It's Working Project

"I had one of my bosses tell me that something changed in how I approached my job after my first son was born that made me more strategic and better at managing relationships with community clients and partners."

Did you always know you would go back to work after starting a family? Why or why not?

Yes, I knew I would head back to work after having children. I spent a lot of time and money getting my education—and I’m passionate about the work that I do. I never felt any ambiguity about whether or not I would return to my job. One thing that surprised me, however, was when I had about 2-3 weeks left of maternity leave after my first son was born 6 years ago, I realized that I wasn’t completely ready to dive back in full-time. I was able to negotiate an 80% work schedule, which I did until my son was 18 months old. By that time, the itch to be more ambitious again had come back and I realized that I was really doing a full-time job—with full-time stress and responsibility—for part-time pay. I wavered for a bit on going back full-time, however, since I felt like once I retracted my part-time status, I wouldn’t be able to get it back quite so easily. I asked my boss to come back full-time and was able to do that right away.

Tell us about your planning for your new child – timed around your career? Not at all? Share the skinny!

I didn’t plan my childbearing around my career at all. In a sense, I think it was because for my demographic, I had my kids pretty young (I was 27 and 30 when my sons were born). I just had this sense that I wanted a baby and now was as good a time as any, so we went for it. For as much planning as I do at my job, I’ve never had the same approach to my life outside work, I guess!

What was your biggest initial concern and/or obstacle to going back to work after starting a family?

Money and time were my biggest concerns and they continue to be! Biting the daycare bullet is a blow to any budget and having two kids in childcare definitely means cutbacks in other areas. But, my husband and I have been fortunate that we’ve both been able to continue advancing in our careers and now childcare is just part of the cost of doing business in our lives.

Not having enough time for myself is also something that I struggled with early on. I felt like I had to spend every minute doing something productive, either for work, for my son, for our house, or spending time with my husband. All of those things are important, but I’m the type of person who needs time to recharge and I didn’t do a good job of advocating for myself early on in motherhood. I think that because I had taken a 20% pay cut to stay home one day a week, I had to “earn” my time away, which was a terrible philosophy! I was always tired and shortchanging someone or something.

Also! The sleep! Oh my goodness, the exhaustion I had during my son’s first year with ongoing night wakeups was crazymaking. My husband and I weren’t on the same page about sleep training, but around 9 months, I had some sort of meltdown and we finally did sleep training. Not feeling like a zombie all day really helped.

What factors contributed to your chosen feeding method? If you breastfed, did you need to pump? If so, how easy was it for you to pump? If so, how long did you pump after returning to work? If so, did your workplace provide a location? How did you make it work?

Because I’m stubborn and didn’t have any supply issues, I breastfed and pumped milk for my sons. I worked in a tiny office when I had my first son, with just 4 people in it. I had to pump in the bathroom because there weren’t any other options. It was disgusting and I hated it, but I pumped until my son was 10.5 months old, at which point, pumping just became unsustainable from an output standpoint and I was too busy to add in additional pumping sessions.

At my current job, I was the first mother in the office to pump during the workday. I pumped in a storage closet, which was fine, but not comfortable. Since then, several other women have used the same set-up and we often talk about needing to upgrade our facilities, but we’re a nonprofit with lots of other things to focus on, and it’s just never been done.

If you are in a relationship, how did you decide which partner would go back to work? What issues factored into that decision?

We never considered having my husband stay home with our son. He does work as a teacher, however, and has always had the boys during his summer breaks.

If you needed to return to work, did you have a back-to-work mentor? How did they help?

Nope. Would have been great!

How long was your family leave? If you needed to return to work, how did you feel about it?

For my first son, I took a standard 12 week leave. Then I returned first at 3 days a week, then after a month or so to 4 days a week, where I stayed for the next 1.5 years.

With my second son, I had to have a hysterectomy when he was 12 weeks old and I was able to be out for 4 full months. I came back to work full-time right away the second time around, which suited my life and job better.

I love working—it’s critical to my sanity, my sense of self, and I’m good at what I do. When my parenting/family life feels like it’s closing in on me, I like knowing that I have my career to balance that out a bit. My job is deadline oriented and there is a sense of finishing something and moving on to the next thing that never comes when I’m at home. Going back to work the second time was much easier than the first because it just wasn’t as emotional. I knew what I was signing up for and it wasn’t fraught. I didn’t feel guilty, the way I did the first time around.

Have you, or a partner, paid it forward as a parent in the workplace? Tell us a bit more.

Sure. I had two colleagues donate PTO to me during my maternity leave with my second child. This was more related to my surgery, I think, but their generosity continues to humble me. My boss also told me that she didn’t see any value in having me back before I was ready, and I thought that was such a straightforward and human way to approach it. Since then, I have donated some PTO to other new moms. I also like to think that I initiated the “no nonsense” approach to taking time for pumping. Additionally, my kids are slightly older than those of some of my colleagues and I have been a good ear for some women who are trying to get the balancing act down.

How did you work with your doctor, adoption agency, or Human Resources department to plan for your family leave and return?

I worked with my HR team and they coordinated everything related to my leave. Once I was gone, I think I just had to have a paper signed at a postpartum appointment. I got to be really gone when I was out, which I’m so grateful for.

If you returned to work, when did your confidence around work kick in? How long did the adjustment take (or are you still adjusting?)

For the first month or so after my second son was born, I felt redundant. Then, I landed a lead role in a great project and I didn’t have time to sit around my office, feeling things! Having kids has given me the confidence to trust my judgment at work in a different way. I’ve also become so much more productive because it’s important to me that my time away from my kids be good for my whole family (i.e., I make decent money, I do important work, I feel good about myself because I have a career that is meaningful to me, I try to leave work stress at work, etc). I also had one of my bosses tell me that something changed in how I approached my job after my first son was born that made me more strategic and better at managing relationships with community clients and partners.

What, if any, advice would you give to employers to ease strain around family leave and returning to the workplace?

Employers should be realistic about the realities of parenthood. It is really hard and the first year is not only physically exhausting with night waking and hormonal and body changes, but emotionally exhausting because caring for a baby is such an investment. My marriage was also really strained during our older son’s first year—not because we were both so tired, but because we were both competing for the scarce resources of quiet time, friend time, exercise time, together time. Now that our kids are older, we’re both better at advocating for what we need while giving each other space too. But back to how this relates to employers: it’s best if they make the transition easy! Pay working parents for time away—having a child is so expensive that we all take massive paycuts (essentially!) when we have a child. Nickle and diming parents isn’t productive and it builds resentment among working parents.

Let us work from home! There are times when I’m sitting next to my sleeping, feverish kid that I get so much done. I can be even more productive on non-managerial things when I’m at home that it makes me crazy when I hear about people being punished for this time away. Trust me—we work extra hard to make sure that privileges like this are not abused. I definitely don’t think that it’s doable to work from home every day with a healthy, active kid, but during a sick day it is completely doable!

Know that parents already feel squeezed and guilty all the time about the work/life balance. Being an employer that helps with that, rather than adds to it, will improve retention, loyalty, and productivity.