Your first born is on their way. In your excitement, you prepare your home with care. Many meticulous hours on Pinterest and Etsy combine to create the cutest and most welcoming environment. You crowd source non-toxic diaper cream, change your diet and spend months immersed in mom’s groups on how to blissfully bond with your bundle of joy. Lurking within the hyper-culture of gender reveals and baby bump photos is an important aspect of your life that landed on the back-burner while your bun has been rising in the oven: your career.
As a mother of two, I have a vital truth that every expectant mother needs to hear.
Preparing to childproof your career is as important as the color scheme for your nursery. In fact, this effort is far more important than any aesthetic decision you make.
Career culture is catered for the inclusion of a woman. Conversely, what it is not geared for is a mother who has a sporadic schedule, is low on sleep or is multi-tasking the well-being of little humans while simultaneously completing all of their expected deliverables on time.
The consequences of being a mother didn’t rear its ugly head until I was back at my desk – feverishly trying to complete a submission set so I could beat the pickup deadline to collect my son.
A month later I was in my annual performance review and in the following weeks, I left my job. Defeated and bewildered, it took a while for me to figure out how my return to work had gone that badly.
I thought I had parity in my profession as a woman, then I had my first born.
As many first-time working moms will confess, being a mom is harder than being a woman.
3 Career Realities to Accept
1. Some jobs are not conducive to your new reality as a mother. You are not going to be able to change a business model or company culture just because you are having a child. They have a bottom line, as should you. Therefore, you need to be an advocate for yourself. You are the only one who can.
2. Men are not singularly to blame for the struggles of mothers. Women can be just as demanding on a mothers’ expectations at the job as a man. For example: do not assume that your Director of HR will magically be accommodating just because she is a mother. Women can be just as adversarial to your motherhood as men. Parenting discrimination is not the same as gender bias.
Furthermore, resist the urge to compare yourself to your mothering colleagues. They may have different scenarios at home or a support network that allow them to be more present than you. Maybe that perfect mom lives two blocks away and her mother is the equivalent of an in-home nanny. Bless that woman if that is her reality. I wish that could be me, but that is not my lot in life. If I say anything, get this into your head, the career capabilities of mothers are not created equally.
3. What you should know: Your role will change. Your responsibilities will shuffle while you are away. It is considered discriminatory for that very thing to happen but the problem is, after being gone for a meager six weeks to three months, that is exactly what happens. An eager young employee sees your hole as the perfect opportunity for advancement. They should, it’s a cunning move. And you, while snuggling and nurturing the life of your precious one, are helpless to defend yourself. In today’s fast paced career world, the billable work moves on. It is a harsh statement, blunt and completely lacking in sugar. The law states that this is not allowed to happen. The reality however, is – it will.
8 Steps Toward Childproofing Your Career
1. Read up on employment law. Review your company manual. Knowledge is power.
2. During pregnancy, continually have frank discussions with your HR Department. The sole focus should not linger solely on the length of your absence or where you will pump but what happens after you return. Be open to revisiting that discussion repeatedly once you are back to fine tune your expectations and deliverables. Your child has regular well-checks, your HR Department needs you to have well-checks too.
3. If your current role is dependent on meeting fast-paced, reoccurring deadlines, discuss if an internal move is possible to more of a managerial role as opposed to a production-heavy assignment. Ask your company if you can return at part time for a few weeks to adjust, or incorporate flex time into your salary expectations.
4. Ask about the expectations on time. When it is acceptable to take time for appointments and unpredictable circumstances. Will the time away from the office need to be made up? Or will it be more flex time where sometimes you stay late to make up for it? An environment where every single hour of your company time is tracked is a difficult scenario for you as a new mother. It works for the company profit margin as an employee without children, but as a new parent, it is torture.
5. Ask the mothers who work at the firm pointed questions. What is it like working there as a mother? What were their pregnancy and postpartum experiences? How does she find balance?
6. Ask your co-workers that you trust who have been there longer than you. If you hear about past employees who ‘left for new opportunities’ within six to nine months of returning from leave. This should raise a red flag.
7. When these conversations are occurring, listen to your inner judgment. If you are not feeling a sense of willingness and openness to communicate or negotiate, begin looking for a new position. If you are often struggling to compete at this stage, before kids, that struggle will only magnify, despite your best efforts.
8. It can be daunting and scary to start the process of finding a new job. Before you go on leave, take the time to polish up your resume and supplemental materials. Begin networking and put some feelers out to see what opportunities may be available. The same conversations that you are having with your HR Department and colleagues should also be happening with your network.
I started a new job when my son was nearly 10 months old. It made all of the difference in the world. Had I not found my current firm, I likely would have left the profession for a minimum of five years. Take it upon yourself to find your fit with an employer that meets your new family lifestyle.
Kids have a lot of demands. You can’t control illness. You can’t control availability at their pediatrician for clinic visits (which seem to be ALL the time). You do not have control when a case of hand foot mouth sweeps through daycare. You have no control if a chronic condition develops that sidelines your kiddo for five months of reoccurring ear infections, you can’t control the sleepless nights nursing through cluster feeding and teething.
Any employer who is family-friendly knows parenting and knows it well. They communicate that understanding continually and reassure that all is well as you rush out for the next unpredictability. Find that employer.
The purpose of preparing this guide is to assist you, the expectant mother, with an arsenal that I wish I had been armed with. Imagine if every expectant mother harnessed their pregnancy preparation and placed that effort into their career planning. Perhaps more mothers would experience their own versions of career success. So, put the nursery color swatches on the back burner and launch on childproofing your career. It is daunting work that entails uncharted territory and difficult conversations, but once you have done it, you will be glad that you did.