As a human you have made transitions your whole life – graduating from school, getting married, moving from one job to another, moving cities, etc. – at this stage you might consider yourself a transition expert! But as you have probably figured out, none of those transitions come close to the one you will make when you become a parent. Indeed, becoming a parent is likely the biggest transition you will ever make. And then, just when you think you have it figured out, your child will grow and change and you will have to transition all over again. How can you prepare for maternity leave?
Transition Versus Change
Transitions always involve change, but change does not always involve transition; they are not the same. William Bridges, a prominent adult transition theorist describes ‘change’ as situational, and ‘transition’ as an internal psychological process that individuals go through to come to terms with the change. In other words, transition is the process of letting go of the way things used to be and reorienting to the way things are now. The onset of a transition may be linked to a singular event such as becoming a parent, but transition is a process that occurs over time.
That means you can take some pressure off – when you become a parent you are changed overnight, but you will be transitioning in various ways for the rest of your life. You don’t need to figure it all out today.
Mommikin.com asked me to write an article for you because of my 20 years of doing work and research related to women’s leadership, with the last 8 years focused on the Parental Leave Transition. Originally I had thought I would write a list of tips to help you prepare for your Parental Leave Transition (tip: prepare for Leave by planning your Return!); or advice on how to use your time while you are on Leave (tip: focus on getting to know your baby to the exclusion of all else AND set a bounded plan to stay in touch with work!), but honestly, the Parental Leave Transition is only the beginning of the transitions you will need to make as a parent, so while it may be overly ambitious I’d rather set you up with a transition model that has a proven track record to help not only with your Parental Leave Transition, but with any transition you might face in your future.
Your “6-S System for Transition Success™”
At the Center for Parental Leave Leadership we created a transition assessment tool to help you plan your maternity leave. Our tool was built in large part upon the research and theory from over 30 years of work by the brilliant transition expert Dr. Nancy Schlossberg*, and the pioneering work into sabotages of Dr. Lee Knefelkamp. One outcome of Dr. Schlossberg’s work was the creation of a “4-S System” to help with adult transitions. We have been able to expand her 4-S System and apply her transition model to the new field of parental leave consulting and coaching with powerful results. We call this approach your “6-S System for Transition Success.”
First, Take Stock:
Your ultimate goal is to craft a maternity leave that brings you an incredible opportunity for developmental growth. This first step focuses on the assets and liabilities you are working with to reach your goal.
To do this, we follow a “6-S System.”
For each of your “S’s” below, determine:
You may find it helpful to write your answers in a grid like this (see example below), and consider rating your assets and liabilities on a 1-5 scale, as some will be stronger than others.
This is the what. Think specifically about what is happening to you.
Write down a list of your situation assets. For example, do you have an understanding Manager? Asset! Is this happening at a good time in your career? Asset! Do you feel like you have some control over your transition? Asset! Are you excited to welcome this baby right now? Asset!
|I have an understanding manager.||5|
|It’s a good time in my career.||3|
|I feel like i have some control over my transition.||2|
|I am excited to welcome this baby right now.||2|
Next write down your situational liabilities. For example, is your childcare situation unreliable? Liability! Is your job changing when you return? Potential liability! Are you taking care of an elderly relative as well? Liability! Are you struggling with post-partum depression? Liability!
|My childcare situation is unreliable.||4|
|My job will be changing when I return.||3|
|I am taking care of an elderly relative.||5|
|I am struggling with post-partum depression||5|
Tip: This is not a time to make judgments or plans. We are just taking stock.
This is the who. You bring your own unique history, issues, personality, and habits to your transition, who are you? Reflect on who you are and how you tick. Do you thrive in the face of change? Asset! Do you set realistic expectations? Asset! Do you have positive examples of working parents from your childhood? Asset!
|I thrive in the face of change.||4|
|I set realistic expectations.||3|
|I have positive examples of working parents from my childhood||5|
When things go wrong do you blame yourself? Liability! When thinking about this transition do you feel overwhelmed? Liability! Do you regularly put others needs ahead of your own? Liability!
|When things go wrong I blame myself||4|
|I often feel overwhelmed.||4|
|I regularly put others needs ahead of my own.||2|
Tip: It may help to ask a friend for perspective – often those who love us can see us with kinder and/or more objective eyes than our own. But importantly, this is about your perception, so only accept what feels authentic to you.
This is both the type of help you perceive you have available to you through your maternity leave, and from whom. Identify the types of actions others take that feel supportive to you as assets, and the ones that are likely to be offered but don’t feel supportive, as liabilities.
For example, you may love having your mother come stay with you after you welcome baby (asset!), or that might make your stress level go through the roof (liability!). Reflect on what you need during your maternity leave so that you feel fully supported. Do you need a meal train? A regular meeting with a lactation consultant? A therapist, nutritionist, or house cleaner? Will you implode without daily exercise? Setting these things up means: Asset! Where you identify gaps or unwelcome support: liabilities!
