Maternity leave can be difficult for monthers and employers– and even more difficult if you’re both. Here’s how to make the most of maternity leave.
For many women, few areas of life are more emotionally charged than questions of career and motherhood. Combine these two issues into one and you get maternity leave, the government-mandated benefit that often leaves both mothers and employers feeling shortchanged. For small business owners and women in leadership positions in particular, taking maternity leave can feel especially fraught with internal conflict and concerns about the health and well-being of one baby while they’re focused on the other.
If you’re one of those rare birds running a company that is so healthy and self-sufficient that you feel confident checking out completely for the first three months of your baby’s life: congratulations! For many others, however, working in some capacity during maternity leave is inescapable. Guilt and anxiety don’t have to be an automatic part of taking maternity leave for women in leadership positions, though. With adequate reflection, preparation and support, you can make your maternity leave work for you, your baby and your business.
Even if you plan on working in some capacity, the majority of your leave will be spent away from the workplace, so it’s important to have strategies in place to lighten household burdens. In general, anything to you do to minimize stress and prepare your home in advance will have trickle-down benefits for your business.
Start by conducting an honest assessment of your strengths, supports and areas of vulnerability. Is getting dinner on the table a major undertaking for you in the best of circumstances? Does the current division of labor work for you and your partner, or are you already frustrated and feeling like you carry more than your fair share of the load? Who are you willing to call in a pinch—and who makes your headaches worse instead of better?
If you don’t have a dedicated home office space, make sure that you at least have a place and the tools you need to get work done without going into the office. Can you log-on your company’s network from home? Do you get reliable cell phone reception at your house or do you need to invest in a landline to dial in? Taking the time to make sure you have everything you need at your fingertips will pay off when you’re operating on limited sleep.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that it has to be all or nothing during your maternity leave. Creating a plan and erecting healthy boundaries can help you avoid this pitfall and meet the needs of both your business and your baby.
As soon as you’re comfortable making your news public, start talking to clients, associates and employees about maternity leave. Begin managing expectations early. If clients know ahead of time that you’ll be out, they’re more likely to work with you on your terms and timelines and show grace for any potential interruption in operations.
Similarly, making yourself available to your employees doesn’t mean you have to be available to everyone all the time. Instead, designate a single person for colleagues to report to with questions and concerns and then set up a recurring time to check in with this person and respond to problems.
You might be tempted to ignore the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps in favor of getting work done during normal business hours, but don’t discount the value of responding to emails or drafting documents during middle-of-the-night feedings. If your brain is well-rested, you’ll be able to maximize this precious distraction-free time instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media.
Finally, look at this extended break from the workplace as a retreat of sorts—a strategic chance to take a step back, let your mind lie fallow and germinate new ideas and opportunities to grow your business and improve performance when you return. While you’re humming lullabies or walking the floors with your baby, go ahead daydream about where you’d like to your company in the next months and years.
All the planning in the world can’t save you if you’re physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. Prioritize taking care of yourself so that you can take care of your child and your business. Make and then actually go to follow-up appointments with your health care provider. Get out of the house, join mom groups and talk to other women who are juggling kids and careers. Above all, show yourself tremendous patience and grace so that you can return to full time work feeling refreshed, excited and ready.