Planning for and Taking Leave as a New Parent

Welcome to episode 176 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss John’s experience becoming a parent, planning for and taking parental leave, lessons learned along the way, and the impact on his career.

Original Recording Date: 06-12-2022

Topics – Context for the Show, Starting a Family, Planning for Parental Leave, Communication and Preparing the Team, Return to Work, Lessons Learned and Parting Thoughts

1:17 – Context for the Show

  • John and his wife welcomed daughter Keiko Vay White on March 29, 2022. It’s been a little overwhelming but overall a terrific thing.
  • John took some parental leave and this week will share the process of preparing for it, taking it, and returning from it.

2:40 – Starting a Family

  • It’s overwhelming and amazing to hold a baby in your arms and realize you are responsible for it for conceivable the rest of your life.
  • It’s been an exhausting, very gratifying, amazing experience that John would highly recommend (depending on your situation).
  • John realized back when he and his wife were discussing getting married his tolerance for financial risk was pretty low, feeling the need to be in a specific financial position before having a child.
    • This was more about risk mitigation than any specific amount of money being in the bank first.
    • John was able to work through these concerns after some help from a family therapist.
    • Some of this was based on the way John was raised and not having immediate family around for help with child care.
    • Some risk was a result of having a child during a pandemic. Even getting help with childcare from friends can introduce risk and expectations of certain behaviors that align to your level of comfort.
  • Nick mentions the implications of knowing a small human is 100% dependent on you and your spouse / partner for everything can be very humbling.
  • It helped John to understand what was scary about the scenario, considering a worst case and what he would be able to control if that happened.
    • After working through some worst case scenarios John understood that his fears were more about the unknown factors. He came to understand that there were unknown factors for other life decisions he had already made (like his job change to Google) which seemed to work out well. Think of it as analogous fear.

7:47 – Planning for Parental Leave

  • Many people have a fear of parental leave. What were some of the considerations for John and his wife?
  • John and his wife used in vitro fertilization to get pregnant.
    • John’s employer has a generous in vitro fertilization benefit, so they explored it and went through the research process. They eventually had a better idea of when the birth would be as the process continued.
  • Planning for parental leave starts when you are looking for a job. It can be an awkward thing to ask about.
    • Do some investigation on this, and be courageous enough to ask questions. Some companies are very proud to publish their policies on parental leave, while others may not be as forthcoming.
    • Being able to take the time off and in multiple chunks if needed ends up being very important (and has been important to John from his experience).
    • This may not be something on our horizon when we are younger (i.e. considering we might want to have a child in the next 5 years for example), but once it is, put in the time to research.
    • Depending on benefits offered by your company and overall satisfaction, a benefit like this could be a reason to change jobs.
    • Paid parental leave can be something factored into a total compensation package when looking at a new employer.
    • Nick mentioned depending on your stage of life, other benefits may need to be considered (i.e. elderly care for aging parents, etc.). It’s another point of consideration.
  • The option to go full in vitro was a massive benefit to John and his wife. If it is something you need, keep that in mind (process is very expensive, potentially something like $50,000).
  • Finding out if there is a similar leave / support / financial support for adoption is something to investigate. John’s wife asked about this, for example.
    • Adoption can also be an expensive endeavor.
    • Research things like time for family bonding in cases of adopting a child.
  • Nick asked about foster care / foster families and any benefits available for these cases.
    • Usually foster parents / families are compensated by the foster system and may not be as much of a consideration.
    • People act as foster families sometimes as a personal calling.
    • It would be great to have someone on the show to share their experience as a foster parent and the impact on career.
  • Having a child during a pandemic was pretty disruptive.
    • There are so many complications around hospital visits and needing to test before you go in, navigating whether a spouse or partner can be there too, etc.
    • There is a shortage of obstetricians at hospitals. Even if you pick a hospital it does not mean they will be able to support you due to staff levels and in some cases nurse strikes.
    • We probably need to address taking better care of medical professionals as a society (compensation, job security, etc.).
    • John and his wife used a birthing center staffed by midwives. Shout out to the Pacifica Family Maternity Center in the East Bay area.
    • Definitely investigate maternity centers and midwives.
      • There were strict rules like no admittance outside of between 36 and 40 weeks pregnant (outside of that goes directly to a hospital with midwife support).
      • If the baby is in breach position, the mother may need pain medication, or a C-section was needed the facility would not be able to support you (hospital only).
      • John and his wife picked a facility very close to a hospital.

