As my husband and I were planning on having a family, I was extremely particular in what I wanted out of my next career. In fact, that was the reason I left my previous job and began searching for the perfect place to enter the next chapter – fulltime working mom.
This was new territory for me.
Prior to this, I desired all the things young hungry professionals seek. Great role, great salary, strive to be as successful as you possibly can. But the fact is when I wanted to become a mom, my priorities and ideologies changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to be successful, but the title and salary raises were not what I was seeking. I wanted to rest my derrière at a company; in a career, that would not only respect me as a hard-working professional but also as a mom.
I’ve been fortunate to find a career and a company that is more than supportive of my pending transition. However, that doesn’t mean I can just sit back and patiently wait to enjoy my maternity leave. You know, not getting any sleep, the inability to find time to shower, feed a crying baby, change poopy diapers, be at the mercy of a benevolent dictator. Oh, I forgot the best part where I get to stare at her, smell her and cuddle the heck out of her all day!!
Enter a maternity plan.
You may not feel like you need a maternity plan, but if you consider the fact that you may be gone for a substantial amount of time from your employer, it makes sense to think about how to prepare your co-workers and employer for your exit and return from maternity leave.
What is a maternity plan? It is a document that includes what you will be doing before, during and how you will return from your leave. It is not generally something anyone at work tells you to do, but creating a maternity leave plan that you share with your immediate team is smart.
For those of you lucky enough to work at an employer where extended leave is part of the policy, this is how I recommend building your plan:
Section 1: Before Your Departure
I suggest starting with your due date (and sharing it) in the document. To create the initial part of your maternity leave plan, work backward for roughly 2 months prior.
Set a schedule of what projects and tasks you plan on accomplishing before you leave. Don’t be shy about bragging about the achievements you plan on making during the period before you leave. This document is, in many ways, proof that you’re not leaving anyone in the lurch.
Section 2: The Time During Your Leave
Create a list of all your ongoing responsibilities that cannot be completed prior to your leave. If you have direct reports, assign them some portion of your tasks. Notify them, and set up a time to talk about their additional duties and then detail your mutual understanding in your maternity leave plan. Get your manager’s approval, if necessary.
If there isn’t anyone who can cover for you, you may need to be explicit about that and ask for help from your manager or HR department with respect to hiring a temporary replacement.
State how long you plan to take for maternity leave. The understanding should be this may change, but if you don’t state your expected duration, you’re creating unnecessary uncertainty.
Plans are not written in stone, and they are there to help everyone understand your intentions.
Part of what you should anticipate is whether you will have to (or want to) do any work while you’re out on leave. You may want weekly email or phone check-ins with your team. Or maybe you want to keep in touch with your boss. Be clear with everyone what you want in terms of contact and when you want to be contacted. Whatever you say is fine, but the clarity will be much appreciated.
Section 3: Your Return
If you plan on phasing back your return from work, you may want to state that by coming back “early” but working part-time or remotely initially just to get back into the swing of things.
If you plan on asking for a different schedule after you have a baby, have a conversation with your manager about that and make it the focal point of your discussion about your maternity leave plan. Addressing how you will do your work under a new schedule and presenting it in terms of a business case and your employer’s point of view is important.
In sum, a maternity leave plan is something you should present to your manager to help both yourself as well as your boss and colleagues. Once approved, your plan should be shared with relevant colleagues and co-workers so they know your plans before, during and after your return.
Peace of mind during maternity leave is priceless, so it’s worth front-loading some thought and planning before your little nugget arrives.
And one last thing to remember, there really is no such thing as Supermom. So give yourself grace and enjoy this precious time!