Is There a Better Way to Return from Maternity Leave? One Lawyer Mama Argues YES!
This week I’m honored to have Lori guest blog about her experience as a successful lawyer and how to do a better return to work! I had the pleasure of meeting her (over the phone) I was blown away at the depth of her knowledge and how she helps so many women gracefully return to work through her online course experience. She is on my Resources list for a reason. Also subscribe to her newsletter for the Saturday secrets…they are super helpful. Welcome Lori!!
As a lawyer, I’ve been trained to think and write in a logical manner. Explore options; think through arguments; marshal facts; present them in a way that makes sense. This type of thinking suits me: I love order.
Enter, motherhood. A baby who cries for who-knows-on-earth what reason, or refuses to drink from any of the 15 bottles you buy him. A house that seems to self-destruct simply by your stepping in the door. And a schedule so unpredictable you never know when you go to sleep one night whether you’ll make it to work the next day, or if the next superbug from daycare will suddenly attack. THIS is not logical. THIS is an order-lover’s nightmare.
After having my first baby, I learned to go with the flow a bit better, more or less coped with my return to work, and picked up some serious prioritization skills through my parenting adventures. Enter baby number two, though, and I just couldn’t seem to hold it together after my maternity leave ended. 1 child + 1 child felt like 85 children, no one was sleeping (ever, it seemed!), the to-dos on a daily basis weighed down my mind and my spirit, and I was a mess.
Though I worked in an office where plenty of women had gone out on and returned from maternity leave, no one seemed to be talking about how hard the experience was or what we should be doing about it. And though there seemed to be an educational curriculum for everything about new motherhood (how to write a birth plan, how to massage your baby, how to puree baby food…), I hadn’t found any robust educational information about how to plan for and return from maternity leave without losing your mind.
Determined to fill this gap and help new moms re-frame their leave experience, I put on my logical lawyer hat and got to work reading and researching ways we can do this leave-and-return thing differently.
My mission? Find a way for new mamas to view their maternity leave and return as a career and leadership opportunity, instead of a career impediment.
And find a way for them to feel calmer, happier, and more confident in the process.
The results of this research led me to develop a four-pronged approach to a calmer, more successful maternity leave, and to create a course called Mindful Return that brings new mamas together in an online community to work through these four prongs together:
- Creating a Mindful Mindset for Return: Learning how to BE with my children when I’m with my children, and BE at work when I’m at work has been critical both to maintaining sanity and to feeling competent in each of these two spheres of my life. Mindfulness is about being aware, awake, and present in your life, and starting habits like a gratitude practice (writing down 5 things I’m grateful for before bed each night) have really helped me to be more calm and present.
- Learning the Logistics: There are so many logistics to learn in new working motherhood, from how to get out the door in the morning, to how to nourish yourself, to how to pump milk, to how to negotiate a flexible schedule, and how to fit all the odds and ends in every week, just to name a few. I found that making a serious commitment to learning logistical tips, tricks, and techniques really helped to free up my mind so that I could be more present on a daily basis.
- Turning Leave into Leadership: I’ve grown frustrated with workplace cultures that seem to encourage us to apologize for taking time away (to do a normal human thing like have a baby), or somehow make us feel less committed, less competent, and/or guilty for being back (sometimes all at the same time). As working mamas, we are *powerhouses* of leadership skills. We’ve learned to prioritize like nobody’s business, anticipate (reasonable and unreasonable) client demands, roll with the unknown, and problem-solve on the fly. One key to getting my own head in a better place about leave and return was learning how to identify and tout these skills and believe in my own ability to be a leader.
- Staying in Community: This is the biggie, mamas. Sitting alone on my kitchen floor wondering how I was going to get everything done wasn’t a smart or healthy way to approach my own sense of overwhelm. I’ve since learned the immense power of relying on both in-person and online communities for all aspects of life, but especially for massive life changes like bringing a baby into the world. Committing to connecting with friends and colleagues convinced me that the power of “me too” is a life- and sanity-saver.
When I set out to fill this returning-to-work educational void, I had a strong hunch my four-part approach would work for others, given how much it had transformed my own thoughts about going back to work. Now I don’t just have a hunch, though, I have evidence – every lawyer’s dream! – that this approach truly makes new working mamas’ lives better. By being in community with others going through this transition at the same time, I’ve watched new mamas gain the confidence to ask for the type of schedule they want. Spend more time during their leave enjoying their babies instead of worrying about their return. And I have felt the power of giving a common language to mamas’ concerns.
So to conclude, my argument is YES, mamas. You CAN do this maternity leave and return thing in a calm and empowered way. You don’t have to just survive this period, but there are things you can learn that will help you thrive in the process.
I rest my case.
Lori Mihalich-Levin is the founder of Mindful Return and the creator of the Mindful Return Course, which helps women plan for and make the transition back to work after maternity leave. She runs the 4-week, online course every two to three monhts, and women from all over the world have joined the supportive Mindful Return community to reduce their stress in the maternity leave and return period. Lori is also a Partner in the Health Care practice group at an international law firm called Dentons and is also mama to two beautiful red-headed little boys.