Culturally, there exists a gross misunderstanding of what maternity leave looks like. For far too many, serene pictures of a newly minted mom lounging around her pristine living room come to mind; her sipping on a cocktail while she enjoys her “vacation.” The reality, of course, is anything but. From the postpartum bleeding, hair loss, and other physical ramifications of pregnancy and childbirth, to the raging hormones and the sleepless nights, maternity leave can be overwhelming at best.
But there are an undeniable number of professional skills moms learn during maternity leave that make them an invaluable member of any organization or workplace environment; skills that any employer who equates maternity leave to a “vacation” would undoubtedly benefit from. Whether it’s the ability to manage time efficiently and effectively, to finding out-of-the-box ways to collaborate with her co-parent or support system to navigate the highs and lows of new motherhood, there is no doubt that maternity leave, while difficult at times, can make us better and more hireable employees. HeyMama’s first-ever Motherhood on the Resume campaign, powered by Lincoln, aims at encouraging moms to highlight these skills via LinkedIn and their resumes, so that the people who think maternity leave is simply “vacation” can gain a better understanding of how motherhood actually enhances your existing skill set and arms you with an entirely new, upgraded bag of work-related tools.
Of course, the purpose of taking maternity leave is not and never should be to refine your workplace skill set. This is a time to bond with the tiny potato meat sack you spent 40 weeks or so growing inside your body, or the one you waited patiently to come out of someone else’s. But like every other aspect of motherhood, the experience of maternity leave can and often does impact and enhance every other part of our identity, including the identity associated with your job or business.
Here are just a few of the many skills a mom can refine while she’s on maternity leave:
- Expectation Management
We’ve all been there: We had this very specific idea of what our maternity leave would look like, only to watch it fly out the proverbial window the moment that tiny newborn was placed in our arms. And while having expectations is great, especially when we consider the best ways to meet deliverables and goals, learning how to manage those expectations so we can best set up ourselves and our teams for success is even better.
You’ll receive no quicker a crash course in managing expectations than going through the ups and downs of maternity leave, realizing what you thought maternity leave would be and what it actually is are two very separate things, and readjusting to find the good in this new reality.
Your breasts started leaking while you were grocery shopping? No biggie, you’ll just wear your baby instead. Forgot an extra diaper and now you’re elbow-deep in an epic blowout? Have no fear, you were never going to use that stained t-shirt balled up in the back of your car anyway. Didn’t plan on using formula but are having trouble producing milk? Hey, that’s what formula is there for.
There are so many instances in which a new mom has to adapt to better overcome the situation she faces, all based on the environment she is in, the baby she now has in her home, and the support and resources she has available to her. We can easily parent the baby we envision having in our minds — parenting the one we actually have is an entirely different ballgame; a long-running lesson in adaptability.
After you’ve had to fashion an old t-shirt into an impromptu diaper, you can adapt to any work-related environment or issue no problem.
While continuous attempts to get your newborn to latch, figuring out how your ridiculously elaborate breast pump works, or learning how to master the art of the swaddle will certainly teach you patience, it’s also learning patience with oneself during the postpartum period that will prove to be invaluable. Whether it’s bucking outdated and harmful ideas of what your postpartum body should look like, ignoring “bounce back” messages, and realizing that, yes, it takes time to learn how to be a mom, learning how to be patient with yourself as you embark on this new journey will certainly come in handy when you take on a new client, pivot to a new business model, or lead a new team.
Everything that goes into becoming a mother relies on one’s perseverance. From trying to conceive to carrying a fetus in your body for 40 weeks, more or less, to going through labor or delivery or watching a loved one or surrogate experience birth, motherhood is all about seeing yourself through difficult times. And that’s certainly true of the postpartum period, when you’re asked to persevere through post-birth healing pains, endless baby blowouts, hormonal changes, not to mention any pregnancy- or birth-related complications that have lingered.
Tldr? If you can persevere through that first postpartum bowel movement, you can persevere through any work-related issue known to man.
Show me a mom who has to set a breastfeeding and breast-pumping schedule and I’ll show you someone who has mastered the art of meticulous organization. From categorizing when you pumped and determining how often you must pump, to coordinating pump and breastfeeding times, it’s easy to assume it takes a masters in business to properly prepare to go back to work when and if you’re breastfeeding.
Turns out, all you need to be is a mom.
- Time management
There are only so many hours in the day, and those hours seem to shrink significantly when you’re on maternity leave. If a new mom wants to continue to maintain her home, feed, clothe, and bathe her newborn, keep a nap schedule, and find some time for herself (even if that’s a much-deserved nap), time management is the name of the game. And it is a game countless moms have certainly mastered during maternity leave, in nothing else to make sure that newborn sleeps when they must sleep.
A mom on maternity leave is, at the very least, doing at least five things at once. She’s holding or wearing her newborn while breastfeeding, meal planning for the week and while simultaneously catching up on her favorite show. She’s cooking after successfully getting that stubborn baby down for a nap, while washing another load of spit-covered laundry and clearing out the dishes. She’s taking care of her previous children while nurturing a newborn —
a feat unlike any other.
Moms are constantly multitasking, but rarely is there a time where those skills are put to the test like maternity leave. Thankfully, moms are known to rise to the occasion, and to the benefit of their current and future employers.
- Positive mindset
There is arguably no greater disappointment, no more frustrating a moment, than spilling a bottle of pumped breast milk. And yet, somehow, moms manage to pick themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps and tell themselves: “Hey, it’s OK. I got this.” And of course, you don’t have to be a breastfeeding mom to experience these same moments during maternity leave — talking yourself into leaving the house with a new baby; finding the courage and positivity to leave that same baby with someone else for a much-needed night out with friends; telling yourself that societal expectations are for the birds and where you are, in this moment, is all that matters.
Maternity leave is a master class in harnessing a positive mindset and finding the best in every situation — a coveted skill in any workplace that is bound to facilitate a disappointment moment or two.
- Inspirational self-talk
Having a positive mindset regardless of your surroundings is one thing, but learning how to talk your way through those difficulties, even with the best of mindsets, is another. A positive mindset will only take you so far — you have to be able to internalize those ideas and then talk yourself up, even when you don’t feel like you can. It’s “fake it until you make it” on overdrive, and many a maternity leave has been survived by moms talking their way through them.
Contrary to pervasive social messaging, moms cannot and should not “do it all.” Yet finding a way to let go can be difficult during the postpartum period. Trusting someone else to take care of your newborn — a nanny, a wet nurse, a family member, even your parenting partner — can feel like a mental landmine, and yet it’s a vital part of learning how to mother as a member of your community.
Moms know when not to hover; when to step back and let someone else parent; when to trust your village to do what they need to do to help and support you. And that absolutely translates into the workforce and creates leaders who don’t micromanage but trust their team to get the job done.
- Customer service
The entirety of your maternity leave is devoted to pleasing a tiny human. Enough said.