What I’ve learnt… about Mat Leave

Mat Leave is a deeply personal experience. And let’s face it, an emotional rollercoaster at best (a complete literal sh*t 💩show at worst).

My experiences of mat leave differ wildly. The first I was employed, and went back to work full time after 8 weeks. Probably not ideal in hindsight, and my return was managed horribly by my employer. but I very much had FOMO career-wise (and some financial necessity). The second, I was 6 months into my business and handed over to a team of 5. And that was honestly, the best business decision I have made to date.

What really comes across from my conversations with mums and founders over the last six months, is that mat leave is completely different every time. Your babies are different, your career circumstances are different, the support available might be different, your needs different.

I think Rebekah Clark from Happy Marlo had it right when she called her maternity leave, ‘the best of times and the worst of times’. But ultimately, I am here to tell you – it will be OK (something that I needed to hear more of in my first!)

The run up

Not going to lie, the thought of taking extended leave from your business can be really scary. Especially if you’re the face of the business, like Hollie Grant from Pilates PT. You get statutory maternity pay from the government and unless you’ve had time and space to plan and save, financially it can feel a big stretch.

Planning is key. Finding the business support you need (if you can afford it!), putting strong boundaries in place with clients and team members, and plan in giving yourself some grace.

It could also be the catalyst to change your career

In between the feeding/changing/crying you’ve got some time. Kat Fellows, founder of Lesh and Laura Crawford founder of Mama Bamboo both arrived at their business ideas as a direct result of their mat leave and baby raising experiences. They had some time away from their career, time to think about what they wanted and whether they wanted to return to work in the same way. Spoiler alert: they did not.

It’s different every time

I heard this from every single mum I spoke to and I found it very comforting. It’s natural to worry that your kids aren’t getting enough of you, or your youngest isn’t getting those all important Diddy Dance classes like your eldest did.

A lot of the mums I spoke to made a very conscious effort to make their second mat leave different to their first. There are a lot of different elements to this, more established businesses, more financial security, more support. But often, mums went back to work earlier than they had originally anticipated with their seconds, because they wanted to get back to the business they love.

And it won’t look like what you expected

Be prepared for the fact that you might not be there for your business in the way that you anticipated, whether that’s because you’re in an absolute baby bubble of joy (I didn’t want to speak to anyone, I was so loved up with my first) or because, like Alina Sartogo from Wonki Collective, the first few weeks were as great as she’d been expecting.

It can be a lot of pressure for business owners

No one likes to feel like they are leaving colleagues and clients in the lurch, but that’s what KIT days are for.

Lucy Legal felt a lot of pressure when she was on mat leave as her partner was on statutory paternity leave pay and as the main breadwinner as well as a brand new mum, she needed to keep the salary coming in and making the business work. But she did it.

You might also feel pressure to come back early, to keep eyes on/a hand in the business/find new clients/be present on social media whatever it is. But ask yourself, truly, where is that pressure coming from? Speaking from experience, I would say almost always myself. HBU?

You’ll keep the clients you’re meant to keep – and you want to keep

I think we were all shocked, but not surprised when Maria Hvorotovsky told the story of the client that withdrew their business when Maria said she was pregnant. But remember, if they are ‘your’ people, they are your people and they will stick with you. If they don’t? Not the right kind of clients for you.

It can be really hard to navigate the complete life change

“I don’t feel like my expectations were managed. I’m not sure who I was expecting to manage them, but getting my expectations managed [would have helped], because suddenly everything in my life changed.” Joanna Glenn from Happy Marlo

Amen to that! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought nothing much would change when I had a baby!

Maria Hvorotovsky was the same. Her business was already established, she had flexibility built in, she thought that she would carry on as before. The euphoria of birth that can make you feel like superwoman, doesn’t necessarily carry on into the following weeks.

I think Joanna’s word ‘expectations’ is key here. We all expect perfection or near as dammit from ourselves when it comes to motherhood. And that is bonkers! Kim Hartwell spoke movingly about the expectations she had of herself in motherhood and for her business, and that they were just impossible to meet. I would really recommend listening to that conversation if you’re struggling at the moment.

There are different seasons for everything.

Sometimes you’ll be all in on your business, ignoring your family, the washing pile and everything else to focus on it. Sometimes, you’ll need to release your hold on your business, trust your team and say to yourself, ‘this is happening without me’.

“I also had a little word with myself and I just accepted that the following year, to kind of get the baby up to one, the business was just going to go slower. There was just no way around it. And that’s okay.” Steph Douglas, founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers

I think it’s really important to note that a lot of mums who are really successful have support that we don’t see, whether that’s at home or in their business (or both!). It’s tempting, especially when you’re in the thick of it, to get lost in the scroll hole and compare yourself to other mums and business owners. As I said, my main takeaway is that mat leave is different every time, you’ll find a way to make it work for you, your family and your business. And if you want to hear what I would have done differently in my mat leave as a business owner, listen to this solo episode.

I’d love to hear your mat leave experience (war stories!) so please do share them, either send me an email, or slide into my DMs.

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