By Emily Gray
We all know children see their mums as superheroes, but for those times when you’re feeling anything but super there is OptiMUM, a coaching service provided by mum and former psychiatrist, Dr Lucy Davey. Lucy’s aim is to help mums find that balance between being a mum and sustaining their career, so you’re not answering emails whilst reading the bedtime story or putting your relationship and friendships on the backburner. We spoke to Lucy to find out how OptiMUM came about and her tips for dealing with stress.
Emily Gray: How did OptiMUM come about?
Dr. Lucy Davey: Like many entrepreneurial projects, OptiMUM was motivated by personal experience. As a mother myself, I made it my mission, with the strong foundation of being a medically qualified doctor who had extensively trained in psychiatry, to transition into coaching and provide a truly bespoke three-month coaching program for women new to motherhood. I knew all too well the physical and emotional torments and challenges ahead when having the most difficult new job on earth—motherhood. Life would never be the same again!
As is the case for the majority of my clients, I became a mother in my early to mid-30s and left behind a full time, successful career. I was not alone in doing so amongst my high achieving set of friends who had also built up a career first and creating a family was very much the icing on the cake of their life checklist. We were all ambitious and had been used to a certain status and accompanying lifestyle.
While all of that sounds great from the outside, the reality was very different. Marriages were failing, extended family relations becoming tenser, career opportunities dissipating by the day. Above all, many of my women friends were increasingly dissatisfied and feeling unfulfilled. I knew this would inevitably compromise the precious moments spent with their children and this was not how mothers had intended this period to be. It was all the more frustrating when clearly financial security was there for a comfortable upbringing of their children.
I was very aware of the tensions even in my own marriage. Change and compromise were inevitable to make this work and both of us needed to feel a certain sense of fulfilment in the adjustment to our new ‘family’ lives.
Reading books and confiding in family and friends and other mothers wasn’t enough, and in some cases risked exacerbating the issues. A more tailored, bespoke package was required and with my background, I knew I was in a very good place as a coach to roll out such a program. I knew the focus had to be on women in the first instance. Mother’s guilt in particular had to be addressed as a priority. Only then would it be possible to address all the other peripheral pressures that can too easily compromise career, relationships and parenting.
EG: What are the main benefits of OptiMUM coaching?
LD: The value of a mother who feels fulfilled and is functioning at a healthy optimum for the long-term game of parenting will benefit the whole family. Preventing arguments and friction between parents in the home environment will inevitably lead to more secure, content children. I certainly believe that addressing preoccupations with mother’s guilt in particular ensures more consistent, focused parenting. If a mother is able to harness her thoughts and feelings rather than fighting them, she can sensitively and compassionately parent. Parents’ thoughts and feelings are at the heart of how clients perceive and respond to their child in my coaching.
EG: It is designed not to be intensive or intrusive to busy mothers. You don’t want them feeling even more pressure in the process?
LD: Oh yes, the key to my coaching is that it has empathy and the needs of busy mothers are at its core. Coaching is a breath of fresh air for many. You work with the client, alongside them, drawing out the problems that need solving, addressing these in a non-judgemental way and enabling them to come to their own conclusions in a safe place to do so. I like the two mountain metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy whereby the coach is considered to be on a different mountain to the client and may be able to see alternative paths and perspectives for some impossible overhangs but the coach is still climbing on their mountain even if they have got better at the climb and more appreciative of the journey.
Homework is optional and times are pretty flexible although I encourage being able to “make time” as this in itself sets a good example to ourselves and others that we are worthy of some time out. I find that the fact that sessions are remote also reduces the pressure of travelling or feeling the need to have an immaculate house before having visitors. Women can be in their pyjamas, breastfeeding and in bed if they choose to! It is quite nice to add some light-hearted moments to our sessions in the process especially when developing rapport.
EG: How has your medical background as a doctor helped you with OptiMUM?
LD: I think few other careers give such a solid foundation to the coaching of people. I believe psychiatry gives you an insight like no other into the many complexities of people’s lives. You very quickly develop an open mind, are rarely shocked by what people tell you and confidentiality is always at the heart of what you do. You think flexibly and adapt to people accordingly. Coaching goes even further than this and, with your support, the client is able to have the clarity and self-belief to be able to solve so many of their own dilemmas.
EG: If mums choose to have a nanny alongside, do you bring them into the coaching too so they can work out a strategy together?
LD: Most of the work has to be focused around the mother in my coaching. It would be premature and may compromise the core coaching program to do otherwise. However, there is an optional session whereby a partner, relative or nanny can be included in the session once a suitable plan has been formulated.
EG: This year has been particularly stressful with children unable to go to nursery or school. Do you have any quick tips that mums can implement straightaway in stressful moments?
LD: Encouraging mothers to function at their optimum is by far my biggest tip to be able to draw upon their “hidden reserves” to better deal with the moments of stress and the sense of being overwhelmed that all mothers face. Accepting that optimum is within reach is important for sustaining the longer stretch parenting game, particularly during COVID-19. Be kind to yourself; 76% of mothers are kinder to others than we are to ourselves (1). Take breaks where you can, use them wisely and don’t feel guilty for it. If you have the capacity, have one room in your house that is kept tidy and off limits for others so you can retreat to this at times of need. Prioritise tasks and be realistic in your expectations. Resist comparing yourself to others and don’t let yourself become consumed by mother’s guilt. I have an article on mother’s guilt that mothers find really helpful to addressing this topic and overcoming its negative effects.
EG: Is there one piece of advice you would give to any new mum or expectant mother who is worried about balancing her career and being a mum?
LD: I would enter into motherhood with an open mind and realistic expectations. There are so many unknowns in relation to pregnancy, birth, post partum and in the parenting years. Don’t despair if your life or career since becoming a mother hasn’t turned out quite how you envisaged as often things have a way of actually working out for the better in the longer term. Some short-term pain when in it for the long-term game is often worth holding out for!
EG: Since you have made the move to being a coach, what’s the main benefit you’ve seen in your work-life balance?
LD: I have become more aware of the importance of a good work-life balance when raising a family and with thoughtful adjustments, I have been able to balance parenting and still retain my professional identity and be fulfilled.
EG: What’s next for OptiMUM? Would you consider OptiDAD?
LD: Yes, I think fathers are also profoundly affected whilst becoming a parent and OptiDAD could be next. Watch this space!
To find out more about OptiMUM and how Dr Lucy Davey can help you and your family. Click here to arrange a free initial consultation.
1 Neff's Germer (2017.) Self Compassion & Psychological Wellbeing. In J.Doty (Ed(). Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, Chap.27 Ox University Press