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4 Things They Don't Tell You About Parental Leave from a First-Time Dad

4 Things They Don't Tell You About Parental Leave from a First-Time Dad Blog Feature

Vin Gaeta

VP of Marketing, 10+ Years of Sales & Marketing Experience, 12+ Years of Development Experience, 14+ Years of Project Management Expertise

January 28th, 2019 min read

I heard time and time again that nothing prepares you for parenthood.

And boy, was that right!

My wife Victoria and I welcomed our little girl, Madelyn, into the world 3 months ago (September 29th!) and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

But that also brought on the insane stressor of planning my parental leave (I’m fortunate that IMPACT offers employees - both moms and dads - 8 weeks of parental leave). I love my job and the folks I get to work with, so making sure I didn’t leave anyone in the lurch was important to me.

Here are four things I was completely blindsided by during my parental leave - along with some insight from other IMPACT parents on their experiences, both at IMPACT and outside of it.

Hopefully, this will help to prepare you a bit more than I was!

1. Babies Are Amazing!

...and at times, more difficult than your day-to-day job.

Maddy-min

I always wanted to be a dad - so I felt somewhat prepared for parenthood. Funnily enough, a lot of the things that I had encountered and learned at IMPACT had set me up for success in being a new parent.

Two things in particular stand out:

  1. Steep Learning Curves

  2. Being Agile and Embracing the Messy.

Steep Learning Curves

The hardest part, for me, in being a new parent was the elements of the unknown.

Can she have milk straight out of the fridge? Is her diaper on right? Is she sleeping too much? Too little? The list goes on and on.

There’s probably a new question every minute running through your head. But being able to slow down, assess the situation, then act on what was going on was absolutely critical.  

One of the “double-edged swords” of the world we live in is the internet. I had so much information and insight at a moment’s notice - which is great at 2:30am when you’re worrying about a stuffy nose.

But the amount of information on the web can also create unnecessary fear and stress - so take everything you’re reading with a grain of salt (easier said than done🤣🤣).

I was shocked at how quickly we both learned the ins and outs of baby care, keeping her happy, and what was likely bothering her based on which cry she’d let out.

The first month of “parent-life” felt like it had a lot of correlations to early start-up life at IMPACT - specifically, needing to learn frequently to thrive in my role, and coping when things go wrong.

Be Agile and Embrace the Messy

Things.Will.Go.Wrong.

That is a fact.

Case in point, the first time we tried to take a family trip to the grocery store.

What’s normally a 20-minute ordeal sans-baby, turned into a 1.5-hour trek that included two outfit changes, a mid-trip feeding, and a forgotten half-gallon of milk.

Be present and understand that even when nothing goes as planned, you’ll get through it with your partner.

I asked our Design Supervisor Jessie-Lee Nichols about her experience with embracing the messy. She told me that “Delegation skills transfer to your home life. You’ll need help and you’ll need to ask for it often to avoid drowning.”

“Delegation skills transfer to your home life. You’ll need help and you’ll need to ask for it often to avoid drowning.”

There are definitely many parallels between what’s successful in the workspace versus the “arena” of having a tiny human at home. To Jessie-Lee’s point, one of the biggest things you don’t want to do is not communicate with your partner (and family) if you need help.

As the saying goes, delegate and elevate!

2. You'll Miss Your Team More Than You’d Think

With all of the prep I had done to ready myself for being out of the office, unplugged, and focused on family time - I was completely unprepared for missing my team as much as I did.

This is especially true if you work at a company that has a very close-knit culture, like we do at IMPACT, and it may be one of the harder things you encounter on parental leave.

After 7+ years here, it’s hard to imagine a week without some of these folks around - let alone two months.

Once the newborn chaos slowed down, and we got into a groove at home, I found myself missing some of the familiar faces and conversations.

That may differ for you based on your company culture, but it can be a real downer when you’re home and missing your team especially since, when you’re passionate about what you do, not being engrained in it every day can be stressful.

My counter to that was to have quick, ad-hoc chats with folks to not feel so left out, and it worked really well!

I found that grabbing 10 to 15 minutes just to say “Hi”, and check in with a small group of folks really helped me stay in the loop and not drive myself crazy.

