For years now, I’ve been insisting that becoming a parent – and taking parental leave – actually offers us amazing leadership opportunities. Today’s guest blog post by Mindful Return alum, Claire Brolin, proves my point. Claire paints a beautiful picture below about why working mamas make amazing leaders. But she also inspired me with her own leadership, by writing this article for her colleagues at work, only a few weeks back from her maternity leave with her third child. Now THAT is a leader.
I recently took the Mindful Return course online to prepare for work reentry after my maternity leave. As a result, I now appreciate the leadership skills I have as a working mother. After the course, I was also able to solidify some thoughts I have that keep me motivated. I’ve been using these sayings and mantras as reminders at work.
Flexibility, positivity, prioritizing, resilience, and planning are all skills that I’ve developed as a working mother. And they all happen to be leadership qualities. I’d like to share my perspective with you, so you can use my lessons learned for your leadership journey. I get the chance to practice these skills every day as a working mother. And I have some easy mantras you can use in any similar situation.
I had a big day planned at work. After I put on the only suit that fit, my child wiped her face on it. Then, she swooned from a high fever. True story. What’s the lesson here? Your day might not go as planned…and that’s okay. You don’t always wind up with a bad outcome. The little one was fine after some rest and fluids, and we were able to enjoy some kid’s TV together. As a mom, I have so many unexpected situations that my tolerance for change is high. I know my best plans can change at any moment.
Backup plans are great. For example, it’s helpful to have alternate childcare plans in place, or be able to lean on backup team members at work. But plans change. Words to repeat in this situation: “change is natural, normal, and healthy.” Focus on the benefits of unexpected events, like creativity, spontaneity, and making more robust plans for the future. Change is inevitable both at home and at work. You will get through it.
Enjoying beautiful moments is crucial for survival as a new mom. Having a baby means waking up every 2-3 hours with the baby to “provide childcare.” It also means recovering from a physically challenging, life-changing event. I was tired, but while I was visiting the daycare at lunch, the baby just laughed for the first time! This moment gave me the energy to continue on. I wrote it in iNotes and my mindfulness journal app, and took a photo. I reminisce the next time I feel too tired or too busy. And I feel appreciative again.
How can you use this technique at work? Keep a file of thank you notes, photos of celebrations, and awards. Document your happy and successful moments, and take a peek when you’re having a rough day. When you look back at your documentation, think “thank you”. You can be thankful for an accomplishment. For a person who recognized it. And even for the joy you feel when you remember.
A wise woman once said, “There is no balance, something’s always gotta give.” At the time, I didn’t appreciate the lesson. I didn’t want to compromise my family or my work. Figuring out what is most important, doing that, and delegating the rest, are skills that great leaders and working moms have.
For example, I get home from work and the toddler wants chicken nuggets, the kindergartener just vomited, the baby needs a diaper change, and now there’s a pile of laundry to do. I can only help one child at a time. I have to triage the situation and prioritize quickly. Vomit now, diaper later, leftover chicken will be fine, and I can do laundry tomorrow.
If you’re not a working mom, you can use this same idea for your “to-do” list, or even with a schedule for the day. And it won’t be as messy. There are going to be urgent things you must address. Some things you can do later. There are things that would be nice to do. And there are even things you might be able to put off or give to someone else. Perhaps a colleague could finish a task for you at work. The takeaway is that only some things are urgent. “If it doesn’t serve me, I will let it go.” In this case, letting go means delegating or saving it for later.
At the end of a long workday, and after an evening of dinner, bath, and bedtime stories with the children, everyone is in bed, and the kitchen is clean. I finally put my feet up, reaching for my cup of tea, when I hear crying. Yes, I want to rest, but I comfort the child, change the sheets, and remain patient despite the lukewarm tea. That’s resilience.
One lesson I learned from motherhood is that nothing lasts forever. Labor finishes. Illnesses pass. Babies become children. You can apply this idea to any extraordinarily unpleasant meeting or task at work. For example, you have to draft a policy directive or regulation with an entire team (ouch). This phase, or this project, will not last forever, even if it takes a year. You will gain some teamwork experience. And when it’s done, you will have a stronger policy that reflects multiple perspectives. Eventually you will return to your normal duties. If you have to revise later, that’s okay. Your mantra: “nothing is permanent.”
Finally the kids are sleeping (again). I load the coffee pot, wash the bottles, and set two bags of frozen, expressed milk in the fridge to defrost. Then, I pack a lunch, diaper bag, and extra clothes. I set my enormous backpack and the baby carrier next to my water bottle, keys, and badge. Ready! Packing for the next day, in advance is part of planning. Babies need lots of supplies to be away from mama for eight to ten hours. Apply this strategy of packing ahead to work, even if just for the next day.
Say you’re leaving the office at 5pm. At 4:45pm, check your schedule for tomorrow. See if you can do anything in advance, like printing materials for meetings, organizing your to-do list, or preparing a notebook with a fresh pen for notes. Set out your clean coffee cup for easy refills. Water your plants, and organize your desk. The next morning when you come in, even if it rains, you hit terrible traffic and wear two left shoes, you will have everything in your office under control. Your space is ready for you to focus on work. And you won’t have to scramble to start your day. A few minutes of planning can make a huge difference: “I will plan intentionally for a good day tomorrow”.
Next Steps on Your Leadership Path
These are just some of the examples of how I practice my leadership skills on a daily basis, and tips I remember so that I can apply them to my career. Whether or not you’re a parent, these skills are invaluable.
If you’re a new mom or dad, or thinking of becoming one, check out the Mindful Return program, an awesome class designed just for you. It’s online. You can do it in your spare time any time of day. And there are lessons for both parents. (The version for moms is here, and the version for dads is here).
I’m a full-time working mom of three little girls under the age of five, so if you want to get in touch about any working mom issues, ideas, life hacks, or concerns, please feel free to reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claire T. Brolin is a Training Specialist for the federal government in Arlington, Virginia. She started her federal career in 2006 as a Presidential Management Fellow after receiving a Master of Arts from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. In her spare time, she volunteers as the President of a new employee resource group for employees with disabilities, the Corporate Advocacy Network for Disability Opportunities (Can Do). She is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader and gives free, public sessions monthly at the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria, Virginia. She also enjoys spending time at home with her husband, three daughters, twenty koi, and silly cat.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.