Part 1: Using Maternity Leave to Advance(!) Your Career (3-part series)
By Lori Mihalich-Levin
If you’re anything like me, you love your job (or at least your career), AND your baby. You want to do this whole maternity-leave-and-return thing in a way that is thoughtful, doesn’t derail your career opportunities, and also lets you develop an incredibly close and healthy relationship with your baby.
If you had told me during my first maternity leave that becoming a parent would have led me to become a better employee, with even brighter career prospects, I’m sure I would have laughed. This idea seems to defy conventional wisdom. We tend to think of having a baby as something that makes us “less productive” or will lead us to “lose our edge” at work, right?
But with the benefit of time, experience, and a second maternity leave, I have since come to view parenthood and the maternity-leave-and-return experience as an opportunity to grow in a career, look at the world with a new perspective, gain some amazing new skills, and develop serious leadership muscles. All while being connected to and nurturing beautiful babies.
What I am not talking about here is working more hours or spinning your wheels worrying about work while tuning out your baby. What I am talking about is approaching your maternity leave and return in a mindful, thoughtful, and strategic way, so that you can grow in your career and focus on your baby in tandem.
In this three-part series – each part focused on a different stage of pregnancy, leave, and return – I’ll be providing questions for you to think through, to help you get your maternity leave off on the best foot possible. Spending time answering these questions and taking the actions they prompt will leave you feeling confident about your plans and will signal to your team at work that you’re a committed and passionate colleague.
Here are some questions I challenge you to ask yourself before baby arrives:
Who will fill in for me at work?
- How can I prepare my colleagues for my leave in a well-planned, thoughtful way?
- Who will take over which projects, and do they have the resources they need to get the job done?
- Who needs to meet whom? Have I made the necessary introductions?
- Have I documented any routine processes I use that others might not know about?
What key conversations need to happen before I go out?
- What conversations should I have with my boss about things like the length of my leave, who will cover what, how (and how often) I will communicate when I’m out, whether I can phase-back my return, and what work I expect to resume when I come back?
- What conversations should I have with other teammates or direct reports about each of these issues? If other colleagues are taking over projects while I’m out, what are their expectations about what will happen upon my return? What are my expectations?
Can I get credit for a well-planned leave and return?
- Can I build planning-my-maternity-leave into my official goal-setting process, and can I be evaluated on it at annual review time?
Have I figured out my childcare options?
- Have I talked to others who have used the types of childcare options I’m exploring (center-based daycare, in-home daycare, nanny, nanny share, au pair)?
- If I’m planning to use daycare, have I put myself on any required waitlists? Can I plan to visit one per month to spread out the visits?
- Are there parent listservs in my area that might be helpful in this search?
Can I plan ahead for pumping?
- Can I block times for pumping milk on my calendar now, so that I can carve out time in my day before other meetings get scheduled?
Who can help guide me through this?
- Are there colleagues who recently have gone on leave at my organization who can tell me about their experiences?
- What do I like about their approach? What do I dislike?
- Are there other new parent communities (online or in-person) where I can meet other working mamas?
Is finding time to take care of myself a daily habit? If not, how do I make it one?
- What fills me up and calms me down? If I’m not sure, can I journal about it?
- What can I do now to make daily self-care a habit?
If you focus on planning a smooth transition, taking care of yourself, and supporting yourself through new parent communities, you’ll be in for a boost of self-confidence as you make this big life change. And you’ll be telling your employer that you’re a committed team member who is and will remain a star employee.
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).