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Morra Aarons-Mele's picture

A recent Good Morning America story reflected something I’m hearing more of from friends: now doesn’t feel like a safe time to take a full maternity leave. As Ellen Galinsky notes in the piece “The issue for women these days is that they are increasingly important financial supporters of the family,” unemployment rates and pay cuts increase monthly, and that leads to great stress, and fear of taking leave. So much so that ABC News called reduced maternity leave "the new normal." For most of us, this idea is just shy of heartbreaking.

A recent conversation I had got me thinking, though, that maybe the classic three or four month maternity leave isn’t for everyone- no matter what the financial circumstances are.

My friend Lisa Witter is Chief Operating Officer of Fenton Communications, a leading progressive communications and branding firm. Lisa is also the author of The SheSpot, which is the book on why women are key to achieving social change.

Lisa has two little boys, one just turned two, and one is three months old. She told me recently of her novel approach to maternity leave and flexible working. Lisa brings insight about what works for her as a mom, but also what works for her business as COO. Here’s what she did for her second leave:

"I found taking three and a half months off was isolating and didn’t work for me the first time.

"With the second baby, I took 6 weeks formal leave, during which I checked in on email and sat in on conference calls. My parents and in-laws stayed with us during that time.

"After six weeks, I worked five days in the office- I don’t have to, I choose to. I work better at the office. I’d bring the baby in whenever I felt like it. My older son would stay with the nanny, sometimes I’d meet them both in the park and she would take the baby home with her and I would go back to the office.

"Now, I’m taking two weeks in August off, and all of December. At first I felt guilt about not taking a longer leave but I thought, ‘If I’m not happy my child isn’t happy.’

"This arrangement is a really good option for an employer too, if you can work out where your slower times are. It works better for me in my business because August tends to be slower, as does December.”

For me, I’m self-employed and need to engage in both business development and client services. A long maternity leave was out of the question, but I structure my life at work to fit my parenting needs by working a flexible schedule year round. I took about two months and then started to jump in slowly to work.

What other non-traditional—but satisfying— maternity leaves have you seen?

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