Lessons Learned While Preparing for Parental Leave

Maternity Leave Part 1Please welcome back Jennifer Warren, attorney and Academic Achievement Coordinator at Oklahoma City University School of Law, to discuss her own experience preparing for her second parental leave and the lessons she learned after her first leave.

During my first pregnancy I was working in-house as a litigator for a governmental entity. I was extremely fortunate to work in a family friendly environmental with other lawyers who were willing to help cover cases or issues that arose during my maternity leave. But even in a supportive office like mine, I remember feeling guilty about taking such a long leave (11 weeks!) and potentially causing my colleagues more work. I completed as many assignments as possible prior to taking my leave and rearranged scheduling deadlines to compensate for my absence, but I knew there would be at least a few seemingly minor tasks that would arise while I was away. No problem, I thought, I can manage a few small assignments while on maternity leave.

Flash forward to a month later, only 2 weeks post-partum, and I find myself cradling my new baby with one hand while typing emails on my phone with the other hand at 4:00 a.m. My precious bundle of joy was adorable, but I was an exhausted, emotional mess. What had seemed like some fairly routine work tasks a few months ago when I was sitting in my office (and still sleeping eight blissful hours a night) was now an overwhelming obligation.

I learned a lot from my first experience with parental leave and now appreciate that good advance planning can make the unique, fleeting challenging experience of caring for a newborn more enjoyable. Here are a few lessons I learned that may help you prepare for your own parental leave.

Lesson #1: Get on the Waiting List now!

Before you read on, stop everything you’re doing and get your name on same daycare waiting lists. Trust me – do it now! Before having children I had no idea how hard it was to find child care. Now I know firsthand that high-quality day care centers and trustworthy caretakers will come with long waiting lists, typically months, if not years. I am not exaggerating – it was three years before one popular daycare center in my city called me with an opening, at which time, of course, I no longer needed the spot! Whether you plan on using family, an in-home caretaker, a daycare center, or a combination of providers, make your arrangements as early as possible. It’s also wise to put your name down at multiple locations because you don’t want things to fall through and be left without a backup plan.

Lesson #2: Treat yourself like a Client

When it comes to informing your employer of your pregnancy and arranging your leave, you should treat it like you would a client matter: take it seriously, know the law and policies, and get everything in writing. Although you may want to tell your employer of your pregnancy early on because you’re excited about sharing the news or because you’re seeking accommodations, you are not required to tell them within a particular time frame. When you do decide to break the news, make sure you’ve already reviewed any applicable leave policies and present a plan for managing your assignments while you’re away. This could be a whole separate post, but make sure you know whether the Family Medical Leave Act applies to you and what it offers, whether your state offers any protection for parental leave, and what your employer’s specific policies are in terms of absences, paid time off, and temporary disability. Don’t rely on a human resources department or supervisor to know what you are entitled to by law. Be clear about what you are requesting and memorialize all agreements in writing.

Lesson #3: Complete as Many Assignments as Possible in Advance

Take a look at your calendar and note any deadlines that will arise while you’re away or within the first couple of weeks after your return and complete those assignments before you leave. If you put in some extra hours to get things done ahead of time you will have less to worry about during your leave and upon your return. While delegating or reassigning some tasks is unavoidable when you’re taking a long absence, getting the bulk of things done ahead of time will limit what you have to shift to your colleagues. If you do have to leave case files or other matters for a coworker to oversee, make sure you provide them with detailed notes, organized materials, and clear instructions. You will also need to notify your clients and opposing counsel of any changes. Thorough preparation prior to your leave demonstrates that you are still prioritizing your professional responsibilities and will likely earn you some goodwill with your coworkers. And a final piece of advice on this note – don’t assume you will have until your due date to prepare. You never know when baby will decide to arrive early!

Lesson #4: Evaluate your Finances

To avoid unnecessary anxiety during your leave, it’s helpful to calculate how your budget will change once baby arrives. Don’t underestimate the impact a new baby and parental leave can have on your finances. Child care and delivery costs can be significant, particularly if you have complications or special medical needs. Taking unpaid time off can also make a big dent in your budget, so be sure to plan in advance for any loss of regular income. And even for frugal shoppers, purchasing all the necessary baby implements (car seat, crib, clothing, etc.) can add up quickly. There are also likely to be many expenses you didn’t anticipate, so be sure to you have a good understanding of how you will budget for all of these changes.

Lesson #5: Avoid (or at Least Limit) Working While on Leave

Don’t make the mistake I did and plan on working while you’re on parental leave. You really can’t appreciate how time consuming and exhausting caring for an infant is until you experience it first hand, but trust me when I say that you will not enjoy the added burden of completing work assignments. Moreover, parental leave is supposed to be an opportunity for you to focus on bonding with your baby and discovering your new role as a parent, not stressing out about discovery deadlines. Not everyone will have this luxury, but to the extent you can, avoid working during your leave, especially during the first few weeks.

Thoroughly preparing in advance of your parental leave and then giving yourself permission to genuinely step away from work will allow you to more fully embrace the experience. One final tip – enjoy sleeping in on the weekends; it may be awhile before you get to do it again!

For more helpful advice, check out these articles:


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About Jennifer Warren

Jennifer received her B.A. in Politics cum laude from New York University and her J.D. with highest distinction from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She has several years of experience in the areas of juvenile law and civil litigation and is the Academic Achievement Coordinator at Oklahoma City University School of Law.

Comments

  1. Loved this, thank you!! More of these posts, please!!!!

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