In addition to the steady paycheck, another big perk of working in the corporate world is often the benefits package. For some, that includes six to 12 weeks of maternity leave.
When you become an entrepreneur, the safety net quickly vanishes, and you’re left all alone to find your way. For this reason, many female business owners barely take a break after giving birth — because they simply can’t afford to be away from their company for an extended period of time.
Fortunately, there are ways to prepare beforehand so you can spend quality time with your new bundle of joy without putting your business at risk. Here are a few factors to consider before taking maternity leave, and how to transition back into the office without feeling overwhelmed.
1. Create an Action Plan
So, you’re going to be a new mom? Congratulations! Now, it’s off to the drawing board you should go, almost as soon as you learn of the exciting news.
While I’m not suggesting you hold a conference call, send out a mass email, or gather all your employees to fill them in right away, it’s definitely a smart idea to start making mental preparations until you can no longer hide that you’re expecting.
When the word finally gets out, don’t be surprised if your employees are taken aback or worried about what the future holds for them. There’s always the chance that you’ll fall so in love with your new bundle of joy that you’ll abandon the business to become a stay-at-home mom.
To put their mind at ease, communicate that you’ve been working on a plan of action behind the scenes, and that business will continue as usual while you’re away.
Wondering what this plan should entail? A few suggestions to help you get started:
- What is the primary function of the business? Who will ensure the company stays true to its mission during your brief departure?
- Is there someone working by your side that can oversee operations while you’re away?
- What are your day-to-day tasks? Start identifying individuals who can fall fill the voids.
- Are staff members cross-trained?
- In the event that your leave lasts longer than expected, are your backups equipped with the tools needed to handle the increased workload for an extended period of time?
And most importantly, don’t forget to keep your clients in the loop once the news is public.
2. Build Up Your Cushion
Do you have several employees, or are you a one-man show? The answer to this question will dictate how aggressive your savings goals need to be to cover your absence.
If you’re fully staffed, your employees will probably be prepared to steer the ship while you’re away. But if you’re a solo-preneur, chances are you’ll be delegating a bulk of your workload to a trusted confidant and professional during your maternity leave. Both scenarios come with their own set of unique challenges.
As I mentioned in 15 Money Principles for the Newly Self-Employed, no one will be as passionate about your business as you are. Next to your biological children, including the bun in the oven, your business is your baby.
So you know exactly what it takes to keep things running smoothly and foster expansion. Unfortunately, those who will assume back-up roles in your absence may not be equipped with the same vision required to properly identify opportunities for growth or potential risk factors, so you need to build a financial cushion to hedge against risk and declining revenues in your absence.
It’s my hope that things go as planned and you have a healthy baby. But what if things take a turn for the worse?
You could deliver far earlier than expected, or be forced to remain in the hospital as a patient or at your newborn’s side due to complications during the birthing process. Your health and that of your baby will take priority, which means your business could suffer a major financial hit and even be forced to close its doors. So be sure to set aside enough funds to keep things operational if complications arise.
3. Slowly Transition Away From Office Duties
The toughest part about trying to make arrangements for maternity leave is the small thought that lingers in the back of your mind: What if things don’t go as planned and I’m forced to stay away from my other baby (your business) much longer than I expected?
As much as I try to prepare moms for the uncertainty of childbirth, many fail to heed my warning and are left picking up the pieces when everything comes crashing down. That’s why it’s important to develop a Plan B. Once you’ve identified who will cover for you in your absence, slowly begin to delegate functions so they can get acclimated with their soon-to-be roles and ask any questions or tie up loose ends before your depart.
If you’re a control freak like me, this may be more difficult than you imagined. But it could also be a blessing in disguise. You may learn that someone else is better at a function than you are, and relinquish the task permanently so you can shift your focus to core business activities.
Every woman desires a pleasant birthing experience that aligns perfectly with her personal plans, but I know firsthand that babies have a mind of their own. The first time around, I didn’t know what to expect — nor did I grasp that what awaited was far more nerve-wracking than anything I’d ever imagined. My first son was born only two weeks early, but with digestive issues that resulted in endless wailing and fits at feeding time. And of course, we were walking zombies for several weeks until our bodies finally adjusted. The second time around, I thought I had prepared adequately. That’s until he also decided to make his grand entrance ahead of schedule — three weeks early.
4. Disconnect for a Few Weeks (or Months)
Before I gave birth to my first son, I was reminded on several occasions to cherish the younger years — because once they’re gone, you never get them back. And I have to agree that this statement is spot on.
