It’s back to school time all around Australia. My last two blog posts have been aimed at those with children starting High School (Part 1 and Part 2) but this week I’m aiming at those with younger kids; kids who may be starting Kindy or Pre-Primary.

Unlike the previous posts, this post is not about the kids – it’s about You. I’m not a child psychologist and so I’d prefer to leave advice for this age group to those who claim expertise in this area (see the end of this article for some links to resources).

Why You?

In my professional experience, the period when your child starts school can be a time of opportunities but also of challenges. These challenges may include rediscovering your identity, relationship issues, and career issues, and there’s a lot of overlap between them. If you’re feeling just dandy then feel free to ignore me, but if you’re interested to know more then read on.

Identity and self-esteem

Don’t get me wrong – being a parent is awesome. But it’s also damned hard at times. Before the kids came along you were You; You had friends, a job, time to do stuff you enjoyed, an identity as an autonomous being. And then, suddenly, you’re Mum or Dad. You may still have friends and a job, but you almost definitely have less time for yourself, and your identity as You is now merged with your identity as little Johnny’s parent.

And parenting is hard. It’s brilliant too, of course, but every child goes through phases of being a major pain in the backside. It could be feeding, sleep problems, colic in the early years. It could be fussy eating, sleep, temper tantrums in the toddler years. It could be defiance, separation anxiety, telling lies in the pre-school years. If your child has special needs then that just makes it all the harder. There are many parenting experts giving us (often conflicting) advice on how to manage these issues, but that these issues exist and that the advice may not work for our child can serve to make us feel like we’re failing at this important job that others seem to find so easy.  

Parenting is a job without pay, mandated vacation time, or appraisals. There’s often no-one to tell you that you’re doing a great job and you may feel, rightly or wrongly, that other parents are judging you. It’s easy to become self-critical and lacking in confidence. This may be especially true if you’re taking a break from work to raise a family and so don’t have that external positive feedback or a chance to be You the adult (or, indeed, a chance to go to the toilet alone).

Relationships

Once upon a time You fell in love.  For a period of time you were You and also part of a couple. And then along came the tiny tyrants and everything changed. The stresses on the family caused by issues such as sleep deprivation, financial worries (lower income or childcare costs to maintain income) and time poverty can damage previously healthy relationships. I’ve seen this within my friends and acquaintances as well as with clients, and this anecdotal data is backed up by research (for example, see the study referred to here). By the time kids start school these stresses may have hardened into mutual resentment around issues such as emotional and physical intimacy, money, childcare and housework.

Career issues

Government statistics show that for “couple families” where the youngest child is 4 or less,  both parents are employed in 56.1% of cases and one parent in 36.1% (source). This data does not show whether this is full or part-time work nor whether parents have remained in the same job as previously or have changed to something more family friendly (and possibly lower-paid). I’m not writing a thesis so I don’t want to spend ages delving into statistics but I’d guess there is a fair chance that having kids has affected your career path or that of your significant other.

As the graph (from the same source as above) shows, the percentage of parents in work increases as the youngest child increases, hardly surprising when living costs seem to be constantly increasing.

So now that your kids are at school, you can return to your former career trajectory as You, right? Well maybe, but for many people it’s not that straightforward. You may not want to return to your previous job as the hours may no longer work for your family, your skills may now be out of date, you may have carried on working with the same employer since your kids came along but be seen as being on the “mommy track”, there may be prohibitive childcare costs and logistical difficulties; there are a host of reasons.

Inter-relationship between issues

I believe that there is a huge overlap between these issues. For example, the loss of identity and self-esteem can lead to a lack of confidence in re-igniting a career, and resentment around this can damage the couple relationship.  Relationship difficulties can then damage self-esteem further. If we think about it in the opposite direction, loss of identity can contribute to relationship difficulties, which can lead to lack of confidence in pursuing a career, which can contribute to a loss of identity.

The solution – ten top tips to get You back!

Sorry, I lied! It’s not that simple.

The circumstances that contributed to your identity/self-esteem and relationship difficulties are unique to you, and a simplistic one-size-fits-all approach is naïve at best and potentially unethical. Although there may be some generic issues that affect most of us, your specific difficulties are best helped through individual and/or couples counselling.

As far as career planning goes, a lot of this is a bit more generic and can be covered in groups or individually. A comprehensive process involving clarifying your objectives, auditing your skills, identifying difficulties and possible solutions, and learning to promote yourself can really help you to focus on achieving your goals.

A way forward

I feel passionate about empowering people. For over 20 years I’ve helped empower several thousand people through education and training, and I trained as a counsellor because I want to do more. As well as offering individual counselling and coaching (see my website for an explanation of the difference) I am offering the opportunity to sign up for a small-group programme covering the areas discussed above and emphasising on reinvigorating your career. I believe that my varied background in education, business and counselling can help you to move forward positively with your life. For further details, please click here or contact me on connie@carpediemperth.com

 

Resources on issues around children starting school

https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/families/starting-school

https://kids-first.com.au/gentle-school-readiness-tips-for-parents-with-sensitive-kids/?fbclid=IwAR0FTNEHtLXjPpw6H-CHwK9RUDGBxDMcnufTuagsl1HWYtS7Bft1PDVlLmY

https://www.maggiedent.com/blog/little-boys-beginning-big-school/?fbclid=IwAR2YKkTu-THC0Am9ptFyBUbvX448d4QbPUQeV1-IkGtIr_6lG7slr5f42u4

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