19:16 – Communication and Preparing the Team

  • Knowing the approximate date of birth really helps. You have to start communicating with your management chain about what you need for support.
    • John’s management chain was extremely supportive and very happy for him.
    • Management modeled behaviors through managers having children, helping John understand the coverage during his absence, and explaining how the process worked inside John’s company.
    • It’s a great feeling to be supported like this.
  • You need to understand what the process and procedures are for beginning the leave.
    • Usually it’s pretty fault tolerant (i.e. maybe you were already off on PTO but need to swap to parental leave unexpectedly).
  • Prepping a team for your absence has a lot to do with things we have discussed in the past such as…
    • Maintaining State – updated documents in a shared place containing active work with next steps, setup ahead of time, and communicated
      • John walked people through these documents in advance and made sure they were up to date with his circumstances
      • If no one knows what you were doing, that means things are falling through the cracks when you leave and can split your attention.
      • Even if things are 90% updated with the last 10% relayed verbally, that’s about as good as you can hope for.
    • Soft cut over vs. hard cut over
      • John had the benefit of having someone shadow him during the last few weeks before the birth so that person would gain more context than can be contained in a document.
        • We normally write documentation for others and will provide additional verbal context
    • Availability while on leave
      • John communicated that he was available on a non-emergency basis while on leave but might need a couple of days to respond.
      • It’s better to ask questions early and often before something becomes an emergency (i.e. no guarantee John could be reached if there was an emergency).
      • This approach worked pretty well for John and allowed him to answer questions and ensure all the right folks had access to documents.
        • The two way conversation is much easier to have when it’s not an emergency.
      • Did John set boundaries on when to check for messages to avoid constantly checking while on leave, and did it align with deep work methodologies?
        • John felt free to completely walk away from work (i.e. achieved alignment here)
        • John did not schedule a specific time period in which to check for new messages (i.e. didn’t quite align). But John did make an effort to check in and scan for messages (e-mail and chats) needing attention when he could. And more importantly, he let people know what types of messages he would be checking.
          • Listen to how he used filtering techniques for e-mail to make that process easier.
  • Have faith in the preparation process before walking away.
    • For John, the process of maintaining state and having documents available to people was very helpful.
    • John updated the documents he was already maintaining more frequently to make walking away trivial.
  • Let go of ego (i.e. "I need to be the one who is doing this thing / this process")
    • John had to shift to taking pride in the process he’s been following and trusting that a qualified individual could step in to help carry things forward / maintain what was started.
    • John did not want to make himself a point of failure in the process. That’s a bad thing no matter who you are and what you do.
      • "If you set it up for it to be impossible to be done without you, you should NOT take pride in that." – John White
      • Nick suggests the transition to this point probably needs to be gradual.
    • John’s role in technical pre-sales often involves bringing in specialists, so it is already not him who is doing everything.
      • John takes pride in facilitating the specialist interaction and helping to keep follow ups on track while holding others responsible for things they should own.
      • In a way John was already there. He had to realize this was the case and incorporate that into the pride he took in the process, making it as easy as possible for someone else to orchestrate these processes in his absence.
      • Someone who carries the ball in your stead may not do things the exact same way as you but could still help make progress toward the goal. It is always good to have more than one person looking at something.
      • A colleague may be better at the execution while you’re better at the setup, which could contribute to deeper collaboration at a later time.
      • John has a lot of pride when someone asks him for an account transfer meeting. He sits down with the person to make sure they have all the information needed to hit the ground running.
      • This goes back to personal brand and what John wants his brand to be. When someone looks at the content John produced for an account he’s covering and can get an 80% understanding of things, it speaks volumes to the quality of John’s work and dedication to helping others.
    • The experience with account hand offs in the past helped prepare John to transition active work to others when he want on parental leave.

