Should a new mom or dad shorten parental leave for a special opportunity that comes up at work? This excellent question came up last week in the Mindful Return course. It’s a common question, so I wanted to answer it publicly here on the blog. Here was this new mama’s specific question:
Question from a New Mama: Oral argument in a case I’ve been working on and an important client meeting were scheduled for several weeks before I’m due to return to work from parental leave. It would be a huge blow to miss this opportunity to work on the matter and meet with the international client. In this situation, how do I decide whether to return early and work on this? (I do not have childcare arrangements yet that would allow me to seamlessly return.) Or should I just wait until my leave is complete?
Mindful Return’s Advice: First, mama, there is no wrong answer here. Truly, there isn’t. There’s sitting with the question, yes. Getting quiet, and really listening to your intuition and feelings, yes. Mapping out your options, yes. But choosing the “wrong” answer? No.
Note the Energy Behind How You Talk About Your Options
Next, I’d reflect back that the energy your words convey is strikingly different between the two options. You describe the work piece as an “opportunity” and a “huge client”. Missing it would be a “huge blow.” And waiting to go back after parental leave would be “just” waiting.
Don’t judge the feeling behind these words, but observe how different they seem. Remember that it’s okay to be excited to return to the work you were so engaged in before your baby arrived. (See Excited to be at work, mama? It’s not a parenthood crime, I promise.)
Strive for an Abundance Mindset
I work hard daily to try and see the world through a lens of abundance rather than finite opportunities. Remind yourself that even if this exact opportunity won’t come around again, many others will. Perhaps the chance to spend the day with your child at the age of 3 months and 16 days old won’t come around again. But a million other ways to bond with your child will. Perhaps you’ll miss the first time the baby does something new. But that “first” doesn’t really exist until you see it, anyway.
Maybe This Isn’t All or Nothing
It’s worth brainstorming options that can help you feel less trapped by the binary situation you set up in your question. Can you return for a few weeks to catch this special opportunity, then go back out on leave for a few weeks, either right afterward or perhaps later in the year? On the childcare front, can your partner take a few weeks of leave? Or does your company have a back-up care option that might prove useful as a stop-gap for a few weeks until you figure out a more permanent solution?
Think About Where Opinions and Pressures Are Coming From
From your question, it doesn’t sound like you are being pressured by your workplace to come back sooner. But if you are, that’s a warning sign. I have heard of situations where managers pressured new parents to return earlier than they had planned. I’ve also heard of situations where parents were mocked and shamed if they took a leave that was viewed as “too long,” or if they didn’t work while they were out on leave. If that were part of the equation, I’d be concerned about giving into those pressures (and, quite frankly, concerned about how parent-friendly your workplace was).
Also, if you’re feeling guilt or shame – from yourself or friends or (well-meaning) family – about returning “early,” consider where that is coming from, too. In parenthood, I have truly had to stick to mantras like “you do you,” and “comparison is the thief of joy” to save my sanity.
This Parental Leave Conundrum Is Your Initiation
Congratulations, mama. Truly. You have a beautiful baby, a wonderful job, and now a whole community of working parents who are here to support you on the journey. This particular question is perhaps one of the first of a million you’ll face as a parent and working mama about how to navigate this dance between work and home. We all have different styles. We all want to dream big and be realistic. And we all love our children desperately and also have our own identities and passions.
I come back to where I started, mama. You can’t make a wrong choice here. And this amazingly supportive community of working parents has your back, no matter what option you choose.
(For more Mindful Return musings on a related topic, see How Much Time to Take for Maternity Leave?)
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