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The Transition from Working Woman to Working Mom

For some women, childbirth isn't the most painful part of becoming a mother. It's figuring out how much maternity leave you can take, going back to work and getting the groove of balancing kids and career.

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"My daughter hadn't been taking a bottle before this time, and now she had to," Oddo recalls. "She fought me, but we had no choice but to transition her."

Thankfully, Oddo was able to leave her daughter in the care of her sister, making the transition back to work a little easier. She admits she was emotional over leaving her daughter at such a young age. "She was just so small," Oddo says.

By the time Oddo gave birth to her son six years later, she was working elsewhere and able to take advantage of short-term disability, enabling her to take a full 12 weeks of leave with some pay.

"Honestly, I don't feel that three months is even enough time with your new baby," she says.

And she is not alone. When Google increased its maternity leave policy from three months to five and from partial to full pay, it experienced a 50 percent drop in attrition. Tech giants Yahoo! and Facebook each offer 16 weeks of paid maternity leave (Yahoo! also provides dads eight weeks of paid paternity leave).

Generous as these maternity leave policies may be, they pale in comparison to those standard in countries like Sweden, where parents are given 480 paid days per child to be shared between them and used any time before the child turns 8.

Researchers Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Pinka Chatterji and Sara Markowitz analyzed data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, or SECCYD. Among other things, they looked at maternal health and stress upon returning to work after having a baby.

"The results suggest that the transition back into employment immediately after childbirth is difficult for the average family, detracting from maternal health and increasing self-reported parenting stress," write the authors. "These findings emphasize the need for parental leave policies that allow new parents to take longer leave and/or work fewer hours in the first few months after childbirth."

Transitioning back

Local moms are using what leave they can to maximize bonding time with their new baby while also preparing for their new role as working parent. Some employers are making extra efforts to make that transition a smooth one. That includes Valassis Communications in Livonia, which was named to Working Mother's list of the top 100 companies in 2012.

"We try to help ease people back into work after having a baby," says Leslie Lenser, Valassis' senior vice president of human resources. "We offer people the option of coming back part-time if possible or to work from home for a certain amount of time. We sometimes allow employees to shift their hours around, as well, as they transition back."

Other niceties for new moms and dads include a brand-new car seat for each new baby, a $600 dependent-care spending match, and six family rooms across Valassis sites that parents can use if their child care falls through or school is out due to inclement weather. The rooms have a TV, games and other activities for the kids.

Katie Kramer, a communications specialist at Valassis and mom of a young daughter, loves that her employer arranged for a salon in the building, so she can get her nails or hair done during her lunch hour rather than during time off she could be spending with her daughter.

Using lunch hours to get things done is a specialty of Stacey Longo. She regularly uses the time to run to the bank or to the store.

"I get one hour for lunch," says Longo, who is an administrative assistant to the assistant superintendent of Utica Community Schools. "I use that time to get stuff done that's annoying to do with the kids because I'd have to get them in and out of the car."

Berger too admits she enjoys a solid hour of alone time to eat her lunch in the welcome quiet – circumstances entirely unlike those in which she eats most meals at home.

"It is nice to have a break," she says.

Balancing work and family

Longo found it a lot easier to go back to work after her sons' births than she had initially thought it would be. With her boys spending two days a week in day care and the other three with family, she knows they are in good hands.

"I know it is good for the kids to get used to other people watching them," she says. "We've all adjusted just fine."

Even so, Longo does sometimes experience a little bit of guilt.

"I feel bad that when one of them is sick, I have to call their grandparents to help out," she says. "But on the other hand, I like that working allows me to put my education to work. We couldn't have bought the house we're in now – our forever home – if I wasn't working."

For inspiration, Longo looks up to other working moms she knows, most especially her own mother.

"My mom was a working mom, and we went to day care," she recalls. "It never seemed like my mom couldn't do it. My parents were able to pay for us to go to college. Their working provided a lot for us."

Longo knows that her 9-to-5 is affording her boys the same gifts.

"My advice to other working moms or those expecting is to let go of schedules," she says. "I get home at 5 p.m., and my kids go down by 8. Those few hours, I focus on them. Too bad if the dishes are piled up in the sink and the laundry is not folded. Enjoy the quality of time with your kids versus the quantity."

And take a little time for yourself, Longo advises. For her, that means putting her feet up with a bowl of ice cream to watch her favorite television shows with her husband after the boys go to sleep.

"It's our shut-off time," she says.

Meg Berger and her husband went out of town for a wedding in August – the first trip away without their sons.

"We were nervous but also excited," she says, acknowledging that the adults-only weekend provides some much-needed reconnecting time for her marriage.

For her part, Longo cherishes the time date nights provide for her family to grow and keep the love alive.

"It's important to have a time to talk – aside from the 'throw me a paper towel' conversations that take place during the dinner craze," she says. "So my husband and I plan our date nights, even if only a trip to our favorite grocery store!"

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