The Only Way To Protect Your Career Through Maternity Leave
I spent most of my first maternity leave really, really busy. I had scheduled playdates, time at the gym and adventures with Nanny. Honestly, it was a pretty great and wonderful mat leave. It was like borderline magical. Sure, there were ups and downs and sometimes the baby drove me absolutely nuts. But, for the most part, life was pretty good.
There was this one thing that sometimes kept me awake at night (besides the baby). Sometimes, when I found my mind wandering thinking about all my to do's, I'd feel this random pit of anxiety and stress. You know, that moment when reality sets in and you realize there's life after mat leave? And that life probably includes your career? Like a lot of women, I kept ignoring these feelings. I was so busy and distracted with my new baby and life that it was pretty easy to do. This was a big mistake.
If you're anything like me, you probably worked pretty hard at building your career. Before I went on mat leave I had a job at a company I really loved. Seriously, I liked the people, the culture and the work. So going on mat leave and leaving this behind felt totally weird and kind of sad. I cared a lot about the career I built so I think it was natural to wonder what I was missing out on. In true Mom fashion, I felt guilty wondering about this career while I was lucky enough to be home with my baby.
In fact, my FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) was so bad that I had scheduled regular coffee dates to meet up with a friend from the office. I was lucky enough that Nanny would babysit for me so I got to re-enter the adult world from time to time. I would get dressed up, go uptown and hear about what was going on back at work. I loved keeping in touch- it made me feel like I was somehow still connected the that company and job I loved.
Through my coffee dates, I had mistakenly created this false sense of being a part of the company and that career I loved. Although I feel like the time was valuable and good for me - I should have done something else too. It wasn't enough to meet up with my friend/colleague. She wasn't someone who could influence my future job and direction with the company. I should have been managing these meetings in a more intentional way. I should have also been connecting with the people who could have influenced my career direction upon my return to work.
I think I did some of the right things to stay connected to the company while on maternity leave, but with a couple of easy tweaks I could have been more effective. The only way to protect your career through maternity leave is to stay connected to that career in some way. Here are three things I wish I had of done focus on how to manage my professional career from the depths of motherhood.
1] I should have stayed connected to the RIGHT person
Someone who understood my skills and value in the organization that could act as an advocate. This person would have been in a leadership role with the ability to influence decisions related to my placement in the organization upon my return. This might have created a better return to work experience for me.
2] I should have listened to that anxiety that kept popping up sooner rather than later
Instead of ignoring the feelings of stress, anxiety and guilt, I should have come up with a plan to address them earlier in my mat leave. I should have acted on these feelings instead of letting them keep pop up over and over again.
3] I should have created a tangible plan for my employer
Instead of only focusing on items related to the specifics of my work, I should have created a communication plan to help set expectations while I was on leave. I would have loved to get important updates and news. I should have asked to be engaged like this, instead of accepting the status quo.
Maternity leave transitions are difficult. With some more intentional planning and focus on the importance of taking ownership of career through this time, I believe you can have a successful maternity leave. No one is taking ownership of the career you've worked hard to build.