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The Phases of Motherhood – Two Perspectives

By Jayne Chater

The Mother’s View

Women have been having children for years, it’s no big deal.

“I am going to continue with my ‘normal’ life once the baby comes along.”

“Surely she can continue with her workload when she returns.”

These are the type of comments we still hear today, where people still have the misconception that having a baby is a quick hiccup in everyday life. This is not the case.  There are transitions in and out of environments both personally and professionally that we need to consider.

Imagine having a child is like implementing a change programme. It has phases, it happens over a period of time and certainly isn’t just a one day event.

Phase One – “Yikes/Yippee, I’m Pregnant”

This is the transition out of the organisation for a period of time. This is the first ‘window of danger’ to be aware of. To ensure a successful transition out, here are three key areas to focus on:

  1. Start to plan a handover at least two months out from leaving date (if only to allow yourself to be able to fully let go).
  2. Talk about expectations with people around you for a successful handover or transition out (your manager, peers, family etc).
  3. Document the agreed actions so all parties are on the same page regarding your transition out.

Phase Two – “Yikes/Yippee, A New Baby”

This is the period when the mother is on leave, and the timeframe for each individual can vary quite considerably. This needs to be treated as another transition, phase or change in the process, rather than a short period of leave. To ensure you remain engaged as a new mum while absent, consider:

  1. Keeping the communication lines open; whatever is happening, is it working for you? Keep in touch with your team mates and manager if you are keen to be kept involved.
  2. Consider and plan what your ideal timeframe and transition back looks like (even if this is six months out).
  3. Ask for help, support or suggestions from others (you don’t have to do it all yourself).

Phase Three – “Yikes/Yippee, I’m Returning to Work”

This is the period when the mother transitions back to work. Another “danger period” to be aware of. This is where lots of returning mums fall off the career track and their talent is lost as a result of either returning to a role with less challenge or deciding not to return at all.

  1. To ensure a successful transition back to work consider the following:
  2. Formulate a transition plan including communication with all key people around (family, manager, peers etc).
  3. Start slowly by working less hours back at first and see what works and doesn’t work.

Allow time to transition your child into his or her new environment as well.

These are a few tips to help you as a mother make this long term change as helpful as possible within each stage. Learn from each phase and consider your learnings and share with other transitioning mums.

The Manager’s Perspective

The phases of motherhood from a mother’s viewpoint are only one side of the coin, with the other side (in a professional context) being the manager’s perspective.

Facing the Unknown

Broaching motherhood for the first time can be scary and daunting for the mother, with the unknown causing a sense of anxiety that comes with planning for something that you know nothing about. Sure, you can plan delivery dates, however less than 5% of babies are born on their due date; and sure, you can plan for a return date to work and childcare, but you do not know how your child will adapt.

Managers also have to face some unknowns: whether the mother will return to work, when she will return and how will her new transition affect her in a professional environment?

For the manager of a new mum, it’s a transition into a new team structure (without the mother), sometimes with a replacement for a short period of time, which requires the team to transition again when the mother returns to that team. And any manager who has a direct report with commitments outside work (children, family, sporting or religious), faces different challenges as the manager of that individual.  To ensure successful transitions from a manager’s perspective, consider the following:

Phase One

As a manager, one of your team advises you they are pregnant. First and foremost, congratulate them! It may seem a shock to you, but remember a manager who seems to care is a manager people will come back to work for. Once you (and possibly she) have got over the shock:

  1. Talk about expectations from their side and yours, what needs to happen to ensure a successful handover. Document these so both parties are on the same page.
  2. Find the relevant information from Human Resources to help them and you to be well informed of polices and procedures to follow.
  3. Check in regularly with how they are and where possible identify someone to handover to prior to their leave.
  4. Document a clear communication plan for while they are on leave, what they want to keep informed about and how often they want to be contacted. Most mothers want to be kept in the loop, whereas in the past, managers left them alone as they didn’t want to intrude.

Phase Two

Your team member departs for parental leave, leaving you with a changed team. To ensure your team member remains engaged while absent, again, first and foremost, congratulate her when the baby comes along. Perhaps give her a phone call and see how mother and baby are doing. Many mothers we work with hugely appreciate a phone call, even if it ends up being a voicemail message.

  1. Commit to your communications plan, and keep the new mother informed with what is going on with the team and the organisation that may be of interest. Keep in touch to see if she would like to be contacted more or less as her expectations may change. Keeping the communication lines open will make her more likely to feel she can still come to talk about challenges or requests they may have.
  2. Keep your existing team in the loop with the development of the new mum and what that means for the team in terms of changing workload, replacements etc.
  3. Contact the mum one month prior to returning to confirm what information she needs to prepare her for her return.

Phase Three

This is the stage where lots of returning mums fall off the career track and their talent is lost as a result of either returning to a role with less challenge or deciding not to return at all. This re-entry phase back is hugely important. To ensure a successful transition back to work consider the following:

  1. Treat the returning mum as a new employee to the team. Ensure she has a work space, relevant tools (computer) and perhaps a welcome back morning tea to touch base with new team members or any changes that she may not be aware of.
  2. Where possible allow flexibility to help her transition back to the organisation e.g. working hours, working from home occasionally etc. It is in your interest to retain her knowledge so allowing her time to successfully transition back will reward you and the team in the long run.
  3. Allow time. Keep checking in with the returning mum and the team to ensure they have what they need to perform at a high performance level.

Key Success Factor

Our research shows that the manager is a major factor in whether the transition back to work is successful or not for a returning mum. So, as a manager of a returning mum, you have the power to ensure a successful transition back to the organisation, not only for the mother returning, but for the team she is returning to. Think carefully about how you can best support the mother and the team through this period.

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