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How Parenthood Shifts Your Personal Brand in the Workplace with Lori Mihalich-Levin

How Parenthood Shifts Your Personal Brand in the Workplace with Lori Mihalich-Levin
How Parenthood Shifts Your Personal Brand in the Workplace with Lori Mihalich-Levin

Having a child impacts you not just personally but professionally.

As an expecting or new parent, you have access to plenty of information about planning for and taking care of your child. And you’ve probably heard that you’re not the same person after their arrival. But there’s still something that gets left out of the conversation too often.

After having two sons, Lori Mihalich-Levin knew there was a missing piece–something essential to the identity of new parents: how do you shift from child-free employee to working parent? Now, she helps moms and dads (and their employers) transition back to work after parental leave.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, you’ll learn how your brand and identity shift as a parent and how to mindfully return to the workforce as a new, working parent. You’ll hear about learning leadership skills through parenting, pushing through postpartum anxiety and depression, the difference in expectations before and after parenthood, the effect of paternity leave on not just the family but others in the organization, and much more!

1:58 – How Lori defines personal branding, her three-word description for herself, and her favorite Teddy Roosevelt quote and Rent hype song

4:48 – Lori’s career path and how she discovered a gap in the marketplace for working parents

7:45 – How Lori works with employers through Mindful Return to support employees coming back from parental leave

10:03 – How becoming a parent can change you and help you develop leadership skills

15:38 – Why the U.S. system fails new parents and some signs of postpartum anxiety or depression

20:34 – Two rules to remember when you become a new parent to help you push through the tough times

24:30 – Why your return from parental leave needs to be mindful and how to have small but meaningful interventions in your day

28:51 – How to give voice to who you are now after the change you’ve undergone with parenthood

31:11 – How to navigate expectations from before and after parenthood

36:49 – An example of how parenthood can be an elevating strategy in your career

38:34 – Ways to navigate self-judgment and guilt around being absent for some things as a working parent

43:45 – Why it’s so essential for even the non-birthing parents (especially men) to take the parental leave on offer

47:49 – Lori’s fun factor, the vitality of community and connection in her program, and two things that make her stand out

Connect With Lori Mihalich-Levin

Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, believes in empowering working parents.  She is the founder and CEO of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and co-host of the Parents at Work Podcast.  She is also the Co-Chair of the inaugural DC Chapter of Postpartum Support International (PSI).  Lori is mama to two wonderful red-headed boys (ages 10 and 12) and is a healthcare lawyer in private practice.  Her thought leadership has been featured in publications including Forbes, The Washington Post, New York Times Parenting, and Thrive Global.  

Mindful Return | Instagram | LinkedIn

Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return From Maternity Leave by Lori Mihalich-Levin

Parents At Work

Mentioned In How Parenthood Shifts Your Personal Brand in the Workplace with Lori Mihalich-Levin

Postpartum Support International (PSI)

Every Kid Outdoors 

Insight Timer

Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Bridig Schulte

“The Big Benefit at Work That Dads Are Afraid to Use” by Ben Eisen | Wall Street Journal 

Is Your Women’s Group Winning?: Strategies For Building A Stronger Women’s Initiative In Your Organization

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where we share career stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show. Hi everyone. It’s Paula Edgar, host of The Branding Room Only Podcast and on The Branding Room Only Podcast, what we do is we talk to influencers and professionals about their personal brands, how they built them, lessons learned, and advice they may have about personal brands. Today I’m very excited because I have a guest who vicariously I met, and now I actually have the opportunity to meet and talk about something that’s very important to me and I know to a lot of my listeners. Let me introduce you to Lori Mihalich-Levin. She believes in empowering working parents.

Paula Edgar: Me too, girl. She is the founder and CEO of Mindful Return, the author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and co-host of the Parents At Work Podcast. She is also the co-chair of the inaugural DC Chapter of Postpartum Support International (PSI). Lori is mama to two wonderful redheaded boys ages ten and twelve, and is a healthcare lawyer in private practice. Her thought leadership has been featured in publications including Forbes, The Washington Post, New York Times Parenting, and Thrive Global. Lori, welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I’m so excited to be here with you, Paula. I have to make an addendum to what you just said, because yesterday my son turned 13 and he would be so offended if I were going around telling everybody that he was still 12.

