Parental Leave: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

When I first was making my maternity leave plan, I said that I was going to come back part-time at 12 weeks. When Liz, the head of People for Trello, reached out to me and said "You know, you can change your mind if you want to..." I scoffed. I love work. I thought to myself. What will I do just sitting around the house alone all day?

So, less than 4 weeks into my maternity leave, Trello was acquired! Yay! But this threw a bit of a wrench into my carefully planned and organized maternity leave. The person that I reported to was leaving the company, and I would be reporting to someone else. Not to mention there was a whole lot of organizing to do to figure out where my team would fit in to the new structure at Atlassian.

I decided to come back early, and started conducting meetings with 1:1s with my team members again. Most of the meetings were biweekly, but there were a few people who wanted to meet more frequently and I tried to accommodate that. Luckily, my husband was working from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays and was able to watch the baby if I wasn't able to get him down for a nap at exactly the moment when I had to go meet.

After 8 weeks of this, it was time for me to get back to work part-time. The plan was that I would be working on Tuesdays and Thursdays only and my husband would work from home and watch the baby. Needless to say, this did not work. While I loved work, and I loved being back in the saddle, I couldn't devote my attention to the work like I wanted to. Two days wasn't enough, especially with all of the changes happening, and when I was working I was thinking about the baby, and when I was with the baby I was thinking about work.

So, this only lasted two weeks. After that, I decided that I wanted to go back on maternity leave, and redelegated all of my responsibilities. Luckily, Trello and Atlassian were kind enough to help me organize this, and I've been back on maternity leave since. My team were incredibly supportive, even though sometimes I still feel a little bit guilty that, as the person running the team, I'm not there to help navigate some of the tricky stuff that can come with acquisitions.

This has been a really long roundabout way to get to talking about something that I think is a pretty common problem. If you are a driven, type-A parent, you probably want to get back to work as quickly as possible, but things might change after you have your baby. With that in mind, I have made a list of a few things that I wish I'd considered prior to leaving:

  • Are you wanting to come back early because you are afraid your team will realize they don't need you?
  • Will you come back part-time first? Will that be enough time to do the work you need?
  • Are you coming back for yourself or for your team?
  • Are there things that your team specifically needs you for that no one else can do?
  • Are you worried that your team will resent you if you stay on parental leave?
  • What are you sacrificing at home to come back to work?
  • Will using the entirety of your parental leave set a good example for the rest of your team/company?

Maybe coming back from parental leave early is something that would be a good fit for you, but considering the points above is something that I would seriously recommend prior to making your plan. For me, I thought that 12 weeks would be enough time and I would be champing at the bit to come back. While I was, and it felt good to be working, my motivations for coming back were maybe not in the right place. I also found myself feeling very guilty for coming back and then leaving again, and wished that I had just gotten it right in the first place.

Hopefully this quick checklist helps you accomplish just that! On a more business-y and less personal-mental-health note, check out the post I wrote for Kayako about my three-step plan to prepare for parental leave.