On this week’s episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast, we speak with Lori Mihalich-Levin. Lori is a healthcare lawyer, partner in a large global law firm, the Founder and CEO of Mindful Return, and the author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave. Called a working mama guru by Working Mother Magazine, Lori is committed to promoting women’s equality and leadership throughout her career.
Lori says, “After my second maternity leave, I went back to work, and it was just a mess. I found myself crying on the kitchen floor way more often than I could have imagined and I looked around and saw all sorts of resources focused on the baby, but not focused on the professional identity of the mom. And so I said, wait a minute, there’s a problem here. I wish that there had been a program, or a curriculum, or a community I could have joined to be with other people and to learn how to go back to work in a calmer, more empowered way, so I founded Mindful Return to fill that gap.”
We speak about her journey to creating Mindful Return, as well as:
- Helpful strategies for parents returning to work from parental leave
- Shifting attitudes towards parental leave in the legal industry
- Her passion for promoting equality in the workplace
- Her advice for those struggling to balance work and childcare during the pandemic
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
- Mindful Return’s Site
- Mindful Return’s Facebook
- Mindful Return’s LinkedIn
- Mindful Return’s Instagram
- Lori’s LinkedIn
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Our mission is to provide thought-provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable, wealth-generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm so you can live your best life.
I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with Lori Mihalich-Levin, healthcare lawyer partner in a large global law firm, founder and CEO of Mindful Return, and author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return From Maternity Leave. Called a working mama guru by Working Mother Magazine, Lori is committed to promoting women’s equality and leadership throughout her career. Welcome, Lori. It’s so great to have you on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast.
Lori Mihalich-Levin: It’s such a pleasure to be here, Davina. Thanks for having me.
Davina: Great. Great. So I have so many questions to ask you, as you and I were talking before we started the podcast today. I do not have children. And a lot of our audience does have, you know, a lot of people in our audience do have children, and children, young children, teenagers, middle schoolers.
And so I’m excited to have somebody on here who has a business helping parents, not just mothers, but parents go back to work after baby and learn how to sort of adapt their lives to lives with children because it’s not an area I have expertise so I’m super excited to have lots of questions. Can we start with you just telling me how, what led you to your journey to create Mindful Return? What was the thing that’s parked in you that says this is needed?
Why Lori Started Mindful Return
Lori: So, complete and utter desperation is what inspired me. I live in Washington, DC. And I also now have two boys, wonderful redheads, who are seven and nine. But it was really going back to work after my second maternity leave when I completely went off the rails. I had baby number one and I went back to work full time. I was working as an in-house lawyer at a trade association at that point. And it was more challenging, but I was somehow, you know, pushing through and struggling and holding it all together.
And then I had my second baby about two years later. And as we like to say in our house, one plus one felt like 85. One was, you know, potty training and transitioning to a toddler bed and the other one was waking up in the middle of the night all the time because that’s what infants do. And I went back to work and it was just a mess. I found myself crying on the kitchen floor way more often than I could have imagined. Then I looked around and I saw all sorts of resources focused on the baby, like, how to puree baby food and how to massage the baby.
And, you know, even making a birth plan and how to pump your milk and all of that, but not focused on the professional identity of the mom. And so I said, Wait a minute, you know, there’s a problem here and Gosh, darn it, I wish that there had been a program, a curriculum, a community I could have joined to, you know, to be with other people and to learn how to go back to work in a calmer, more empowered way. And so I founded Mindful Return to fill that gap. We started off just on the mom side and then as I started working with employers, they asked for resources on the dad side as well. So we’ve expanded to help all parents.
Davina: That is so interesting because, you know, we’ve come a long way baby, or to think that employers are actually asking for the dad side as well. What a change. What a change that’s happened in the last few decades, right?
Lori: Yeah. And, I mean, it is in part that they are scared of lawsuits, right? They want to be able to offer benefits that are applicable to everyone, which I totally appreciate. And I think it’s a generation of fathers right now who are much more interested in being very involved in their children’s lives from the beginning. It’s fortunately, you know, the stigmas around care are shifting. And so as dads are taking longer and longer parental leave, they have to learn how to go out on leave and come back just like the moms do, which I’m all for because the more we’re able to degender the parental leave experience, the less stigmatizing that experience is.
Davina: Right, right. And I noticed too, with the services that you offer, you have a team of different experts you’ve helped with different areas. And I noticed that you also include in that, it’s very inclusive, you also include parents of premature or medically fragile, special needs children because I think that’s a big issue for a lot more parents than we realize it is, right?
