How “the #1 global voice for working moms” balances a day job, parenting, and advocacy
Just because you have a 9-5 doesn’t mean you can’t parent and fight social injustice simultaneously. That’s what “the #1 global voice for working moms” Christine Michel Carter is doing—she’s a senior product marketing manager and a working parents and employee resources groups (ERG) expert.
Christine knew her early career was the time for risks and pursuing new passions. She even started her retail marketing firm during a recession, then later joined an unknown startup that took off. She was ready for her next adventure—starting a family.
When Christine was pregnant with her daughter Maya, she was running product marketing and operations at a startup. She then shifted to the consumer goods industry as a strategy and development manager, then back to product marketing, where her passion and talents could thrive.
But Christine knew product marketing for everyone’s favorite spices wasn’t her only calling. She wrote for global publications, spoke at and consulted consumer brands, and simultaneously advocated for public policy change. And this was all before becoming a parent.
Though she’s one for risks in her career, Christine wasn’t prepared for what her pregnancy and childbirth experience would throw at her. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia and gave birth to her daughter Maya early (even before her baby shower). Maya was in the NICU for the entire eight-week maternity leave, and then some. There wasn’t adequate time to prepare for leaving work, let alone coming back.
As a Black working mother with a child in the NICU, Christine faced uphill battles returning from work to a not-so-supportive, male-dominated startup culture.
Her second pregnancy with her son was different. This time, her eight-week maternity leave allowed her to bond with baby West and figure out her work-life balance priorities.
Having kids while keeping professional boundaries has made Christine even more productive at her day job. She knows that she is there to help support her family and provide a fulfilling life for her kids at the end of the day. She wants other moms to feel the same.
Christine is a true advocate for working parents, having helped companies design mothers’ rooms, serving as an informal mentor, and always pursuing full transparency with the realities of being a working parent.
Christine has authored the children’s book Can Mommy Go to Work? and MOM AF (not for kids). She’s also a ForbesWomen senior contributor and has been published in TIME, Entrepreneur, HuffPost, Health, and Parents.
Read more about Christine’s parental leave experience and advocacy work in our Q&A. Dive deeper below.
#1 Preparing for - and returning from - parental leave
What things did you do before having your baby to help you set yourself up for longer term career success? Before I had Maya, I made sure that I took professional risks. I started my own retail marketing firm four years before I had her, in the middle of a recession. I started writing again. I also took a job with an unknown startup that eventually went public and was acquired. Those professional risks paid off, because today I’ve seen success and personal growth from each of them.”
What preparation, if any, did you do in advance of parental leave in terms of developing a coverage plan or aligning with stakeholders, etc.? I wasn’t able to properly prepare - I had preeclampsia and delivered her before I even had my baby shower! For West four years later, I was able to develop a coverage plan, but while on maternity leave I realized I didn’t want to return to the organization. I felt the culture was no longer a fit for me, and I didn’t want to spend any more time convincing the organization of my capabilities as a Black working mother.
What mistakes did you make in preparing for leave? Are there things in hindsight that you wish you had done differently during this time period? Just as women have doulas to prepare them for birth, I wish I would have had a career coach or some of the tools available to parents today to prepare me for my leave. You don’t know what you don’t know, which leaves so many mothers thinking there were things they wish they knew about in hindsight.
What was your approach to communicating with your employer/team and engaging in any actual work during leave? Looking back do you wish you had done anything differently? I wish I wouldn’t have tried to be so strong and show no pain. With both pregnancies I was not just uncomfortable - I could barely walk. Still, I tried to prove I was just as mobile as everyone else in the office - even though I was surrounded by men!
How did you feel about coming back to work in those initial few weeks following leave? What was positive about the experience and what was most challenging? I hated coming back to work with a child in the NICU, but I had to work. I took way too short of a maternity leave in my opinion, and because Maya was in the NICU I didn’t get to spend the 1:1 time for weeks that I got to spend with West. When I returned to the workforce (with a new company and in a new role) after having West, I felt rested, that the company culture was a perfect fit, and that I was supported by my employer as a new mom.
What was the best thing your manager or a team member/mentor did to support you in navigating parental leave? One of my male team members at the startup who was a dad was also pregnant with his second child, and he was always reminding me to take it easy, to rest, and to not try and be like the others in the office. His support and encouragement was critical to me, as I was a first time mom surrounded by men.
Knowing what you know now, how do you try to support other colleagues or team members preparing for and returning from parental leave? I’ve helped companies design mother’s rooms for new moms, I’ve served as an informal mentor or advocate for mothers in the workplace, and I’ve tried to ensure I’m being fully transparent with women interested in becoming a working mom just how difficult it can be.
#2 Navigating your career as a working parent
How has becoming a parent changed how you approach work? Where are you stronger or better as an employee? Becoming a parent has reminded me that they print money everyday, and my name is not on the side of the building. These were phrases my dad used to say to me growing up. Both mean that there are more important things to worry about than a paycheck and a P&L. Things like if my child feels supported and heard. If I’m preserving my mental health. If I’m giving back to my community. Not how big my house is or how many cars I drive. Oddly enough, this makes me more productive as an employee - you only have me for the time we agreed upon. Outside of that, I have other obligations.
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? The iPhone, iPad and apps. My God. What would I do without my digital personal assistant and babysitter the iPhone. I could care less about screen time!
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? Exactly. The stakes were higher. As a single mother, my time was more valuable and my words were more important. I spent so much time talking and soothing other people, staying up all hours of the night, that any portion of my presence in any space became a privilege. I did NOT have time to kill.
If you could give another parent (in a similar position as you) one piece of advice leading up to her maternity leave, what would it be? Please find a tribe, because maternity leave can get very lonely and make you feel isolated. You forget what it’s like to express YOUR thoughts and feelings because you’re so consumed with someone else’s. The thought that you need to do it all and you’re not doing it right, and not sharing those thoughts with another mother, is what brings on postpartum depression. If you can’t find anyone to reach out to, reach out to me.
#3 Quick takes!
How many weeks of parental leave did you take? 8 both times because I had a C-section
How many weeks do you think is the IDEAL number for parental leave (ie if you could go back and choose the “right” number, what would it be)? 52 dammit, like our global counterparts!
Best way to spend money to “buy time”? By delegating chores to your children (2+) and your spouse. Don’t feel like everything has to be done perfectly, it just has to be done.
Please provide one recommendation for working parents with respect to…
- Health: Cleo
- Spirituality and self care: Therapy for Black Girls
- Home care responsibilities: Care.com
- Travel: Their grandparents (drop them off and YOU travel honey!)
- Streamlining routines: Teach kids independence and reward them for it. Then there’s less you need to add to your routine. In the beginning it will be tough but it’s soooo worth it. Take it from a mom who now really enjoys her lazy Sundays. :)