Monday, October 14, 2013

Maternity Leave and Beyond

One of the many questions you will get asked when you're pregnant is "How much time will you be able to take off of work?" which is always followed by "Will you work after the baby is born?"

Both are completely legitimate and valid questions. I think it's good to have a conversation with other women and moms to see what they did, are doing, or are planning to do, to gauge what is expected, allowed, or even legal once you are in the same situation.

First, a little background on my post-college work life:
I double majored in Arts Administration and Music in college. I was dead set on being a high-powered production person for some big-time Broadway Musical in Manhattan. After college, I was hired as an assistant in Fundraising at the Metropolitan Opera and I thought I had made it. The day I was offered the job, I ran around my parent's house screaming with excitement - the dog barking behind me. Working at the Met was really cool. I attended tons of Met Opera Galas, opening nights, and various other events in which many celebrities were in attendance. I've checked in a frenzied Barbara Walters who was running late and showed her to our event. I chatted very briefly with Shawn Connery and stood just a few feet away from Joshua Jackson, to name a few. I attended tons of operas, made some very good friends, and every day this was my view as I walked into work:
Source
Life was glamorous for awhile but unfortunately, after 2 years, the glamour and allure of it wore off for me, and I was kind of over it. Yes, I had become..."a jaded New Yorker". Really what it came down to was the fact that I didn't really like/respect/care for my boss, mostly because she didn't really like/respect/care for me (or any other of her employees). Also funny enough, I didn't really like opera. I appreciate opera as a beautiful art form, and I saw some amazing productions in my time there. But I quickly discovered that opera is not my go-to form of entertainment. So I began looking for other jobs....and looking...and looking...and looking. I went on a few interviews, but this was at the beginning of the market crash and no one was really hiring. Day by day I grew more and more frustrated. I had asked around to many friends and old co-workers to keep an eye out for any job opportunities, and one day a former co-worker called me to say that she knew someone who was looking for a new Personal Assistant. I was a little weary at first - it wasn't that arts involved, and not nearly close to what I ever expected to be doing...but I was at the point where if she had called to offer me a job at McDonald's, I probably would have taken it. I was called in to interview with him the next morning and by 1:00 that afternoon, had a job offer. On a whim, hope, and prayer, I took the job and put in my notice at the Opera.

Fast forward to now:
Now, I've been a Personal Assistant to a wealthy business-man in Manhattan for over 3 years and I am so unbelievably happy. It's much less drama, much less stress, and a much more nurturing, caring, accepting environment. Sometimes, I've gone through periods where I've asked myself "What exactly am I doing here?" I'm not really on any "career path" and there isn't really anywhere to move up to here. But, I believed that this job came to me for a reason.
The view from my office

Chris and I have long discussed and planned for the possibility of me not working, or only working part-time once we had kids. It was very important to me, and to us, that I be home as much as possible in the early years of our children's lives. I also knew that there was no way I could continue tolerating a 1 hour commute (on a good day) into Manhattan each way, every day - that adds up to a whole 10 additional hours each week that I'd be away from my baby! Some days, I don't get home until 7:00, and I see other friends with kids who have already put their children to bed!
Waiting for trains = story of my life
What makes this job so much better for me is that I really respect and appreciate my boss, and I feel the same in return from him. We work well together and are very open and honest with each other. When the subject of maternity leave came up after I announced my pregnancy, he asked me "How much time do you want?" When he asked me what I wanted to do after my maternity leave, I was open about my concerns continuing with full-time work. He in turn, offered to work out a flexible situation for me in which I work part-time, fully from home.

What's nice for me is that I'm the only person in my particular position at work, and the first one of his employees, ever, to have a child. So we're all just making it up as we go along, and no one else is in a position to argue for this, or argue for that.

