6 Tips for a Successful Parental Leave

With Mother’s Day still fresh in our minds and Father’s Day on the horizon, Leighanne Levensaler has some advice for first-time parents based on her experiences following parental leave.

On Mother’s Day, I spent the afternoon gazing at Yosemite’s waterfalls—a road trip gift from my husband and sons. As I sat there soaking in all that tranquility, I found myself reflecting on how I am managing life as an executive and mom of two young children.

At Workday, I am fortunate that I don’t have to pull apart my professional and personal lives, and am able to bring my authentic self to work every day. My authentic self is about the contributions and connections I make in my professional setting, but also about being a mom who loves sharing pictures and talking about her kids.

Yet as working parents, we’re not always easy on ourselves, are we? We might feel guilt that we’re not pleasing everyone, or create extra stress in our lives by failing to manage our time. Or, we might have difficulty letting go so that others can step in while we take time out for a big life event, such as the birth of a new child.

For me, the most difficult times I’ve experienced as a parent were in those weeks right after I returned from my parental leave. So with Mother’s Day still fresh in our minds and Father’s Day coming up shortly, I wanted to pay it forward to first-time parents with some things I learned about returning to work after time off with my babies.

Plan for Your Departure

When you have a lot of responsibilities in the workplace, it can be overwhelming to think about how you’ll hand off those duties to others during your parental leave. But it is so critically important to set the organization up for success while you’re gone.

Starting several months before your leave, reach out to others on your team and have many conversations about who should be on point for each of your responsibilities. Decisions will need to be made—who is the best person to make them? Build clarity with your organization’s leadership team, your own team, and cross-functional colleagues about how the organization will operate without you during that time.

Resist the temptation to call into work weekly to “see how things are going.”

Then, Let It Go

The business isn’t the only thing that needs to plan for your departure—you also need to plan for it, mentally and spiritually. You’ll probably feel a lot of emotions as you prepare for your leave, such as guilt, anxiety, and vulnerability.

These are natural feelings, but really try to take that worry off the table. Chances are you’ve got a great team of talented individuals, maybe some you’ve helped hire, and they’ll make wise decisions and keep driving the business forward. In terms of any insecurity, keep reminding yourself that if you’re a high contributor offering high value, your organization will welcome you back with open arms. Resist the temptation to call into work weekly to “see how things are going.” Seek out mentors to help you work through any trepidation around leaving, so that you can do so with a more peaceful mindset and give your new child the focus that he or she deserves.

Onboard Back After Parental Leave

Returning from leave can be both scary and exhilarating, especially if you work at a fast-paced company. It’s a bit like jumping on a moving train. After 12 weeks of leave from Workday for Finnley (now 4 ½), there were many new faces, processes had changed, projects had been completed, and new ones started.

Just as new hires onboard for a new job, give yourself the chance to onboard back into your role. Spend time listening and learning what’s changed since you’ve been gone, and be open-minded about those changes. But most importantly, give yourself some grace. Your team will understand that there will be an adjustment period as you get back into the groove

Build Your Support Network

Returning to work after leave can be a big adjustment. I missed my sons so much in those first few weeks. (And I was extremely tired —my boys don’t sleep!) It was during those times that I found it very helpful to spend time with other parents, including moms of newborns also returning to work—my “tribe”—taking breaks for a walk and a talk, or sharing pictures of our kids between meetings.

But don’t wait until you come back to work to build your support network. Many women get nervous when they have to break the news to others that they’re pregnant. Of course, everyone is always over-the-top happy for you, but it does help alleviate any nervousness when you have others to talk to about your pregnancy journey.

Every day there will be a series of tradeoffs, and you’ll have to decide what moments matter the most.

Plan Your Work and Family Moments

I think all parents worry about doing enough for work and for our families. That’s a normal debate to have. I try to be intentional about my time—on good days, I schedule every hour of my day. And I do that to make space so I’m present for my family and for my work when they each need my time.

Recently, I had to reschedule a meeting because my son’s school was having an art show, and I wasn’t going to miss seeing the artwork he was so proud of on display. Another time, I needed to attend an important offsite management meeting that conflicted with a choir concert, so I chose to miss the concert. Every day there will be a series of tradeoffs, and you’ll have to decide what moments matter the most.

Occasionally, someone may get disappointed by such a decision, but setting expectations helps. Every Sunday night, I share my schedule for the upcoming week with my family—how it impacts me, how it impacts them—and we talk about it. I let my kids know when I can pick them up from different activities, and when I can’t. They see me make adjustments, and I ask them to make emotional adjustments. It’s not always a comfortable conversation, but it’s the right thing to do.

Find the Right Workplace Culture

When thinking about where you want to be in your career in the coming years, don’t forget to think about what kind of workplace culture is right for you. If growing a family is on the horizon, you’ll need an employer that supports that choice.

As I mentioned previously, the best culture is where you can bring your authentic self to work every day. My coworkers and I work incredibly hard, but we also share stories about our family vacations, sporting events, and school achievements. We gather with our families at Workday’s annual company picnic and Halloween celebration. We prop each other up, celebrate our successes, and sometimes we’ll even cry together.

So here’s to celebrating moms and dads everywhere—and not just in the months of May and June. And for those who expect to become first-time parents, have faith that you will manage it all through planning, self-care, and the support of a great workplace.

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