“Dear my one-time employer, sponsor and all-round awesome bloke. As I prepare for another round of parental leave, I am prompted to reflect on my first experience.”
Circle In’s Vanessa Geerling pens a message to a former manager.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Without a doubt my parental leave and return to work would not have been the positive experience it was, if it weren’t for your understanding of the emotional and practical challenges I faced when I became a parent.
In my inexperience, I was ill-equipped to manage a successful transition on my own and, in hindsight, I should have been more prepared. I had read up and was well-informed to tackle labour and the early days as a mother, but less so when it came to my career and work-life integration. I knew I had a job to return to within 12 months, and working life was nothing new. Motherhood, on the other hand, would be a new challenge but, to the best of my knowledge, I was prepared.
What I failed to recognise was that ‘working life’ and ‘the juggle of parenthood and working life’ are two very distinct things, and that the latter would involve navigating a lot of uncharted territory.
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 felt valued and supported for my efforts.
As any good sponsor would, you saw the potential in me and encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone. You exposed me to opportunities, teamed me up with mentors to expand my learning, and promoted me through increased visibility. You not only trusted me to do my job to the best of my ability, but trusted your own decisions, stood by your values and aimed for a win while trying not to put anyone at a disadvantage. And, arguably, best of all you not only came to after-work drinks but navigated the conversation away from 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, and supported my wellbeing 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 a suitable replacement from within the company who hit the ground running. You hired her to start an entire month before I left to enable us to forge a working relationship and ensure a smooth handover.
2. Knowing the impact motherhood 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 staff and goings on in the office without pressure. You displayed an awareness of how motherhood might impact my identity, emotions and working life, offered support where I needed it to reduce stress, and assured me that my career and personal development were a priority too.
3. Helping me achieve work-life integration — I assumed that organising good childcare and negotiating reduced 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 retain. 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 childcare. Thank you for showing concern when my baby was sick, and giving me the time I needed away from the office to care for my child.
Respected and trusted to manage my own time, I never thought twice about making up lost work hours at lunch or after work. I took calls during my baby’s naps and sent emails in the wee hours when I couldn’t sleep after a feed, without question or resentment. Thank you for advocating flexible working and making it easy for me to maintain open and honest conversation 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 minimised. Thank you for not presuming my ambition would wane after I became a mother. You were empathetic of my needs when planning a team restructure and gave me authority to delegate work in a way that suited my career advancement.
So, thank you for your support, openness, guidance and flexibility to find personalised 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 company, but reinforced my faith in good managers who advocate for positive social change and workplace equality.
Written by Vanessa Geerling, Content Editor at Circle In.