Lori: Absolutely, yes. So after I launched Mindful Return, we had the mom version and the dad version, a mom with medically fragile special needs twins reached out to me and said, you know, I’m a working mom and that’s been pretty near impossible over the past couple of years. And you really should have a version of your course designed to my population. And so she and I worked together and then I joined up with a father who has a son on the autism spectrum to incorporate the views of parents who have kids who are a little bit older.
And we now have a four-week online program for parents of children really, of any age, who have special needs to go through to help them figure out how to navigate that work-life integration when they have so many different concerns and things that are pulling them in different directions with medical appointments and therapy appointments and that sort of thing as well.
Davina: Right, right. And then, you know, the thing is, when you have an incident, you have toddlers, you know, eventually, they’re going to grow out of that, and it will become maybe a little bit easier because they’re a little bit more independent, and, you know, can communicate and do things. But when you have a child with special needs, you may not have that. Depending on the severity of the situation, this may be something that you need to make adjustments in your career, in your life now for, you know, the long haul, right? So, well talk to me about Mindful Return and exactly what kind of services you guys provide.
Lori: Sure. So our main offering is what I call our standard course, is a four-week online cohort-based program that basically you’re in there with all other new moms and the mom version, or new dads in the diversion who are all returning to work after parental leave around the same time you are. And there’s a new group that starts every other month and you spend the four weeks together in this community. It’s all asynchronous, so you don’t have to be anywhere at any given time of day or night.
Because Gosh, as a new parent, there’s no way I could like, just find exactly what time I was going to be anywhere. But basically, it’s four weeks of lessons, and you read a lesson each day. And then there’s a prompt into discussion board. So all the new moms and then all the new dads get to interact with each other on these discussion boards on a private portal. And there are four different themes. So the first theme is a mindful mindset for going back.
So this is sort of the how not to go off the rails component of the course. Second week is all about the logistics of return, whether that’s pumping and feeding your baby or negotiating flexibility with your employer or dealing with the inevitable six days and unexpected events or putting food on your own table at night, we work through all the logistics. The third theme is all-around leadership in the space of return and how you can view yourself as a leader in the workplace now that you’re a working parent. And some people are surprised that this, you know, concept is so foundational in the course.
But I truly believe that parenthood gives you amazing skills that are so relevant to your career. So we focus on those. And then the last piece of, there’s a fourth week of the course, is all about building and saying and community so you’re not isolating yourself and crying alone on the kitchen floor like I did for too long. That’s sort of how the course works. And there are 66 employers that currently offer the courses or parental leave benefits, or you can sign up for it yourself, you know, if your employer doesn’t offer it.
Davina: So this is something that as, you know, our audience is made up largely of women law firm owners, is something that they may be able to do as a benefit for their firm, right? In addition to being something they could do for themselves, it could be a benefit that they offer to their team.
Lori: Yeah. We did a study in January to look at all of the new parents who have been through the program over the past five years since it’s been running. And we’ve had over 1000 new parents go through the program. And although on average in the United States, 64% of women stay in the workforce after having a child, which is a huge attrition rate.
The participants of the Mindful Return course, we found that 93% were still in the workforce and 85% were still with the same employer that offered them the course. So it’s a huge retention benefit tool. And I think they, employees are really grateful to their employer for thinking about them and saying, Oh, hey, thanks for helping me make this transition back to work. I see that you care about me. Yeah.
Davina: Yeah. So let’s talk about some of the tools that you recommend and that you teach. So first of all, you call this business Mindful Return. And so tell me what is behind the name, Mindful Return? Why mindful?
Lori: Yeah, so I think that had I personally taken a much more thoughtful, calm and intentional approach to my own return, I don’t think I would have experienced it in such a ridiculously stressful way. And so I think for me, mindfulness means two things. One, it means the ability to be with your family when you’re with your family, and the ability to really be, have your head in your job in your career when you’re doing that.
And on the second part of that is mindful, thoughtful jujitsu planning. And so the course really focuses on both components of mindfulness teaching you strategies about how to really be present where you are, because you have to sort of flip back and forth in your day, especially now during COVID. And then, also, the course gives you thoughtful, mindful ways to strategize so that your day actually works, you know, one day after another.
Davina: So let’s talk about some of those strategies that you teach that parents will find helpful, the most helpful. Like what, tell me some of the big, the biggest adjustments or the biggest problems that you uncovered, or maybe some of your other teachers have uncovered with being a returning parent after maternity leave.
Strategies for Making a Mindful Return
Lori: Sure, well, I’ll start off with mindset but I’m happy to work my way through the other categories, if that’s helpful. I think with mindset in terms of strategies, you know, having a daily transition ritual that you put into place between home and work and work and home, I think it’s honestly helpful for everyone, even if you’re not a parent, especially when you’re potentially working from home during COVID, then like, your house is your work and your house is your home and all of that.