Paula Edgar: So anyway, redacted 13. This is important because now there’s teen behind that number. So I 100% get it speaking of brands.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes, exactly. Yes. I am now the brand of someone who has a teenager in their house.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to the jungle.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I’m only 24 hours in, so I have no idea what that means yet.

Paula Edgar: I’ll tell you. So, Lori, thank you for being on the podcast. Tell me, what does a personal brand mean to you? How do you define it?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I define it as other people’s perception of me in the marketplace. And by marketplace, I mean anybody who’s choosing you to do anything.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Yes. Because any interaction is a part of a market. Yes, I agree with that. 100%. All right, so tell me, how would you define yourself in three words or short phrases?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Okay, so I once took the CliftonStrengths Finder, so I’m going to use one of those, which is Activator. If I see a problem, I can’t just sit on my hands or ignore it. I have to go out and do something about it. Second word is Hugger. That is because during the pandemic, when I could not go out and hug everybody, I realized how important that is to me. So to know me is to hug me. Then number three is thinker. And I think I’m a thinker.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I see the double-edged sword of each of these, and one of them is sometimes I overthink things, but I do believe that I put a lot of thought and intentionality into the work that I do.

Paula Edgar: I love that. And I also love hugger. You just took me right back to me being, I was talking to my husband about this recently when I was like, “Do you remember what was terrible in 2020 when I only had an opportunity to hug y’all?”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes, exactly. They were overhugged that year.

Paula Edgar: Right. I was like, “That was terrible.”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes.

Paula Edgar: Okay, so do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes. I adopted it when I became a working parent and had to leave work at the end of the day and my cheeks would get red because everybody else was still working. But my daycare was about to close and they were going to charge me $10 a minute if I was a slate. And it’s the Teddy Roosevelt quote “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Paula Edgar: Yes.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Like you do you, lady.

Paula Edgar: Yes. Also thinking about those $10 per minute, I would turn into like the Flash. Yes. Good stuff. Okay. What about this? What is your hype song? What is the song that you use when you are coming full Lori self and want to tell people what they’re going to get or you’re having a terrible day and you need to pick yourself up? It could be the same song or a different one.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah. Definitely, I can speak to the latter. This is the terrible day, the “I’m still standing. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” That’s the one that comes out.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: One of my favorite songs that just makes me feel happy is 525,600 minutes from Rent.

Paula Edgar: Rent. Yes. So I am doing a playlist of everybody’s songs and it is the most eclectic, fantastic, wonderful thing.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Awesome.

Paula Edgar: I am loving it. So thank you for that.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Sure.

Paula Edgar: So, Lori, tell me about your career story and then segue into that, what was it like when you returned to work yourself? Like, what was your maternity leave and return to work back like?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah. So I came to Washington, DC specifically to go to law school. I knew I wanted a regulatory legal practice and I knew that because, one, I was like a policy geek and did policy in undergrad, and two, I love foreign languages and I decided at that point that reading regulations and translating them to English was sort of like reading foreign languages. So I went to law school, I started working in the healthcare practice of a big firm, and became a Medicare reimbursement lawyer, sort of by falling into a group that had some great mentors. I started representing hospitals and health systems.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Then I went in-house for a number of years at the Association of American Medical Colleges and practiced, well, I was doing policy work while I was there. I wasn’t practicing law, and that’s where I had my two babies. When I had my sons, I am most certain that I had undiagnosed postpartum anxiety and I found in the world so many amazing supports out there for the baby. All the things we could learn how to do, massage your baby, and how to puree baby food for your baby, and how to pump milk for your baby, and how to make a birth plan for the baby’s arrival, but nothing about the personal and professional identity shift and identity crisis, quite frankly, that I was going through as a working person. So, in all my spare time with a two-year-old and an eleven-month-old at home, I decided that I really wanted to do something about this gap in the marketplace and I created a program called Mindful Return that helps new parents through that transition back to work after parental leave. I did that sort of as my side gig at night, 15-20 minutes a day for many days. Then about a year and a half in, I pivoted back to law firm life, something I swore I would never do, and learned a lesson that I should just never say never about anything in my life.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I went back to law firm world as a partner at Dentons, but on a 60% schedule, and I did 60% law and 40% Mindful Return. I grew my business for about six years. Then two and a half years ago, I left big law, went out on my own. I now practice law as my side gig under The GME Group is my brand, and I practice law in about 10% of my professional work week. I run this program, Mindful Return, in the other 90% of the week, and we partner with 109 employers, and we have 20 people on our team. It’s grown over the past decade to be something that I never could have imagined as risk-averse baby lawyer, however many years ago.

