Guest Post by Erica Johansen
I had those times memorized. Among all the other craziness of returning to work and “life” after having a baby, that schedule became routine. It never got easier though.
My first day back to work I got settled into my office and prepared for my first pumping session at 10 a.m. At 9:58, I received a message that I was supposed to meet for an unscheduled meeting at 10 a.m. My master plan to balance it all went out the window just two hours in. I quickly learned that the only way I would ever get the support I needed to be successful as a working mom was by advocating for myself and others.
Parental Leave and Family Support Is a Strategic Investment
It was alarming after returning to work that there was an expectation to have taken my pregnancy and the newborn days in stride. I truly felt pressure that if I wanted to continue being considered high-potential talent in my company, I couldn’t show how hard it was. I knew this was ridiculous too. Would an athlete ever pretend to have an injury and continue to train at the same intensity? At some point, they wouldn’t be able to fake it any longer, and the risk of furthering their injury could be devastating.
The same way no one would ever expect a professional athlete to keep producing PRs through an injury, no one should expect a mother to continue the same level of production shortly after having a child. In the sports world, any reputable coach would tell the athlete to recover and only come back when they are ready to perform at their best. So, why don’t we encourage the same of our working mothers?
I understand that the athlete analogy isn’t perfect and it doesn’t account for some of the realities of our economy. Businesses, especially small ones, can find themselves deeply challenged when any employee has to take a significant amount of time off. But, here’s the thing – parental leave and family support, like pumping breaks, do not have to be viewed as an enormous expense. Legislative support via social programs and even private initiatives can provide an investment in our infrastructure and the economy. By investing in parental leave and family support, we are investing in the short term returns of having an engaged and motivated employee and the long term returns for a sustainable economy.
I’m optimistic – there are many smart, mature people and I am confident that with the right level of awareness, we can figure out how to support our working families while maintaining their professional trajectories. We can figure out how we can support dual-income households that want, and need, to grow for the future of our economy.
As activated leaders, it is our responsibility to advocate, and inspire others to advocate, for equity as a strategic investment. The reality of being human is that life will inevitably get in the way. If you are a leader and influencer of policy within your organization, I ask you to please approach family support and parental leave policies with empathy. Listen to the realities of being a working parent and, with a clear mind, recognize that “how it has been done” does not need to be the way it is done in the future.
Parental leave can be a wise investment.
If you would like to support breastfeeding working mothers, please consider a donation to La Leche League USA (LLLI), an international organization dedicated to providing support for breastfeeding mothers.
Erica Johansen is a marketing director and social media futurist with a contagious enthusiasm for leadership development, culture cultivation and social technology. She writes often on healthcare, social media and customer experience and can be found on Twitter at @thegr8chalupa.