New baby on the way? Being pregnant is an exciting time, but also full of planning. Planning for baby, planning for adjustments at home, and planning for a successful return to work. There are almost as many ways to navigate motherhood and career as there are to spell Chloe (Khloe, Cloie, Chlohee anyone?) and what works for you is your best bet. But getting to the point where the balancing act really does work can require practice, support from others and patience with yourself.
Every working parent has to figure out her or his best strategies for child care, work-life balance and where to invest the greatest career energy. “For me, planning well ahead made the transition easier as I went out on leave and when I came back,” said Dana Pearson, Senior Manager, Financial Planning & Analysis with Jamba Juice. She worked at Brinker when her son was born 12 years ago and her twin daughters two years later.
“When I told my boss my news, I also presented her with a plan for how to best cover my regular work and special projects,” Pearson said. She also planned her daycare arrangements well ahead and did a dry-run the week before returning to work. “It’s never easy to leave your baby, so try the drop off a couple times before you start back so you can work out the kinks and get past those tough emotions.”
Consider this advice from working parents on the frontlines and The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity and Big Success After Baby.
Find a working-mom mentor
She may work in your company or be half-way across the country. She just needs to be far enough ahead of you on the parenting path that she has already negotiated some of the toughest challenges and come out on the other side.
Tune into your unique situation
Colleagues and supervisors may assume you want to travel less. Some new parents do but others are energized by professional travel and like the break that comes from a few days child-free on the road. Think deeply about what arrangements will bring out your strongest contributions.
Negotiate your schedule
Talk candidly with your boss about small tweaks that will make you a more effective team member. Maybe you do need to travel less. Or take that weekly 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. call from home. Reassure your boss that having a little more flexibility will enable you to continue to meet expectations. Then revisit the topic often. Baby’s needs change constantly.
Be a supportive colleague
When possible, offer to cover that lunch break, finish the report on the weekend or even offer a kind ear to a coworker struggling to care for a child. It may sound counter-intuitive, but helping out when you can will make it easier to ask for help when you need it.
Share your accomplishments
Make sure you let people know what you’re working on, the progress you’re making and your plans for meeting deadlines. When it’s clear you are pulling your fair share, leaving at 5 p.m. for daycare pick-up is more easily accepted.
“Be patient and give yourself some grace,” Pearson advises. “I tell coworkers coming back from maternity leave that it will get easier but it takes time. I saved some vacation time so I could take a day off here and there to sleep and take me time. It makes me a better mom to do a job I love and get interaction with adults.”
Working parents look for companies that provide an environment that helps them succeed in both their roles. In their Women Matter 2016 report titled Reinventing the workplace to unlock the potential of gender diversity, McKinsey & Company suggests broad changes companies can make to remove traditional barriers facing working mothers.
Establishing “new normal” ways of work for everyone, not just women, such as allowing employees to work on flexible schedules and places.
Expand inclusiveness by developing programs and policies that apply to both men and women, such as paternity leave.
Promote and value diverse leadership styles with evaluation and promotion criteria that reflects those models.