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.