But really, for example, when I had little, little kids on my commute to the office, I would stop off at a park bench or a hotel lobby for five minutes before walking into my building and I would turn on Insight Timer, which is an app I really love, and just sit and like breathe or do a guided meditation for five minutes to get myself sort of switched from thinking about all the worries of home to starting to think about work and what I wanted to accomplish that day.
So I think adopting those transition rituals and pauses can be really helpful. Even, you know, the transition with your kids, when they’re really little, obviously, they’re not going to be able to talk and say, Hey, I don’t want you to leave. But you can still say like, Hi, I’m going to work and kiss them on the head and, you know, have that little separation. And when they get older, you can develop a ritual that, you know, helps with the separation.
My kids do this thing called hug, kiss, push where, since they were in daycare, and now even through, you know, being in our house in COVIDland, whenever I go off to work or I separate from them, they give me a hug, they give me a kiss, and then they’re allowed to give me a push away, which gives them a little bit of power, makes all of us laugh, and it eases that separation a little bit. And I think in terms of guilt, obviously, that’s a really big one that comes up. Actually now when, you know, if the baby’s crying in the other room and you’re a new mom, like there’s a lot of hormones going on that are telling you to go run to your baby.
So noise-canceling headphones or, you know, sometimes that might help. I don’t just say that tongue in cheek, but I think knowing that aloe parents, which is a term that an anthropologist coined, have actually been part of human history for all time and that we haven’t ever been, you know, supposed to be taking care of a child all by ourselves alone can really help in alleviating some of that guilt that comes when people are, you know, leaving their children to go back and do work.
In terms of logistics, I mean, one sort of practical tactical tip is around, if you’re going to be pumping and you’re in an office like to schedule your pump times weigh out, like for a year, just put calendar time on there. Half an hour in the morning, half an hour around lunch, half an hour later on in the day, so that people can work around your schedule, if that’s something that’s, you know, possible for you and your role.
And then I guess in terms of leadership, one thing that I really, I see new parents struggling with is their self worth and value and feeling as though well, you know, now that I’ve had a kid, I’m not as valuable in the workplace. And PS. if everything ran smoothly while I was out, I guess that means they don’t need me. And it’s way more common for me to hear this than you would imagine. And so I really try to reframe the conversation around leadership for new parents and say, I want you specifically to brainstorm what skills you’re gaining through working parenthood that you think are going to be applicable in your career and your job.
And I can name 20 of them off the bat. You know, let’s start with being able to meet the needs of demanding clients who can’t articulate their needs very well. Let’s talk about all this stuff you get from having a small person at home, the ability to adapt and change and be flexible on a dime and to problem solve like nobody’s business. Like, I try to help new parents recenter themselves in these skills and remember that they’re just as valuable as they were the day before that they had a baby, right?
They didn’t lose their ability to be a really amazing employee or lawyer or whatever their profession is. And then, you know, final tip, in terms of the four categories is around community. I don’t think you can do this alone. Please, please, please, you know, when you transition back to work after leave, make your first day back, you know, set aside a time, a lunch, a virtual coffee or real coffee with some other person who’s been through that transition.
Because, you know, that power of me too, and they’re going to understand where you’re coming from when that first week is really hard. Someone who can reassure you that there’s light on the other side of not sleeping. Someone who you can look up to as a professional person who’s also a parent can be really, really helpful when you’re making that transition back to work. I could keep going. Many more tips, but I’ll pause there.
Davina: Yeah, I know, I know. It’s great. It’s great. What I’ve noticed about these is that there, you’re not talking about adding time to your day that you have to be away and do a thing, right? So you mentioned the pause.
Lori: There’s no time for that.
Davina: We’re not going to take time and go run for an hour in the morning while hubby watches the baby. Maybe you want to do that, but you’re not saying you have to go do this or you have to sit and meditate for 30 minutes, you know, in the morning, before you leave, or whatever. Your, everything that you’ve talked about are changes, shifts that you can make that seem like minor sort of things, but they’re major. It’s a lot of the mindset kind of way of thinking about what it is you’re doing. And I think you bring up a big point.
You know, do you find that a lot of parents, I’m assuming, I’m gonna say mothers because I don’t know, fathers are like this or not but, and you’ll have to tell me, but mothers who sort of think that they’re less worthy, you know, somehow, because they’re, as far as being an employee goes, because their body’s been taken over by this other living being and so you probably don’t have the most self, great self-esteem and confidence.
