Jul 25, 2019 - Jarka Košanová  

How I balance a baby, a career at GitLab, and cultural expectations of motherhood

One team member shares her experience as a new working mother at GitLab.

This is the second in a four-part series looking at a myriad of issues surrounding working at home with children. In part one we took an in-depth look at parental leave policies worldwide and in parts three and four we’ll discover tried-and-true strategies for working remotely with older children.

In my last post I talked about the big differences among countries when it comes to paid parental leave. But this is only a start. I think maybe even more important is how society sees the issues around parental leave. In my country, women who want to work during the first three years of their child's life are often called "career chasers" and considered selfish. The majority opinion is that as a woman, you should prioritize caring for your children and household until your children are at least three years old. A lot of people in the Czech Republic (and elsewhere) think you should give up your old hobbies, stop traveling, and wait to resume your life until your children are older.

Young people, especially those with higher education or international experience, are usually more tolerant and don't see parenting as so black and white anymore. But I still wondered: Can I work when I have a small baby and still be accepted in my country?

I was sure I wanted to return to work quite soon after having a baby, meaning before the 2-3 years which is "normal" in the Czech Republic. I had lived in Switzerland where childminding groups took care of infants and toddlers and women often went back to work four months after birth (or even sooner). I couldn't imagine how I could stay at home with a child, or multiple children, for three or more years without working. I really like my job, so why should I have to get rid of it for three or more years? Why should I forget everything I have learned? But I had no idea how to balance social expectations and my desire to work at that time.

Flexibility is key

And then at GitLab, balancing parenting and work came so naturally. This is perhaps because I was working remotely and that made it much easier. Twelve weeks of parental leave passed quickly. The first 8-10 weeks were crazy, but then it got easier. Whenever our little one was sleeping or playing I had time to work. I started working part time after 12 weeks and I am really happy I was granted this opportunity.

Working part time has been great for me so far. I am really grateful that working for GitLab offers such a flexible schedule. When our baby was about six months she started moving, but it was not really a problem. I just changed my schedule and I started working two full days and one half day when I have our parents arranged for babysitting (instead of the five half days I had worked before). I actually have rest from the baby while working and rest from work while taking care of the baby.

In all honesty, if I had the option for more than 12 weeks of parental leave, I would have taken it. I could have applied more leave maybe a bit later in my child's life, because any parent knows that it is a new challenge when a child starts moving. I also can't imagine starting to work full time after those first 12 weeks.

Still able to contribute

I came to Cape Town with six-month-old Eliška in August 2018, where we had the GitLab Summit. I was a bit worried about how my husband and I would handle everything but it was amazing. We were able to join in on all excursions and my husband took over for Eliška most of the time so I could enjoy all the activities, including a session about working with kids productively.

I realized that having a child doesn't have to change your life, even in a country where you're "supposed" to raise your child full time and not work. Clearly, giving life to a new human being has been a big change in my life. As her parents, my husband and I must support her development, keep her occupied, happy, and safe. But I realized that becoming a mother doesn't mean I have to give up my old life. I can continue working and progress with my career. I can keep my hobbies, such as sport (I just accomplished a half-marathon in Scotland), and my husband and I learned how easy it is to travel with a baby.

And the opinion of the Czech society? I have friends and family around who support my decisions, and many say they admire me for continuing to work while raising my daughter. I am pretty sure there are still a lot of people who don't comprehend my decision, but the fact that I work from home for a family first company makes my decisions more socially acceptable. My family is also fortunate to have grandparents that help us a lot. In my experience, the GitLab way is simply better for me and my family than the "traditional Czech way." I am happy with how my work and family life is balanced.

What do you think about parental/maternity leave around the world and in the US? How has it been working for you and are you happy with your way?

Next up in our series we look at the practical challenges of managing your physical space while working at home with children.

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

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