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The face of family leave is changing in the U.S. as the stereotypical roles of men and women slowly but steadily progress towards equality. As an executive recruiter, I see the changes taking place first hand as female leadership grows in the STEM fields and more females take on management roles in the life sciences industry. Women are continuing to optimize how to balance maternity leave and motherhood while still making strides in their careers.
But the truth is, you can’t plan everything and there is certainly no perfect time to pause your career or your family planning. So, what can you do to prepare when starting or expanding your family? Here are my personal tips as a new mom who is also continuing my career in the life sciences. Some of these preparations will apply to men going on paternity leave and same sex parents as well, but here I am speaking to my own specific experience as a female, new mother and business woman.
1. Do your research.
Make sure to thoroughly investigate what your benefits are and get the answers to any questions you may have regarding your healthcare. This is definitely not a fun process, but it is really important to understand! First off, I was shocked to discover that maternity leave falls under the category of “disability” in the U.S. The process itself of filing for disability was confusing and I had to make multiple phone calls in order to understand it completely… and even then, I didn’t clearly understand it. I actually missed out on 2 weeks of paid leave because I was supposed to take 2 weeks prior to delivering in order to have 6 full weeks through my short-term disability benefits. Don’t make the same mistake!
I was very fortunate to have Ashton Tweed provide maternity leave for me, despite the fact that our company is under 50 employees and is therefore not obligated to offer maternity leave to pregnant employees. Unfortunately, others aren’t so lucky. There is no set standard for the 50 states and the U.S. offers very different benefits than the rest of the world. Some women are offered no time off and are even penalized because they are pregnant. The main point here is to do your research and figure out your leave options (if any) so that you don’t have any surprises in those first few weeks after welcoming a new child.
2. Plan your return.
Take time to address your concerns leading up to returning to work to help ease any anxieties you may have. I know your world has just been turned upside down and it may feel like you have no time or energy to think ahead, but trust me, it will pay off. Despite all of my fears, I was really excited to jump back into work and into my normal routine – I missed it! But in the weeks leading up to going back to work, I had so many thoughts and emotions running through me, including:
In order to calm my nerves, I addressed any issue I could before returning to work. For example, I set up baby care with someone I trusted and tested it out before my first day back. I also communicated with my partner about a chores routine that would work best for our household and respective work responsibilities. I even planned out how and when to pump by working out a specified schedule at home first. You can’t prepare for everything, but doing some of the work beforehand will make focusing on your job a lot easier and less stressful. You can work out the kinks after you get acclimated to your new lifestyle. In hindsight, it might even be helpful to start thinking about this before you go out on maternity leave.
3. Work from home.
We live in a new professional landscape with recent advances in technology and cloud capabilities. See if working from home is an option for you and, if so, take advantage! I understand this isn’t possible in all professions and industries, but if it is, do your best to advocate for this option. I am fortunate enough to have the ability to work from home and take advantage of the awesome benefits that provides. However, similar to the worries I detailed above, I had some apprehension about how my working from home would be viewed by coworkers since I would now be home with an infant.,But the benefits listed below were so positive that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity:
I still make it into the office once a week and for additional important meetings. This is not only because I value my job, but also because it’s a priority of mine to get facetime with coworkers and other adults in order to balance the time I spend at home either in front of my computer or with my baby. By working from home the majority of the time, I am able to get a lot more done on a daily basis without having to commute and spend 9-5 in the office.
4. Find your support.
This might be my most important piece of advice: Support systems are a huge help! You can find them in the form of your significant other, a family member or friend, a close co-worker, or even other working moms in your area. Don’t be scared to share your feelings and reach out in times of need. You are bound to experience ups and downs while trying to balance your family and career, but you are not alone! There are all sorts of networks for new mothers to connect with if you are feeling isolated in your journey.
While out on maternity leave, I was fortunate enough to meet two incredible moms with babies the same age as my daughter. We are all back to work now, but we regularly meet up for a night out to be social. We vent about our recent struggles, share stories about our children, and just enjoy some down time with people who are at the same stage in their lives. At the end of the day, we are all trying to live our best lives possible, and connecting with others is at the core of who we are as humans – perhaps even more so as parents.
5. Be the change.
Be the image of what you think a career woman and mother should look like! The outlooks on working mothers, maternity leave, and even nursing are changing for the better. Therefore, I think it’s important to try and represent the change you would like to see in this arena – it will only help future parents. By being professional while also openly voicing your needs in the workplace and at home, you can help spread the word about how you can still be successful in your career as well as in parenthood. It might feel uneasy advocating for a work situation that now affects both you and your child, but the expectation here is that the end result will be better than not taking action at all.
I hope that our country’s perspective will continue to progress away from the stereotypical image of the “working mom” and toward one in which there are equally shared parental responsibilities. This puts less pressure on working mothers and subsequently provokes less stress and better performance in the office. We are coming around as a society to where it isn’t unusual for fathers to help with their children or with chores around the house, so that there are more shared responsibilities in general. Let’s keep it up! Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and societal norms both at work and in the home.
6. Don’t sacrifice!
If you are considering children, don’t sacrifice this one-of-a-kind joy for your career. You can do both, trust me! Motherhood is absolutely incredible, and I don’t think that women should feel guilty about taking the time they need to raise their children. There is certainly a major struggle between trying to be a serious business woman and being a mom – I’ve fought this myself – but regardless of the challenges, it is worth the struggle if becoming a parent is something you know you want to do in your lifetime.
If you are serious about your career, you will find ways to make it work. Everyone’s situation is a little bit different, so there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s more about getting creative, understanding your specific needs, and then speaking up for them! With the country’s shifting views on family leave and the rights of working mothers, it is becoming more possible to be successful in your career than it has ever been before. There is certainly still progress to be made in the U.S., but planning ahead and speaking up for what you need can significantly help your case and the cases of mothers to come.
As my daughter turns 6 months old and I reflect on my journey thus far, this is the general advice I’d give to anyone considering becoming a new parent while maintaining their careers. I am sure my opinions will change and grow as my journey progresses and the environment for working parents evolves in the U.S. I realize that my situation may be very different from those of other working moms, and I’m very fortunate to have the situation I do. I’d like to give a little shout out to my bosses at Ashton Tweed – Jim and Jordan – for doing everything they could to ensure I had an easy transition and letting me be flexible in finding out what I needed to be most productive when jumping back in to work.
If any readers have additional insights or advice, feel free to comment below – I’m sure parents with multiple children, single moms or dads, and people in any other parenting situations have their own input to add on this topic and I’d be delighted to hear what you have to share!
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