Because I imagine, you know, you feel sweaty, out of shape, and you’re leaking and things are happening and you can’t control and so you don’t think maybe have the best self-image, to begin with. And now you’re thinking about, I got to dress this up and take it back to work. You know, like, have you encountered that sort of thing?
Lori: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I just, like 1000 stories just popped into my head. I’ll maybe tell three of them. One is more a piece of advice, which is, I really encourage people to phase back in, to phase in childcare the week before going back to work, if that is possible, because that week before you can sort of get some of the crying out of your system. You can go shop for new clothes that are gonna make you feel good upon that first week back. You can get your hair cut, you can sort of put yourself back together a little bit the week before you go back, which I found, you know, calmed me down a little bit.
Tight now in a lot of places in the country in COVIDland, in DC anyway, like, we’re all wearing our pajamas day and night. So I don’t know about that right now. But, you know, in the past that was important. Another thing is, I remember walking out of my office at 4:30 every day because my daycare closed at 5:45. I had to like, take a metro train to get to it, and they charge $10 a minute if you were late. And, you know, you don’t want to be paying that. And so you can understand they wanted their staff to be able to go home and everything.
But I remember walking out shamefaced at the end of the day, not because of anything that anyone said to me but just because I was telling myself that I was somehow a slacker, never mind that I got in early and got all my work done in blah, blah, blah. But that somehow everybody was looking at me or whatever, at the end of the day. And so I learned the Teddy Roosevelt mantra, comparison is the thief of joy. And that’s basically what I chanted to myself as I left the office every day. And so not to compare myself to these other people, I’m going to get my kids and everything, all will be well.
And then the last thing is I received, so my supervisor of my division the year that I had my second child always wrote a little, you know, holiday note and wrote a personal message on the top of her note every year. And the year after I had my child, I think it was my second child she wrote, thank you for juggling motherhood and work so elegantly. And I was like, elegantly? Look at me. Everything was going well and I was like, I haven’t pulled my hair down from the ponytail in six months. Like, what are you talking about? But, you know, I think we judge ourselves way more harshly than the people around us, is the point here. Yeah.
Davina: Absolutely. Absolutely. And do you find that as an attorney, you know, as an attorney, we’re taught that, especially if you’re in a traditional law firm model, and a lot of when I polled my community, a lot of them tell me that the reason they started their own firm was because they wanted a family and they wanted the flexibility and control over their time.
Now, we have, it’s a whole nother discussion to get into when we talk about whether or not they’re actually getting that because, you know, if you’re following the traditional model, you may not be or you may not be making the money you thought you would make because you’re sort of making choices to do that. But I know in a traditional law firm, you are, it’s competitive, you’re given hours that you have to meet.
There are requirements. And so I get I think it’s even more amplified for women lawyers because the law firm model is so patriarchal, you know what I mean? Like, it’s set up to be, we’re putting those 80-hour weeks in, you know? And here you are putting a 50-hour week in, which is ridiculous to the rest of the world, but you’re putting your 50 hour week and then going, No, that’s still not good enough, you know?
Lori: Yeah. See, I don’t know if you saw the ABA’s report on women in the
Davina: I did. I talk about it all the time. Yeah.
Lori: Yeah, and, you know, the number one reason that women leave is this whole caregiving conundrum. And I mean, the thing that I struggle with most and I’ll just back up and say, like, I’m a partner on a 50% schedule in my firm, and I run Mindful Return the other 50%. And one of the reasons I went to this firm was because they offered flexibility in that regard. And I really highly value autonomy.
But one of the things that I really deeply struggle with and have for a long time as a lawyer is how the more efficient I become, the less I benefit from the billable hour structure. And as a parent, I have become wildly efficient because I just don’t have time for other things because I have other priorities and that is not rewarded. And so the whole billable hours structure at law firms, I think, is one of the prime culprits.
And the fact that you have to meet ridiculous numbers of billable hours to make partner right in the prime childbearing years of say, a woman’s life proves to me that law firms pay and incentive structures and financial models were developed by men who had children, who had wives at home. I mean, there’s no way system was created by anyone, there’s no way a woman
Davina: It’s created by people who have wives at home.
Lori: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Davina: Right. And that doesn’t work for us. Yeah. So you are, but are we finding that workplaces are becoming more accepting at all of this kind of, you know, because we are getting like you, like we mentioned earlier in discussing this, you’ve got a new generation of fathers out there too, who are now looking at these benefits for themselves as well because they want to be able to be home with their infants and help their spouse as she goes through the, you know, birth process and having, taking care of the baby in the early years. So are we finding that is shifting at all?
Guys, Take That Paternity Leave!
