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September; season of mists and bumpy transitions

It appears Keats and I have slightly different areas of focus in September. I can appreciate the beauty of the season but the lived experience feels a bit less "mellow fruitfulness" and more like a speed spin in the tumble dryer. In my circle of clients, friends and family, the talk is of (in no particular order), starting new jobs, returning from parental leave, helping all ages of children start new schools, the big step up to secondary school, waving your (just about) adult progeny off to university for the first time, picking up the pieces from the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants summer holiday child-care schedule, retirement, sorting arrangements for elderly parents and work pressures that have far from diminished over a summer break.


There's something about the return from summer, whether or not you're guided by the movement of academic terms, that melds some sense of refreshment with the heavy realisation that summer break is over and it's now all systems go without much let-up until Christmas.


If like me you have a child who has just made the leap to secondary school, the crunch of gears feels particularly stark this September. We often focus on how organisations and coaches can rightly help new parents navigate that first enormous transition post the arrival of a child but there are multiple transitions from here on in and we all need some support at times with the ongoing set of hurdles that parenthood (and particularly juggling work with parenthood) presents.


Take the specific transition that many of my friends and peers are in the midst of. The shift to secondary school or a more senior part of an existing school is an exciting point in a child's life where new found independence and the start of a whole new chapter beckons. It's also full of new challenges for both children and parents and it's not unreasonable to assume a number of us are feeling discombobulated.

Hands up, I underestimated the significance of the secondary school transition. We were focused on the sense of readiness for something new, the positives and the excitement of this change, aware that there would be some dips as our daughter adjusted but confident it would go pretty smoothly.



And in many ways that is exactly what has happened. But for some reason I've really struggled with the switch. Maybe it's the plethora of school communications coming through various new channels; the expectation that everything will be found through a device we don't yet know how to use; the pressure to ensure they have all the right kit on the right day and not let the side down; new school bus journeys and walks home; the loss of the familiar parents' network at the old place; increased expectations of homework; music and sports practices at unearthly hours of the day; the emotional tug of hoping they make new friends; having a child with a mobile phone for the first time; knowing how to balance encouraging a child to get stuck in to all the opportunities whilst not over-doing it; disheartened by a less than ideal teacher or parent interaction you've had; juggling this with the schedule and commitments of other siblings too, not to mention your own.


Whatever combination of factors you might be dealing with, it's true to say that our children are probably navigating all of this for themselves with courage and determination and that in itself is quite poignant to watch. It's wonderful and it's terrible. We can't do it for them anymore. We need to let them get to the right place at the right time, probably fail a few times and try again, allow them to find good friends of their own and make wise decisions on what they will and won't do. We're still guiding them of course and hopefully they still want to talk to us about their thoughts and feelings but let's face it, we are now much more on the sidelines of school and we may well feel a bit like a fish out of water. And I'm advised by sage parents of older children that it's just the beginning because the teen years are almost properly upon us and that's a massive shift again.


So, how can we as adults step out of the tumble dryer of transition and find our feet quickly? We're helping our kids but who's helping us? We're better able to be the rock when we're shoring up our own foundations. My thoughts on this are unapologetically simple, obvious and common sensical and that's exactly why I'm sharing them now. Because if you've sort of lost the plot a little over the last couple of weeks in a surprising and disconcerting way, hearing helpful truths that challenge the echo chamber of our minds is really necessary. So take a look and consider if you can experiment with even one of the suggestions below:


1. Reframe your filter and embrace the power of "yet"


Focus on all the things your children have done well in this change. If your inner perfectionist is whispering that x, y, z didn't go exactly to plan or they forgot to hand their homework in or they didn't make the sports team, switch your filter to all the things that they succeeded with and draw their attention to these as well. Dial up your appreciation ratio internally and externally. And remember the power of "yet". (e.g. we don't yet know how to find the right homework on the new device but we will soon).


2. Balance the voices


Your inner critic has more than its fair share of the air time in your thoughts so let some other perspectives have a say. Summon up the person in your life who is the voice of reason, the person who smiles on you, thinks you're great and focuses on your successes. What would they would say to you about what's gone well and what you're doing effectively right now? (...no qualifying "buts" allowed). Write down the words they'd say and reflect on them. If you can, call them or meet up with them to hear it from the horse's mouth. We all need a cheerleader to help us find a more balanced view.


3. Ask for help.


If you have someone who can give you a hand then for goodness sake, ask them! If you're resisting accepting offers of support from friends or family and feel it's a sign of failure to ask, we're denying others the pleasure of being of genuine help. As my own cheerleader said to me when I sent out the emergency bat signal last Sunday (because it looked like I'd need a Tardis to get through the week without some help), it's unnecessary to battle on alone if there is someone who can help. If I forward-wind the clock and imagine my own daughter juggling the impossible in 30 years' time, I'd 100% want her to be reaching out for some help and support.


4. Build in daily recovery.


Do something small for you and take micro breaks in the day. It doesn't need to be a day off. We're talking 5 minute recovery breaks every hour. If your to-do list is longer than your arm, your logistics look like army manoeuvres and your brain/heart are exploding with new information/new emotions, nobody wins if you go down. When the inner critic tells you to keep working harder, deliberately take a walk around the block, go out to get a drink, do some stretches, take some deep lungfuls of fresh air, throw a ball for the dog for 3 minutes. Calming the system down in the moment is far more powerful than we think if we are to access our most rational and effective thinking (and consequently, behaviour). So treat it as valid, essential activity.


5. Allow yourself to feel.


It's ok not to be feeling on top of everything. Your emotions are information and change is always a mixed bag of feelings as you adjust. But don't assume you must be silent. Talk to friends. You're not the only one. We all like to pretend we've got this and we are on top of things but we're human. There's no shame in saying you're finding it tricky. Chances are someone will be glad you said it first so they can open up about their own moments of doubt or despondency. The challenges may not be exactly the same but you can bet with certainty that there will have been dips in every household these past few weeks and no-one is 100% swan. Let it out and find the humour in it to minimise the scale of the issues you've been allowing to fester a bit.


I may be feeling like I've been tossed about in the tumble dryer these last couple of weeks but I'm madly impressed by the aplomb with which my daughter has approached all this change. She's coping better than me by all accounts. She's had a couple of moments for sure but she's calm, determined and quietly confident that she's doing her best. She's peddling to keep up with it all but thriving on the newness and rising to the challenge. She is hopeful and optimistic. This tells me we are doing something really right. For her to be doing so well, we must also be doing better than we think. It's OK to acknowledge that.


Whatever stage of parenting you might be at, bumpy transitions are part of the terrain. If you'd like to explore support on how to effectively navigate the juggle, parental coaching is a core part of our coaching practice. Get in touch and we'd be delighted to share more. For now, embrace the madness and maybe we can create a moment to appreciate the loveliness of what's around us and even notice "gathering swallows twitter in the sky" (Ode to Autumn, by John Keats).

 

Georgie Rudd is an accredited Executive & Leadership Coach. She runs her own practice, Rudd Coaching Ltd, splitting her time between 1:1 coaching, group coaching and facilitation of leadership development programmes. Georgie often works on leadership impact, self-belief and the inner critic, managing healthier work/life rhythms, effective delegation, building relationships and career transitions. She is also co-founder of Think Perspective (www.thinkperspective.com), running The Listening Lab to help people at work unlock the superpower of listening and have higher quality conversations everyday.

Contact georgie@ruddcoaching.co.uk for more information.

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