The topic of parental leave for American employees has been gaining steam in recent years, especially among millennials as companies have moved towards more accommodating benefits for their employees. Comparisons have frequently been cited between the United States and most other developed nations, with the U.S. leave laws falling frighteningly short of other countries.
In 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act was made law, which allowed parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child either entering or joining their family. The caveat is that this law only applies to companies with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius and to employees that have worked at least 1,250 hours within a 12 month period prior to leave.
The law not only excludes a significant number of workers who are employed by small businesses and those who have a short tenure at their job, but also provides no protection for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
With no protection by law for parental leave for entrepreneurs, I discussed with two business owners how they were able to make leave possible for the birth of each of their children and what tips they had for others entering the same season of life.
“Attachment theory tells us that spending a lot of time and bonding with your infant during the first year of your child has long-lasting effects, so don’t rush to go back to work,” said Aytekin Tank, Founder and CEO of JotForm, an Online Form Builder. “Connect with your infant. Enjoy this time. The time passes so quickly.”
Anyone who has kids knows that time speeds up as soon as they are born. As much as entrepreneurs are driven and self-motivated to achieve success, they should realize that time is a limited resource, especially when they have a new child in their home.
“Family comes first, so every entrepreneur should put their health and their newborn before any work or email,” said Maggie Lord, Founder of Rustic Wedding Chic, a wedding blog. “I learned a lesson when my second son was born that helps me still today. All the emails will still be there tomorrow and your business is not going to shut down overnight. Taking time for your family, newborn and yourself will only make you a stronger and better entrepreneur.”
Most reasonable people recognize that time with a newborn is extremely valuable and should be cherished wherever possible. However, for entrepreneurs, the challenges of keeping a business thriving or even just alive while they take time away can seem impossible. For those business owners who have managed to establish a team around them to support their business, Tank and Lord have valuable tips to make your parental leave a reality.
“Start preparing for your leave very early,” said Tank. “When I had my first son and previously when I took a three-month European road trip with my wife, I did not spend enough time to improve the processes in my business beforehand. They resulted in missed opportunities. But this time, before my second son arrived, I started preparations three months in advance. During that time, I reviewed every single daily activity I performed and asked myself one question, ‘How can I automate or delegate it?’ Most of the time, I found a way to automate or delegate the activity as a whole.”
While well-developed businesses can utilize delegation to keep the business thriving, other small business owners can’t make an extended period of leave work, so instead they get creative about how and when they work.
“Maternity leave when you own your own business is tricky,” said Lord. “I use the phrase ‘maternity moment,’ and not maternity leave, since I don’t really take off for a long period of time. To me using the idea of a “maternity moment” allows you to feel you can unplug and take the time you need for yourself and newborn but not be totally disconnected.
If you can’t totally unplug, Lord has a solid approach to slow down with the business, but continue to contribute where needed.
“As I get ready to take maternity leave once again I have put together more of an action plan that allows me both the time I need to enjoy the birth of new son and stay connected to help the company keep moving forward,” continued Lord. “This time around I am dedicated to only working two mornings a week for the first two months or so. By carving out specific days and times that I know I will be ‘on’ for work, I have been able to set up childcare for the kids so I don’t feel pulled in a million different directions and it allows everyone on my work team to know when I will be available.”
Ultimately, what Tank and Lord have demonstrated is that there’s no blueprint for entrepreneurs when it comes to parental leave. It will look different for every entrepreneur and business owner, because every business is different. Some will completely unplug from their business and delegate responsibilities to others, while others will stay involved when they are able, but still allow themselves time to rest, recover, and enjoy their new child.
One last tip that Lord shared is key for entrepreneurs that are convinced there’s no way they could take any leave from their business.
“I am sure some people would like quicker answers to emails, but I think being upfront with people and letting them know that you are actually taking a maternity moment allows them to adjust their expectations,” said Lord. “With the way many people work today, more often than not there is an understanding about being unavailable for a short time.”
Of course, there are exceptions to this idea, but most people will understand if your responses are not immediate or work is slower than usual. The reality is that most of your clients or customers are parents too, or may be parents someday, so they may be more understanding than you think if you are honest with them about needing a week to get something back to them.
Use these tips to plan your parental leave, or share it with someone you know that is expecting and trying to plan for their recovery.