Family First: Why Flexibility After Maternity Leave Is Just As Important As The Leave Itself
Returning to work after having a baby is one of the most personal and difficult decisions a new parent can make. The thought of leaving your child with someone else (usually a stranger) to care for them feels completely unnatural. I love my job - I have loved it for all 7+ years that I have been a part of AppNeta - but my new reality was that I loved my son more.
My career was, and is, such a part of my identity that I never even thought I would question whether or not I would return to work after having my son. Don’t get me wrong - I knew it would be hard, but nothing can prepare you for the emotions that flood when that day comes. My maternity leave seemed to fly by and suddenly I found myself trying to reconcile what felt like two distinct identities: my role as a professional, and my role as a mother.
The average paid maternity leave in the US is 4.1 weeks, and while I was lucky enough to have 6 months, I’ve learned that it never feels like enough time. (Although thanks to my incredible team who took care of things in my absence, I was able to truly enjoy my time.) Still, you worry you’re going to miss things, that your relationship with your child will change, that you won’t have enough to give. I remember in the days leading up to my return wondering how I would ever balance it all. Would I constantly worry that I’m falling short, either at work or at home? I’ve been back for 8 weeks now, and the truth is that while those days do happen regardless, flexibility as you return to work is equally as important as maternity leave, but not talked about nearly as much.
According to a recent study by Ovia Health, 34% of women don’t return to work after having a baby. Of those that do return, 73% did so for financial reasons – because they had to. While I was lucky enough to have the choice, I chose to return to work because I love my job and because I knew I would have the support and flexibility to make it work.
That same Ovia Health study found that 77% of women cited flexible scheduling (e.g., gradual return to work postpartum, modified hours, consistent breaks, the option to work remotely, and the ability to shift hours to accommodate childcare conflicts) as something that they wanted — and needed — from their employers. We hear so much today about the importance of paid family leave, but there is another important piece of that conversation that we have to address if we want to keep women in the workforce: support and flexibility once they return.
For me, the biggest concern about returning to work was that I wouldn’t be able to see my son throughout the week. In Boston traffic it takes me anywhere from 90 minutes to over 2 hours each way to commute into the office. That equals 3-4 hours each day in the car when I could be spending that time with my family.
I started to think about it, and the sheer logistics of it all stopped me in my tracks. To be in the office a standard 8:30am-5pm, I would need to leave the house by 7am (before my son is up), and I’d be lucky to make it home by 6:30pm - just in time to say goodnight. I knew that seeing my child for 10 minutes a day was not something I could make work. And that was the moment it hit me: maybe I can’t make this work.
One evening a few weeks before I was due to return to work I received an email from my manager, our CEO, Matt Stevens. In that email he wrote, “I want you to know that I’ve got your back 100% as you figure out the right balance for you and your family.” In that moment, I let out a deep breath (and, I’ll admit, a few tears) that had felt as if I had been holding it in for weeks. Since my return, I have been able to balance a combination of working from home and flexible hours when I am in the office. This flexibility has given me vastly more time with my family, creating a balance that allows me to bring my best to both work and home.
While I’m still very much trying to figure things out, and this is only the beginning of my journey, for now I feel grateful that AppNeta has allowed me to juggle my two favorite roles: an AppNetian and a Mom.