Why I’m Taking All My Maternity Leave

In my travels, I’ve seen a lot of different options offered for maternity leave, from none at all to full years of paid leave. Here in the U.S., we don’t have a national paid leave law, which means a lot of parents go back to work very quickly because they can’t afford to take unpaid time off. With that context, I feel very fortunate that the Army allows me 12 weeks of paid time off to both recover from childbirth and bond with my baby.

And yet I’ve raised a few eyebrows by telling people that I fully intend on taking all of it. And not just because I am, as you guys know, a recovering workaholic.

It shouldn’t be shocking that someone wants to use the full benefits offered to her by her employer, but unfortunately, it is. It’s the same with regular leave. I’ve encountered a lot of people unwilling to take time off or even to ask for a shortened day due to the reactions I’ve experienced when I tell people {other than those in my immediate office, that is} that I’m jolly well taking all my maternity leave. You’d figure that we’re given a benefit because we’re expected to use it, right?

Here are some reasons I’m taking all of my maternity leave.

Five Reasons I’m Taking Maternity Leave

1. Motherhood takes practice.

No matter how many people tell you that being a mother is natural and comes with a lot of super mom instincts, there are still a lot of things you’ve got to figure out. Having time off to give yourself a crash course in bonding with and caring for this new little beastie you and your partner have created? That’s gold.

Maternity leave is not a vacation. It’s your chance to figure out with your baby just what kind of mother you’re going to be. It’s a chance to practice dealing with sleepless nights, to try getting into a rhythm, to make plans and throw them out just as quickly, to figure out what kind of help you’re really going to need as you go forward in this adventure.

I’m the first to admit I’m clueless about what to do with this little man I’m about to bring into the world, so I’m taking my time to figure it all out.

2. I’m investing in my family.

As much as I love my career, I love my family more. Family has taken a back seat in so much of my life that I feel the need to invest some serious quality time in family right now. Lucky for me, I’m at a point in my career where I can do that without missing any key milestones, but even if I weren’t at that point, I would be making this decision.

I’ve asked my husband to sacrifice a lot as a military spouse. His career has taken a back seat to mine and my work often drives our schedule. He’s rolled with it. This little boy of ours, however, is a joint effort, and I owe both of us the time to get him settled and started out as well and as healthfully as we can. If that means the brunt of the initial care is on me while Scott continues working, so be it. I’m giving us the time.

And I owe Scott my support as we figure out how to tackle this parenting adventure together. Parenthood is definitely not a house chore that I can pass him on a sticky-note as I head out the door to work. Instead, family is something we both value greatly, so we want to make sure we’re investing in it accordingly.

3. Whether I like it or not, I’m an example at work.

With the exception of my boss, I’m the senior officer in my division. Now that I think about it, at the moment, I think I’m the senior woman officer in my whole directorate. And whether I like it or not, the decisions I make, priorities I set, and conversations I have with my male supervisors set a precedent. I’m not saying that there would be immediate copying if I scaled back my leave time or gave into any of the people who questioned my taking so much time off or asked if I was worried about missing so much work, but it would have an impact.

I participate in a few online mentorship forums for women officers, and lately, I’ve found myself talking to a number of them who are either feeling guilty for taking leave or dealing with a supervisor unwilling to let them plan out large amounts of leave. While I advocate working out a schedule for leave to make sure duties and responsibilities aren’t left uncovered, I also advocate making sure that you can actually take the leave you’ve been given. It amazes me that all of these women who would likely raise hell if someone withheld part of their paycheck don’t feel like they can push harder when someone is withholding another of their benefits.

But what good is my message if I don’t set that example myself?

4. I want to foster a positive work environment.

I’ve experienced two types of work environments during my time in the military. The first is a toxic environment where the idea of selfless service and personal sacrifice is taken to the extreme. We’ve all worked in these places, where people are judged and graded based on the amount of time they spend at their desks, the late nights worked, the holidays missed, the visible trappings of putting duty first and everything else behind. I’m not even talking about a deployed or combat environment, but an office environment treated as sacrosanct.

Because of work environments like this, people are hesitant to put in requests for leave, and as a result, end up losing a lot of it in a “use or lose” situation. As a result, morale falters, productivity lags, and people end up resigning from the service. You can’t keep people working effectively if they’re running on empty for no reason.

Then there’s the second environment, my personal favorite and the one I’m in currently. I can best describe it as the “work hard, play hard.” When you’re at work, you work, and you work hard, but you space it out with breaks, with laughter, and with family time that is actually encouraged and not just used as a wellness talking point. Time spent at the office here is dependent on the projects being worked, and the project becomes the benchmark, not the time you spend seated at your desk. There might be some late nights, there might be some events missed, but those are planned and negotiated and generally followed by compensation time to make up for it.

I like that second environment, and again, to keep it that way, I have to demonstrate that it’s okay to work your butt off and then take the leave time you’re granted.

5. I’m setting the foundation for work and parenting well-being.

I’ve found it really hard to excel in my professional life if my personal life is in arrears, and vice verse. I’ve approached maternity leave as setting the strong foundation needed both for my family and for success at work when I finally get back to it.

You could also say I’ve set some strong foundations at work for success at home with all the work I’ve done to either automate or transition responsibilities. A lot of the training procedures and documents I’ve developed there will make it much easier to hand things off to my successor next summer, when it comes time for me to move to my next job {we work in 2-3 year cycles, and next summer will make 3 years here in Virginia!}.

So all in all, preparing my office and myself to be able to take leave has set strong foundations for me both at home and at work. I can’t see how that’s a bad thing!

I realize that relatively few get the opportunity to take so much paid time off, so it might sound silly that we have so much difficulty actually taking the time. If we as a nation are going to say families are valuable, we need to do a better job of allowing people to make the proper time and money investment in families. And in the process, it would be nice if we’d stop trying to talk ourselves out of using those much needed benefits when we have them!

How about you guys? How do you deal with taking time off work for important events? And more importantly, how does your work deal with you taking that time?

P.S. Maternity photos thanks to Rachel K Photography!

About the ChefKristin

Career Army officer with a tendency toward workaholism. On the side, self taught cook, carpenter, and gardener, working to build a beautiful life for my family. Trying to tilt my balance in the right direction.

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