In this post, I interview author Lori Mihalich-Levin about her new book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave. Lori is the founder of Mindful Return, a supportive community for mothers returning to work after maternity leave, which also offers a 4-week e-course on this topic. Her book is a must-have for any mothers who are contemplating a leave, in the midst of one, or who have recently returned from one. This is the type of resource I wish I had when my children were born! The book covers four main areas to help mothers navigate this important transitional time: a mindful mindset, logistics, leadership, and community. I am thrilled to introduce you to Lori in the post below, who has kindly answered a few of my questions based on her book. Back to Work After Baby can now be ordered and will officially be released on April 11. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with Women, Work, and Life, Lori!
Book Giveaway – Back to Work After Baby
To enter a raffle to win a signed copy of Back to Work After Baby, please share this interview on one of your social media pages, and then post a comment below with the link. You can enter until 12am (EDT) on Saturday, April 8th!
- You book, Back to Work After Baby, does a fantastic job encouraging women to view maternity leave as an important transitional time that needs and deserves special attention. Thinking through one’s leave and planning it out sets mamas up for a smoother, less stressful experience. Why do you think such discussions and resources did not exist before you created Mindful Return in 2014?
Thanks, Emily, for the kind words about the book. Indeed, this is a time worthy of special thought, care, and attention. Why wasn’t there anything like this before? Perhaps because working mamas are exhausted! We are trying to keep our babies alive, households running, and stay on track at work, which doesn’t leave a lot of margin for entrepreneurialism or creativity. And then, once our kids are a bit older and we have more margin for ourselves, we’re out of the fog of those first impossible years, and we’d prefer not to look back.
I took on the project of creating Mindful Return out of an extreme passion to make this phase of life easier on new working moms and a desire to normalize the experience of transitioning to working motherhood. The only way I was able to stay (relatively) sane and get this off the ground was to commit to doing it baby steps…because I didn’t have more than tiny pockets of time here and there, either!
Create a Mindful Mindset
- There are four aspects that you recommend mamas contemplate to plan for a smoother maternity leave, including Creating a Mindful Mindset, Tackling All Those Logistics, Turning Leave into Leadership, and Building Your Community. In the area of Creating a Mindful Mindset, you point out that many moms experience feelings of overwhelm and anxiety, resulting from their new life with baby. I love the concept that moms need to strive to be okay with the baby pace of getting things done. I still struggle with accepting this idea, and my kids are in elementary school! What are the best tactics for incorporating this mindset?
I hear you, Emily. This is an ongoing struggle for me, too. I’m admittedly impatient and often want to get everything done at once. In addition to reminding myself that I can do many things, just not all at the same time, I’ve worked hard to make that Teddy Roosevelt quote, “comparison is the thief of joy,” one of my go-to daily mantras. Comparing myself to others without children, others with children, and even to my pre-child self proved singularly unhelpful. Instead, I try to focus on what I CAN do today, and what’s best for me and my life. If I still find the urge to compare, I try to find people who inspire me, and compare for the sake of learning those qualities I aspire to.
Tackle the Logistics
- In the realm of Tackling All Those Logistics, you include several helpful strategies to apply both at home and work. One tip you suggest is negotiating work flexibility. This is something I also attempted after my second child, and its benefits were enormous. What approaches have your Mindful Return e-course participants found to be most successful when asking their employers for flexible work?
Great question. I’d say perhaps the number one strategy is to propose an arrangement on a trial basis. Employers are much more likely to say yes to something that will last three months than will last indefinitely. And then if things going well during that trial period, most are willing to continue the arrangement.
Two other things my course participants find helpful are: (1) framing the conversation as a business negotiation, in which they remember to keep in mind and highlight benefits to their employer of their proposed arrangement; and (2) taking the time to sit and journal, to brainstorm options.
Turn Leave into Leadership
- A third area that you dive into, Turning Leave into Leadership, shares a very interesting and positive view on maternity leave. You mention your own leadership coach Amy Jacobsohn, who suggests that a leader is anyone who “carves out a new way forward.” You and Amy encourage moms to use their maternity leaves as a leadership opportunity, which is a fresh and empowering perspective that is not often discussed. What do you think are the best ways for moms to work toward this goal, especially if they are not in a “typical” leadership position (i.e., the boss)?
Talking about leadership in the space of maternity leave is one of my favorite parts of teaching the Mindful Return course. When I worked with Amy, she required me to come up with a “leadership stance” – and mine was that “truly everyone can be a leader.” We all have it within ourselves to make something important happen in this world that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, and to me, that is leadership. There is nothing hierarchical about it.
I think the best way for moms to work toward this goal is to ask: what do I care about? Where can I make a difference? It can be as simple as taking another brand new mama out to lunch on her first day back from maternity leave, which is a step toward creating an inclusive workplace culture for new parents. Or it could be creating a working parents group at the office. Or taking credit during her evaluation for having executed a well-planned leave and return. Or being a leader in the life of your child. The possibilities for leadership are endless.
Build Your Community
- A final area you cover in your book, Building Your Community, is critical to positive mental health and well-being. I too found much comfort in a new moms group and online discussion board after having my first child, and some of us still keep in touch today. Do you think it is important for individuals to seek out both in-person as well as on-line communities for support? What if they are too busy to attend in-person meetings?
I really do think it’s critical to participate in both in-person and online communities. There’s a certain sense of openness, vulnerability, and shared problem-solving that I’ve found in online communities like Mindful Return and The Abundant Mama Project (another online course). There’s sometimes nothing like crowd-sourcing answers to those new mama dilemmas!
But there’s also nothing quite like that much-needed hug from a friend, or the ability to share your new working-mama trials with someone who can see the desperation in your eyes. In-person relationships don’t meet you have to commit to some sort of weekly meeting. Pick an interval that works for you – perhaps it’s having lunch with a dear friend once a quarter, or going to your employer’s working parents lunch every other month – and commit to it.
Lori closes her book with encouraging all moms to embrace the phrase “You are enough, mama!” This is a particularly important mantra to practice, especially as we frequently encounter the “perfect mother” pressure of today. Lori emphasizes that “we need to make it okay to talk about what’s going on in our lives, and how hard it can be. We need to remind ourselves daily of the skills we gained from becoming a mother that are, yes indeed, useful both at work and at home. And we need to encourage one another as parents, rather than judging ourselves and others so harshly. The more we get out there, talk about these issues, and celebrate the successes of mothers (and there are SO many!), the more we will normalize the experiences of working motherhood.”