Lori: Yeah. And not as fast as I would like. I’m definitely seeing change. There are more and more employers who are offering paid paternity leave and there are more and more fathers who are taking advantage of it. I think one of the best ways to encourage fathers to take the leave that is provided to them is to have someone in a more senior leadership position do it first.
There’s one law firm that I worked with, with Mindful Return who was having an issue in their, one of their DC offices, where, you know, none of the dads seem to be taking any more than one or two weeks of, say, a 16 week paid leave that they were being offered. And then one of the more junior partners took the whole 16 weeks. And after he took it, all the other men took it. And so, you know, I think it’s really, there’s one big leadership thing a man who’s a new dad can do which is to take the full leave and to put a stake in the ground that this is important.
I think when a father takes leave it is actually found to be more likely that his wife’s career will advance. And so, you know, there’s great data to show that the more we can encourage men to take their parental leaves, the more we will reduce the pay and balances and equities in the workforce in general. So if you want to stand up for women in the workforce, dads, go take your paternity leave.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think that is huge. I think one of the, you know, biggest issues that women have with advancing in their career in the way that men do is that we biologically, we’re the ones who have the babies. And so there’s just a reality there. And so how do you do that? aAd it really has to be, you really, you have to have a supportive employer but you also have to have that support at home at that level, you know? Where you have a partner who says, I value what you do as much as I value what I do.
And I think we’ve seen a lot of that shift too because you’re finding a lot of women are the breadwinners in their family, and so they make more money than their husbands do. So the whole family depends on their ability to get back to the workforce and, you know, and of course, there’s still going to be mom regardless of getting back to the workforce, whereas, you know, in a traditional model, dads were breadwinners. They’re not the one who are biologically, you know, compelled to take care of a child in the same way that a person who gives birth to a child is, I guess.
Lori: Well, I guess, if I could just interject a couple of thoughts there, include, like, yes, there are more women who are breadwinners now and that those same women are still doing a highly disproportionate amount of household work and care of children. That does not need to be the case. Like, yes, there are biological things that happen, you know, maybe a mom is nursing or producing milk. But beyond that, there’s really nothing that the dad can’t step up and help with as a very, from the very beginning and onward. And so
Davina: Once you have them, you know, you’re not really needed as much as you were once they come out of your body, right? Like, you’re breastfeeding, you know?
Lori: Yeah, yeah. But like, so to the extent I guess my advice for moms in the very early days is to relinquish control over lots of things to dad and say, like, here you do it your way. If you’re gonna, you know, I know that a lot of moms sort of are gatekeepers and won’t let the dads do things because they say, Oh, he’s doing it wrong or he doesn’t know how to do X, Y, or Z.
Like, let him try it out. One of the best things that I ever did was, I hated it at the time, but I had a work trip when my son was six months old, and I went away for like, I don’t know, something short, like 36 hours, and my husband learned to do all those things that I hadn’t relinquished any control over. And when I came back, he could do them all suddenly. And I think like, there’s in part an imperative on the moms to say, like, I want to hand over some of this control to you, Dad. You’re gonna be fine. You’re gonna learn it and do it your own way.
Davina: Because that, we see that a lot with, you know, I see that a lot in the work I do with women law firm owners, and I say to them, you know, like, Where is your spouse in this situation? And where did you say, Hey, buddy, you need to step in because I need to be able to have the time to do this and do that. And a lot of times you have women who, they have trouble, especially women attorneys, I know, shocker, we don’t want to give up control.
You know, we want to control things because we like things the way we like them, right? And you do have, it is incumbent upon women to step up and not only ask, but then also let people help, let people contribute, let people do things, do the things, you know? So I think that is huge. You cover some of this in your course. I mean, you kind of talk about asking and accepting help and that kind of thing.
Lori: Yeah, we have a session of the course, a lesson in the course that’s all about your village. You know, your partner, your parents or in-laws, like how do you engage everybody in a way that benefits everyone and that you can have calm, civil conversations around. I was going to mention that there’s a great book out called Fairplay by Yves Rossy that really talks about helpful division of labor and helps create a sort of game or system for divvying things up. And one of the quotes from the book that I most appreciate was all time is created equal.
And really for you and your spouse to get on the same page that like, the time that you’re spending bottle washing is worth the same amount of family effort and whatever that he’s either working or cutting the grass or whatever the stereotypical thing is and sort of like getting your head around the fact that you both need to be contributing to that pool of household time.
And lots of conversations need to happen around it, especially when you’re transitioning back to work from parental leave. You might be on leave and doing a certain set of household tasks and then when you go back, that needs to shift. So you need to have really express and frequent conversations around who’s doing what as you transition back into work.
