-help and organisational change founded in the US – and says its focus on positivity and taking control has helped her a lot. An accountant by profession, she decided to train in NLP and she has used it to help her son.

Daniel is in a mainstream school, but Karen says that she doesn't get a lot of support for him. “Everything is being cut back,” she says. “There's a lot of rhetoric, but most of the support is left to charities. With a little support he could fly, but the support now is targeted at those with very severe disabilities.”

Karen believes NLP can have a positive role in education. She says people with Asperger's interpret language literally and NLP breaks things like social skills down into small steps. “If Daniel is told to pull his socks up, for instance, he will,” she says. “He has trouble showing emotion, but with NLP I have taught him to hug me through rationalising what is good about a hug. Asperger's children are very detail focused and Daniel can pick up on slight changes in facial expressions. He just doesn't know how to interpret them. If I can teach him how to interpret them he can be quite astute.”

Karen has been a single parent for the last two years and admits part of the reason is that she has had to devote most of her attention to Daniel. “His behaviour has been better since the split,” she says, adding that her NLP training has helped her to see that something good has come of the separation.

Karen took over the Association for NLP and its existing members in 2005 when it was about to go bust. Her trainer was running it and Karen had been on a course where she had said that she wanted to run an organisation where like-minded people could meet up and share ideas. Her trainer remembered this and contacted her to ask if she might be interested in taking over the association.

“NLP had had such a big impact on my life, making me see I had choices when I thought I had none. It was very empowering and I wanted other people to experience the same things. By taking over the Association [and editing its magazine] I felt I could have a bigger impact than through coaching a few people,” she says.

It was a complete career change, though, and she says she spent much of the first year sitting in tears. It was a gradual transition to working at the Association full time, as in the early days, she was still doing her accountancy work, which meant she was sometimes doing an 80-hour week. “The Association was a hobby that became a full-time job,” she says.

She first ran it as a limited company and then as soon as she could it became a community interest company serving the NLP community. Since then she has been working to promote the association and build its professionalism and credibility. For this reason she has recently published her book The NLP Professional, although she says it has wider relevance. She says people, including NLP professionals, have to be aware of the image they are projecting when they first meet someone. She adds that over 50% of that first impression is down to body language and that this can be learnt. “In an interview situation or as an NLP therapist it's about understanding what your potential clients will be looking for. It will be different according to different professions,” she says.

Attitudes to working mums

Karen's career transition to working with NLP is part of a gradual career change which began when she had her first son 24 years ago. At the time, Karen was a management accountant and had indicated to her employer that she was going to return to work after her son was born. However, she was sent her P45 and told that her employer had decided it would be better if she ran her own business. So she set up from home as a freelance accountant, thinking that it would be fairly straightforward because babies slept. “The problem was that I had one that never slept,” she laughs.

Attitudes to working mums were not very progressive at the time. She recalls sitting in a chartered accountant's office and being asked how having very young children would affect her work. “I said I have never let a client down, but I have let my kids down,” she says. “They would never have asked a man that. Now if I am employing people I lean towards employing working mums as I know the challenges and know they have so much skill and experience and have often had really stimulating careers. People tend to assume that they have always been mums and don't see the huge amount of experience they have had.”

Karen, who also used to be chair of school governors at Daniel's school and is part of the Developing Special Provision Locally Parent Reference group for Hertfordshire County Council, now works full time for the Association for NLP, but flexibly. She works 60-65 hours a week, but can fit her work around school hours. “I work early in the mornings and Daniel is quite self contained and often sits beside me doing his computer games. He doesn't want to interact with me. He just wants to know I am there,” she says.

He is happier at school having found a friend who has special needs. “They have similar outlooks and obsessions,” she says. He is worried, however, about moving to secondary school and is having nightmares about being in detention and getting lost.

Karen says she finds her work helps her to cope and says she thrives on being busy. Indeed she was awarded Hertfordshire Woman of the Year in the 2009 Hertfordshire Business Awards. “I am a very busy person,” she says. “I think most working mums have a desire to remain stimulated. I sometimes wish I could be a stay at home mum, but it is not in my make-up.”


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