Paula Edgar: So tell me, what is the nature of the program? So how do you work with employers to support folks when they’re returning back?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah. So I like to say that what we do is in two different buckets. One bucket is that we provide courses for new parents in a cohort, and it’s asynchronous. We run a four-week program every other month that employers send their employees to participate in. So you are in a group of other people who are all returning to work around the same time you are, but from all different employers. We put them through a curriculum that focuses on four themes: mindset, so, like, how to get your head in a better place to go back, logistics, all of the how to navigate the childcare transition and what your schedule is going to look like and how you’re going to feed yourself at night, et cetera. The third piece is about leadership and really encouraging new parents to think about the skills that they are gaining through parenthood and how they’re directly applicable to their jobs.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Then the fourth week is about building and staying in community, mostly so you don’t wind up isolated and crying on the kitchen floor like I did for a long time in new parenthood. Then the second bucket is workshops and webinars. We do a lot of training for managers of people who are supervising people going out on parental leave. We do work-life integration workshops. We do talks and webinars specifically for the new parents about how to make the transition. So the courses are one piece, and then the workshops and webinars are another piece.

Paula Edgar: I love the cohort piece because I feel like parenting, motherhood in specific, I’m thinking about myself, is such a wonderful, I’ve known since I was a little kid, I was going to be, I was like, “I’m going to be a mother.” And then I was like, “Oh, no.”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: What was that thing I said I wanted? Yeah.

Paula Edgar: It was like, “Wait, they don’t turn off.” You have to keep mothering no matter what.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: For the rest of your life.

Paula Edgar: For the rest of your life. The shift in the idea of it and then the actual piece of it, I think when you said identity shift, it was more like a crisis.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes, massive identity crisis.

Paula Edgar: You’re just supposed to sit there and look cute, not cry all the time and do this other stuff. You don’t know who you are in that moment until you start to learn who you are again. So when I think about this, and particularly, about your brand and being a parent, should you choose that as a path, is a brand shift, right? You’re not the same person. Whether you adopt, stepparent, any of those things, it changes who you are. My question for you is how do you think becoming a parent changed you and who you were before and then post parenting or not in parenting and not post parenting, post having kids? That part.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Oh, it changed everything, Paula. It definitely heightened a lot of skills that were sitting latent or I was a much more impatient person prior to having children. I was a much less flexible person prior to having children. I think having to be there with the small human being who has like 100 problems in one day that you don’t know how to solve causes you to problem-solve really quickly. So I think a lot of skills that I think are fantastic leadership skills are things that I developed specifically because of parenthood. I think it just gave me a completely different perspective on the importance of the time that I spent with people as well. I don’t know.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I could go on and on about all the benefits. I appreciate your note about no matter how you came to parenthood, you can have these benefits. Two little points. One, Mindful Return started just focused on moms, and then we quickly realized that dads needed the support, too. So we have a cohort specifically for dads. The other thing I want to note is that there’s some neuroscience research out there, particularly a woman named Dr. Ruth Feldman, Yale Medical School, who has discovered that the most neuroplastic our brain is in the entire adult human experience is in the one year following the birth of one’s child. That is like, no matter how you came to interact with that little one, they just make your brain do all sorts of amazing things.

Paula Edgar: So a part of my sort of stuff that I do is DEI. I always say that if you want to be humbled and you want to realize how to be open to the world, interact with children, because they see things very much like, “Everything is fine, I don’t really care if you’re different. I just want to play.” It’s our interactions with them that shift that space for them. I studied anthropology when I was in college, and it’s true, we often will collect in sort of cultures and groups, but kids are always very open. When you said some of the leadership skills, I realized that one of the leadership skills that I received is to have a better, more open mind because I had a child.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Absolutely.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. So the irony I find about this whole parenting life and parenthood is that it’s necessary, like, we have to continue to make the world, we have to continue to populate the world. It’s necessary. But then there is this sort of brand globally, that sometimes it feels like a detriment. It feels like something that-

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Motherhood bias. Yes.

Paula Edgar: Right. Yeah.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Motherhood forfeit.

Paula Edgar: Exactly, that we need it, but we don’t want it. We don’t respect it. But to your point just now, there are skills, strategic, necessary skills that are built when you make that transition.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: We don’t talk about those enough.

