Imagine you’re out on parental leave, gazing into the eyes of your sweet baby. You’re facing your return to work with some mixed emotions. Sadness at leaving your baby. But excitement at the prospect of professional conversations with other adult human beings. Ultimately, in a few months, you’re looking forward to returning to your role, one you know well and succeed in.
Suddenly, you get a call from one of your colleagues that turns your world upside down. You learn that there’s been a restructuring in your department, and that your boss has been let go.
You now have a new boss. Your boss’s boss is going to be different. And you are told you’ll have a new role upon your return.
The transition to parenthood can be a major life upheaval in the calmest of circumstances. Add to it significant changes in your workplace, and you’ve got a recipe for lots of worry and anxiety.
Given how prevalent this situation is, I reached out to a number of Mindful Return alums – and their partners – who have been through something similar. They all had great advice to share.
Here are their stories. And their best tips on navigating these big changes, both from a practical and an emotional perspective.
Mandy, a Lawyer Whose Project Ended and Who Moved During Leave
Mandy MacVey, mama to a 4-year old boy and a 21-month old girl, is a Partner at Schiff Hardin LLP. She worked for about nine years at the same client site, and that project ended while she was pregnant with her second child. Her husband was also offered a role with his company that required a move across the country. While 26 weeks pregnant (and with a 2-year old), she had to focus on “getting settled into a new house; finding childcare, an OB, and a pediatrician; learning a new city; and adjusting to becoming a family of four.” She was still working for the same law firm in a new city. But, she writes, “I felt like I was returning to a different job.”
From an emotional perspective, don’t catastrophize. While it can be tempting to focus on the “worst-case scenario,” spend the most time on the “most-likely scenarios.”
Communicate with family, friends, and your partner. Use all your resources to tackle challenges on the home front and get the support you need personally and professionally.
Remain non-defensive, optimistic, and resilient. The content of the Mindful Return course was very helpful for me in getting my mind focused on boldly tackling the return to work.
Remember that it is a marathon; not a sprint and this is just a chapter in your story. Treat each day as a new opportunity to make a step closer to your goals. Remember that despite the things you DON’T have control over, you DO have control over some very important things – your attitude, your reactions, and your inner dialogue.
From a practical perspective, do not make a permanent decision in response to a short term problem. Do the best you can each day. And remember that your best is going to be different every day (and that is okay). Set realistic goals for yourself, and celebrate small accomplishments. Apply all of your emotional intelligence and judgment in navigating new or changed relationships and group dynamics. Take care of yourself. Take the Mindful Return course. Develop a tribe of working mamas to vent to and gain support from. Keep your sense of humor.
Jack, an Analytics Professional in Tech, Who Experienced Reorgs During His Leave
Jack Sinden is dad to a 6 month old little boy and is loving the parenting journey so far. He’s an analytics professional in the tech industry, and his company went through several reorganizations while he was on paternity leave.
The most important thing to remember is that you are doing the best thing for your family by taking leave, and there will always be elements out of your control when working for any company.
It’s best to treat the situation as temporary. If you are unhappy with your situation upon your return, look for other options for income. I used nap time and bedtime during my leave as a time to search for a new job outside of my company, in order to provide a better and more stable situation for my new family. I am someone who always puts my family first. And although searching for a new job wasn’t originally on my agenda to balance with paternity leave, it worked out and we are in a better spot as a result.
Also, stay flexible. Flexibility is essential for parenting and for living a balanced life outside of parenting. Reorgs are terrible to deal with, especially if you are on leave while it happens. However, if you keep your family’s best interests in mind, you will find a way to come out on top.
It was tough for me to leave, because I had been with the company for 5.5 years and had a wealth of relationships. Seek someone to talk to about all of the changes happening to you, whether it’s your partner, a counselor, or a friend. Getting the burden off your chest will help tremendously and will provide you with mental bandwidth to make a larger big picture decision about how you will address the new challenges.
