Family Day, Corporate Culture & Kenny the Koala Bear
As Family Day long weekend approaches in Ontario, I think about how much the meaning of a long weekend has changed for me in the past year since becoming a parent for the first time.
An extra day off used to be a perfect opportunity for some extra partying, extra sleeping in, maybe a last minute trip somewhere – anything impromptu. Now, when long weekends approach, the Toddler Activities Planning Committee begins to convene daily to plan a balanced itinerary of activity and naps. Instead of late nights with friends, I get early mornings with a cute toddler (I’m biased) and Kenny the Koala Bear. If we’re lucky, no new teeth will emerge and Kenny, a free spirit, won’t get lost.
It’s not just long weekends that have undergone a dramatic change since the kid. Every weekend is different, and so are Mondays through Fridays. Also changed: who I am, how I am, what I do and how I do it. To enable all this transformation, we onboarded THE village.
They say becoming a parent and raising a child takes a village. It truly does. There are the grandparents, the friends, the amazing childcare workers. Crucially, for parents with outside careers, there are also the co-workers and managers.
A few days before returning to work after being on maternity leave, I searched for articles in various fancy business magazines about “returning to work after being on maternity leave.” I’m not entirely sure what I was looking for – perhaps some reassurance that it was all going be okay. What I found instead was an overwhelming number of bullet-point lists of what a new parent’s responsibilities are when returning to work. Things like, “Clearly communicate to your manager what your new goals are and what your new schedule will be like.” “Schedule regular meetings with your team and manager.” Do this, do that, do more!
I was overwhelmed, ended my article search, and just hoped for the best.
During my first week back to work, one kind co-worker – also a mom – said to me:
Give yourself six months before making any big decisions. It’s a lot. Take the time you need.
She was right: it was a lot!
Over time, I realized that I didn’t need to clearly communicate my new goals, clearly articulate the implications of my new schedule, or clearly map out a quarterly plan. I didn’t have to be clear at all for that matter. Because I work with people who empathize, people who understand that change is hard and takes time. I had surrounded myself with people who trusted that with some flexibility and patience through the immediate term, we’d co-create a 2.0 version of the arrangement that was workable for everyone.
Just as I was going on maternity leave, I was lucky enough to receive the new parental leave benefit Environics Research offers employees. I felt lucky, supported and proud to work for a company willing to lead the way – importantly, a way where parents get paid leave regardless of gender. As I returned to work, it became obvious that leading the way in supporting new parents goes beyond pay and benefits. The thing that matters most, and to which no dollar value can be attached, is the empathy and support we give each other in a time of change. I am surrounded by peers who understand and acknowledge that having a young child in daycare means having a sick baby at home. A lot. I’m surrounded by peers who value my opinion and my input, who adjust gamely to my ever-changing schedule.
For the article I’ll never write for those fancy business magazines, here’s the only bullet point of advice that really matters:
- Do what you can to foster a culture of empathy among your team and colleagues before you go on parental leave – and hope that you work for an organization that already has a strong foundation in place of putting people first.
Ultimately, no one person can manage an enormous change perfectly all on their own. Workplace support – culture, policies, people – is essential to a successful return to work. I’m proud and grateful to work for a company that understands and takes an active role in supporting parents, and gives parents a platform to thrive both at work and at home.
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