When I was coming out of maternity leave after having my first child, I was super anxious about how I would succeed at work. At the time, I was a senior associate in Big Law and pre-kid, it felt like I spent all of my time at work. The billable hour requirements were demanding as it was, and I barely had time to get laundry done on a frequent enough basis where I was sure I had clean clothes the following week.
So, coming out of maternity leave where I basically spent my waking hours with my baby, changing diapers, pumping (Oh the pumping!), feeding, doctor’s appointments, and all the other little things that come with childcare and managing a household, to say I was freaking out about returning to work was an understatement.
But it had to be done. I was (and still am) the primary breadwinner in my family, so not working was not an option.
What I didn’t realize was that maternity leave wasn’t just a necessary reprieve from work to heal and bond with my daughter. It had in fact armed me with new skills that would prove useful at the firm. It turned out, these skills were not only key to thriving in my career at the law firm, but also to finding balance and fulfillment in my personal life.
So, let’s dive in, shall we?
1. Time Management
Time management is the holy grail for working moms. With numerous responsibilities pulling you in different directions, honing this skill is vital. For me, it involved prioritizing tasks, setting a routine that worked for me, and using productivity tools to move my day along. Let me explain.
As I mentioned, I work in Big Law. We thrive on the billable hour. In order to make use of my time effectively and still get home on time to relieve the nanny and spend time with my daughter (and let’s not forget that dang pumping throughout the day!), I had to get laser focused on what my priorities were and start prioritizing tasks according to my career and personal goals.
For example, did I like recruiting activities? Absolutely. Was I going to spend any time on recruiting activities my first year back? Absolutely not.
While recruiting was something I enjoyed and also looked upon favorably as “being a good firm citizen,” I knew that at the end of the day, when reviews came around and bonuses were considered, what was actually important was my billable hours. I had a limited amount of time each day at work, so billable tasks were prioritized over non-billable tasks.
Additionally, I had to establish a routine that worked for me. It was common for my colleagues to come in extremely late to work (like 9:30 / 10 am) and likewise also leave late (post 7 pm). But that schedule wasn’t going to work for me anymore with an infant. Since we don’t have set schedules in Big Law, this was to my advantage. My routine was to basically start work at home for about an hour while my daughter was sleeping until she woke up. We’d have our bonding bath and play time until the nanny came and then I’d head on over to the office. This was usually about 8:30 am, knowing I would have to leave the office no later than 4:30 pm to make it back to the house on time to relieve the nanny.
Since this was a time where there was little shortage of work, I barely braked other than for a quick lunch and quick (but annoying) setups for the multiple pumping sessions I had throughout the day to keep my supply up. Socializing and small talk were de-prioritized as long as there was billable work to do.
Lastly, I used productivity tools to stay organized and maximize my efficiency. I didn’t want to get to work and start wondering what I needed to do. I wanted to be ready to go. With this strategy, I met my hours my first year back, got my bonus, and still spent time with my daughter.
Remember, time is your most precious resource, so wield it wisely!
2. Effective Communication
As a working mom, clear and effective communication is your secret weapon. Whether it’s expressing your needs to your boss, collaborating with colleagues, or engaging with your family, strong communication skills are essential. When I came back to work, my bosses and I discussed a ramp up plan. Once it was established, I stuck to it. I didn’t work more than we discussed, and I certainly didn’t work less.
Practice active listening, be assertive in expressing your ideas and boundaries, and foster open dialogue in both your professional and personal relationships.
3. Adaptability and Flexibility
But while communicating boundaries and expectations is great, life as a working mom is full of surprises, curveballs, and unexpected changes. I definitely learned to cultivate an attitude of adaptability and flexibility that allowed me to navigate these twists and turns with grace.
The schedule I had worked out was expected to be the norm, and deviations the exceptions. But because I got used to communicating about logistics (whether that was with my husband or deal team), my needs and responsibilities, it wasn’t as difficult to welcome feedback and embrace change when needed. In fact, it made me, and invited my team to, find innovative solutions to challenges that cropped up. By staying adaptable, you can maintain a sense of calm in the face of chaos and adjust your plans as needed.
Networking isn’t just for climbing the corporate ladder—it’s an invaluable tool for personal and professional growth. In my first year back at work, I had to go about networking in a completely different way. My priorities were billables and baby, but I did seek out a network of working moms that could serve double duty as a network of play dates for my daughter, and reciprocal mentors/advisors for our careers.
I intended on spending time with my kiddo on the weekends anyway but spending it with other women in the same phase of life not only made it easier, but it also formed personal and professional bonds that helped growth on both fronts, and decreased the mental toll that comes with being a mom. So, I attended less traditional networking events, and certainly did less during the week, but my weekends served more than one purpose.
Self-care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. As a working mom, taking care of yourself is vital to sustaining success. Prioritize self-care activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul. This could mean carving out time for exercise, practicing mindfulness or meditation, indulging in hobbies, or simply having quality “me” time. Remember, you deserve to recharge and replenish your energy to be the best version of yourself, to put your best foot forward at work and be the best mother you can be.
These were the five skills that helped me survive and thrive in the ultra-competitive and chaotic world of Big Law post maternity leave. They are skills I still use today.
By honing your time management, communication, adaptability, networking, and self-care skills, you’ll be equipped to tackle any challenge that comes your way no matter how challenging your industry is. What skills did you implement at work once you became a mom? Comment below.