Davina: Yeah, I think when you say express and frequent conversations, that’s, I mean, you’ve got, you have to articulate your needs because one of the biggest challenges is thinking that somebody is going to read your mind, thinking that well, can’t they see? What’s obvious to me should just the obvious to them. And we know that’s just not the case.
Lori: It’s not Yeah, exactly. We need to articulate those, yes.
Davina: Yeah. I mean, you know, like, I’m sure a lot of people have had, without even having kids had situations with spouses where they’re like, I see the rug needs to be vacuumed. I don’t understand how he walks in and doesn’t see that. It doesn’t make sense to me. Fortunately, I don’t have that issue. So I’m very, very lucky in that regard. Yeah, I think my husband’s probably more uptight about things than I am in that which is fabulous. I love it.
Lori: It’s all just a different style. There’s no right or wrong. It’s just a different style.
Davina: Right, right. It works out for me that he likes everything just so and I don’t have to. And I’m like, Okay, I’m fine with that. Do it however you want to do it. I think that’s really key, too. We’ve been married for 17 years and it’s like, I don’t tell him how to do things. Hr just does things and I go, that’s wonderful. I appreciate you doing things. Tell me about your background sort of leading up to this. Because I know you’ve kind of been, you didn’t just come out of the blue because of your own experience. You have sort of some skills and background in workplace, you know, women’s issues, women’s rights, workplace challenges and stuff like that.
Lori: Yeah. So, I mean, I definitely have always had a passion for equality in the workplace. I grew up in a household where I definitely witnessed domestic violence, which had, you know, an effect on me as a kid and watching unequal power dynamics. And I really devoted my sort of college and law school periods to working in the domestic violence and equalities space and wrote a senior thesis on it and ended up taking like Georgetown’s Domestic Violence Clinic here in DC.
And I was co-president of the Women’s Legal Alliance at Georgetown when I was there. Whenever I was born, my mother did lose her job because she was told that, well, now you’re pregnant, we won’t need you anymore. And so that’s, of course, illegal now but perhaps not in the 70s. And so it’s sort of always been part of my life that there are these inherent inequalities. And, you know, what can I do to try to change them? So, you know, I’ve started off sort of in that space of domestic violence advocacy and have since become a serial founder of working parent groups, at different organizations. So
Davina: So, I love that, and then that lets you do this. And your, tell us about your, you’ve written a book on this topic. Before you created the course you wrote the book, right? Or was it the other way around?
Lori: Other way around, actually. Yeah. So I like to say that the book sort of kind of wrote itself. And I say that because I sat down in January 2014 to write this course, which took about five months, and then I launched a blog that summer. And after about two years of blogging and looking through all the course material, I said to myself, I think I’ve already written a book over the past couple of years.
And so I spent about six months weaving together both the course material and the blog posts and input from, you know, different contributors and ended up with a book called Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return From Maternity Leave. So it’s sort of evolved over time.
Davina: Yeah. And so you’re, a lot of this has come out, a lot of the way your community has grown have come out of parents that you’ve connected with who have nuanced experiences. We’ve talked earlier about having dads now teaching and then having parents of special needs children now teaching. And I imagine that your community has really grown organically in that way then, hasn’t it?
Lori: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, initially, and some of the employers who came on as Mindful Return clients joined because there was an employee within the organization who had found out about Mindful Return or who knew me and who said, Oh, my gosh, you have to provide this because parents need help. And then really, it was a matter of listening to my clients, listening to the employers to say, Well, what do you need?
So, for example, the very next thing that I’m in the process of creating right now, which is probably going to come out in the fall, is a course specifically for managers of people who are taking leave. And that was really because my clients are saying, Okay, so now I’ve got something to offer my employee who’s taking leave, but their manager doesn’t know what to do with them.
Can you educate the manager around how to navigate this change in transition process as well? So I think it’s a consumer feedback sort of thing. You have to keep listening. I’ve also been doing more and more workshops and sessions for employers this year targeted at parents, not just new parents, but parents who are really struggling with the whole work from home during COVID. What am I going to do when school is completely closed this fall sort of conundrum because we’re all in a tricky situation right now as parents.
Davina: Yeah, so let’s talk about that because what kinds of recommendations do you have for parents in that situation? Or do you have any at this point? Some of your you’re teaching is still valid, that looking at a wedding working from home, or you’re not, because even without COVID, you have, you still have people who work from home and may work for, they’re distributed workers, their remote workers, a lot of people have worked that out with certain employers because they have a family or whatever.
But what we don’t have is, we don’t have the daycare and school and all that. That’s all up in the air right now for people. And, of course, being in the summer, a lot of people are not able to travel like they normally do in the summer and that kind of thing. But a lot of the recommendations you have like the, you know, getting yourself dressed, and in the mindset for work. Taking out pause and that transition and having rituals to help the children transition, you know?
