What Maternity Leave Taught Me About Being a Business Owner

What Maternity Leave Taught Me About Being a Business Owner

Content Warning: Pregnancy loss

As a mother of three children between the ages of five and 15 months, I have officially resumed sleeping through the night… ninety percent of the time. Even better, two of my children can communicate! They’re talking in full sentences, which is a win.

Though those first weeks and months of caring for a newborn are over, I’m still close enough to the “newborn stage” that I can vividly recall it. I frequently reflect on my maternity leaves and what they taught me about owning a business. 

I remember so clearly the anxiety that came with the decisions of being a new parent. Somehow, I was expected to pick nursery paint colors (this is not my strength) and “the best of” those gliding rocking chairs. You know, the ones that have zero friction. I was told I needed a birth plan and to interview a pediatrician. And did you know that car seats have expiration dates?

At the same time, I was also doing this little thing called “owning a financial planning practice and managing millions of dollars in client assets.”

When my husband Charlie and I learned I was pregnant with our first child, I was afraid to tell my professional network. Would I lose business? Clients? What if balls got dropped and a client lost money because of it?

But when I did finally announce my pregnancy, I was met with nothing but enthusiasm from my clients. They were excited to see my family grow and to grow along with us. As for my peers and the profession in general? 

They were excited about my pregnancy in general. But it was what came after birth that people seemed to have the most questions about. Would I return to work? Would I merge my firm with another? Could I support my clients? Other planners, especially female CFP® professionals, were interested in my plans — and so was I.

After that first maternity leave, there are a few things I learned. Aside from the fact that, yes, a woman can in fact run a business after having a child, here are two takeaways from my maternity leaves: expect the unexpected, and make a plan anyway. 

Maternity leaves cannot be copied and pasted

For the sake of this article, I’m assigning themes to each of my pregnancies and maternity leaves. 

Pregnancy and Maternity Leave One: Beginner’s Luck

My first pregnancy was (don’t hate me for saying it) relatively easy. I had energy throughout my pregnancy, effortlessly worked late into the night to prepare my practice for my leave, and did most of what I did before. My transition from pregnancy to birth to maternity leave and then back to work was smooth sailing. I learned that I could have a family and a career I loved. 

At this point, I was confident that I could have more children without affecting my career or clients. (I now credit this to running a relatively small practice. I didn’t have to do as much with a smaller client base.)

Then came maternity leave two. 

Pregnancy and Maternity Leave Two: Rough Seas Ahead

The second child, as most parents of multiple children know, was very different. Everything was hard. Baby number two was actually baby number three after I suffered a previous miscarriage. I was in a tender place, constantly worried we’d lose this baby, too. As a financial planner who has to exist in the uncomfortable middle where spreadsheets and human emotion converge, I think it is important to acknowledge this very human response to loss and its subsequent impact on life and work. 

The pregnancy itself was fraught with complications. At one point, my doctor prepared us for the real possibility of an extended hospital stay for me, the baby, or both of us. During my pregnancy, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I couldn’t work late. I could not do all the things I used to do.

Our baby came early, and while I was already caught up on client meetings, I was behind on just about every other area of my professional life. I felt like I had no choice but to work. Overwhelmed, I spent what should have been my maternity leave working as much as I could. It came to a head ten months later when my body quite simply gave out and forced me into a season of rest where I physically could not work more than 30 hours a week.

Pregnancy and Maternity Leave Three: Intention, Identity, and Curveballs

Despite all that, we had another baby. 

I approached my third and perhaps final maternity leave with a great deal of intention. I remember especially struggling to understand what exactly I wanted in my maternity leave. 

I started by unworking the narrative that I was only valuable if I was producing work or putting in hours. I had to wrestle with the internal beliefs that I wasn’t valuable to my clients, my firm, or my field if I took time off. 

I realized that this was no longer about my business or the steps to preparing for maternity leave. This was about my identity. Because who was I if I wasn’t fully committed to my work? 

Well … I was a mother too.

After much pondering, I came to a simple conclusion: Just take a maternity leave, Hannah! 

That’s what I did, but I still didn’t fully address my underlying belief of my own value to the world. It took gentle conversations with friends, with a coach, and self-reflection for me to find the freedom to explore these issues within myself. 

And as babies do, our third threw us a curveball and landed himself in the NICU for nine days. Any contingency plan waiting in the back of my mind to “just do a little work here and there” instantly flew out the window as Charlie and I devoted all of our time and energy to our sick baby and daughters.

After three maternity leaves, here is what I know: For any person planning for upcoming parental leave, there are many considerations. But for business owners, there are more balls in the air and more things to consider — you have to browse diaper brands and create continuity plans. Still, I think this advice is a critical, often overlooked place to begin: You cannot copy and paste your maternity leave.