I will be earning half my full-time salary, but can still stay on with my fully covered health benefits. Even better, my long-term goal has always been to open up a piano studio in my home. I have taught many piano students since I was 20 years old, and enjoy teaching piano immensely. This part-time position, should hopefully allow me the time to start, and gradually grow, a piano studio out of my home for extra income, which has long been a goal of mine.

These days, I could pinch myself. I'm not exactly running production for the next big Broadway Musical, but I realized long ago that that wasn't what was important to me anymore. It became more important to me to be happy at work and to like who I work for. It became more important to me to have a job that would not interfere with my personal life and offer me some flexibility when the time came to start a family. Somehow, that's exactly what I fell into. I still remember the day my friend called me about this job. I had no idea at the time just how pivotal that moment would be, but I cannot thank her, or my boss, enough for what they have given me and my family.

21 comments:

  1. Happy employees are productive, loyal employees. Your boss institutes an atmosphere of mutual respect and that is what is missing from so many companies (and school district and politics) these days. How refreshing to hear the words "nurturing" and "my boss" in the same sentence. Your boss should write a book! Then you could turn it into a hit Broadway musical. An updated version of "How to Succeed in Business." So glad things are working out so well for you.

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    1. Thanks! I'll run the Broadway Musical idea by my boss - see what he says - do you think working on that script could count as part of my 20 hours of work a week??

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  2. I love this! I too work as an administrative assistant - and I love it! I work for a firm rather than an individual, but I support two partners (who happen to be married, so that makes it easier). They both respect me and my time, and have been wonderful bosses, especially through having a baby. I always thought I'd use my degree a little more directly, but I definitely use the skills I learned in this position. I think people severely undervalue assistants - I've seen some bad assistants keep partners from getting everything done. It's definitely a unique skill set! Love the setup you're about to have!

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    1. I, too, thought I'd use my degree more directly, but you are right that being an assistant def. requires a unique skill set. I know there are lots of people out there who would never even consider my job because the title is "beneath" them, but that's just not me. I don't feel the need to climb any type of corporate ladder by working ridiculously long hours and weekends, which, especially in Manhattan, is such the norm.

      So glad to hear that the work/family thing has worked out so well for you too and that you have respectful and understanding bosses! How refreshing!

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  3. Oh my goodness, it's so wonderful to hear stories where people LOVE their job and who they work with. I feel like these stories these days are becoming few and far between. Have a Manager who respects you, wants you to succeed and CARES about you is so important.

    It looks like things are so beautifully falling into place for you.

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    1. Thanks Sarah, somehow I've been very lucky so far with this set-up and I'm crossing my fingers that the transition is smooth, easy and successful!

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  4. It sounds like you have a wonderful situation! I was only given a 6 week maternity leave since I work for a really small company but it was fully paid which a lot of people don't get. I do have the ability to work from home if I ever need to stay home when my son is sick and my boss is very flexible and accommodating so that's good but ideally I would love to only work part-time or work from home everyday.

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    1. That's def. awesome that your 6 week leave was at full-pay. I always assumed that maternity leave was full pay - I was shocked to hear it wasn't! Perhaps one day you will work out a part-time situation there or somewhere, but I'm so glad to hear that your job has been flexible and accommodating to you so far!

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  5. What a great opportunity your boss has given you!! Glad it is all working out.

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  6. What a great post, Laura! I am so happy for you that you'll be able to continue working part-time from home, be with your child and pursue your dream of opening a piano studio. I never learned how to play when I was younger, but I've always loved music, and it's actually on my list of life goals to learn.

    I also had no idea you once worked for the Metropolitan Opera! I've always loved musical theater, and in the past couple years, I've also gotten really into opera, attending shows, dress rehearsals, master classes, etc., at the Kennedy Center here in DC. The novel I'm working on also has some themes about opera and music, so I'm trying to learn as much as I can about what goes on backstage, how singers prepare and so on.