35:25 – Return to Work

  • John’s understanding of parental leave is that you aren’t guaranteed to walk back into the same job necessarily. You’re guaranteed a job at the same seniority level with a similar title and responsibilities.
    • He theoretically could have been moved to different team covering a different set of accounts.
    • This could have happened without going on leave, actually. Sometimes that is part of the job.
  • Coming back, John knew he would need to ease back into things since he had been out of touch for a while.
    • The account rep who owned the accounts and the technical resource covering for John had multiple meetings per week to talk about planning and coordination.
    • John let them know he would start joining some of these meetings even before being officially back. John sat in on these calls with the rule that he would not take any action items but would give feedback.
    • Nick likes the boundary to set intent. It’s too easy to get sucked into more if you don’t do something like this. John gave himself the ability to say no to requests by doing this.
  • John had to accept the fact that his team may have changed composition or that he might not be the primary person covering the open tasks / projects for the same accounts moving forward.
    • That should be fine.
  • What about motivation in coming back?
    • One part is have I done enough at home to help with my child and my family? You have to gauge whether you have taken enough time off.
      • John had a generous amount of time to take off and was able to do it in multiple chunks.
      • He had originally scheduled 8 weeks but ended up taking 10 total necessary because of the need to support his family).
      • Knowing that he and his wife were aligned on the amount of support needed and available was a great thing.
    • Once the family situation was more comfortable from a support perspective, there’s the intellectual stimulation aspect to consider.
      • John very much enjoys what he does for work and doesn’t consider it "just a job" but rather something incorporating a great deal of problem solving.
      • It was difficult to walk away, but when he did, John was focused on solving a whole new set of problems in becoming a new parent.
      • Even if John could have quit his job from a financial stability standpoint he might not have because the intellectual side of it is really interesting. John enjoys working with customers, the types of customers, and collaboration with colleagues in ways that push him to keep growing.
      • It was not hard to get motivated to return because of how much John enjoys his work.
  • Nick would love to hear from anyone out there who has taken a leave like this (of any kind) and realized they were burned out at work.
    • John had a situation like that while working at VMware.
    • John lost his father in 2019, and he believes this had a part in him leaving the company.
    • Taking some time off helped John realize he was at a bit of a breaking point.
    • Maybe John needed to take more time off for grieving but didn’t in that situation.
    • Time away can make you examine what it is you are returning to. That is one of the things that happens.
      • Do I want to go back? If I don’t, what is causing me to not want to go back?
      • The answers are rarely black and white.
    • Maybe we can ask future guests about times of leave and analysis of job transitions.
      • Sometimes it’s just a conversation with management about things that need to change (also a legitimate response).

45:01 – Lessons Learned and Parting Thoughts

  • John is still thinking about how well his systems worked while he was away.
    • If the documents didn’t get updated, why not? Was the process too difficult? Did it not fit the person’s style?
    • If the person did keep things updated but John had trouble transitioning back in, what gaps existed in the system, and how can those be tested for?
    • The transition back was a really great way to test that process of maintaining state.
  • John feels like he will protect his schedule a bit more now that he is a parent.
    • He has been making breakfast for his wife while she feeds the baby in the mornings.
    • The time John comes online may be more structured. Early meetings, at least for the time being, may not be possible due to family obligations. With enough notice he may be able to work around things accordingly.
      • Lunch time will be a similar story. His wife will need a break from the baby.
      • John can put these times into his calendar to allow his colleagues insight and understanding of when he is not available.
  • People need to think about some of these things ahead of time.
    • When something is on the horizon, don’t leave all the research to do all at once.
    • Research early, and research often. Let the importance / likelihood of an event happening drive how much research you do (i.e. if not serious may not need to do much research right now).
  • Know the policy and some helpful resources

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