Your maternity leave is suddenly coming up fast, and you’ll soon be teetering on the edge of a very different chapter to your life. You’re working hard to tie up everything at work, probably not nearly prepared enough at home, and you are trying to manage the new emotions that are creeping in. Emotions that may include a strange mix of anxiety and insecurity about the uncertainties, yet joy and excitement as you anticipate the birth of your new-born baby.
You’ve completed your to do list, you’ve listened to advice and now it feels as if you are standing at the edge of a plane before a skydive. You are taking in long deep breaths, you’ve checked the wind direction, your speed, your parachute, your harness, your clothing, you are ready… or are you?
There may be one more important task that you haven’t considered, that’s laying the path for your return. Yes, even before you have left.
Invest in Your Career Goals
1. Consider Your Future Desires and Priorities
Becoming a working parent is like installing a whole new operating system – one that’s completely unknown to you at the moment. Even so, it can be helpful to imagine what you might want it to look like in advance. Some people may think that they want to continue accelerating their career, some may think that they want to slow down. Be aware that you may end up feeling differently when you return to when you left. Keep all the possibilities and opportunities open. Be true to yourself about what you genuinely want. Many parents have successfully honoured their dreams and desires while bringing up a family. You can too. You may adjust your pace, without compromising your purpose.
2. Plant Some Seeds for Your Return
Where appropriate, try to explore some of the possibilities before you go on leave. It can be much easier to have an informal chat in the course of your work than reaching out once you have left.
If you are considering some changes you might casually share your interests with the key stakeholders. If you are feeling pretty clear about what your ideal return looks like you might want to discuss this with your manager. It’s too far off for either of you to make firm promises but it can be helpful to be open about hopes and desires should opportunities arise over the coming months.
3. Be Strategic About Your Handover
An effective handover can build your reputation. Try to get involved in who your work is going to be handed over to. See your maternity cover as a member of the team and remember you’re all working towards a common goal, rather than feeling in competition with them or intimidated by them. Support them to enable them to be successful at your role, and expect them to reciprocate on your return.
Be careful not to lose yourself in your handover notes. We are living in such a fast-paced world that your handover notes may not be valid in a month. Think about the general themes and empower others to pick up your torch.
Invest in Your Key Relationships
1. Help Your Manager and Team Prepare for Your Return as Well as Your Exit
This is a time of change for others as well as for you. Reassure your manager and team of your continued professionalism and commitment. Have as much open dialogue as you can. Help them understand what would be helpful to you in terms of communication and staying in touch.
Your team may have concerns about the impact on their workload and need your help to plan for the impact of the change on them. Let them know where to go for support whilst you are on leave and reassure them of your commitment to them on your return.
2. Consolidate Your Connections with Key People
“People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said. But people would never forget how you made them feel.” said Maya Angelou. Throughout my pregnancy, so many people showed their support to me in different ways which I was incredibly grateful for. In the week before my parental leave, I ordered baby themed cupcakes and shared them with everyone in my department and my key stakeholders. This was a moment that provided me with a wonderful opportunity to connect and to receive their blessings before I was sent off for this exciting new chapter of life.
3. Manage Stakeholders and Sponsors
Have an open dialogue with your key stakeholders. Make sure you get in touch with all of your contacts well before you leave to let them know when you will be going, and who will be covering for you.
Put yourself into their shoes and think from their perspective. What are their priorities? What do they care about the most?
Consider what you want to be remembered for and remind them of this by what you do and say in your final few months.
Invest in Yourself
1. Keep Your Presence
People sometimes show more compassion and empathy to pregnant women. They tend to slow down and listen. Leverage this time for your voice to be heard, particularly for topics that you truly believe in. Don’t leave before you actually leave. Attend key meetings. Be a part of the solutions. If you are client facing, be authentic and leverage the rapport you have built for the common purpose among you.
2. Notice Your Emotions
We may not be able to change how we feel, but by shifting our focus and our thoughts, we can feel a whole lot better about them. For example, when I was pregnant with my girl, I had a deep fear of losing my freedom, capacity and flexibility for my career. Instead of allowing that sense of fear to grow out of control, I intentionally focused on the meaningful work I had and owned every day. These ranged from keeping a healthy diet, a daily routine, cherishing every interaction with others, and empowering my team with the autonomy to make decisions and to drive current projects forward.
3. Speak Wisely to Yourself
Remember that you have a choice of where you direct your focus. What we pay attention to determines what we find and what we find determines how we talk. How we talk to ourselves everyday determines how we see our future and how we see our future affects how we feel and behave today. For example, you can choose to shift your self-talk from “I will not be…” or “I will no longer have…” to “I have…” or “I’m enjoying…”. Our focus will determine our feelings. We have a choice to reframe how we think about the circumstances.
4. Take Advantage of Support on Offer
When I was about to welcome my second child, I came to realise how tremendous this life transition can be and was lucky enough to be offered coaching support. However, at that time, what held me back were the thoughts that I should give all my time before the new baby came to my older child (to nurture her as a single child with my ‘full attention’) and to my team (to ensure a smooth transition and career development opportunities for them) before the parental leave kicked in. I felt guilty even having thoughts of giving myself an hour of coaching conversation as it felt selfish to focus on me. If I had the opportunity to go through the experience again (I’m not going to have more children so this is a very theoretical ‘if’!), I would definitely pursue the opportunity. It would have offered me the time and space for myself to contemplate, seek clarity and to plan forward. Asking yourself the following questions might start this process for you.
- Where have you played a pivotal role?
- What would you like to remain unchanged?
- Which part at work would you really love to keep?
- What relationships do you cherish the most that you hope to sustain?
- What resources/ assets do you want to reserve and even to invest and grow?
- Assuming that there are no boundary/ limitations, what are your biggest hopes and dreams when you return?
- Imagine that everything is just fabulous when you return at the workplace, your family and your own feelings, what is it like?
- What growth do you want to see in others and in yourself after your leave?
- What are the top three things that bring the biggest positive impacts to the success of your key stakeholders?
- What are the top three things you can do as if you are leaving them with a wondrous gift for them to remember you for?
- So what really are your top priorities at this season of life? (your focus)
Now, take a deep breath, keep your eyes open, and embrace this next stage of your parental transition.