5-Step Checklist for a Worry-Free Parental Leave
I like to describe myself as a recovering workaholic. There was a time when I was consistently working 12 – 16 hour days. I was wearing multiple hats, getting good recognition for my hard work, and loving every second of it. But… those kinds of hours simply aren’t sustainable. My personal life, relationships, happiness, and health began to suffer. I made a decision to put boundaries around my work and personal spheres. Yes, there are times when an imperative project has to get done and extra hours are needed, but I think it’s important not to let those long hours become the norm. If you’re not your best self, you’re not the best spouse, friend, or employee you can be. So it benefits everyone when you establish boundaries.
I give you this background because I was initially terrified of going on maternity leave. I rarely take a vacation, let alone six weeks out of the office! From hearing stories of other new moms in the workforce, I’d developed a fear of being seen as uncommitted, incompetent, or creating a burden for my coworkers. Luckily I had a tremendous work environment (true life – not a sponsored comment ;-)) and they made it easy to step away and transition back.
While we’re legally protected, I think new moms are justified in having these fears. Research shows patterns of workplace gender bias, particularly toward new moms, are a real thing.
But we’re not helpless. We can take steps toward mitigating these fears (and sometimes realities) in the workforce. Below are the five things that helped me to feel comfortable stepping away from work and truly enjoy my time with baby.
Draft a detailed instruction guide for your absence.
Some responsibilities may need to continue while you are out of the office… but baby isn’t going to wait until you have everything perfectly transitioned to make an appearance. I recommend creating an instruction guide that is clear enough anyone can pick it up and continue with your responsibilities.
Some people worry that training others to handle their responsibilities will impact their job security. If that's your mindset, know this — you are unique and you bring one-of-a-kind strengths to your company. Creating a guide for your coworkers demonstrates you care about the progress of your team and the company. Plus, you don’t want to spend your first weeks back cleaning up messes because no one knew how to continue your work!
I’ve put together a template to help you get started. Get your free Parental Leave Template now. I recommend wrapping this up at least six weeks before your due date, because baby literally has a mind of their own!
Transition responsibilities before your leave starts.
With your instruction guide in place, start to meet with those who will be covering for you and walk them through the responsibilities. The work should transition immediately following the meeting. This allows your coworker to try out the task and encounter any stumbling blocks or questions while you’re still around to help. As you transition, introduce your coworker to the stakeholders, vendors, and employees who will be interacting with them. This will ensure everyone’s aware of the change.
I recommend scheduling transition meetings in order of difficulty level and impact of the responsibility. If you don’t get a chance to train on the easier tasks, it won’t be the end of the world because your instructions are probably sufficient anyway.
Unplug and enjoy.
Most maternity laws and policies will protect you from having to check your work phone and email while you’re out. But, you may work in an environment that wants you to check in or you may personally want to stay connected to avoid feeling inundated upon your return. My advice? Unplug and give someone your personal contact information in the event the sky falls without you (and no offense, but it probably won’t). Enjoy the time with baby. And if you’re like me and baby has an unexpected medical challenge, you’ll want to be fully present at home.
On that note, I’d recommend taking the maximum available leave. I took six weeks, but it took us until the ninth week to discover my son’s allergy issues. Until we got him on a hypoallergenic formula, he was only sleeping in 15 – 30 minute increments, then would be awake for an hour and a half at a time. It took me nodding off at the wheel twice to realize I was in over my head (thank you guardian angel for keeping me safe…).
If you have an easy baby, six weeks may be fine. But you don’t know the hand you’re going to be dealt and you’re not going to regret the extra time with you little one!
Ease your way into childcare.
Whether you opted for a family member, a nanny, or daycare to watch baby, it will be helpful to ease your way into it. This may sound cold, but dropping Ilyas off at daycare wasn’t as hard emotionally as I thought it would be. Yes, I did cry quite a bit. But I knew he was in good hands and was so exhausted that I mostly felt relieved to step away for a minute. The bigger challenge for us was figuring out some sort of routine. Since baby didn’t follow much of a sleep schedule, determining which feeding we needed to stay awake after in order to get out the door on time was hard. I wish we’d done at least one trial week without the pressure of actually having to get to work between 8 – 9.
Thank your coworkers!
Regardless of the legal protection of your job, your coworkers likely had to pull some extra weight while you were out of the office. They probably also put your mind at ease knowing your customers and responsibilities were being covered. Find a way to thank them! It doesn’t have to be anything big, just show your appreciation. My love language is gift giving and my son was born the day before Thanksgiving, so I felt best giving those who were taking the bulk of my work a slightly nicer Christmas gift, along with a thoughtful card.
Congratulations mama, and enjoy parenthood! It will expand your heart, shift your priorities, and give you a new lens on life. I’m sure none of my employers, past or present, would be offended when I say being a mother is the most rewarding job I’ve ever held.
Have you been on parental leave? What other tips do you have for expecting parents?
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