Paula Edgar: We don’t. It can be leveraged in such great ways. What are some of the things that you see—and you mentioned some, you said flexible problem solver—what are some other skills that you see maybe from yourself, but also from the folks who you’ve worked with that develop and can be leveraged in whatever area they’re in?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah, I think deep empathy. I might have said that one. But the ability to meet the needs of demanding clients who can’t articulate their needs very clearly comes to mind.

Paula Edgar: Yeah.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: The ability to teach and to mentor. Right. When you’re in an office setting, those same skills that you use to sit and teach your kid how to tie a shoe might be similar to what you’re teaching a first-year associate how to do with a memo. I mean, it’s all very related. Yes.

Paula Edgar: That’s a really good-

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Time management is one. Prioritization is like at the top, right? Working parents don’t have time for drama or extraneous stuff. Like, we get the stuff done and we move on. So that’s a big one. No nonsense. I’ve talked to people who have observed members of their team have children and come back, and some of them have said things like, they grew up really quickly because they had to. They came back more mature than whenever they left.

Paula Edgar: It’ll humble you, that part. You do. You think your lens on the world is a very different one. Some of the things I think that we tolerate or ignored even, it’s much more clear because you’re seeing it through the eyes of somebody else. I always say it’s a little bit of an ego thing, too. Right. When I said I was little, I knew I was going to have a kid. I didn’t think about it like, “I am going to leave my legacy onto the world.”

Paula Edgar: But now I think about, “Who are they becoming? What am I teaching them?” My therapist says, “Once they’re like ten, you’re no longer parenting, you’re mentoring.” And I was like, “Damn, why didn’t you tell me that when they were nine?”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Exactly. There is that shift that occurs for sure.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Right. Because they’ve learned the core skills and now you’re just showing them how to navigate, which is scary. But I want to go back to thinking about the experience and particularly, I think, for mothers, and you can also bring in anything that you’ve noticed about fathers who’ve had parental leave as well, that support in that shift and also being self-aware and maybe knowing that you’re not okay and that you may need additional support. What does that look like? Because I know, and I think about this, I probably had baby blues, but I didn’t realize either.

Paula Edgar: I was like, “Thank goodness for said spouse who’s sitting here being like, Hey, let’s go outside and you can get some sunshine.” And I was like, “No, I just want to put my head over the blanket, and that’s it.” What are some of the things that, I know there are some reflections definitely in the book, but tell me some things that you think that folks need to hear?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah. Well, the first thing that I want to say is that I think especially in the United States, we tend to go to, “There’s something wrong with me”

Paula Edgar: Yeah.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Before we say, “There’s actually something super wrong with the whole system,” and I want to just put that out there first, that we don’t have paid parental leave as a national policy in this country. So the average amount of time that a person takes for parental leave is two weeks. No kidding, of course, you’re not feeling okay after two weeks. You just gave birth to a child. So until our country focuses on paid parental leave, on childcare that doesn’t break the bank, on systems and supports that are in place for families with young children, I think we’re going to continue to have a lot of people who have lots of struggles because the system is set up for them to fail. I’ll get off of that soapbox for a minute.

Paula Edgar: No, stay on it if you want. It’s true.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Employers can do great things, and there are employers who are providing 16 or 18 weeks of paid leave. In the US, that’s considered amazing. Abroad, not so much. But in the US, that’s good. You’re just getting past the three-month sleep regression, right? I mean, if you recall, at three months, the baby’s brain is exploding and then they stop sleeping. That is right at the moment when most people in this country have returned or are returning to work.

Paula Edgar: Wow.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Some things to notice in yourselves definitely are the tears frequently, the inability to shake a mood. I’d say if you’re asking yourself, “Is it possible that I might have postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression?” The mere fact that you are asking that question means you should go talk to a therapist. You should go to a medical provider. One of the reasons I was very passionate about helping to get a postpartum support international chapter up in DC is that I think that there’s not enough education by OB/GYNs and pediatricians and the healthcare providers who we do interact with around perinatal mental health. So one thing I know PSI is very involved in is making sure that providers of all different varieties can get education so that they can be screening, I mean, if you screen, then of course, there’s the question, “Well, what do you do if you find someone who needs the extra support?” But I never asked the question. I recall sitting in my OB’s office bawling my eyes out and her basically being like, “Time for the next meeting. You’ll be okay.”

