8 Things New Moms SHOULD Tell Their Boss After Maternity Leave
I recently read an article on LinkedIn titled “8 Things New Moms Wish They Could Tell Their Boss After Maternity Leave” (in case it wasn't obvious from the link, you should also go read it, if only for context).
In the past, I’ve written about the challenge of managing work and being the parent of a young child (and also a whole lot about the various insanities of just having a young child). There was a lot about the article that would have resonated with me right after I returned to work following the birth of my first daughter.
I’ve learned a lot about being a working parent over the past nearly four years. Now that I’m a parent of two – recently returned to work from my second maternity leave – my perspective has evolved quite a bit. I’ve worked alongside other women who are parents. And men who are parents. And outstanding people who aren’t.
As the author of the above mentioned article writes, managers should show compassion for their employees. People have lives outside of work. Many of those lives have children in them. They certainly have complications – familial, financial, and otherwise. Returning from parental leave, whether you’re a mother or a father, a biological parent or an adoptive parent or a step-parent, is a time of transition and adjustment. One that deserves compassion – and respect.
#1 “I’m A Parent”
I'm not just a mom. I'm a parent. So is Jack in the office next to me, and Bob in accounting and Jeff in sales. And I’m willing to bet that Jack and Bob and Jeff all really love their kids and miss them sometimes during the day. I can tell, because like me, they have pictures on their desks and they occasionally share stories about said kids in the office kitchen.
I’m a parent, and I, too, miss my kids when I’m at work. And like all other working parents, I know that working means I’m going to miss out on some things, like the first time my new daughter rolls over or perhaps her first word or her first step. I’m not going to be the field trip parent in elementary school. Neither are the dads in the office.
#2 “I’m Still The Person You Hired”
Parenthood changes people. Before you have a child, you have only one person to worry about 24/7/365 and that’s yourself. When you become a parent, you are now responsible 24/7/365 for an external entity. This is not unique to mothers. It’s true for fathers too. For every parent, it changes priorities and relationships. It changes the way you function in the world.
But that doesn’t mean I’m coming back from maternity leave a different employee. I am still good at my job. I still have the skills and expertise honed over years working in my profession. I’m not a lesser version of my personal or professional self, and I am capable of thinking about things other than my children. In fact, some studies have indicated that women with two or more children are actually more productive than their childless female peers over the course of a career. Turns out, we get pretty good at organizing, prioritizing, and multitasking.
#3 “Work Should Not Be Anyone’s First Priority All of the Time”
When I arrive at the office in the morning, work is my priority. I’m there to do the job for which I was hired, and I often actively try to go above and beyond to help colleagues and customers alike.
Like almost every other person with whom I’ve ever worked, I also have a life and very important priorities outside of the office. My family, my friends, my health and well-being. Work was not always my first priority before I had children, and it isn’t now. Ask my non-parent colleagues and I bet they’ll tell you the same.
#4 “Protect My Time Because I’ll Be More Productive”
Don’t protect my time because I’m a parent. Protect my time because I’m a person deserving of respect. Protect my time because this company expects me to be as productive as possible in support of our business and our customers. Protect my time because studies overwhelmingly show that overworked employees are less productive. Studies like this one from Stanford University, as written up by CNBC: “employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.”
Protect my time because that’s what every manager should do for every employee, regardless of whether or not they have children.
#5 “Walk the Equality Walk”
According to a 2015 article in Fast Company “A 2010 study by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation found that a mother’s future earnings increased 7 percent for every month that her partner took parental leave.”
In a country where women still earn, on average, 16 percent less than their male counterparts (for an analysis that puts it at 40 percent less, see here) – and where, by age 45, the average college-educated woman earns only 55 cents on the dollar as compared to a college-educated man of the same age – how we treat parents in the workplace really, really matters. It’s not just about providing maternity leave. Paternity leave signals that we value the important role fathers play in home life, and in turn, the value that mothers bring to the workforce.
It’s not just parental leave, either. If women are to gain equal footing in the workforce, we must acknowledge that their male counterparts can and should make childcare and housework a priority. Which leads me to...
#6 “Bob in Accounting is Also Tired”
I have two young children. Bob in accounting has three, and one of them in a newborn. If Bob in accounting is anything like my husband, he’s a co-parent, which means he and his wife take turns waking up with the kids. It means he stays up late packing lunches and gets up early to get the kids ready for daycare or school. My husband is tired. Bob is tired. I am tired. Gina in recruiting is tired because she stayed out too late at a concert last night. And being tired can make it hard to concentrate. Please be patient with all of us while we straggle into this early meeting. Things will improve after I drink this coffee.
#7 “Maintain High Expectations”
Please don’t change your expectations of me because I’m a parent. You should still hold me to the high standards you always have – the same standards to which I hold myself. You should expect and receive quality work product. You should expect timeliness. You should expect a professional demeanor befitting my role.
That does not mean you should expect me to drop everything to make a 6PM meeting that you scheduled three hours earlier. Likewise, you should not expect my colleagues – parents or not – to make that meeting. I know plenty of dads who are responsible for school pick-up or drop-off. Dads with working wives – like me! – who are counting on them to be there when the bell rings.
#8 “I Am Working Because…”
Chances are that the same things that motivated me to be here before I became a mother are motivating me now. Career advancement. Intellectual curiosity. Financial stability. An hour every day jamming out to 90s music while I sit in traffic, blissfully alone and without my children.
Remember #2 above? I’m still the person you hired. Really. I bet the fathers around the office would have very similar responses.
Every employee goes through amazing, challenging phases in their life. Becoming a new parent is one of them. These phases offer opportunity for growth, both personal and professional. The best way to welcome back a new parent is by treating them with the respect as a human and a valued colleague, nothing more, nothing less.