It doesn’t matter how it worked for your friends and family or that social media influencer. It doesn’t even matter how it’s worked for you if you’ve done this before. Go into maternity leave without ill-placed expectations both for you and your business.

You need a maternity leave plan.

As early as you can, start making a plan to be away from your business. And here’s the goal of this plan: when you’re in Labor and Delivery, boarding the plane to meet your adopted child for the first time, or opening your front door to your new foster children, this plan (in as much as is possible) should not be reliant upon you.

A short list of considerations for your plan include:

  • Regular business tasks
    • These include things like reporting, taxes, payroll, and paying your office’s utility bills. What needs to be done and who is responsible for these activities? 

  • Expected client needs
    • What do you know your clients need regularly? These may be anything from meetings to formal reports to the ability to call or email a quick question.
    • What can you do before you leave? What can be pushed to your return? What needs to be done in your absence and by whom?
    • Can you add any automation to these functions? For example, switching from manually creating a client report to utilizing a client dashboard?
  • Unexpected client needs
    • What happens if there’s a drastic change in the stock market and your clients are panicking? Or what if one of your clients needs to speak to you now after Great Aunt Louise unexpectedly left them $2 million in antique clown figurines? 
      • Who do your clients call? 
      • How do they know who to call? 
      • And how do they feel secure in knowing that this person has your confidence?
    • Putting the people and processes in place so that you will only be contacted for true emergencies will give you peace of mind. 

If you want a full maternity leave checklist to help you account for all the ways to prepare your business for your absence, you can download it here

Maternity leave made me a better business owner

No matter what sort of business you own, be it a financial planning firm, real estate brand, dental practice, or creative firm, I want to leave you with some quick takeaways about how parental leave made me a better business owner. I hope it will do the same for you!

1. My business is most secure when I am replaceable.

Yes. You read that right. If everything rests solely upon my shoulders, I don’t have a sustainable business.

2. Delegation is key. 

Practice delegation before, during, and after parental leave. This is one of the most important keys to your success as a business owner.

3. Parenthood cemented my why.

Becoming a parent gave me a new perspective on the work that I do as a financial planner and the impact I want to have on the world. 

4. Having children didn’t decrease my ambition, but it did focus my vision.

Here’s something I didn’t tell you earlier: During the span of my three maternity leaves, I grew my business by four times. Having children led me to hone my vision, which made it possible to focus my time and energy. In this stage of life, time is my most precious resource and I have hard stops at the end of the work day. Having a focused vision has allowed me to more easily build the things that serve my vision and pass on the opportunities that don’t.

5. Hire the right people.

I realized that I was sabotaging myself by spending time sitting in low-level meetings, populating my own calendar, and wasting hours trying to do things that were not in my skill set. I work hard to make sure I’m not just working with good people, but also that I’m hiring the right people. My hiring motto is: I want to only hire people whose molehills are my mountains.

6. Time away helps replenish creativity.

First, parental leave is not a vacation. What resort says you’re not allowed to sleep, feeds you cold meals, and forces you to listen to crying 18 hours a day while routinely dousing you in sour milk?

That being said, your time away from the office can give you a new perspective as you ponder fresh approaches to old conundrums or dream about new things you want to do in your business.

7. look for talent in untapped places.

Research shows that 21st-century firms need to have employees who are able to juggle multiple responsibilities and forge ahead despite uncertainty. These are skills that moms embody all of the time. Also, moms get things done. Once I understood this unique skill set moms have honed, I started purposefully hiring moms, even using websites that specialize in helping moms find remote work. 

8. I’m not always in control of my schedule, and neither are my employees.

I remember a long time ago when all of my time was my own. Now it’s not, and it’s the same for many of my employees. Some are moms and some are caregivers of their family members. Having this mindset means that I don’t focus on bodies being at desks from 8-5, but instead focus on my team getting work done. I know some of my employees work mostly in the evenings. One works an hour a week from the waiting room of her son’s speech pathologist’s office. 

We build in big lead times for meetings, anticipating we may need to reschedule. And when we do need to reschedule, I do it happily, knowing that my team members are working hard, meeting deadlines, and able to be there for their families, just as I have had to cancel things to be with mine.

Feminist trailblazer Betty Friedan famously said, “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Maternity leave is one of the ways we bring these wise words to life. It is a strategic, purposeful pause at work that allows us to usher new life into the world, to grow our families, expand our whys, and then to return to a career we love.

As a financial planner, a business owner, and a mother, I urge you to not think of maternity leave with dread. Yes, your life is about to change, but with it will come an expanded understanding of the world and your place in it, and a wealth of new skills that will make you even better at your job.

Don’t forget to download my free Maternity Leave Checklist to help you plan your leave with confidence.

The Time I Canceled Everything for a Duck Race

The Time I Canceled Everything for a Duck Race

People ask me all the time how I do it all. It’s a legitimate question. There are a lot of irons in the fire. 

