Why Parental Leave Is Crucial For A Meaningful Life
Before crossing into parenthood, it’s impossible to understand what raising a child will be like. There are, of course, tangible changes. The things you can see. For example, if you choose to breastfeed, this becomes the central part of your day. It is, quite literally, a full time job. And all the demands of nursing happen while your body is recovering from the physical trauma of birth and adjusting to the demands of holding a baby around the clock. Don’t even get me started on sleep deprivation.
But there are also the unexpected, yet fundamental shifts in your life. Things that came easily pre-parenthood and that I took for granted as part of my routine suddenly become mountains to climb; things like staying up-to-date on the news, carving out thirty minutes to exercise, and finding the headspace and energy to work. Honestly, sometimes finding time to eat in those early months feels impossible. A new baby impacts all of this and there is no guidebook to prepare you for these less predictable variables.
Today, my fourth daughter Holland is eight-weeks-old, and I am nearing the end of my last-ever parental leave. I’ve been thinking back about the beginning of each of my daughters’ lives and what I learned in those early months. In this season of my life, I am an entrepreneur. I founded my company, The Riveter, two years ago. I didn’t know what my leave would look like after Holland’s birth, as our national membership network has grown quickly to span seven states and we had just hired our 70th employee. I did step away – and I learned a lot. In fact, the lessons I learned will stay with me as I dive back into the deep end in August.
I’m certainly not an expert, but I do have some insights to share. Here are a few tips on building a parental leave when the work you’re leaving is your own:
- Block time!
After the first few weeks with Holland, I wanted to dip my toe back into work just a bit. The first couple of days I re-engaged, I found myself with a day full of meetings scattered across the hours. This felt exhausting because it required context switching–from working to mothering, and back again–and it didn’t leave me with a good chunk of time to focus on my girls. So I decided to schedule meetings over a 2-3 hour block a day, and block out my calendar for 4-5 hours a day to spend with family. The result: many magical days with all four of my daughters in our backyard, at the pool, or on adventures. I’ve cherished this time. When I am back full time, I plan to keep blocking time. It’s allowed me to focus, stay present, and know I have dedicated time for both family and work.
I have an amazing team, and my primary job is to step back and let them work their magic. This leave has really reinforced to me that I am building The Riveter with wonderful, smart, and daring people. When I stepped back from the day-to-day, I saw their power even more clearly. It’s easy to jump into the weeds–or out of my lane–when I’m mired in the day to day of growing a company. In the coming months, I’m confident I can look back at my leave to reinforce the power in delegation. My colleagues consistently work wonders and I’m excited to watch them continue to do so.
- Make lists!
I’m a list maker. I make lists at work and lists at home. It definitely “sparks joy” for me to cross things off one by one. I’ve always found it hard to remember to take care of myself in the early weeks and months after the arrival of a new baby. This time around, I made lists that included reminders for self-care and the things I needed to do to get through the newborn phase. I wrote down the most basic things, instructing myself to drink water, get outside, put on a face mask and eat snacks. (Snacks are so necessary!) I can fall into the same trap when work is busy, so the self-care instructions will be mainstay of my listmaking even when I’m back in my office all day.
- Put down the phone!
We all know work can easily feel like a 24/7 endeavor. We stay connected and available all the time. It’s a monumental shift to put down the phone and close the laptop for hours or days at a time. But I did it – many times – during my leave with Holland. In turn, I spent a lot of time sitting and nursing and daydreaming and staring at my baby’s sweet eyes. I also talked more with my older girls – and with my husband. And the world went on and the company thrived. So I will continue to put the phone in a drawer when I’m home.
All of this seems so simple on paper, but it took me stepping away from the office and into my parental leave to remember these lessons. I’m excited to begin anew, with a fresh perspective and adorable new daughter in the mix.
This essay was featured in the July 28th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.