Paula Edgar: I really wanted to kind of delve into this part of the conversation because somebody very dear to me also just had a baby, and I am having vicarious postpartum depression thinking about how it was for her because it was hard, but looking at it from being outside in and then thinking about it being in it, I can’t connect it to anything else that I’ve ever experienced because you can’t run, but you have to kind of push through it. But some people can’t push through it without having support. To your point about there not being screenings or there not being sort of a holistic space to even feel open, people don’t tell doctors the truth anyway and having all of that is set up for failure,

Paula Edgar: to your point, about systems and structures that we have, it’s systemic on the structural but also institutional things, and then you have the individual. I’m thinking about the intersection of the parenting, motherhood, et cetera, and people and women of color, and there being this perception that you shouldn’t be asking for help, and then what does that then mean for our experiences and what we hold in and what it means for our children in that point where that can hurt, I should say your milk flow, if you decide that you’re going to breastfeed, like all of that.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes. I mean, maternal mortality rates for Black women, it’s just terrifying, right? So, yes, we need more institutional support. We need more intersectional studies. All the things, Paula. All the things.

Paula Edgar: So I tabbed a couple of pieces in the book because I’m a good lawyer.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: All lawyers need tabs.

Paula Edgar: All lawyers need tabs, seriously. There’s a part where you are saying that there are some rules essentially, some things you should remember to make you a happy person. One is we are all beginners. I sat with that for a little bit. I was like, “Whoa. If we just remember that, oh, by the by, this is not something that comes naturally. All of a sudden you’re not wearing a flowing gown and your hair is done up, you’re not.” It’s also like the kid is a beginner, too.

Paula Edgar: They haven’t done this either.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Especially with the first kid. I mean, I had a lot harder time with nursing, for example, with my first baby because I didn’t know what I was doing and he didn’t know what he was doing. But the second baby, I knew what I was doing and he didn’t know so I was able to sort of guide him. But things were very rough that first time around. Yeah, we are all beginners. Even if you wanted to have the baby since you were five, and even if you babysat for all the neighborhood’s kids, you never had them 24/7 under your roof and had to map out nap schedules and things like that. It is a totally different world.

Paula Edgar: You never had them 24/7 is one 100%, I’m pulling that quote out. It is a changed experience. I was just thinking about this piece. For those of you who are listening or watching, this is important. I think that in the world and in media, et cetera, there is this perception that kids and babies, again, if you’re choosing to breastfeed, that they know how to do it, immediately they crawl to you on your chest. No, that is not what happened.

Paula Edgar: I was literally like, “Hey, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do, make it do what it’s supposed to do.” Another favorite part I have in this book is about outsourcing, which is my parenting superpower. I’m like, “If somebody else can do it, they should.” But outsourcing, when it comes to getting support, like a doula, like having somebody to just come and support, whether that’s family members or something, is so important and can help you with this other piece. So I just wanted to open that piece up because we are beginners, which means we need help, like mentoring, to your point.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes. No, I was just going to say, and I was like the “I can do this myself” new parent. I mean, it was like my personality. It was like, “I’m a lawyer, I figure stuff out. I don’t need extra anything.” Wow, was that the wrong approach. Because then I did figure stuff out myself but I figured it out, it took me a lot longer to figure the stuff out, and I was a lot more isolated and depressed in figuring it all out.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: You don’t have to do it that way.

Paula Edgar: We need to normalize this conversation. I feel like so often it’s very much like a surprise, because what to expect when you’re expecting isn’t like, “Girl, let me tell you,” that should be a podcast. Because we’re not necessarily passing down the information culturally in a way that we are consistently culturally, then it’s challenging. The experience of having to parent a baby if you had a child, and also healing. That, I think, leads to that depression because you’re changing and it hurts, and then you got to make sure this kid is okay.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I was going to say, all while worrying whether someone’s like taking over all of your book of business while you’re going back, or if people are going to look down on you whenever you return, I mean, all of that is hanging over you while you’re trying to keep the baby alive and recover yourself. Sorry.

Paula Edgar: No, that’s a perfect segue because we could probably do a whole podcast just on the postpartum before you go back to work. But when you think about the actual return, and I love that the program in the book has this part about mindfulness in it, because I think sometimes it’s like, “Just return, go back, figure it out.”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Everything’s the same.

