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When parenting (teens) and the workplace collide…

When parenting (teens) and the workplace collide…

Shwezin Win is Power of the Parent® associate coach specialising in supporting parents in the workplace, particularly when they’re parenting teens. Through her coaching practice and first hand experiences of being a parent and step-parent, Shwezin generously shares her own vulnerabilities as well providing practical insights for parents and employers about how to support people through these sometimes tricky times.

Here’s part 1 with a focus on parents...

They say “bigger children, bigger problems”. And whilst it might not be the case for everybody, as my children and step children have grown, as a working mum and a step mum, I can relate to that. The child I once knew has felt like a stranger in our house. The things we used to have fun doing have been absent and we’ve faced a person I no longer understood at times.

I’m writing much of this blog from my first hand perspective of being a parent of teens, alongside how I’ve supported clients. It won’t be representative of every parents’ experience, particularly for those who have a child with complex medial needs, additional educational needs or a neurodiversity. But, I hope to generate some conversation about the stage of parenting that often gets dismissed. It can be assumed that we just have to crack on as our children venture into the phase of teenage life. I also hope if you don’t feel like your story is represented here that it inspires you to share yours if you feel able to.

The Denial

My eldest daughter is an amazing individual. She’s always been polite and kind, helpful and has a real sense of fun. Then she became a teenager. I was never anxious of this stage, even when others would say “good luck with that” as she became a teen, because she’s different to everyone else and I believed I wouldn’t have the same issues. How wrong I was.

The Changes

The little girl I once knew, became quiet, moody, irritable, secretive, angry and emotional all the time. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on, she was just mean to her siblings and us as parents. The house went from being happy and fun to full of anxiety, shouting, arguing and doors slamming. She found time with the family boring, arduous and a punishment. She turned to her friends and her phone for connections.

At first, I told myself “she’s just being a teenager”. But as family life became more and more difficult, the stress was really starting to impact me. I know I’m not alone, recent research shows that a third of working parents feel burnt out and up to 90% find balancing work and parenting stressful. I realised we just couldn’t go on like this.

The impact on you…

As a coach, I know how I deal with the situation is as much to do with the problems themselves. I couldn’t just dismiss what was going on and hope “she grows out of it”, life at home was so stressful, it often felt like it was all I could think about.

I started to doubt myself as a parent and that spilled over into the workplace. Leaving my frustrations and anger at home was tricky, it’s not that easy to just separate the two. I found myself irritable, short tempered, angry and indecisive trying to do the things at work that had always come very naturally.

I would pass up opportunities or new projects, because mentally I just couldn’t take on any more. The idea of more responsibility or potential stress at work wasn’t something I needed. And with 1 in 3 households with both parents working, it’s no wonder over 59% of parents say they are struggling with their mental health.

Where to start in helping yourself…

The relationship you have with your teen is transitioning. I’ve sometimes found it helpful when working with clients to liken it to someone in your team being promoted to a peer of yours. Your teen may have a while to go before becoming a fully fledged adult of course. But, it may no longer be about instruction and decision making on their behalf. It’s helping them be the best adult they can be, because that’s the journey they are navigating.

Here are three things you could do for yourself (that involve your teen):

1. The role you can play

Consider your mindset and attitude towards your teenager, they already have the world against them. Let’s be honest, you don’t have to look far to see the challenging societal narrative. It’s not bursting with positives about them (as if they’re a homogenous group!). As they grow into adults, you can be their constant and safe place. When you’re in a moment of calm, you could ask your teen something along the lines of ‘how can I best help you when you’re having feelings of self doubt’ or ‘I won’t take on the role of your friend here, but I want you to know I’m here to help, even when I might be the last person you want to talk to.’

In coaching, we’d call it contracting – that might sound incredibly formal in talking to your teen, so don’t use it! But essentially establishing your boundaries and how you can help is a strong foundation.

2. Your coping mechanisms

If I were to ask you, what supports you? Or something along the lines of ‘when your patience or resilience are dwindling, how would you know?’ What would you say? This step is all about knowing what is going to help in the moment.

It can be hard not to jump to an opinion or judgement about your children. I’ve had to learn to stop, take a breath and think before I respond. Taking that small breath helps me to firstly keep calm if my daughter is having a lashing out. I have to remember it’s not aimed at me and hear what she’s feeling. Then my response is more measured – “how can I help you right now?” is a favourite. Sometimes “I can see how that must be frustrating for you, what would you like to do about it?”

Don’t expect this to be the magic bullet to all the situations. Sometimes, she will still have a rant and storm off, because she’s not finding my response helpful. The one thing it does do though, is help me to not lose my temper. It also gives her time to reflect on the situation and our conversation.

Most of the time, she will come back and have a further chat when she’s calmer. If not, I have to be kind enough to myself to know I’ve done the best I can.

3. Explore what your definition of success looks like

My upbringing was very strict. It was all about studying, “failure is not an option” and striving to be the best. I found this exhausting and stressful when I was growing up. I realised it wasn’t something I wanted for my children.

Do I want them to do well? Yes, of course I do. But do I want that no matter what the consequences? No, I don’t.

My upbringing made me realise the importance of being connected to my children. I want them to be open and honestly about who they are, not having to “pretend” to be something they thought we wanted them to be. So I focus on some key values – family, integrity, self belief and fun.

Not all battles are worth the fight, but some are worthwhile fighting for. Being clear on what matters and being open and honest about why they matter, helps my daughter to understand where I’m coming from. The one phrase I won’t use with them is “because I said so’. For me, the debate about why something is important is as valuable as the action/task I’m asking them to do. They also realise they have a voice, they can be curious, they will create their own values and they will have the foundations to build on.

4. Establish your boundaries at work and what you’d like to share with your employer

It’s not easy to pretend everything is ok when you’ve got stressful times at home. I tried to “put my work hat on”, but I knew home life was playing on my mind and I was distracted, not at my best.

But talking to my close colleagues, who would listen, helped me at least share what I was going through. Sometimes just trying to articulate my feelings helped me come to terms with them and face up to what support I might need.

It’s not always easy for me to ask for help, but I knew that I needed to get some boundaries agreed at work. I needed to focus on the current workload and team, I didn’t want to take on any more – just for now. Keeping communications open and honest with work, family and friends can really help.

I think it’s important we call out here that everybody’s support networks look different, and for some of us we could be navigating all of this with the added dynamic of being a single, solo or co-parent. It’s incredibly important to establish what you need for both you and your teen whatever your set up, and take into account any intersectionality that is shaping you.

There’s a lot to navigate

We often say parenting is the hardest job in the world, and although there’s no official title, I think it’s something many of us know in our heart to be true. We’re responsible for bringing up another human being, our next generation, our future. What an enormous responsibility in a 24/7 society. There’s no official manual, little humility for holding nuance, underfunded healthcare support and not to mention that last few years of an unprecedented global pandemic and a cost of living crisis.

I truly believe there are ways we can empower ourselves and give some self-compassion as we figure it all out. Admitting that we don’t have a step by step guide but we DO have ideas and things to try – now THAT can be empowering. We don’t have to write off our careers but we do need new ways to integrate all aspects of our lives whilst honouring our own boundaries.

I remember seeing a phase that said “I want my children to be independent, bold and headstrong, but just not while I’m raising them”. Parenting children as they turn into teens is hard, but with some tools, techniques and the right mindset, you can build a relationship where they have room to grow and you have the self belief as a parent to let them soar.

You can head to part 2 now to read about some of the practical considerations for employers and line managers supporting in this space too.

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