Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New Reality: Work During Maternity Leave

For all three of my kids, I had very clear maternity leave plans. My partner, firm and clients all knew the plan. I knew the plan. But I didn't follow it. I was and am addicted to working on so many levels. Work is wrapped up in who I am. 

The kids welcoming Hannah home from the hospital. 

Does that mean I missed out on my babies when they were brand new? Probably. Am I sad about that? Yes and no. That sounds terrible.

I think the reality of maternity leave for women like me (and maybe some not like me at all) is that work doesn't really stop. Yes, there are plans and ways to minimize responsibility or people to transfer some work to but all of it doesn't just take care of itself. So when I was on all three maternity leaves, I checked email daily. Yep, daily. Even the first week after each baby was born. In a way, that first week is easier to check email than at two months. Brand new babies sleep all the time and have you up at crazy hours when no one else is awake. Two month old babies are alert, interested and have pretty regular schedules. 

What's my point here? 

I guess my point is that maternity leave isn't really a "true" leave anymore. Cell phones, lap tops and the feeling of being constantly connected is pretty normal these days. Same goes for people's vacations. People don't turn off. Some might have the choice but they still elect to stay connected. For me, that connection to the office kept part of who I was before the baby(ies) alive. It kept me grounded. At the same time, that connection to the office probably held me back from bonding with my babies in the most significant way possible. 

My opinion on this is mixed. I love the idea of a working person having total flexibility to stay connected from wherever whenever. I love the idea that people can strive to "do it all." I don't think the expectation from a company, boss or colleagues for accessibility during a time like new motherhood (or fatherhood for that matter) is okay. I have been lucky that my business partner didn't expect my addiction to being connected. I am sure there was appreciation of me staying in the loop, but not an expectation. That is a big difference. 

At the end of the day, I think we all need to openly acknowledge this shift in the realities of maternity leave. Women need to be honest with their willingness or lack of willingness to be connected during maternity leave. Hopefully people can make these decisions before they are in it and stick with it. Make a choice about how clear they want the line in the sand to be. I choose a pretty fuzzy line and it worked for me. 

I'm curious how fuzzy other people's connection to the office was during their maternity leave. Any one want to share?  

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