In June 2019, the D3 family grew a little bigger when I welcomed my first child, Esther, into the world. While the transition to parenthood is unpredictable, D3’s support ensured that my eventual transition back to the workplace has been a positive experience. I took full time leave for 10 weeks, part time leave for 4 weeks, and then came back “full time” where I’m spending the last bit of my hours to work 35 hour weeks as we transition to daycare pickups and dropoffs and the changes that a daycare schedule brings to our home life.
The most unique and supportive aspect of my leave was that during those 4 weeks of being part time, I brought Esther into the office with me. That’s right, we plopped a crib right next to my desk and I let her play, sleep, and eat in the office twice a week!
Now that I’m back full time, I really wanted to know what made our executive director, Erica, and the rest of the team so supportive of this great experiment of having a baby in the office. Talking with Erica, it became clear that this was a natural consequence of D3’s desire to promote a culture of humanness and be the kind of organization that supports each of our unique needs outside of work.
This expands far beyond my maternity leave and it’s not the first time I’ve experienced D3’s willingness to flex. Two years ago, my sister was in a life-threatening bicycle accident (she’s doing great now) and the support I received from D3 then helped me be available to my family during an incredibly difficult time of our life. D3’s size means it has the agility to meet the needs of each employee instead of treating every single person the same. Every family has a different style! Esther was out and about at a few days old, supporting Detroit City FC a few weeks into her life, and attending her first Michigan game at 3 months old. It seemed natural to me to bring her into the office a few days a week.
Without the flexibility to match my needs as a new mom, it would have been a lot more tempting to just walk away from the workforce altogether. This recognition of humanness isn’t just a vague culture decision, it is a business decision because it digs deep into the question of employee retention. Losing employees, especially as a small business, means losing money to find someone new, changing team dynamics, and a loss of institutional knowledge.
While I realize that not everyone’s preferences include bringing a child into the office on a regular basis, having flexible schedules and work-from-home options are a huge benefit to new parents (and anyone going through a serious life transition).
I won’t lie, up until I walked in the door Monday morning on my first day back, I contemplated backing out. No one can work with a screaming baby and it had the potential to be entirely awful. This “experiment”, as I called it my first day, gave me a lot of perspective on being a working parent and made me eternally grateful for the support I get from my coworkers. Some of the major things I learned from this experience are:
- Ask. The worst thing that could have happened when I first asked about bringing Esther into the office and slowly transitioning back from maternity leave was hearing a “no”. And it’s not just about bringing Esther to work. I’ve had to be more vocal with my needs as a new mom in the workplace from figuring out how to pump and coordinating meetings to leaving earlier on a regular basis to do daycare pickup.
- Build trust with your team. While my hours are funky, my coworkers trust that I am going to get my work done. It’s required me being a little more creative with nights and weekends, but we’re figuring out a rhythm that allows me to continue working full time and spend a maximum amount of time with Esther.
- Put things in perspective. There is no doubt that my productivity was lower when Esther was in the office. However, think about your last long vacation, were you honestly able to get your brain right back into work the first day back? Realizing that with or without Esther, I was going to have a transition getting my brain back into work mode again, helped me realize that my expectations of picking up just as I had left thing that my expectations were probably unrealistic.
- Flexibility is key. Flexibility was required of everyone, not just me. There were days Esther was a lot more talkative than others, but no one ever told me to quiet her down or leave. I was empowered by my coworkers to continue making parenting decisions like where Esther would be most comfortable and happy on my own. Some days, that meant I left early, but other days it meant we just rode out the babbling baby talk together. And babies grow so fast, the way she was the first week was different than the last week!
- Practice. It might sound silly, but we did a few practice runs at home before I committed to bringing her into the office. I sat at the kitchen table and only allowed myself use of the pack and play and whatever else I thought I might bring into the office. My “job” included cleaning out my inbox of 9,000+ emails and unsubscribing from many lists.
- Have an end date. I don’t think I could have wielded both my responsibilities as a parent and employee indefinitely. Approaching this as a transition period to full time work helped a lot, because if it didn’t work, I knew in a few weeks I did have a daycare spot opening up. This took a lot of pressure off of a bad day.
Overall, I recognize that my personality and Esther’s behavior are two major components of this working well. I didn’t make the decision to pursue bringing her to work until she was six weeks old and I had a better idea of who she was. While this worked out amazingly well as a transition period, I don’t expect it to automatically be the best option when I have another child. This time though, being able to focus my energy on starting up my work-brain and then focusing on learning a new daycare routine was integral to a lower stress return to work. I would have been overwhelmed at both trying to work and leaving my daughter at daycare full time all at once.
If a mom or dad is ever exploring this as an option, I would be happy to talk to you further about what did and didn’t work well for me!