Maternity Leave

How do you answer questions about returning to work after having a baby?

This week a reader we’ll call Gloria, wrote in with just that question:

I’ve just had my third baby. I guess you could say I have maternity leave down to a science.  I have family come into town to help the first month. My husband is a stay-at-home dad who does his  business on weekends.  After 4 weeks of maternity leave I’ve used all my sick and vacation days, so I’m back to work. Since I’m fully healed and my job as director of product development is quite easy after 11 years, my boss has agreed I can work from home for a few weeks.

How do I deal with the shocked questions from clients like, “back so soon?”  Alarmed and concerned that I haven’t taken enough time, some even make veiled accusations that my boss should have given me more time.

I know I will encounter questions, especially from international clients who get wonderful maternity packages.  I’m wondering if you could provide any witty advice to answer their questions without getting into personal reasons.

My heart goes out to Gloria. Whether it’s your first baby or your third, and no matter how much time you’ve had off, going back to work after giving birth can be tough. It certainly doesn’t help to have clients and coworkers pointing that out, or questioning your choices!

So how do you deal?

First, it’s helpful to realize that when work acquaintances ask questions about your maternity leave, they most likely don’t mean to be intrusive or judgmental. This is essentially a conversation piece. It’s the easy, “low-hanging fruit” of polite conversation, like asking about children or a recent vacation.

Here’s the thing: whether or not to keep working (and how much to work, and how soon) after you have kids is a decision every mother must make. Frankly, sometimes economics have to be the deciding factor. If you’re feeling even the slightest bit of guilt or insecurity over your choices (and, frankly, we all are), even seemingly-polite questions can feel like an attack. It feels really personal to you, but it’s probably not intended that way.

Try not to take it too personally or read too much into it when people ask the easy question.  The best response is positive, simple, and relatively vague:

Things are great at home and I needed to get back to work.”

Or, if you’re talking to a client, something like:

My husband has things covered at home and I have clients to serve!

That way you can emphasize that their business is important to you and to the company and maybe score a few extra points.  Keep the conversation moving by redirecting it towards work or catching up on what you missed while you were out.

Most importantly, don’t let questions like this drag you down. You’re doing what’s right for your family, and that’s the best thing you can do.


Read more from Diane about the life of working moms in Work, Love, Pray, or share the book with your favorite working mom for Mothers Day.