Next, consider who your available supports are. Is it your partner or spouse? Your family or friends? Your religious institution or work community? Who is available and to what degree? Is there anyone you would like to be more available or available in a different way? Again, your desired supports are your assets. Your identified gaps are your liabilities.
|Mother who I get along with will be staying to help with new baby.||5|
|Lactation consultant identified and on call if a problem arises.||3|
|I have a reliable house cleaner.||3|
|Mother who I do not get along with will be staying to help with new baby.||4|
|Need to figure out how my schedule will allow of daily exercise.||3|
|Partner will have to take frequent business trips.||3|
Tip: Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to do it all by yourself. People love to be helpful, let them! Set up support all around you.
This is the how. Each person will navigate their maternity leave differently and use different techniques to cope. What are your go-to effective strategies? Those are your assets. Are you expert at communicating your plans at work? Asset! Do you recognize when it is time to step away and go meditate? Asset! Do you know how to make your colleagues feel appreciated? Asset!
|I am an expert at communicating your plans at work.||4|
|I am able to recognize when it is time to step away and go meditate.||3|
|I can make my colleagues feel appreciated.||2|
Are there strategies you have tried in the past that end up blowing up in your face, or just don’t seem to work? Those are your liabilities. When the going gets tough do you tune-out, but your Partner needs you to tune-in? Liability! Do you deflect, but your Manager needs you to take responsibility? Liability! Do you become inflexible, but the situation calls for flexibility? Liability!
|I tend to tune-out in stressful situations.||4|
|I tend to deflect problems.||3|
|I tend to be inflexible.||4|
Tip: Include strategies in your list that you don’t normally use but have admired when used by other people. This is a good opportunity to practice and hone new skills.
The last two “S’s” are a little different:
All sabotages are liabilities. Sabotages can take many forms. They can be internal, such as derailing attitudes or behaviors often rooting in ambivalence or self-doubt. Sabotages can also be external, such as someone vying for your job while you are on Leave, or an unsupportive partner at home.
Sabotages can be subtle, even unconscious, or obvious. Your job is to identify them and then neutralize them (or at least diminish their impact). Write down any sabotages you are aware of, both internal and external, and then ask a trusted friend if they are aware of any others. Soliciting a friend’s perspective can help get at those pesky unconscious sabotages!
This last “S” reminds us that we are not transitioning in a bubble. There are people all around us who impact our transition and who are themselves impacted by our transition. This “S” is designed to give you a structured way to determine what you need from those around you and to encourage you to ask them for the support you need to make your maternity leave successful. It is your feedback loop.
Would it be helpful for your Manager to send you a regular update email while you are on leave? Suggest! Does your Partner need to share more home responsibilities? Suggest! Does your mom need to stop popping by unannounced? Suggest!
This “S” is also a reminder to stay open to others suggestions for your transition. It is easy to get overwhelmed when everyone has something to add (and often it is contradictory!), but this is an opportunity to practice sifting through given information and distilling it down to the gems that work for you.
Second, Take Charge:
Once you have identified your assets and liabilities, your next step is to take charge and make a detailed plan to increase your assets while also working to decrease your liabilities. Start by going down your list and highlighting some easy wins. Are there obvious areas where you can increase your assets? This can also mean working to increase the effectiveness of an identified asset. Make what you already have working for you work even harder!
Conversely, are there liabilities that you can easily turn into assets or in other ways decrease their negative impact on your transition? Do you see any easily remedied gaps? Don’t let your resistance to support stop you from taking charge and moving your transition forward in a positive way. Ask for what you need.
Once you have taken care of your easy wins and are feeling confident, it is time to tackle the harder stuff.
Your thoughtful use of our “6-S System” adds another tool to your transition toolkit. Consider it a way to make your own customized transition roadmap. Remembering to pull it out and use it when times get tough can go a long way towards making your transition an empowered and meaningful one.
*Schlossberg, N.K. (1984). Counseling adults in transitions. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Article originally published here.
I’d love to hear how you’ve been able to use the “6-S System for Transition Success” or any other Parental Leave Transition stories you’d like to share. If you’d like to know more about this model or our work at the Center for Parental Leave Leadership, see our website or contact me directly.
© 2015 Center for Parental Leave Leadership. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Amy Beacom has worked in the field of executive leadership development and coaching, with a particular focus on issues of relevance to women leaders, since 1996. After the birth of her first child, Amy envisioned a new field of executive coaching and consulting that focused on the unique challenges and opportunities faced by working parents – and their work organizations – specific to the parental leave timeframe. The Center for Parental Leave Leadership and the RETAIN™ Parental Leave Coaching model is the result of that vision. Amy lives in Brooklyn, New York and Portland, Oregon with her husband and their 8 year-old son and 5‐year old daughter.