Mother's Day Reflection: My Transition to Working Mom

On Mother’s Day 18 years ago, I sat holding my growing belly with anticipation of what was soon to come. In only a few months, I would become a mother for the very first time. I could imagine myself holding my precious baby in my arms as she cooed and smiled, but had a harder time envisioning how I would be able to leave her when it was time to return to work. Despite this, I was optimistic.

At that time, I was fortunate to work in Rhode Island which offered Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI*). This covered a portion of my income over six weeks of maternity leave, which was incredibly helpful in allowing me more time to recover and bond with Julia, my baby girl. I had accumulated vacation and sick time as well, which helped me extend my leave a few additional weeks. 

During my leave, I carefully crafted a plan for a slow transition back into the workplace before I returned full time. I courageously shared that proposal with my manager and received approval. Being fortunate to have family close by, I arranged to have my parents care for Julia a few days per week to minimize time in child care. My husband was supportive and would build “daddy days” into his schedule. And yet…

I had so much ambivalence as I approached my return and began seriously questioning how I could go back to work. My own mother had always been the ultimate caretaker and homemaker. Could I maintain my professional career while trying to emulate everything she had done as a mother? Of course I could. I was a professional with one master’s degree and pursuing my second. I was determined and passionate, both about being an adoring and nurturing mother and continuing to develop expertise and earn respect in the workplace.

I remember the morning I returned to work as clear as if it were yesterday. My daughter, a poor sleeper since day one, had a particularly difficult night. It was as if she could sense my own angst and was acting upon it herself. I managed to get about three hours of sleep and launched into our new morning routine. She was screaming as I dropped her off with her grandparents. So tiny, so fussy, could anyone console her but me? I was weeping, barely holding it together in the car as I drove to the office.

My colleagues, grateful for my return to the office, welcomed me back. But despite the supports I had in place and helpful words from my coworkers, I couldn’t do it. After only two days of crying in my office as I pumped breast milk and gazed at photos of my baby, I left to become an at-home mom, thereby delaying my transition to working mother for over a year. My self-confidence was shot and my personal identity in question. My journey from there is a story for another day.

The Boston College Center for Work & Family (BCCWF) recently released a new Executive Briefing, New Parents at the Workplace: How Organizations Can Create a Culture of Support, to address the issues I and many other new parents face when transitioning back to work. I have often wondered if my own story would be different had I had access to a longer paid parental leave, or a mentor or a coach to guide me through the leave time and return. I don't regret the way things worked out for me, but my own experience has led me to feel a great deal of empathy for other working parents and consider whether there is a way we can help ease their transitions.

As the Director of Corporate Partnerships at BCCWF, I have noticed how companies are striving to establish new and expanded supports for their working parents. They see this as imperative to attracting, engaging, and retaining the best talent, especially those in the Millennial generation who are committed to sharing the responsibilities of breadwinning and caregiving with their partners. New Parents at the Workplace: How Organizations Can Create a Culture of Support showcases progressive companies’ new parent policies to help provide other organizations with information and new ideas for developing a supportive culture.

Through generous sponsorship from KPMG LLP, BCCWF produced this briefing to provide guidance to organizational leaders and managers,  helping them understand their critical roles in the transition process. The briefing shares an overview of the latest research and trends relating to new parents and promising corporate practices from American Express, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, IKEA, KPMG LLP, Shawmut Design and Construction and others. Each example illustrates unique approaches and strategies around supporting new parents through benefits and offerings like coaching, extended parental leave, lactation support, flexible work, parenting and caregiver groups, and more.

Many thanks to these great companies and to author Judi Casey for partnering on this project. The new report is available at www.bc.edu/cwf. I hope that this report helps guide organizations as they acknowledge the complexities of work-life alignment and strive to support their new parents. These efforts are highly valued by employees and may be able to mitigate some of the stresses I experienced as a new mom.

Happy Mother's Day to all moms and a special shout out to those beginning their parenting journey! Feel free to share this report with your own organizational leaders as you prepare for your growing family. If the information contained within this briefing can help even one new mother or new father have a smoother and more successful transition, I will be truly gratified.

*Note: thanks to the efforts of Senator Gayle Goldin and her colleagues, the Rhode Island TDI program is now expanded with Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) to cover a wider array of caregiving situations.

Jennifer Sabatini Fraone is Director of Corporate Partnerships at the Boston College Center for Work & Family www.bc.edu/cwf @BCCWF

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