“Dear my one-time employer, sponsor, and all-round awesome guy. As I prepare for another round of parental leave, I’m prompted to reflect on my first experience.”
Circle In’s Vanessa Geerling pens a message to a former manager.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
By taking pains to understand the emotional and practical challenges I faced when I became a parent, you pretty much single-handedly made my parental leave and return to work a positive experience.
In my inexperience, I was ill-equipped to manage a successful transition on my own and, in hindsight, I should’ve been more prepared. I’d read up on what to expect during labor and tackling those early days as a new parent, but when it came to managing my career and work-life integration with a child at home, I had a lot to learn! Yes, I had a job to return to within 12 months. And, yes, parenthood would be a challenge, but I was absolutely up for it… what else was there to know?
What I monumentally failed to recognize was that ‘working life’ and ‘the juggle of parenthood and working life’ are two very distinct things, and that the latter would involve navigating uncharted waters.
When I was a ‘working person’…
Before I became a ‘working parent’ I enjoyed a steady career filled with opportunity and progression. I worked hard and was rewarded with your staunch backing and respect.
As any great sponsor would, you saw the potential in me and encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and aim high. You served up exciting opportunities, teamed me up with dynamite mentors, and upped my visibility to the executive team. You not only trusted me to get the job done but trusted your own decisions, stood by your values, and always shot for the stars without putting anyone at a disadvantage. And, best of all, not only did you show up at after-work drinks, you always steered the chat well clear of work!
Surprise, I’m pregnant…
But after I announced my pregnancy and again when I returned to work after parental leave, your reasonable, unbiased, and smart approach to managing people really shone. You helped me understand the impact of the transition I was making and supported my well-being and personal development by:
1. Taking the load off — Thank you for implementing strategies to help offload and manage my workload in the lead-up to my parental leave. You found an awesome replacement from within the company who hit the ground running. Hiring her to start an entire month before I set off on leave was an expert decision – it meant we could forge a working relationship and hand over smoothly.
2. Knowing the impact parenthood would have on my life better than I did — If I was unprepared, you were informed and realistic about what was to come. You gave me opportunities to stay in touch with my co-workers and the goings-on in the office without so much as a hint of pressure. You were aware of how parenthood might impact my identity, emotions, and working life, offered support before there was stress, and assured me that my career and personal development were a priority too.
3. Helping me achieve work-life integration — So, I assumed that organizing trustworthy child care and negotiating flexible work hours was all it would take to win at work-life integration. How naïve I was! Thank you for suggesting I start small and build up my hours. Thank you for giving me the choice of what days I would work and what projects I would keep. Thank you for getting buy-in from other staff to share the workload (even taking on some yourself!).
4. Managing expectations and understanding give and take — As if armed with a crystal ball, you knew it would take time for me, the team, and the business as a whole to adjust to the change. Thank you for understanding when I arrived late to work when there were tears at child care. Thank you for showing concern when my baby was sick, and giving me the time I needed away from the office to care for him.
Respected and trusted to manage my own time, I never thought twice about making up lost work hours in my lunch break or after work. Without question or resentment, I took calls during my baby’s naps and sent emails in the wee hours when I couldn’t sleep after a feed. Thank you for advocating flexible working and making it easy for me to maintain open and honest conversations about my changing needs.
5. Maintaining a renewed focus on my career development — Thanks to you, the impact becoming a parent had on my career was minimized. Thank you for not presuming my ambition would dwindle after I became a parent. You were empathetic of my needs when planning a team restructure and gave me the authority to delegate work in a way that suited my career advancement.
So, thank you for your support, openness, guidance, and flexibility to find personalized solutions for our journey. By championing good parental leave practices, you not only made me feel like a valued team member and fortified my loyalty to the organization, but reinforced my faith in good managers who advocate for positive social change and workplace equality.
Written by Vanessa Geerling, Circle In content editor.