Preparing to take parental leave – what you need to know

Plenty of people take career breaks to grow, care for, or support their family, but the whole process is fraught with concerns, assumptions and preconceptions.

I talked to Charlotte Speak, founder of Power of the Parent, to discuss some tips and advice about taking parental leave and career breaks for any kind of parenting, including adoption, maternity leave, shared parental, and paternity leave.

Charlotte works to help parents reconnect with their unique strengths, building their confidence and self-worth. She also works with organisations who want to make a positive difference to people by supporting their teams as their families grow. As a parent herself who had a corporate career in recruitment and coaching, she is passionate about the skills and abilities parents bring to the workplace.

There was so much to cover that I’ve broken the advice down into three blogs – this one covering preparing for parental leave, and two others which go into more detail about staying in contact during your leave, and how to create a smooth return to the workplace.

Preparing for parental leave

I asked Charlotte about what people should know and do before they go off on parental leave and she had some great insight.

As a side note, we’re using the term parental leave to include any kind of leave related to families, be that maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

 Meg: What are some of the biggest concerns people have about taking a parenting career break?

Charlotte: It definitely varies, but some of the more vocalised concerns focus around being forgotten by an employer, that they’re going to forget how to do their job and the impact on their future career options. The beliefs we hold are so informed by external opinion it’s easy to see where these concerns come from – you don’t have to look far to see the stories about discrimination, careers stalling and a loss of identity through raising a child. What I think we can challenge though is the basis of these beliefs – the foundations are often rocky!

Meg: How would you suggest parents could overcome these fears or concerns

Charlotte: Define what success means to you – if we go through life according to somebody else’s beliefs and goals, we’ll never achieve what’s right for us. It’s where lots of people fall into comparison traps as well.

I’d also have as many conversations as you can with your employer about what’s important to you, what you’re interested in and remind them of where you add value and when you’re at your best.

I’d spend time looking for the good stuff too – whilst there are an abundance of negative stories, there are plenty of success cases, so fill your head with these as well.

Meg: What advice would you give to parents about talking to employers about their parenting career break?

 Charlotte: Take a long hard look at your mindset. If you’re going into these conversations seeing it as a gap or break in your career, you’re putting yourself on the back foot.

You don’t stop developing the moment you have a child or grow your family – what did you learn while you were away from the workplace? What fresh perspectives have you got?

And I think one of the biggest unlockers is to focus on your strengths – not your skills and competencies, but instead your energisers. When are you at your best? What do you love doing? These are all really strong indicators of where you’re going to be doing your best work, so in turn there are positive impacts on your engagement and productivity. Who doesn’t want that from their team?!

Meg: What are your top tips for parents who are about to embark on a period of parental leave?

Charlotte: Figure out your communication goals and boundaries. What kind of thing do you want to be kept up to date about? And who is communicating with you? I’ve worked with clients who have lots of friends through work, and whilst they were on parental leave, they would get a stream of WhatsApp’s and social media messages about the nitty gritty going on in the office – but they really didn’t want to know the gossip!

It might sound formal but contract up front with people on what and how you want to be kept in touch with. Before you go off, I’d also suggest making a note of your achievements, the feedback you’ve had and the times you’ve really enjoyed work – go into as much detail as you can and then email it to your personal email address to file away for those all-important returner conversations.

If you’re interested in strengths-based coaching, contact Charlotte, or for careers advice and coaching, you can book a free chemistry session with me by calling 07765 894040.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.