In the last four years, I went from having a small RIA to launching Amplified Planning, where my husband, Charlie, and I run The Externship, a virtual summer training program for future and new financial planners. We also run AP CORE, a monthly professional development program. I recently expanded my practice to encompass an innovative teaching-hospital-style residency program for financial planners. I speak at conferences, led an FPA task force, and am assisting with a university research project studying financial planners’ access to parental leave.

Oh, and during this time, I had three babies.

It’s been a full four years. My team is bigger than ever, and with so many people depending on me  – clients, customers, and employees –  the stakes are higher. The pressure doesn’t let up, and I often feel like I’m being pulled in different directions. 

Some days when people ask me how I do it all, I think It’s easy! I’ve built the right team around me. Other days, the question reminds me of everything I’m not doing and all the balls I’ve dropped. 

As with many other professionals, especially working parents, my priorities often overlap, and I find myself constantly, fluidly negotiating my way through them. I want to tell you about a time when I didn’t do it all, when I dropped the ball, when it wasn’t easy, and what I learned from that experience.

As part of this attempt at work/life balance, Charlie and I decided that we and our kids would spend a month away after the 2023 Externship ended. We rented a lakehouse near my parents’ home and made the journey by minivan from Dallas to South Dakota. It was supposed to be a working vacation where we’d work about 20 hours a week and spend the rest of the time with family.

Whether or not a working vacation was a successful endeavor is still up for debate. We enjoyed seeing extended family and escaping the Texas heat. But we didn’t have our usual structures: childcare, routines, and an office. The blurred lines between work and home were nothing short of…difficult. 

It all came to a head one afternoon. I had a regularly scheduled call with our 2023 Externs. Everything was set until I realized the call fell during the same time as The Duck Race. What is The Duck Race, you ask? It’s an actual duck race – like ducks, on a little track, racing, while South Dakotans cheer them on at the county fair. Also known as the event my children were looking forward to more than any other. 

I’d promised them we’d go, and I’d also scheduled the Extern call. In short, I made a big mistake. I couldn’t bounce between the two or easily reschedule one. My two commitments crashed into each other. I had to make a choice.

I chose the Duck Race.

When I messaged my team, they were…not thrilled. 

We’re canceling an alumni call for a duck race? 

At a county fair? 

In South Dakota? 

My marketing director immediately began writing a truthful-ish email about a mysterious “scheduling conflict.” I said no – I wanted to be honest and tell 800 people the real reason our meeting was postponed.

Within minutes, we were flooded with responses. Here are just a few:

Six months later, I still hear from Externs who tell me that the Duck Race was a game changer for them. Even though I’d messed up, I’d unintentionally taught our Externship alumni several important lessons and learned a few, myself. Here’s what I learned:

First, I should have had better boundaries from the start. 

It’s difficult to put into words just how big of a lift it is to pull off The Externship every summer. Charlie and I often work late into the evenings, and summer 2023 was no different. Once it was over, our whole family needed a break. A real break. Not a hybrid half vacation, half working vacation with no childcare or normal routines. (How did I not think this was a recipe for disaster?)

I’ve heard it said that you can have it all, but you cannot have it all at the same time. Boundaries don’t just mean picking this or that. They also mean keeping processes in place to manage your time, resisting the pull to over commit, and balancing seasons of work with dedicated time to unplug.

Next summer will be different. If you want to schedule a meeting during the week or two after the conclusion of the 2024 Externship, well, you won’t be able to. I’ll be with my family. 

Second, the bridge of trust you build with your people is invaluable.

As a business owner and financial planner, I think a lot about the trust my clients have put in me. I think about the career changers and new planners in Amplified Planning. People put their money, their plans, and their careers in my hands.

There are many reasons that this “bridge of trust” is crucial. In fact, I could write a dozen articles on this subject alone. But for right now, I want to focus in on this: You are going to mess up.

You are human. 

You are not perfect.

 No matter how hard you try, it is going to happen.

And when you do, it will be that long relationship where you’ve proven yourself reliable 99 times out of 100 that will help salvage your error. 

It is critical that you build a bridge of trust with the people depending upon you, be they clients or team members…or Externship alumni. When you inevitably mess up, it is that strong relationship and long-built history that will help you recover.

Third, it’s okay to prioritize your family.

You are allowed to be a financial planner and a mother, a father, a sibling, a spouse, a friend. I know this profession you’ve chosen is a hard one. The early years are pure hustle. I know you’re working long hours, building a name for yourself, and gaining skills you never thought you’d need. Keep working, keep getting better.

But sometimes, choose the duck race.

Making the Holidays Magical Without Raising Entitled Kids

Making the Holidays Magical Without Raising Entitled Kids

A Financial Planner’s Take

Every December, my personal life as a parent and my professional role as a financial planner collide. My financial planning clients echo the same concerns my husband and I have about gift-giving and creating a memorable experience for our children: How much should we give them?