    The way you feel about your experience working there is similar to the way I feel about my experience working for Congress. I went in with such high hopes of making it "big" and getting drawn into the culture there, but I soon found myself surrounded by a good number of people who were cutthroat, negative and simply interested in power more than anything else. Since leaving, I've been trying to find my way by pursing writing, weddings, etc., and while I'm still struggling in some ways, I'm hopeful that things will ultimately work out the way they're supposed to.

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    1. Too bad you don't live in New York...I know someone who plans to open a piano lesson studio soon ;)

      Yes, worked for the Met Opera for 3 years! I always see your posts or facebook posts about going to the Kennedy Center - I've always wanted to go there, looks like such a beautiful venue. So neat your novel is incorporating opera and music into it! I was largely out of the loop of any backstage or actual production-side of things while I was there, so I'm not sure how much assistance I could be, but if you ever want to run something by me, feel free to. I def. heard some stories! What is your favorite and/or least favorite opera? The only opera I can say that I LOVED while I was there was "La Fille du Regiment" and probably "Lucia di Lammermoor" as a close second.

      Yes, I think we've talked about this before: Feeling kind of let-down that what we thought were such dream jobs, turned out not to be. And in a way - we went into very similar professions, and left with the same complaints. I believe that things will ultimately work out for you. You are a hard worker and very driven and all of your efforts will pay off for you soon - sometimes it's just one phone call or one person you happen to meet or run into that completely changes your life.

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  7. That's fantastic!! After I had my first son I went to my boss and tried to quit and he was the one who suggested that I come back in a part time capacity. I really enjoyed working part time though my set up was a bit different. I did two days in the city and about 10 hours from home. Eventually the job just became too much and they needed someone full time and I was about to have my second baby so I was not looking for more hours.

    The most important thing is you are happy with who you work for and the balance of work and family. Bonus that you get to pursue a life long goal!

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    1. That's so amazing that even as you were prepared to quit they worked something out for you. You must be an invaluable employee! I was prepared to work 2 days in the city too...but my boss was the one who said he didn't think it was necessary...and I wasn't going to argue that! Yes, I agree that as long as I like and respect who I work for, and that I get that in return, I couldn't ask for anything more. Here's hoping the piano studio thing pans out!

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  8. That sounds fantastic. I'm not going to lie, I'm super jealous. I recently started selling Origami Owl to have something to do and to make a little money [eventually, I've been spending more than I've earned so far], so having something to do will keep you from getting stir crazy AND the fact that you'll be able to teach piano someday is awesome. Good luck with everything. Sounds like you have a great boss!

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    1. Good luck with the origami owls that sounds neat! Are you selling them on etsy? I wish I was craftier than i am - I try so hard to be crafty but there's nothing in particular that I feel would actually sell on Etsy.

      I do have a great boss..I'm very lucky!

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  9. That's great that you actually like your job, and that you've managed to work out a part-time schedule after you return from maternity leave!! And that your return will be working from home - it sounds like your boss is really understanding!! It's great that everything is coming together!

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    1. Thanks so much Karen, I def. feel very lucky with the way things seem to be falling into place. Here's hoping it all works out and is a smooth transition!

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  10. I love hearing stories like this---more companies need to be like this.

    I work part time (about 15 hours or so) and all from home. I took 11 full weeks off and then started working again. I do about half of my previous job, and the other half got distributed amongst other employees. It's a great set up and can definitely have challenges, but I am so fortunate and thankful for my set up. I hope they keep me on in this role for a long time! I'm thankful my child is a good napper and can entertain herself here and there while I get some work done. Naptime = Worktime, and my husband 100% understands and supports that, which has been huge. I only work on blogging (which I haven't blogged in like 2 months), cleaning, laundry, etc. when I'm caught up with work.

    Good luck!

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  11. Your boss sounds like an awesome person to work for! I am so glad that they are working with you. It really is important to be happy with your work and who you work for. And I hope you can open that Piano studio too! That sounds like such a great job to have, especially if you love doing something so much!

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  12. So glad it's all working out! You're going to love staying home and not feeling like you're missing out on their day :)

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