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Yes, you can use maternity leave to advance (!) your career

Becoming a parent led me to become a better employee. Really.  

Yes, you can use maternity leave to advance (!) your career

If you’re anything like me, you love your job (or at least your career). And, of course, you love your baby.


You want to do this whole maternity-leave-and-return thing in a way that is thoughtful, doesn’t derail your career opportunities, and lets you develop an incredibly close and healthy relationship with your baby.

If you had told me during my first maternity leave that becoming a parent would have led me to become a better employee, with even brighter career prospects, I’m sure I would have laughed.

This idea seems to defy conventional wisdom. We tend to think of having a baby as something that makes us “less productive” or will lead us to “lose our edge” at work, right?

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But with the benefit of time, experience and a second maternity leave, I have since come to view parenthood and the maternity-leave-and-return experience as an opportunity to grow in a career, look at the world with a new perspective, gain some new skills and develop serious leadership muscles.

All while being connected to and nurturing beautiful babies.

What I am not talking about here is working more hours or spinning your wheels worrying about work while tuning out your baby.

What I am talking about is approaching your maternity leave and return in a mindful, thoughtful and strategic way so that you can grow in your career and focus on your baby in tandem.

Spending time answering these questions—and taking the actions they prompt—will leave you feeling confident about your plans and will signal to your team at work that you’re a committed and passionate colleague.

Here are some questions I challenge you to ask yourself before baby arrives.


Who will fill in for me at work?

  • How can I prepare my colleagues for my leave in a well-planned, thoughtful way?
  • Who will take over which projects, and do they have the resources they need to get the job done?
  • Who needs to meet whom? Have I made the necessary introductions?
  • Have I documented any routine processes I use that others might not know about?

What key conversations need to happen before I go out?

  • What conversations should I have with my boss about things like the length of my leave, who will cover what, how (and how often) I will communicate when I’m out, whether I can phase-back my return, and what work I expect to resume when I come back?
  • What conversations should I have with other teammates or direct reports about each of these issues? If other colleagues are taking over projects while I’m out, what are their expectations about what will happen upon my return? What are my expectations?

Can I get credit for a well-planned leave and return?

  • Can I build planning my leave into my official goal-setting process, and can I be evaluated on it at annual review time?

Have I figured out my childcare options?

  • Have I talked to others who have used the types of childcare options I’m exploring (center-based day care, in-home day care, nanny, nanny share, au pair)?
  • If I’m planning to use day care, have I put myself on any required waitlists?
  • Can I plan to visit one per month to spread out the visits?
  • Are there parent listservs in my area that might be helpful in this search?

Can I plan ahead for pumping?

  • Can I block times for pumping milk on my calendar now, so that I can carve out time in my day before other meetings get scheduled?

Who can help guide me through this?

  • Are there colleagues who recently have gone on leave at my organization who can tell me about their experiences?
  • What do I like about their approach? What do I dislike?
  • Are there new-parent communities (online or in-person) where I can meet other working mamas?

Is finding time to take care of myself a daily habit? If not, how do I make it one?

  • What fills me up and calms me down? If I’m not sure, can I journal about it?
  • What can I do now to make daily self-care a habit?

If you focus on planning a smooth transition, taking care of yourself and supporting yourself through new-parent communities, you’ll be in for a boost of self-confidence as you make this big life change.

And you’ll be telling your employer that you’re a committed team member who is and will remain a star employee.

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This year many of us have a tighter budget than usual given (looks around) everything that has happened. Coupled with the uncertainty of what Halloween might look like, many of us are reluctant to spend money on brand new costumes that our kids will outgrow by next year. I get it. But I also know that many, like me, love Halloween so much. I thought about skipping the celebration this year, but that just feels like too big of a disappointment in an already disappointing year.

That's why I started looking into alternative costumes—something my kids will be able to wear once the clock hits November, and maybe even hand down to siblings and cousins in the coming years. At the same time, I'm not a DIY person, so I wanted outfits that didn't require any sewing or hot glue. Last year I attempted using one to build my son's Care Bear costume, and of course, I burnt my hand.

So with some creativity (and the brainpower of my colleagues), we came up with these costumes that are both fun and practical, made with items that your children will be able to (and want to!) wear year around:

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

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My 3-year-old is eating peanut butter toast with banana for breakfast (his request), and we are officially running late for preschool. We need to get in the car soon if we want to miss the morning traffic, but he has decided that he no longer wants the food that he begged for two minutes earlier. What started off as a relatively calm breakfast has turned into a battle of wills.

"You're going to be hungry," I say, realizing immediately that he could care less. I can feel my frustration rising, and even though I'm trying to stay calm, I'm getting snappy and irritable. In hindsight, I can see so many opportunities that fell through the cracks to salvage this morning, but at the moment… there was nothing.

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