Claire, a Federal Government Training Specialist, Who Was Transferred to a New Office While on Leave
Claire T. Brolin is mama to 3 children (ages 5, 4, and 1). She is a training specialist for the federal government. During her second maternity leave, she was told she was going to be transferred to a new office (something that turned out to be a welcome change). Then, during her third maternity leave, she found out that her supervisor had received a promotion and would no longer be Claire’s boss. Claire ended up interviewing for her supervisor’s position, but ultimately got a new supervisor who reorganized the office.
There is no way to prepare mentally for big changes at work when you’re on maternity leave, because there is too much going on in your personal life. Sometimes it’s better to just wait until after the return to see how things have changed.
From the second experience, I almost regret going in for the job interview, especially when they asked me to do it four days early (at the last minute) when I was on leave. I was so drained after it, I just nursed my baby and fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon with her.
The baby was and will always be more important to me than changes in the office. I felt I was trying for the promotion for my family. It helped to see it that way, but I didn’t need that sort of work challenge at that time. It has been difficult to adapt to a workplace where the supervisors don’t have young children. I see my near future as stabilizing at work, so I can have more flexibility to focus on my home and children.
Katie, a Director of Program Management, Whose Department Was Restructured and Boss Was Fired During Her Leave
Katie Ellis is mama to a 2 year old and a 4 year old and is a director of program management. Prior to her first maternity leave, she had won a leadership award for her department. She and her boss discussed her returning to a more senior role after she came back from leave. About a month before her leave ended, though, her department was restructured, and her boss was fired. She came back to a new boss and new company leadership.
Three months after her return from maternity leave, she decided not to stay. “I felt like I had to prove myself for a role that I didn’t really want, for a boss with whom I had to build a new relationship. Though I liked my company overall, I had a strong feeling of being disconnected to the organization. My re-attachment post-leave did not grow quickly or deeply. I found myself stressed out about my long commute. And in talking with a colleague and mentor who was planning to leave the organization, I grew more interested in finding a new job rather than making it work with my current one.”
The advice I would give to an employee is to have an open mind and to find a way to ground yourself. Organizational changes are difficult, and even more so when you are trying to “return to the person you were before having a baby.”
I was unprepared for resetting my expectations for my own performance. Not only was I pumping, but I had to leave earlier in the evening to get my daughter, and I missed having people around me who knew me.
I recommend planning for regular check-ins (text, email, phone calls) while you’re out; both with your boss and your HR partner. Having two points of contact would help me to better stay connected to what was going on. For my second pregnancy and leave, I was at a different company, and there was a mild amount of restructuring while I was out. The difference was: my boss stayed the same, my work stayed the same. I felt more confident in the stability.
Emily, a Global Talent Development Program Delivery Consultant, Whose Company Was Purchased While on Her First Leave, and Whose Department Was Reorganized During Her Second Leave
Emily Roper-Parsons, mama to a 3 year old son and a 20 month old daughter, is a program delivery consultant for her company’s global talent development division. The company she worked for was officially purchased a few weeks before her return to work from her first maternity leave. During her second maternity leave, her department was reorganized, and her supervisor was let go during the reorganization.
From a practical perspective, the best advice I can give is to communicate – perhaps overcommunicate. My first time through the experience, that’s what helped me the most. There were a lot of changes in supervisors, companies, etc. So I made sure to talk to everyone, including the externally-managed parental leave group. I kept notes and e-mails. My VP also e-mailed me a brief summary of our conversation letting me know she had approved my leave (she did this to help ease my anxiety), which I kept as well.
From an emotional perspective, it was tough, because I was anxious and worried anyway, given this was my first child, and I didn’t know what to expect. I was fortunate that my husband is a grounding force for me. So we were able to keep an open conversation going, about what we thought needed to happen, who to talk to, and what a backup plan would be. ****************************************************************************
The clear themes here are to try and keep perspective. Communicate. And engage your support networks. I am so grateful to these five amazing working parents, for sharing their experiences and incredibly helpful advice.
Have you experienced big workplace changes during your own parental leave? How did you cope? Leave thoughts and advice in comments below.
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.