3. Working Small Amounts Can Keep You (and Your Partner) Sane

Saying that this statement was true for me is a massive understatement.

I love my wife (Hey, honey 👋) but limited sleep, a screaming baby, and scarce contact with other adults can make even the most glued-together couples start to annoy each other.

We realized early on in our parental leave that doing 30 to 60 minutes of work throughout the week helped revitalize us, even if it’s just clearing out your inbox, and marking down things to prioritize upon your return (more on that below), or doing a quick check-in with the team.

Before your head explodes because I just recommended you take time away from your family - hear me out.

It worked for a few reasons, in my opinion.

We had some dedicated “me” time away from each other, and the baby. Plus, it let us shift our mindset back into the things we’re passionate about - aside from the little bundle of joy. 😀

The break from all things baby actually refreshed me, and helped me start to see how I could balance my commitments early on.

Another thing to consider is there may be times that the team needs you. It may be unavoidable.

Marc Amigone, one of IMPACT’s Client Success Managers and fellow first time dad said, “I was totally out of a work mindset for the first month and totally focused on dad stuff, until someone messaged me to let me know about an internal conversation I should be aware of... then it was like my bubble popped and I had never left.”

“I was totally out of a work mindset for the first month and totally focused on dad stuff, until someone messaged me to let me know about an internal conversation I should be aware of... then it was like my bubble popped and I had never left.”

While it’s extremely important to unplug and dedicate time to the family, it’s equally important, in my mind, to not leave your team high and dry.

I experienced the same thing when getting back into the office. Strangely enough, even after eight weeks, it felt like I had never left. The routine was still there, and I was able to almost jump right back in.

Something that I’ve always battled with when taking time off is the fear of what awaits me upon my return. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt this way.

That’s another reason why I worked small amounts on parental leave - so I knew what’d I’d be coming back to. It’s also important to have a solid transition plan - both when you’re leaving and coming back.

4. What You Can Do To Make It Easier

The entire new parent experience is a daunting one, but with a little planning, you can make the transition so much easier.

I recommend planning your exit, and your return, so you know exactly what is expected and so does your team. That way, in all of the chaos that happens in the first couple months of parenthood, there’s some structure to fall back on.

While I was preparing for my parental leave, I did a few things with some guidance from our awesome VP of Talent, Natalie Davis.

Documenting what a typical day looks like for you, what your major responsibilities are, as well as your leave plan, are a few pretty simple things that can help dramatically. They definitely did for me.

I also spent some time recording videos of me giving insight into what things can pop up in my role, how I handle certain conversations, and other tips to help whoever was taking over for me to prepare and get a better understanding of what to expect.

Lastly, that plan I mentioned was extremely helpful in getting both me and my supervisor on the same page regarding my parental leave. I detailed what my rough exit date would be, along with my return date, when I was going to be completely unplugged, and when he could start reaching out if needed.

Things can change quickly when you’re expecting, and they did for us! Our little girl came 3 weeks early, so having a plan documented with dates that could easily be shifted was so helpful.

When you’re starting to transition back into the office (or working remotely), that same type of plan can save your sanity.

During the last two weeks of my parental leave, I started working a 2 to 4 hours, three days a week, to get my mind back into the old habits and shake off the dust.

That type of transition back isn’t ideal for everyone, but it absolutely helped me get back to work and started full steam ahead.

Once I got back to the office, I made sure to keep a few morning hours blocked to dig through any remaining emails as well as have some time to get into the right zone before the meetings and work piled on.

Every little bit helped :)

Jessie-Lee gave me one of the best bite-sized nuggets of knowledge regarding the transition back, especially for remote moms (but it applies to dads too!).

“Be real with your team; tell them you need time to pump/nurse, tell them when emotionally things are a bit too much, and tell them when to expect a sick kiddo strapped to your chest on the next video call. Life is allowed to happen, just as much as work is expected to.”

That level of candor, vulnerability, and as she put it, realness, can make or break your new parent experience as you transition back into the workforce.

Don’t be afraid to let your team know what you’re experiencing and ask for help.

Parental leave is an incredible benefit that can be a daunting thing to plan for. After all, it’s a huge change in your life, plus a transition to account for getting back into the workplace. But with some planning, support and the right mindset - you’ll be burping babies and crushing goals in no time :)

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