One working dad tells parents to leave nothing on the table when it comes to dedicated time with their kids
Mark Vermeersch, Chief Platform Officer at banking technology startup Treasury Prime, took his full 16 weeks of paid leave after the birth of his third child.
At previous companies, he received 12 weeks and 10 weeks of paid leave, respectively, both of which he split up into two chunks.
That ended up being a mistake.
It was too hard to off-board and re-onboard multiple times, manage deliverables during the time period back or enjoy the total disconnection from work that taking leave all at once allows.
Even though Mark took a longer leave the third time around, he felt more prepared to actually take it thanks to the work he put in to plan for it before he went out.
He recalls it was key to establish expectations for when and how his colleagues could reach him, what issues were worth escalating, and how quickly he’d respond.
Mark also credits a great VP hire two months before his son was born with helping him disconnect during leave, and expects this critical new addition to his team will make his return more smooth as well.
The generous paid leave policy at Treasury Prime not only helped Mark focus on family and have a fresh perspective once he returns—it will also make him more likely to stay at the company longer.
In advocating for and encouraging other non-birthing parents to take their paid parental leave, Mark says one of the best things he can do is model that behavior:
“Simply speaking up makes the largest difference—both at the executive table but also throughout the company.”
Read Mark’s full Q&A below to see how he balances fatherhood and a career in a product management at an early-stage startup.
Did you prepare for your parental leave in a way to set yourself up for longer term career success? If yes, how? If no, why not/what were your roadblocks?
“Yes. I met with key stakeholders across the company, and have a large coverage doc of resources. Additionally, I set up expectations for when I could be reached, what issues were worth escalating and what mode(s) of communication I would check. Lastly, I set a policy for how quickly I’d respond.”
What parental leave mistakes did you make? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after your parental leave?
“Splitting prior paid leaves up was a mistake. It was too hard to off-board/re-onboard multiple times, created challenges managing deliverables during the time period back and didn’t allow for disconnection from work relative to taking leave all at once.”
What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent and why?
“Being an early employee (#10) at Treasury Prime and being an integral part in growing it from Series A to Series C, creating ~100 jobs for others in the process.”
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?
“A supportive partner and childcare support. A supportive partner understands the challenges that come with balancing work, family and health—and is there with you through thick and thin. And a supportive partner (and you) constantly communicate with each other around what you want to accomplish at work … and at home.
My wife is a working mom, and we have had the same nanny (nanny-share) through all three children. Working with someone who knows you, that you trust with your kids and, in many ways, teaches you to be a parent has been critical to our success as working parents.”
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?
“I do my best to travel less frequently, so I can be around for our kids. I take my kids to and/or from school on many days. This means I take no early meetings (with obvious exceptions) but can be more involved in a critical part of our children’s experiences.
I also try to be home for bedtime most nights. Back to the earlier point, it’s something I hope our kids remember about us!”
As your children have gotten older, how has that changed your perspective on how to balance parenthood with career (if at all)?
“It’s hard! Practice radical compassion with yourself. Being a dedicated employee is hard. Being an involved parent is hard. Do your best and try to do a little better every day. No one is perfect, but you can learn, adapt, and improve with effort.
My wife and I work hard to teach our kids to empathize about our work. We explain why work trips are necessary, what our jobs entail, what problems we solve, etc. That might seem like a lot to get across to young kids, but our daughter (now 6) has a great grasp of what it takes for us to work and raise a family!”
What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?
“No early meetings. I still work out most days. Evenings can be really long at times. I need to do a better job in improving my work-life balance at night after the kids go to sleep. The boundaries are ever-evolving.”
As both an executive leader and a working dad, how do you advocate for and encourage other non-birthing parents to take their paid parental leave?
“Actions speak louder than words, so I think the best thing to do is to set a good example and (a) take all my leave and (b) disconnect as much as is practical from work while on leave. Hopefully this means other senior leaders and/or individual contributors feel more comfortable taking their own leave. I also make sure to tell everyone to take their whole leave.”
What advice do you have for other executives who want to use their influence to enhance their parental leave policies, benefits and employee support?
“Simply speaking up makes the largest difference—both at the executive table but also throughout the company. Find ways to set a good example, meet with employees who are off/re-onboarding, encourage them that they can create ways to make leave work for them.”
What tips and tricks do you have specifically for parents in product management or engineering as they navigate parental leave? What makes taking leave as a product manager (PM) so unique?
“Taking leave as a PM is challenging because you are quite critical to the vision of your product, the daily work streams of entire engineering teams, etc. Find another PM or partner to manage your work while you are out, but be sure to set them up for success with a good plan, set of resources and clear escalation paths for when it is necessary.”
Something we often hear from product managers and engineers is that it’s a tough job to have as a parent because it’s hard to draw boundaries. You’re working on interesting projects and need to focus on those solutions—which doesn’t fit nicely into a 9-5. How have you managed this after having children?
“Accept that if you are an engaged employee in a demanding job you will often have to be intentional in drawing boundaries. For me, I deal with any necessary spillover work after the kids are in bed. It leads to late nights at times, but it’s worked for me/us. I think this is true for not just PMs and/or engineers, but also for any employee at an early-stage startup or in a demanding job.”
Anything else you want to add about your experience as a working parent?
“Being a great parent takes deliberate effort. And that’s OK because it’s also incredibly rewarding. Continuously experiment with different ways to improve your working parent experience. Be kind and understanding to yourself.”
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