I have just headed into my third round of parental leave in five years—quite an achievement. I’m certainly less stressed and more prepared this time around, and far more aware of the reality that I face. Fortunately, I work for an organisation that offers 12 months parental leave, with 12 weeks paid. This will allow me (and has allowed me in the past) an amazing opportunity to spend with my child and be there for one of the most important years of their life.
So what have I learnt the third time round? Here are some of my insights as I prepare for the impending leave:
Have realistic expectations of parental leave
Anyone who’s been on parental leave knows it’s by no means a holiday! Between breastfeeding, school drop offs and pick ups (if you already have little ones), cooking, cleaning and endless doctors’ appointments, the ‘to do’ list that you optimistically planned before parental leave seems undeniably and irrevocably unachievable. Having a shower and eating breakfast becomes a luxury—in the first six weeks anyway—and sleep deprivation takes over. Would I change it? Absolutely not, but don’t for a second think that the next 12 months are full of latte catch ups, long walks on the beach and a pristine household that looks like something out of Vogue Living.
I am still as ambitious as ever
I honestly believe there is never a right time to have a child and I’m at a stage in my life where my biological clock and career trajectory are in total collision. I know I‘ll be extremely busy managing a newborn, toddler and primary school-aged child, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to eventually get back to work and pick up where I left off. I enjoy my role and the people I work with, and the relationships and skills I have built are an important part of who I am. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want to ‘cruise’ for the next 10 years whilst I put my children through school. I want to be in a fulfilling and rewarding role that allows me the flexibility to grow professionally whilst also managing my family and home life. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it will be a juggling act. And yes, I will be extremely tired—those late-night school baking sessions really take it out of you—but that’s who I am. I have never done anything by halves and the constant juggle and balance is second nature.
I want to know what’s going on and be considered for opportunities that may come along
What I have learnt this time around is the importance of keeping in contact and having regular catch ups with colleagues at work. Not only does that let me remain ‘connected’ but may also provide opportunities I had not considered. I am currently going on leave during a large-scale transformation within my area. This will change the scope of my role, but may also provide opportunities. I want to be considered for those opportunities and so keeping in regular contact is an important part of my leave.
My partner is an important part of my leave
My partner is fortunate enough to have four weeks paid parental leave from his organisation and the ability to have 12 weeks paid leave as the primary carer. Given we live in Sydney and a dual income is becoming an ever-increasing necessity, it’s great to know that he can support me during and after my pregnancy and more importantly, play an important role in our child’s first year.
I am extremely excited about this next chapter in my life. For me, being a parent has made me more organised, efficient, patient and confident, all critical life skills. I look forward to taking time to focus on my beautiful family, but look forward to coming back with renewed energy and enthusiasm and the chance to continue to ‘make a difference’.
Written by Ashika Chand
Ashika Chand, 36, is a banker with NAB. She has three children, son Nikhil, five, three and Aiden (born August 2017).