Lori Mihalich-Levin is the working mama guru behind the successful program “Mindful Return.” I recently had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Mihalich-Levin regarding what Mindful Return is and how it helps working mothers. I am pleased to share this interview on the blog today.
1. For readers who are unfamiliar, can you describe what Mindful Return is, and why you started it?
Mindful Return is a 4-week online program (and a blog!) designed to help new parents return to work after parental leave in a more calm, empowered, and successful way. I started it, because while there seemed to be a curriculum out there for everything baby-related (how to make a birth plan, puree baby food, massage your baby…), there didn’t seem to be a course one could take on “how to navigate maternity leave and the return to work without losing your mind”!
For the past 3 years, about 500 women have taken the Mindful Return course, and the paternity leave version just for dads will be launching in January 2018.
2. What led you to create Mindful Return? Were you prompted by something in your personal or professional life?
Mindful Return was definitely born of my own experiences returning to work full time after my two boys (who are now 4 1/2 and 6 1/2). I returned to an employer where plenty of people had gone out on and returned from maternity leave, but no one seemed to be talking about how challenging this transition could be. I was first inspired to launch a “Returning to Work Group” at my office. (More on how to form a “Working Mom Posse” at your office here.) Then, taking the Abundant Mama e-course with moms from all over (with kids of all ages) inspired me to develop an online program where new working moms could connect, mentor one another, and learn how to do this transition in a better way.
3. In your opinion, what are the biggest difficulties women face in returning from maternity leave?
Oh, there are many! But here are three I hear frequently and have experienced myself:
(1) Sleep deprivation is high on the list; it can be a huge struggle to figure out your new life and balance work demands while having your sleep interrupted every two hours. American maternity leave policies, as you probably know, aren’t known for their generosity; so many moms end up heading back to work right around the time of that dreaded 3-month sleep regression.
(2) Finding the time and energy to pump milk during the day is another challenge many moms confront. With the irony being the more you stress, the less milk you produce.
(3) Guilt. New moms returning to work are trying to figure out their own new identities, trying to be good moms, and trying to be good employees. We often hold ourselves to remarkably high standards and feel guilty when we come up “short.”
4. In your opinion, are the struggles working women face in returning from maternity leave primarily related to inward pressure, outward pressures, or a combination of both?
Definitely a combination of both. Society often holds up the image of the “you-can-do-it-all mom”, and social media doesn’t exactly help to dispel these myths. Workplace policies tend not to favor working parents, and it’s well known that there’s a “motherhood penalty” in the workplace (there’s even a Wikipedia entry on the topic!). At the same time, many of us put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to be all things to all people at all times. It’s okay to ease back into work, find new rhythms, and just “be” in our new lives as mothers. But we often don’t give ourselves permission to do these things.
5. Following up on the last question, how does the Mindful Return course help women navigate these pressures?
The Mindful Return course focuses on a different theme each week, as follows, to help take some of the stress (and feelings of being alone) out of the return to work:
Week 1: A Mindful Mindset for Return. This week of the course helps new working moms develop skills that will help keep them from going off the rails, mentally, when they return. We work on gratitude practices, perspective, coping with new motherhood and anxiety, and self-care.
Week 2: Logistics. During this week, we focus on learning all those logistical ninja tricks around things like transitioning to childcare, negotiating flexibility, coping with sick days, snow days, and the unexpected, nourishing our little ones (whether we’re pumping or not pumping), and putting food on our own tables at night.
Week 3: Leadership in the space of return. Yes, working mamas can be amazing leaders at work upon their return. During this week of the course, we focus on things like taking credit for a well-planned leave and return, learning delegation skills, naming those skills we’re gaining as parents that are applicable at work, and being a role model for other parents.
Week 4: Community. This week reminds us of the power of “me too” and the importance of not isolating ourselves. We remind ourselves of the perils of isolation and explore things like the new parent communities that are most helpful and ways our villages (from caretakers to in-laws to friends) can support us.
Beyond the curriculum, the course helps new moms feel like they aren’t alone. Everyone going through the course is in the same position, facing the same fears.
6. Beyond the 4-week course, what other resources does Mindful Return offer to mothers returning from leave?
- The Mindful Return Maternity Leave Template offers pregnant women a tool they can use to communicate with their managers about their plans for leave.
- My book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave helps with all aspects of the transition.
- The Mindful Return Saturday Secrets Newsletter (sign up in the purple box here) comes out every Saturday morning, and in it I share one short Q&A that helps working parents navigate life.
- And the Mindful Return blog is my 3+ year archives of articles about various returning-to-work-related subjects.
7. From your experience, what are some of the biggest concerns women have about returning to work after having a baby? And do concerns change in relation to whether the woman is a first-time or second-time plus mom?
Some of the biggest concerns women have include: (1) will my baby be okay with this person I’ve chosen as a caregiver (but may not know well)?; (2) will I miss seeing my baby’s milestones? (Read this if you’re worried about this one!); (3) how will I regain my focus at work and be as productive as I used to be; (4) how will I afford the ridiculous price of daycare?
A large percentage of moms who take the Mindful Return course are second, third, and even fourth time moms. Which tells me it’s still a struggle, no matter which time you do it. While you may, for example, already trust your daycare provider by the time your second baby arrives, other logistics are infinitely more complicated when you add another baby to the mix. When our second son arrived, my husband and I used to joke that 1 + 1 = 85!
8. If you could offer one piece of advice to a woman who is currently on maternity leave and having difficulty navigating her return back, what would it be?
To say two things to yourself every morning when you take a shower: (1) you are enough, mama; and (2) comparison is the thief of joy. You WILL get through this (fleeting) time in life, and you don’t have to go at it alone.
9. What are some ways non-parent colleagues can help facilitate a new mother’s return to work?
Great question! We working parents are always in need of allies at the office. I think the number one way non-parents can help is to show compassion for the new mother. To understand that things have changed in her world, and that the hours between 5 and 8pm are both insane and precious. Believe in her for the long-haul, too. Yes, these first few months back are crazy; and she will be the most loyal (and efficient) employee you can imagine if you give her the time now to find her new groove.
10. Do you have a particular Mindful Return success story you’re interested in sharing with readers?
Absolutely! I have two, actually.
- Not long after a Mindful Return course session ended, I had lunch with one of the participants, who had just returned to work the prior week. When I met her, I was anxious to hear how her return went. “Oh, the return was totally fine, thanks to the Mindful Return course,” she said. “Now let’s talk about something more exciting, like my baby and your boys!”
- After taking the lesson on negotiating flexibility, one of my mamas mustered up the courage to meet with her boss over lunch to ask for adjusted hours (i.e. starting and ending her workday earlier). She was terrified to make the ask, and was afraid of what her manager would think. The reality? Not only did her boss say yes to her request, but her boss declared, “Oh, take anything you need! I thought you were asking me to lunch to say you weren’t coming back!!”
11.If nothing else, what is the one thing you’d like readers to take away from this interview today?
Working mamas rock. We gain superpowers of efficiency, patience, the ability to meet the needs of clients who can’t communicate their needs, and we become problem-solving ninjas. Be proud of yourselves, working mamas. You are truly amazing.
Thank you to Lori Mihalich-Levin and Mindful Return for this interview!