Will my daughter survive? Yes. Will everything go to hell? No.
Will I worry about it anyway? Why, yes. Yes, I will.
I’ve gone from 12 daylight hours per day with my newborn to 2, maybe 3 if I’m lucky, now that I’ve returned to work. What a change! I’m afraid I’m going to miss all her firsts from here on out. (Turns out I missed a first even when I was home. I was getting a pizza and paying the delivery guy at the door when my daughter rolled over for the first time with my husband watching her for 30 freaking seconds. Sigh.)
Luckily, I’ve got a flexible job – or I’ve made it flexible. I check my email in the morning before going in, feed the baby before leaving the house, get in some good “think time” for the job during the commute, do the usual back-to-back-to-back meetings and calls (reserving time in my calendar to pump three times a day so that my daughter has milk for the next day), get home in time for her evening feeding, and wrap up work after I put her down for the night. The flexibility is in the face time at work: need to come in late or leave a little early? OK. Need to work from home to cover for my stay-at-home-dad husband who has a recurring appointment on Thursday mornings? Sure.
The bottom line is: as long as my network and staff connections continue to be nurtured, and the work gets done, I should have all the flexibility I want. So should it be for any parent at the company. I planned out this flexibility – and got buy-in from my colleagues – before the baby came.
Ours is a small company – about 25 people. And more than half of the employees are smart, ambitious 20-somethings. The rest of the employees who are parents have kids who are either grown adults now or well into school age. I know that many of the younger employees – who are newly married or in long term relationships or simply female – are watching very closely what happens to me; they will take cues from my experience about how successfully this company supports new parents.
I meticulously planned the 6 weeks prior to my parental leave. I gave people new responsibilities where it was needed and then conferred the appropriate promotions upon my return. It helped that we set up the situation for me to have a new role upon my return – nothing sucks more than to step in for a higher level person, do a great job, learn a great amount, and then be told that you have to go back and do your old job, thank you very much. Wait – I stand corrected. What sucks more is to continue to do a great job but not have an appropriate job title and/or compensation adjustment.
I’m not recommending that companies give everyone promotions because one person goes on parental leave. What I am saying is (1) plan well before your leave to minimize problems while you’re away, and (2) have a clear vision for what the next chapter is for you and others upon your return, and give people something to work toward in your absence. For us, it resulted in promotions – for other companies, it might be lateral transfers, rotations to different divisions to get additional exposure, classes for skill development, or pre-approved vacation time to clear heads and get rest after carrying extra workload for 3 months.
Whatever it is, write that next chapter with your team while the current chapter is still playing out. While I have a baby as my next personal chapter, I couldn’t ignore that I had to help write the next professional chapter as well.