Part 3: Using Maternity Leave to Advance(!) Your Career (3-part series)
By Lori Mihalich-Levin
So, you’ve done a brilliant job planning for your maternity leave. You’ve given birth to a gorgeous baby, whom you’ve somehow figured out how to keep alive. And now the minutes counting down your maternity leave are ticking louder and louder in your ears. That time gazing into your precious little one’s eyes that felt like it could stretch on forever is somehow nearly over. And you have butterflies in your stomach (and tears in your eyes) at the thought of heading back to work.
My first instruction is to “breathe, mama, breathe.” And know that you WILL figure this out. You’ve done tough things before, and this return to work will unfold in its own, good way. I promise.
As with the first two posts in this series, I offer you questions to think through, to help you navigate your return to work after your maternity leave. (Want to catch up? Read Part 1: What to Do While You’re Pregnant and Part 2: What to Do While You’re Out on Maternity Leave.) Answering these questions for yourself and taking the actions they prompt will leave you feeling more prepared for your return to work and more confident that you can figure out how to navigate the dance between work and home.
Here are some questions I challenge you to ask yourself as you approach your maternity leave ending and transition back to work:
Can I phase in my return?
- Do I have to go all in, 100% on a Monday morning, or is there another option?
- Could I start during the middle of a week, or on reduced hours for the first few weeks?
- Can I phase my child into childcare before my first day of work, so we both can get used to the new arrangement?
How will I integrate back into projects?
- Have I set up 1:1 meetings with key stakeholders for my first few weeks back, to get an overview of what happened while I was gone and ideas for how I can be most helpful and effective moving forward?
- Is there work I want to or feel I should take back? Have I communicated this to my colleagues?
- Did my leave provide a growth opportunity for any colleagues, such that there are things I don’t need to take back, and where I can take a managerial or strategy role instead? Can I continue to mentor these colleagues?
Can I encourage my employer to focus on my strengths and value to the organization?
- During my annual review process, are there ways I can take credit for having carried out a well-planned and executed leave and return?
- Are there skills I am gaining as a parent that I can put to use in the office? Have I advertised these new skills to my colleagues?
- Can I “curate” my to-do list, so that the most important things are sure to get done each day?
Can I take stock of my schedule a few weeks in?
- Is the arrangement I’ve established for the hours I will work, and where I will work them, proving to be a good one for me?
- If not, with whom can I discuss this to talk about possible changes to work hours, telecommuting, or flexibility?
Have I established a good relationship with my caregiver?
- Do I give good instructions to my caregiver in the morning, as to what my baby’s night was like?
- Do I receive enough information from the caregiver at the end of the day about how the day went?
- If the relationship hasn’t gotten off on the best foot, what can I do to remedy it? Is it time to look for another option?
Do I have an open and ongoing dialog with my partner about how we share our home and baby commitments?
- Is there a weekly time we can touch base on who is doing what, to see if what we’re doing is working for both of us?
- Are there things I can ask my partner for more help with? Are there things we could be delegating to a third party?
- Have we talked about how we will share responsibilities when the unexpected (baby sick days, snow days, etc.) happens?
Am I finding ways to take care of myself?
- Am I eating and drinking enough during my workday (especially if pumping) to keep up my energy (and milk supply)?
- Have I committed to a small but DAILY act of self-care? Mine tends to be my morning shower – I use that time to set my intention for the day, do some yoga stretches, and savor the few minutes of hot water sans kids.
- Am I going to bed as early possible at night, to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep? (The messy house can wait…)
- Do I remember to cut myself lots of slack, knowing that this is period is incredibly hard for everyone?
Have I found a community of other working mamas?
- Are there moms at my office I can plan to have lunch with each day of my first week back?
- Are there parent groups at work I can join?
- Are there other working parents at my child’s daycare with whom I might connect?
- Are there online communities I could be engaged with around working parent issues?
Finally, mama, remind yourself that returning to work after maternity leave is a process, not a single event. The first days are indeed the hardest days, and within a year, you’ll be feeling much more like the new normal version of someone known as you. For now, though, take the time to feel and acknowledge whatever it is that you’re feeling, and know that the other mamas out there who have done this return-to-work thing have felt these things, too.
Also in this series…
Part 1: What to Do While You’re Pregnant
Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course (next session starts October 5), that helps women make the transition back to work after maternity leave. A health care lawyer, she is also mama to two beautiful red-headed boys (ages 2 and 4).