A lot of those kinds of things we can still apply. The main challenge I think a lot of people are having is not having dedicated workspace, you know. I mean, some people do, some people have enough space to have dedicated workspace, but it becomes really challenging when you don’t have dedicated workspace to be able to draw that. But if you can have dedicated workspace, I imagine that’s probably a strong recommendation.
Lori: I was gonna say, dedicated workspace is an issue. And then the bigger issue is the complete lack of childcare. But in terms of the dedicated workspace, it’s interesting, I was doing a webinar for, a workshop for parents who are in Hong Kong in one of the Hong Kong offices of a law firm that I work with. And, I mean, talk about no dedicated workspace. It was like families of four and five living in 500 square foot apartments, you know, in the city.
That’s much less common in the US, but more common there. And some very creative solutions came out. People turn their pantries and to workspaces. And I think the dedicated part is the word that you really appropriately latched onto there. You know, taking some part of wherever it is that you live and making that the work area.
I’ve talked to people and parents who have turned their closet into their office. It’s something that can have a door that closes that the kids know when they’re in there, you know, that’s the workspace. There are also parents who have really effectively used tools like the red, yellow, green symbols on their door to indicate whether it’s okay to come into the workspace at a given moment or not, for kids who are old enough to do that.
And, you know, you’re right that a lot of the themes from the Mindful Return program are really applicable now to pretty much anyone. The other big focus that I’ve been spending a lot of time with parents on, I guess two big areas that I really want to drive home right now one is around ways to get deep focus in short amounts of time, like using the Pomodoro method, for example, where you block off 25 minutes and turn off all emails and things that dig at you and really like, go deep on one thing for 25 minutes, is you know, one of those types of tools.
And then the other thing is really frequent breaks and resets and like you must schedule into your workday and your work months and several months periods to like really recharge. My husband and I, for example, swap off on weekends three hour period of time where we can each just go and do whatever. And you know, that in itself is probably, it’s not enough but it’s something. And there’s no way to be efficient, effective and productive at either parenting or work if you’re on 24 seven without a stop.
Davina: Right. And you also have to give yourself a little bit of grace during the day.
Lori: A lot of grace. A lot.
Davina: If your child is, you know, wanders into your camera’s view, and they’re, you know, three years old, at, you know, people are going to have to say, you know, listen, this is what we’re dealing with. I mean, we have to give each other that grace. But what do you say to small employers, though, because, like I said, the women, for this audience, for this podcast for women law firm owners and a lot of them are just kind of in those building stages of their firm. And they’ve been hiring, you know, they have a team and now they’re having to work remotely and their teams having to work remotely.
And where it comes into being an issue is when people on their team have children so it’s not just their, just them and their families, but when people on their team have young children or have special needs children or have, and now they’re having to work from home and a place that may not be conducive to work. What do you say to the employers to help make that a better situation?
Creating a Family Friendly-Workplace
Lori: Yeah, I’d say first of all, have as much empathy as humanly possible because, like, we’re all just struggling to survive through this right now. And, you know, these are competent, loyal employees who will stick with you if you support them through this. And to the extent you can offer work-time flexibility, right? To work during the hours of the day that makes the most sense to them, I think that’s helpful.
I’ve been really tracking what employers have been doing to help their working parents lately. And some of them include, when possible, offering, you know, maybe a small stipend for some extra child care or ways to engage the children during the day. Setting specific times of day for meetings and other times that are not for meetings, trying to schedule calls that are only 45 minutes instead of an hour so that the person can go handle home-related stuff in the other 15 and then come back and regroup.
You know, I mean, for larger employers, it’s probably more feasible to offer paid leave. I’ve definitely heard of employers offering percentage reductions where they say, Okay, well, you can go down to a 75% schedule and I’ll pay you 85%, just in acknowledgment of the fact that like, this is impossible right now.
There are employers who are offering like 10 hours per week of childcare admin time. I mean, it’s a tough situation for everyone. And to the extent you’re able to encourage and help the employee to find other people with whom they can say pod up for the school year or join forces, I think that will help maybe alleviate some of the burden that falls on a parent who can’t have anybody else helping them at home. But we’re all in a really tough spot.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. I have one client who had an assistant who just struggled to work from home, she had a child who was a little bit older but had, was a special needs child. And so one of the setups that she did is she said, you know, my, she’s the kind of person that has to come to the office to work. So my client was able to add space at home where she could work there at her assistant could be in the office and the assistant had a family member who could be with the child while she came to the office and have that.