Like many of my clients, I’m raising my children in a very different socioeconomic status than I was raised in. I grew up in a modest but hard-working, blue-collar household in a small community in South Dakota. The only people I knew with college degrees were teachers. My parents gave my siblings and me the ultimate gift: a safe, loving, and stable home where we were encouraged to excel in our own passions and talents. But still, every year I knew that the gifts beneath the tree would be modest. 

Some of my clients have come from truly difficult backgrounds. They saw their parents beg, borrow, and steal to make ends meet, and they knew there would be few, if any, presents beneath the tree. Some didn’t know if they’d have consistent meals. Now as adults with means, their temptation is to give their children…everything. 

This is a massive dichotomy for many parents across generations. Our brains say, “I don’t want to raise entitled kids.” Our hearts say, “I want Christmas morning to be pure magic.” We are left wondering: When you can give your children the world, at least compared to what you had as a child, how much is too much? And when does it actually cause harm? 

In light of this tension, here are three practical tips to help you make thoughtful choices about gifts for your children this holiday season:

Understand the definition of entitlement 

I will lean on clinical psychologist, TedX speaker, and the person most likely to be at the top of my Instagram Reels: Dr. Becky Kennedy. She defines children’s entitlement within the framework of frustration. An entitled child, she says, is a child who isn’t accustomed to being frustrated (barring neurodiversity or other factors).

Dr. Kennedy writes in The New York Times: “When a kid is like, “You didn’t get me a first-class ticket,” it’s not that they expect “first class” so much as they feel that they shouldn’t have to be frustrated.…But I would take the other side: That kid must be having a terrifying experience in their body to feel something that they’ve learned they should never feel. [Parents who use] money to always avoid disappointment can lead to that.”

So how do we ensure our children feel frustration in their lives? How do we make sure that their brains and bodies don’t interpret frustration as real, physical danger?

This is a task that goes far beyond the holidays. It is a day-in, day-out process that challenges us to not fix everything for our kids. For parents who’ve finally got money and have possibly reached a new socioeconomic status, this can be a real struggle. However, no matter how many resources anyone has, there are still choices to be made. 

 Iwant to build those “frustration muscles” in my three children and place them in situations where they have choices. Right now, the decisions range from picking just one flavor of ice cream or choosing between Daniel Tiger and Bluey. But eventually, they’ll have to make adult decisions like which college to attend or how to deal with an unexpected roadblock at work. 

When we teach and model contentment, we give our children a great gift. But let’s not forget that allowing them to experience the tension of frustration is just as much as a gift.

For the holidays, you can practice this by setting constraints. For example, ask your kids if they’d rather have that one big gift or a bunch of little ones. Constrain the amount of money you plan to spend per child on gifts.

Resist soothing your parental guilt with things

This is such an easy trap to fall into: gifts for guilt. We give our children more when we feel bad that we couldn’t be there for their recitals, or when they’re sick and we have to work. We buy them gifts when it’s “our weekend” with the kids to apologize for not being around after a divorce. It’s something we all do, myself included.

But the reality is, when kids grow up receiving things in lieu of time and affection, their North Star for connection is skewed. As parents who have financial means and the desire to raise kids who aren’t entitled, we have to be aware of our own knee-jerk reactions (read: gifting when we feel guilt).

Because time is my most limited commodity right now, I’ve decided to be especially intentional about creating special moments with my kids. This year, I’m setting aside evenings for magical, one-on-one Christmas experiences with each of my three children. The experiences range from looking at Christmas lights to a date to a casual restaurant.

This ties back to the point about building up a tolerance for frustration. I challenge you to process your own uncomfortable feelings around money, the holidays, and gift-giving. It’s important to sit with it so we can address it. 

Make giving a family event

I like to ask my clients how they learned about giving. For me, it was when I was about 12 years old and my mom received a small inheritance. She gave each of us kids $100. It was a king’s ransom – more money than we’d ever touched. But the money wasn’t for us to keep; we had to give it away to someone. I still remember us plotting and planning about who we’d each gift our money to and why.

I want my own children to be excited about giving, but even more, I want them to have an eye for seeing the needs of others and identifying places where they can help. That means we place value – both with money and time – on giving. At their ages, this takes the form of letting them help pick out Toys for Tots or Angel Tree gifts. As they grow, I hope we can incorporate more tangible and service-oriented activities throughout the year and into our annual Christmas traditions.

In the end, this is the inescapable truth of life: there will always be someone with more money and someone with less. The holidays are an important opportunity to help children reconcile this. I’ve found that my happiest clients are those who understand this and find contentment in their situation. During this holiday season, I hope you can give yourself and your children the gift of fostering contentment. I promise, it can be magical!

Have a very Merry Christmas and Happiest of Holidays from me and my entire team!