I’ve had the pleasure to chat with Kimberly Didrikson, founder of Learning Motherhood which supports working mothers and employers through the journey of motherhood. She resides in Huntington Beach, CA with her husband, three children, and two dogs. Kimberly has two boys ages five and three and a one year old baby girl. She spent 15 years growing her career at a fortune 100 company. Her career was essentially her baby and then she had a REAL baby which turned her world upside down. She shares about her experience and motivation behind Learning Motherhood.
1. Current state of mind with back to school, what is the current situation and organization with your three children?
I have learned the importance of creating workable solutions in seasons of life after becoming a mother. COVID-19 really challenged this to the next level with three small children and two working parents. Back in June we started reviewing alternative options for the fall because ultimately what we experienced with a kindergartener attempting online learning, a preschooler, and a 1 year old was not a long term solution to support our family needs. Our now first grader has switched schools and is attending school in person with a list of safety measures that felt inline with what we were comfortable with. Our 4 year old started Pre-K in person and our now 2 year old started preschool three ½ days a week. The mood in our house is night and day from the spring. In close quarters with 5 people and two dogs in a home it can feel like the walls are closing in. Now that we are able to have some space from each other I really look forward to our time together again.
2. Can you tell us more about Learning Motherhood’s mission and what you do?
Our mission is to create a culture that will educate and empower moms in their personal life, family, and workplace. Allowing parenthood and careers to work together by assisting employers on providing the right tools to retain their employees prior to and after the birth of a family. As the CEO of Learning Motherhood I touch every aspect of the business from teaching our series for expectant mothers to our working mom series and supporting organizations to build out programs in assisting the needs of their parent community.
3. How was your experience upon returning to work after having your first baby?
I deeply struggled with this transition because of the complete lack of preparation for the emotional change the motherhood would have on me and my identity. I couldn’t seem to connect motherhood with now the career identity I had built over the years. On the positive side I was able to secure a longer maternity leave that gave me more time than most women in the US in order to work through the emotional impact motherhood had on me.
4. What would you say to your “old self” for returning to the workforce knowing what you know now after having three children?
You are important in this new role of motherhood. Its okay to be sad that you are not with your baby but it is also okay to have goals and dreams that are important to you too outside of your role as a mom.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice for a new mom returning to her corporate job?
Advocate for yourself and do your research! Most employers want you to come back as soon as possible but depending on the state you live in you could have the opportunity to take advantage of more time if you want it.
6. We’ve talked about the dreadful messages sometimes managers send to new moms right before returning from maternity leave, can you share the typical emails or conversations that give mom’s anxiety and which approach you think managers should adopt instead?
The one that is the highest on the anxiety scale is, “We can't wait for you to come back; we have missed you so much.” Or “When are you coming back from Mat leave? We are so excited to see you.” Lastly, “Looking forward to seeing you on Monday, can’t wait to catch you up on all that has been going on while you were on Maternity leave.”
7. How was your breastfeeding / pumping journey and juggling your corporate job?
The beginning of my breastfeeding journey with all three kids was incredibly challenging. I almost gave it up in the first 3 months because the pain was so unbearable. Once I received support from the right lactation consultant I was able to breastfeed all three children for a year. I pumped at work and the struggle was really the additional thing I had to schedule into my day along with cleaning all the parts. I definitely preferred to pump in my office but because curtains were not allowed at the time I pumped in a room that was a storage closet converted into a pumping room. I also pumped a lot of times on the road while driving to a client or in the parking lot of clients building. One tip to share is having an extra shirt in the car was key should something spill. I will add we have really come a lot further in terms of my first experience with pumping vs. now. In 2014 I looked like a fembot pumping but now there are so many more options that are much more comfortable for women from pumps to clothing and bras.
8. I’ve read that one third of women in the US workforce do not return to work after having a child. How can workplaces do better to retain them?
Provide support for mothers including longer “PAID” maternity/paternity leave. We need men to take paternity leave as well to help normalize the leave in the workplace while dimensioning the motherhood tax given to women when they go on maternity leave. We really need companies to build out return work programs that demonstrate the value of mothers within the organization. This is quite a big ship we are trying to turn but it is possible and ultimately will have an incredibly positive impact on organization financially and within the culture of their company.
9. Did you learn about another country that has better stats, if so what are they doing differently?
Sweden has a pretty robust maternity/paternity program that is supporting both moms and dads entitled to 480 days of leave at 80% of pay. That's on top of 18 weeks of reserved maternity leave for the mother and the 480 days can be split between the new parents with their significant other receiving 90% of their pay for the first 90 days of leave. Sweden's approach is to support the bonding with the baby of not only the mother but the father or partner. On a gender equality perspective I look at Finland and see the representation of mothers in leadership roles growing. They are leading in gender equality in the world with a parliament that has 47% representation of women and a prime minister that just happens to be a mom as well as the world's youngest prime minister. In the short time that Prime Minister Sanna Marin has been in office they have already revamped their leave policy for new parents. Introducing a new maternity/paternity leave program that will be implemented for 2021 in order to support new levels of bonding opportunities for both partners. Finland will give all parents leave, regardless of their gender or whether they are a child's biological parents. Under the new law, each parent will be allowed 164 days, or about seven months and for single parents they will receive 328 days.
FOLLOW KIMBERLY @ LEARNING MOTHERHOOD