My son was born in October 2016. When I found out I was pregnant, I knew that the broken parental leave system in the US wouldn’t affect me since I was at a progressive company with generous benefits. Essentially, our policy was, “take however much time you need.” Recently we realized that not having an official policy is a problem. You see, the policy was developed by our President, who is a white male extrovert who has never been a primary caregiver.
We’ve had three women have babies at Abacus in the last several years, and each one asked for a different amount of time off. Some had no trouble asking for more, and others worried about how much was too much.
People need to plan, and even a generous policy doesn’t seem so generous if it is not in black and white. So I decided to use my leave as a bit of a test run to craft our firm’s policy. Here is what I learned:
Every. Week. Matters.
Before I gave birth I was unsure about how much time I was going to take off, but I told my colleagues to expect 16 weeks. After my son was born, the first two weeks were a blur, the following six weeks were tough, and the next four weeks were more of a, “hey, we might actually be able to pull this off.” In all, I took the full 16 weeks off, which was longer than I expected to take. By the time I went back to work, I was really missing my job. But I know many people who needed more time than that, and each additional week of leave made all the difference for them.
Policy: Primary caregivers are provided up to 24 weeks fully paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. They are required to take at least 10 weeks off.
Secondary Caregivers Need Time, Too
My husband was able to work with his employer to take a few weeks off, then work from home for a few weeks. Having him around those first few weeks was critical as we tried to figure everything out together. To this day, we are equal caregivers and both have the confidence to be on our own with our son.
Policy: Secondary caregivers are provided up to five weeks of fully paid time off.
Transitions are Hard
Going from cuddling your sweet little one to putting on real clothes and interacting with the world again is a big jump. Emotionally, going from 0 to 8+ hours away from your baby a day is a hard adjustment to make. My first week back, I worked part time/remotely to start getting my brain back in work mode, and it made a huge difference.
Policy: Primary caregivers are offered an additional two weeks of half-time employment at full salary when returning to work.
Have Baby, Will Travel
I’m on our company’s board, and we had a board meeting scheduled in Northern California soon after I came back from leave. I live in Southern California and the idea of leaving my four month old son for three days was a non-starter. So I brought my son and mother-in-law with me for the week. Because I knew that my son was only 10 minutes away while I was working allowed me to focus on doing my best work. He was brought to visit the meeting a few times during the day (causing the baby-crazy board members to fight over who got to hold him first) which further lessened the anxiety of being away from him.
Policy: For primary caregivers who need to travel and would like to bring their child with them, we pay for the cost of bringing a caregiver on work trips (including airfare, hotel room, and meals) in the first year of baby’s life.
I attend conferences and other full time events where bringing my son is not an ideal option. But he is also breast fed, and rather than having to schlep coolers across the country, there are ways to have your breastmilk sent home while you are away.
Policy: For breastfeeding moms who are traveling on Abacus business, we will reimburse the cost of shipping breastmilk home through a service called Milk Stork.
Support is Needed Long after Parental Leave
Kids get sick, doctor appointments need to be scheduled, and plans change. Having the flexibility to put your family first is critical.
Policy: Abacus’ telecommuting policy is designed to support working parents as much as possible.
Going back to work after having a baby is never easy. Sure, getting to drink your coffee while it is still hot is more amazing than you remember, but you also can’t just go back to how things were before.
Not every company is able to offer such generous leave policies, which is part of the push for more state/federal sponsored programs. But as an owner of a rapidly growing company that prides itself on work/life balance and employee enjoyment (read: retention), I have found myself in a unique position to make some changes.
When people know that their companies care about them and their families, they are happier, better, and more loyal employees. In a lot of ways, companies can’t afford not to have good parental leave policies.
Stay tuned for my next blog where I explore the services and products that have made being a working mother vastly easier.