How navigating her first parental leave experience was everything she needed to dive into a new and exciting professional endeavor
After navigating the challenges of pregnancy in the workplace with little to no structure pre- or post-leave with her first leave, Desireé DeLattre is now thriving as a senior content manager at a leading digital therapeutics company, Big Health Inc. – and is expecting her second child in April.
Although she felt supported by her previous employer, Desireé approached her first leave with a scarcity mindset as questions of how to navigate parental leave loomed over her head. She wanted to create as little opportunity as possible for others to question her commitment to her career, which she later recognized was not an issue at all.
Instead what Desireé realized is that she would have benefited from conversation and community around her experience in working parenthood. She recalls that while many parents had been on leave before her, she felt like she was navigating uncharted territory, and didn’t see what she had missed until it was too late.
But not all was lost: Desiree’s parental leave experience was critical for her personal growth and ultimately led her to finding her purpose and future career. Since having her first child, she switched jobs and now works in mental health technology.
As a working mom, Desireé has found a newfound passion: driving and normalizing the conversation around what a better world looks like for working parents. One noteworthy accomplishment on this front is her contribution to this report by The Marshall Plan for Moms, which proposes a business case for increased support around childcare.
Juggling a career and family life is no small feat – but Desireé summed up what it means to be a working parent perfectly:
"Some days, I might feel like a supermom, but perhaps I’m feeling a little behind at work. Other times, I feel like I’m crushing it at work and home, but I haven’t given myself enough attention. It doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong. It means that I’m paying attention, and that’s where real empowerment comes from. By striving for harmony instead of a perfect balance, you learn to roll with the punches with more curiosity and less critique.”
Keep reading to learn more about Desireé’s experience as a working parent, including what she wishes she did differently during her first leave and how her learnings will help her better prepare for the next one.
What did you do in preparation for parental leave to help set yourself up for longer term career success?
“To be quite honest, not nearly enough. At the time, I worked for a marketing agency and though our culture was very supportive and flexible, it lacked the structure and extensive policies that I needed to make a smooth transition out (and back in). Though many parents had been on leave before me, I felt like I was navigating uncharted territory, and didn’t realize what I had missed until it was too late.”
What mistakes did you make? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after your parental leave?
“I wish I knew better. The postpartum experience and the struggles mothers have returning to work are so buried and hushed. For me, I had very little insight into how things would be for me as a new mother and as a working mom. However, I firmly believe that the conversation is evolving and the stigmas are being broken, and this gives me a lot of hope for future new parents.
I wish I had taken more time. Our daughter spent her first week of life in the NICU and had severe reflux her first six months of life. This led to overwhelming anxiety, and impacted nearly everything, including how I felt about work. I had taken about 3.5 months (4 weeks paid by my employer per our leave policy at the time), but felt like I was still in a dark fog, and every day felt so heavy. Instead of meeting myself where I was, I pushed myself back to work before I was ready…and it showed.”
I wish I had more confidence communicating my needs to my managers. Instead of asking for what I needed or voicing what would be helpful, I kept it to myself, and resentment built up over time, ultimately leading to my departure one year after returning from leave.”
What was the most challenging part of taking parental leave and how did you address or overcome it?
“I was nervous about my career growth, and what others would think of me as a professional when I returned. Looking back, I see these limiting beliefs as signals that I was no longer happy with my role at the company, versus what my colleagues actually thought of me.”
What worked really well in your re-onboarding experiences? What helped you feel good and up to speed faster?
“One thing that stood out as being really helpful was how open and receptive my direct manager was to hearing my feedback when I was ready to share it. Throughout my first year back, he would ask how I was doing, and if there was anything he could do to support me. We also had very flexible hours, which allowed time and space for me to take care of myself when I needed to. Though our re-onboarding process was kind of chaotic as a whole, I felt the warmth and a lot of grace and kindness as I settled back in.”
What did your manager or company do that was really helpful to your success transitioning back to work?
“When I left my previous company, it was on very peaceful terms. I had pitched some ideas for how I think they could improve and they took them to heart. I even share a co-working space with a lot of my previous co-workers and interface with the agency regularly. It feels really healthy to have found a new path forward while also having a community within reach that has watched me grow into who I am today.”
What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent and why?
“Leaving my job. I didn’t think I could pull it off as a mom of a 1-year-old still catching up from the whirlwind of a crazy first year. Despite that fear, I chased a vision of a better world for new parents, and it landed me a great job in an exciting new field with much higher pay and significantly better benefits.”
If you had to name one thing (something you do, something you buy, something you have) that has had the greatest impact on your ability to manage working parenthood, what would it be?
“Childcare. Being able to send my daughter to a program that’s enriching for her and convenient for us has unlocked the door to so many possibilities. It’s devastating to me when I hear about parents being forced to leave the workforce altogether because of child care costs or accessibility. Because of this pressing issue, I helped Marshall Plan for Moms publish a report that aims to make the business case for more child care support.”
Many parents say that once they had children their “bar” became higher. They no longer tolerated wasteful work, unproductive meetings, etc. What else would you say changed as it relates to your career or work style once you had kids?
“My time has become more precious and my boundaries are stronger than ever. I treat both my time and energy with so much more respect. Burnout has been very easy to mitigate and I find myself looking forward to work again.”
As your child has gotten older, how has that changed your perspective on how to balance parenthood with career (if at all)?
“I’ve learned that, for me, the idea of balance is toxic, as it implies that everything is 50:50 and consistent. Life, with or without kids, isn’t balanced for the majority of the time that we are in it. Harmony, however, is very achievable. Some days, I might feel like a supermom, but perhaps I’m feeling a little behind at work. Other times, I feel like I’m crushing it at work and home, but I haven’t given myself enough attention. It doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong. It means that I’m paying attention, and that’s where real empowerment comes from. By striving for harmony instead of a perfect balance, you learn to roll with the punches with more curiosity and less critique.”
What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?
“I leave work every day at 3:45pm to pick up my daughter, and I’ll often catch up after putting her to bed. For me, it’s not necessarily the hours I put into work for the day, but the quality of my work.
I make sure I block off time to exercise at least 3 days a week. If that means I have to work on a project in the evening, that’s ok. I always feel better about work (and life) when I put my health first.
I don’t have most of my work apps on my phone, and I keep Slack notifications off. This allows me to be intentional when I’m working, versus multitasking during family or me- time.”
If you could give another parent [in a similar position as you] one piece of advice leading up to their parental leave, what would it be?
“Take what you need – and then take a little more. Whether it be resources, time, support, whatever – add cushion and wiggle room to your plans. Bringing a life into the world will surprise you, and it’s better to protect your future, sleep-deprived self than it is to be overly optimistic about how you’ll feel.”
What are the top three skills or behaviors you learned when becoming a new parent that you believe have made you a better working professional?
“I don’t wait for handouts. I am more ambitious than ever, and I chase what I want – whether it be a project, promotion or big idea for our organization.
I aim to lead with empathy. You never know what anyone has going on behind the Zoom background, so I try to always give people the benefit of the doubt and communicate with them directly when something doesn’t feel right.
I give myself permission to be more flexible. A newborn class I took gave the advice, ‘flexible routines, not rigid schedules’. This was referring to infant sleep, but being the deep thinker I am, I took it much further. I realized I was approaching parenting, marriage, self-care and work with really tight reins. Once I let go a bit, everything started to fall into place."
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