So there’s all kinds of ways that you can arrange, you know, that and still do social distancing and all of that by maybe you being the one to say, I’ve got space, so I’ll work from home and I’ll let them come into the office because they need that structure in a quiet place. Or, you know, I mean, the space is still there, can still be used if everybody, you know, if you’re doing, taking proper measures and things like that to try to protect everyone’s help. So all kinds of, you know, get creative, I would say, I think, right? You know, I know there is no right or wrong answer, which is probably what you tell a lot of people, right?
Lori: Yes. And, you know, encourage that creativity and communicate to the employee that you’re here to support them. And like, let’s brainstorm. Like, what are the million different ways this could work and how can we make it work for both of us, given that we share commitments and we share priorities? And I think conveying that message goes a really long way in making the person feel a little bit more reassured.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. And so, specifically for parents, moms of newborns who are having to go back to work but they’re still at home with their newborn, what kinds of things would you recommend to them?
Lori: Yeah. So I think I mentioned earlier that noise-canceling headphones are probably helpful. I’d say focus on the joys and the gratitude that you might have for not having to pass your baby off to another caregiver and for maybe not having to pump at the office. And so really grounding yourself in gratitude can be helpful. And then the third thing I’d say is establish really strong boundaries with the person with whom you’re sharing caregiving.
So, you know, I’ve heard stories of, you know, mom sits down to work because it’s her time to work during the day and gets bored with baby and wanders in to just chat with mom and say Hey, look at the baby and what the baby’s doing right now. And mom’s like I’m working. So, you know, to have really serious conversations around what it means to be on work time versus home time and make sure you’re having those conversations with whoever’s taking the baby while you are getting your work done.
Davina: Well, I think you really have to have some sort of, you know, like you said rituals for, and times and things like that where you’re saying this is the, my highest productive time, and try to work it out with your partner that way because otherwise, I can just like, I remember back when I was a professional writer and the joke among writers is that writers have the cleanest houses.
Because when you’re working from home, you’re like you think about that load of laundry that’s got to be folded and the house that’s got to be cleaner. And so I think a lot of people who aren’t used to and maybe don’t have the right setup at home, you know, to work and aren’t used to that structure, you know, that lack of structure, it can be very tempting to just let the day go by and not feel like you’ve got anything done, right?
Potential Issues With Multitasking
Lori: Yeah. I’ve been a big advocate of the out of office message as well, that says something along the lines of, you know, due to COVID caregiving issues, I will be working, or I will be out of the office until x time today. You know, I promise to respond to your email at that time whenever I get back, and, you know, you can trust that I’ll get back to you then.
Which for me, I think helps alleviate that sense that I should be checking emails from clients and whatnot, while I’m with my child, because one of the worst feelings is when you’re with your kid and you feel like you should be working at that moment. And then when you’re sitting and working and you feel like you should be with your child at that moment. And so, to the extent you can communicate to other people when you’re going to be offline and when you return, people are usually pretty willing to accept that.
Davina: I love that. I love that. I think that’s a great solution. And this is something too, we feel compelled. And one of the first things I teach my clients when they start working with me is not to check your email first thing in the morning. I mean, just as a matter of routine. Like, set times every day, you check your email and that’s, and you train people, this is when you do this. Because if somebody has a real emergency, they’re gonna call right?
And I once had a client I was working with who was telling me that she knew she had a problem when her child was sick and he was throwing up and she was holding his head while she, and then she got some email from a client and she was responding to the email while she’s sitting there with her child who was being sick. And when she did, she left out the word not, you know. So like, it had the opposite effect of what it is that she wanted to say.
Everybody went into a panic. She started getting all these emails because she wasn’t paying attention to what’s going on. And it’s okay to say, to like, put that phone down and it’ll wait for a few minutes until at least we get the child cleaned up and back in bed you go respond to it. So I thought that was like, wow, if there’s anything sort of illustrates the issue with multitasking, that would be it.
Lori: Yeah, there is one. Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Davina: So this has all been great. I think you shared so many wonderful tips. And I know there’s a whole lot more in the course, not to mention the community that comes with it. So tell us how we can find all of your information, how to find out more about the course, where we can get the book, how to connect with you.
Lori: Sure, thank you. So you can go to www.mindfulreturn.com and that’s where you can find out a lot more about the course. You can find the book both on Amazon and on the shop on the Motherly website. And I’m on all the social media channels that you can imagine. LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all those places under the handle Mindful Return.
Davina: Wonderful, wonderful. Thanks so much for being here, Lori. It was really a lot of fun and I learned a lot and I thank you for sharing.
Lori: Oh wonderful, Davina. It was really fun to talk with you as well. Thanks for having me on.