Friday, August 17, 2012

Parental Leave Checklist, Part I: 2-3 Months Before

hooray for babies!
I am about 6 weeks away from starting my maternity leave, if Baby X' arrives on her scheduled birthdate.  For the past several weeks I've been thinking about how to wrap up projects at work and what other little tasks I need to complete before disappearing for 20 weeks.   The parenting email lists at work had some fragmented recommendations on things to do before your leave, but I wanted to build The Mother Checklist of everything and share it here.  This is for maternity leave, paternity leave or really, any lengthy leave of absence from work.

I'll also caveat this by saying I have an office job in a huge company with good parental leave benefits.  Your company's benefits and procedures will be different so your list will be too.  But I tried to make this generally applicable.  Some items will likely not apply to you at all and I will have completely missed others. I'd love to hear about those, so leave a comment.

I consolidated what I could find from coworkers and added my own Giant List.  It's a pretty long list so I'll do a series of posts to cover each time period.  I'm starting with the stuff I've done already, 2-3 months or more before my leave begins (which at my company is the day the baby is born).   I focused on work-related tasks, not 'getting ready for baby'.

2-3+ Months Before Leave Begins:

  • Notify your manager and team about your pregnancy and leave timing - this is a personal choice.  Both times I did it around 12 weeks, when we announced the pregnancy publicly.  With the advent of social media, it's harder to keep "secrets" like this from your boss or coworkers. You may also want to be cognizant of timing around annual reviews, promotions, etc.  It shouldn't matter, but we all know that sometimes it does.

  • Decide how much leave you are planning to take and when - some companies let you start your leave before the baby is born, which is awesome for those last few weeks of sheer discomfort.  Others let you split up the medical portion from the "bonding/parental" portion.  Some companies let you break it up so you can take just a few days a week, which may be good for transitioning back to work.  Read up on the policies, talk to your partner, and make a rough plan.

  • Submit request for maternity leave  - my company has a form that needs to be filled out.  Yours may require special meetings with HR or your manager.  When you've got your timing figured out, fill out the paperwork to get it out of the way.

  • Begin working on a transition plan for your work with your manager - this is really important and shows your dedication to your team.  List all your projects and figure out who might pick them up.  Talk to your coworkers about it.  Maybe you can work out a "trade" - you pick up something they're doing now, in exchange for them taking some of your work while you're out.  On my first mat leave, I was lucky that my team hired a contractor to cover for me.  She turned out to be excellent, so we kept her on after I returned, and this allowed me to work part-time.  Win-win!  Figure out the solutions yourself as much as you can instead of just dumping this on your boss.

  • Document processes and tasks for others to pick up - write up detailed documentation for things you do - meetings you run, processes you own, tasks or reports that you do regularly.  Even if there isn't a specific person who will pick it up, document it so anyone can do it.  This helps if your replacement is only identified after you leave and your coworkers will thank you.  It will also help to keep them from calling you when you're out.

  • Sign up for any benefits that will expire - this is very dependent on your company and its deadlines, but take care of anything with a deadline that's possible to do - signing up for the next year's benefits, getting transportation passes and any other benefits you need to sign up for by a certain date.  This will ensure you have continued coverage while you're out and is one less thing to worry about during your leave.

  • Review any benefits available to new parents through your job- companies may have surprising benefits for new parents.  Mine has free classes about breastfeeding, taking care of newborns, transitioning back to work and more.  My husband's company had a "meal card" that new parents could use for groceries or takeout meals.  There may be local childcare discounts as well.  Read your benefits documents and ask your coworkers who are also parents to find out about these cool things.

  • Complete any required training courses for your job- we have a couple of yearly online training courses we need to complete so I get these out of the way early.  Even if you're on leave, you don't want to be "the one who didn't do it", if it's at all possible to get it out of the way.  In addition, you may want to try to earn as many Continuing Ed credits as needed for your professional certifications so that you don't have to worry about those expiring, or scrambling for classes with a newborn.

  • Figure out your schedule/location for the “endgame” based on your due date - Babies do not arrive on schedule.  Most do not show up on their due date, unfortunately, so you have to make sure your ducks are in a row as early as possible.  My plan both times was to start working from home about 2 weeks before my due date, because I don't want to go into labor at work.  Coordinate this with your partner as well, especially if you are far from each other during the work day or need to arrange care for your other children.  Figure out if you're going to start your leave early or take a few vacation days to relax before you think the baby might come.  This is hard to do since you really have NO idea when your baby will arrive, but having a firm plan is helpful for your team, and for you to get most of your tasks done.

  • Explore child care options near your work or home - this depends on how long your leave is and demand in your area.  I live in an extremely high demand area for full time licensed child care, so the options are few, expensive and BOOKED.  Most people "get on the list" before their baby is born, and we have a generous leave length.  If you are going to use relatives for child care or a nanny, you will probably have more time to arrange this, but you may want to use your pre-baby time to get started on a search as life with a newborn is hectic (and sleepless!).

I'll post the next section shortly, which is Things to Do 1-2 Weeks Before your leave.  I created a handy downloadable checklist for the whole thing, for the impatient folks out there.  It's my first experiment with Google Drive for shared downloads.  Let me know if you have trouble accessing the files.

Parental Leave Checklist Downloads:
Download the Word version (.doc)
Download the PDF version (.pdf)

If you find this helpful, please contribute to my Starbucks chai fund :)
Thanks in advance!

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