As a fellow mommy-preneur, I understand how passionate you are about the business you started from scratch and how you fought to keep hope alive even when the road was rocky. But I can assure you that missing those precious moments for the almighty dollar bill isn’t worth it. Money is tangible and more can always be made; time isn’t.
My suggestion: Plan to completely disconnect from your entity for a least a few weeks after giving birth so you don’t miss out on all the joy your new arrival will bring to your life. It may be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done, but I can assure you it’s a decision you won’t regret, especially if it’s the first time around.
Although my first son was rather fussy due to stomach discomfort, he was so precious during his first few months of life, and I can’t imagine how I would’ve felt had I not spent as much time as I did with him. My heart melted each time he gripped my finger, rested his little noggin on my chest to hear my heartbeat, or gazed into my eyes and smirked at me. Nothing in the world meant more to me during those moments, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same.
5. Schedule Follow-Ups
After several months of waiting patiently (or impatiently) to meet him, your new baby is finally here. A few weeks pass and your body is beginning to adjust to your new life as a mom. You’re more than eager to get back into the swing of things, but let me be the first to warn you that diving back in head-first may not be such a good idea.
Instead, follow the reverse pattern you used to delegate tasks before departing, and ease your way back in. You may not be fully prepared for what awaits you on the other side.
If you’re accustomed to working non-stop, boredom may have taken its toll while sitting at home. But returning to major administrative or operational issues is sure to evoke unnecessary emotions, especially if your hormones are still imbalanced, that could send you flying off the handle.
A better alternative: Schedule meetings or working lunches with each of your department leaders, or those who were left in charge during your absence, to discuss current operations and any major milestones achieved or concerns you need to be made aware of. This is the perfect way for you to get up to speed and process the information so you can develop an action plan prior to your return. And it’s proactive on your behalf — extinguishing a fire burning all around you is the exact opposite.
6. Balance It Out
I used to cringe each time I heard the phrase “work-life balance,” but now I understand the significance. Although my children aren’t at all babies anymore, I sometimes find it extremely difficult to balance it all.
Being a wife to a very business-minded entrepreneur, a mother of two active young boys, and a business owner — all at the same time — is extremely hard work. But over the years, I’ve found ways to make time for both the people I love the most and my third baby, the business. Here are a few tips if you struggle to find your balance:
Make the Most of Nap Time
Your new baby’s needs will most likely require you to completely adjust your schedule. And at the top of the list is sleeping patterns. Unfortunately, most newborns have their days and nights mixed up, so you may find yourself worn out after many restless nights and unable to do anything during nap time but nap yourself.
But as your baby grows older, her sleep patterns will (hopefully) change and you’ll be able to find more rest. When this happens, take advantage of any nap times throughout the day. It may not seem like much, but you’d be surprised by how much you can accomplish in that brief window.
Become an Early Riser or Night Owl
If you’re finding it difficult to spend time with your new arrival and manage all the work-related items on your plate, try getting caught up during hours when you know your little one will be asleep.
This is definitely a major sacrifice, but you’ll feel accomplished and maybe even rest easier once you’ve caught up on your long to-do list. And if you’re able to check off a few additional items, you may even get to squeeze in a nap yourself during the day.
Take Advantage of Favors
Was a friend or family member gracious enough to lend a helping hand so you can unwind? You may have reservations about letting your little one out of your sight, but that doesn’t mean you have to reject their offer. Instead, invite them over to keep the baby entertained and tend to their basic needs while you get caught up on a few projects in the other room.
Lunch date over forthcoming deadlines? I think not; well, at least not in my world. In fact, I can count on one hand the times I’ve headed out with a pal to grab a bite to eat when there was a pile of work on my desk that I desperately needed to complete. While it’s true you need to take a break on occasion and clear your mind so you don’t burn out, doing so with a bunch of projects lingering in the back of your mind sort of defeats the purpose.
Begin With the End in Mind
To be honest, I don’t look forward to completing or even starting every item on my to-do list. But if it’s there, that means I don’t have a choice; it’s essential for my business to function properly. Most importantly, I understand the repercussions if I choose to go against the grain. Anyway, I’d rather suck it up so I can make a decent living and spend more time with my children, because otherwise it’s back to the cubicle.
So, when the going gets tough, I’d strongly suggest you take a step back, reassess the situation at hand and remember why you started. That should motivate you to get back on track.
Bottom line: The precious moments you’ll share with your children are priceless. Money is temporary, but memories last a lifetime! So take as much time as you can with your new arrival — because once it’s gone, you can’t ever get it back.