Discovering at the ripe OLD age of 46 that I was pregnant with twins, I have to be honest, filled me with mixed emotions! Joy, fear (quite a lot of that to be truthful) and of course, uncertainty of how I could run my own consultancy practice. How on earth was I going to manage all of this work stuff, be a half decent wife, help support and navigate the world for these two little human beings? Nothing that any ‘parent to be’ doesn't start to think about. Obviously to make things slightly more challenging, my husband and I had decided to renovate our house (why wouldn't you), packing up and moving out just five days after our beautiful baby boy and girl were born. (Keep reading - this isn't in my top tips for very good reason)!
This all did however lead me to reflect on what an enormous amount of change was about to come into my life and what needed my focus. I was already (rather annoyingly) noticing how people were starting to judge my new circumstance 'oh double trouble - well you're not going to work again'. Or would she?
Based on my experience (and knowing that I needed to play this right to keep the momentum in my business) it got me thinking that there must be a better way to do this maternity leave thing. I felt that making a few smart decisions could make a real difference to how others perceived me and how I felt about myself before, during and after quietly doing something utterly extraordinary.
1. Make Time to think
Make a clear plan. As with any time of significant change, how you conduct yourself is critical - people are watching YOU even more than before, but that's ok - you're in control here. Sad but true however, you have to work extra hard to make it clear you aren't just about to spend all day on the internet looking through the enormous options for baby accessories (you may do this activity clearly at other times) but as far as your network is concerned 'NOTHING HAS CHANGED' and your commitment to work is the same, in fact, even more so than before (not least because you realise how costly those baby accessories are)!
· Be honest, but keep it professional.
Over the course of your pregnancy a bunch of stuff will come up; appointments, not feeling so great or tired, so prepare and think ahead about how you will deal with these possible scenarios in a positive way. What will you say? 'Sorry I can't make that meeting but how about we grab 30 minutes over lunch to go through my input?' How will you manage any absence and proactively consider possible impact on your colleagues/clients/stakeholders? Remember you really don't have to advertise the reason for absence - your goal is minimise impact here not give people an ongoing update on your pregnancy progress! This will gently start to get you ready for your return to work – where you will move into the new territory of managing (one of the most stressful things on this planet) possible childcare challenges!
· Be more vocal
Vocalise more than usual about your work commitment, talk about how you are enjoying elements of your work, have made progress on key projects. Continually think about proactively & constructively looking to nip in the bud any possible thoughts (conscious or unconscious) that you may not be as committed to your work throughout this period.
· Be brave and visible.
Actively seek out the doubters, those who might be impacted most or those that you're unsure what they are thinking - talk to them about their concerns and how to minimise any impact.
By having some of these conversations it will soon start to become evident that you are putting a lot of effort into managing your transition and making it as smooth as possible for all concerned.
2. Handover early
The fact of the matter is - you can't be certain when your little darling(s) will decide they want to meet you. To balance out this total lack of control, take control of getting your colleagues ready.
· Craft your message
How will you break your news? What are the three messages you want to deliver to your boss/team/colleagues/clients/stakeholders?
‘I'm committed to a smooth transition?’
‘ I'll be back before you know it?’
‘This is an opportunity to give others a learning opportunity / test our succession plan?’
· Write a handover plan
Take away the risk and draft/agree a handover plan as soon as you share your news. This will also help those around you (who I'm sure are deeply delighted for you) avoid the mild panic that may set in from hearing your beautiful news!
· Keep being brave & visible
Make it visible - the what and how you are proactively engaging and preparing your colleagues to ensure the business survives (as best it can) without you.
3. Agree how you will stay in touch
This is a time of uncertainty. You don't know what this is really going to be like, how you will react (particularly if this is your first child), and what's going to be a doddle and what really isn't. The thing you don't want to worry about is work.
Whilst tips 1 & 2 will help here, putting in clear dates and times you will touch base takes the pressure off, says your committed, provides a clear time the team / colleagues know you're available and able to engage.
· Get dates in diaries
Keep being brave & visible. Whilst time is precious with the new bundle(s) of joy - this is your time and you need to protect that - it's important that you don't disappear completely.
Put calls or meetings (if that works for you) in the diary to catch-up with key people to manage any possible pre-judgements or concerns about your commitment to return to work.
· Write the arrival message
This is an exciting message - you get to share your news and introduce all of your hard work! Who is going to receive this message? Is there an opportunity here to position when you might next be in touch?
· Show your interest
I'm not suggesting that you spend hours thinking about how to do this, it only takes a few minutes - a simple forwarding of an article 'I was reading this and thought it might be helpful' , or to a client 'saw this in the news - what does it mean for you?'. It shows you're interested and keeps you in the loop.
The first few months of being a parent can get a little boring at times, this will give you something to keep you connected, your brain stimulated and the returns are far bigger than the effort.