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Like most working mothers, I made grand plans for postpartum life. I was going to actually unplug during my maternity leave so I could *finally* write the next great American novel and create an elaborate baby book detailing every moment of my newborn’s brand new life and clean out my dusty cupboards and make plans to sleep when the baby sleeps. I would ignore work emails and Slack chimes and instead focus on the parts of my life I had put on a backburner in the name of my career and a zero email inbox.
And to no one’s surprise, those plans went out the proverbial window the moment I brought my baby home. My son was three days old and laying on my chest when I opened up my computer and started writing copy and responding to work requests and scheduling phone conferences so I could virtually attend important editorial meetings. I didn’t take a single day off after I had a baby, and while there were some benefits to this decision — financial security, having something beside my newborn to focus on and ground me in my identity outside of motherhood, an easier transition to full-time work down the road — looking back, I wish I had stuck to my original plan and actually unplugged during those first few postpartum months.
While I can’t claim to be an expert in staying away from anything work-related, I can say that I’m great at learning from my mistakes. When my second son was born, I relied on the following tips to help me stay away from my computer and focus on myself, my family, and life outside of work. (I still haven’t managed to write the next great American novel, though. Maybe after baby number three?)
1. Be honest about your business-related fears during maternity leave & discuss them with someone you can trust
It’s completely understandable to be scared about taking any amount of time off after having a baby. Studies have shown that while mens’ careers do not suffer from starting a family, women’s do. So if you’re feeling apprehensive about taking a break from work postpartum because of what you’ll fear it will do for your business, know that those feelings are valid. Those feelings should also be explored in a safe space and with someone you trust, be it a business partner, a romantic partner, or a mental health professional. If you can talk candidly about your maternity leave fears, you’ll be in a better headspace to actually enjoy maternity leave.
2. Implement a detailed maternity leave plan prior to your baby’s arrival
While there’s a very strong possibility your maternity plan won’t be followed to the letter or implemented in the exact way you envisioned, having something in place that is shared with those who need to know it — co-founders, CEOs, managers, etc. — will give you a greater peace of mind when it’s time to actually take time off.
3. Lay out expectations prior to your leave
If you know it’ll be difficult to stay unplugged during your maternity leave, lay out your best-case scenario with someone who can hold you accountable. (For example, a co-founder who has no problem saying, “Get off Slack now, you heathen.”)
And if you won’t have an issue unplugging but know people in your company have come to heavily rely on you, share your expectations of what is to happen sans your absence so that everyone knows what is expected of them and feels empowered to meet those expecta†ions without you.
4. Complete or push back tasks that require your presence and/or area of expertise
If there are any lingering projects, deliverables, or acquisitions staring you in the face prior to your maternity leave, either make sure to complete them or find a way to push them back sufficiently enough to where you can pick them up again when your maternity leave is over. It will be nearly impossible to truly unplug if you have an important round of funding or a board meeting occurring during your maternity leave.
5. Stick to the boundaries you’ve set
Easier said than done, to be sure, but reminding yourself that those boundaries exist for a reason will help you actually stay away from your work email during maternity leave. And remember, this is not just your responsibility: have people hold you accountable, be it your business team, your partner, or your friends, so you truly do keep those boundaries in place.
6. Take the time to set up an OOO email reply
Not only will it alert anyone who needs to know that you are, in fact, on maternity leave and w you will not, in fact, be checking work email consistently (or at all!) and will return at a designated time, it will just feel good. I distinctly remember setting my OOO reply and feeling this rush of emotion. It made my maternity leave, and my impending foray into motherhood, feel all the more real.
7. Ask for advice from other seasoned mom business owners on how they unplugged during maternity leave
When in doubt, ask entrepreneurial moms what worked for them during maternity leave. While advice is never one-size fits-all, learning from other mom business owners will help you figure out what will work for you, what you can ignore, and how you can truly get the most out of your maternity leave by doing the absolute least.
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