Paula Edgar: But you’re saying it needs to be a thought-out thing, a strategic thing. Tell me why. Tell me what that means for you and the resources and advice that you give. What’s the mindful piece of it for you?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah. So, first of all, I like to remind people that the return to work after having a baby is not an event. It is a process. It is not a one day, one week like, “Okay, everything’s good.” I have people who they come to me and they say, “But I’ve been back for a week and I still don’t feel normal,” and I’m like, “Oh, sweetie, you’ve been back for barely five days, right? It is a one-year process of figuring out how to do all the baby things to come back into yourself.” I think I probably felt a little bit more finally like me

Lori Mihalich-Levin: after a year. I like to focus with new parents on micro mindfulness because people think, “Oh, mindfulness, I need to sit and meditate for an hour or whatever.” No, you don’t have that kind of time when you’re a brand-new parent. But I think people really tend to underestimate the value of really small but meaningful interventions. So here’s an example, two that come to mind. One, somebody, when I was a new parent, said to me, “Hey, Lori, it’s a good idea to set an intention for your day to help put your brain on a better path.” I was like, “Oh, that sounds great. Okay, I’ll set an intention for my day.” Then like 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 PM would roll around and I’d be like, “Well, I guess I forgot to do that.”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: So I created an acronym for myself called ISS. I probably shared this in the book, which is a form of to be or is. The I stands for set an Intention. The first S stands for Stretch and the next S stands for Savor or vice versa. I do this in the shower every morning. I still do it, like ten years later. So I’m in the shower in the morning, which presumably you need to do if you’re going to leave the house and you had baby gunk all over you. So get the child detached from your physical being for a few minutes.

Paula Edgar: That’s the other S, shower.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes, I is for Intention. So the intention might be go to bed at 9:00 PM tonight even if the sink is full of bottle parts, because you are ridiculously exhausted. Or the I might be just to tell yourself, “I am enough today, no matter what happens.” Or the I might be “Get that one project done at work that is hanging over your head, because, gosh darn it, it is bringing you stress.” Then the first S is Stretch. So do a couple of yoga poses in the shower, touch your toes, something simple. And then Savor.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Savor that moment when you are in the shower, the water is hot, you are alone, you have a house. There might be baby crap all over the place, but you have the baby crap, you know, that moment of gratitude.

Paula Edgar: Yeah.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: The other micro mindfulness strategy that I really like is to sort of shift gears before you sit down to work. For me, when I commuted downtown in Washington, DC, I would ride the metro and I would take the metro and then I would get off the metro and I would have like a five to ten-minute walk to my office. In that time, I would either find a park bench or hotel lobby and I would sit down with Insight Timer, which is a free app. I now have some meditations on there for new parents on Insight Timer. I would just either put a five-minute bell on, like a timer on, or I’d listen to a guided meditation and no one knew where I was for those five minutes. I say hotel lobby because it might have been raining or whatever, but it was the way for me to take off my mom hat and put on the work hat before I walked in the door. You can do this at home, too. If you’re working remotely, you don’t have to run into your laptop and open it

Lori Mihalich-Levin: and just delve in.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: You can just sit and breathe for a minute and remember that you’re switching roles before you actually switch them. So the mindset piece does not have to take time. It’s just about pausing and being more intentional.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I love intentions just generally, I think that they are powerful, but they take time. So to your point about doing things, incorporating into something that you already should be doing at least.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Or do it while you’re brushing your teeth or whatever it is.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. Makes a lot of sense. So you return to work, you got this home thing, you’ve gone to the hotel, you’ve done your Insight Timer, and you walk into the office, you are now different, but you are the same. But you’re different, but you are the same. How do you, I think, consciously and strategically figure out how to project voice? Who you now are after having this change?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think every day you figure it out anew, and I think different people have different levels of comfort talking about the home life and the struggles that they’re going through. I think it’s very helpful if you can identify a couple of people at your office with whom you can be real about what you’re going through, so that it’s not everyone who’s in the dark about coming back. I also always encourage new parents to remember that the more they can get a little brave and talk about this reality when they’re returning, the better modeling they’re doing for the people who are coming after them, who maybe won’t see it as such a shock the second time around. So there’s always that question of how loud am I about my parenting at work. There’s a woman, Mary Beth Ferrante who likes to say, “We should be parenting out loud in our office and parenting out loud at home.” For me, the distinction that I drew when I was at the law firm was with my colleagues, I was 100% like, “This is my schedule, and this is how I’m rolling. Today’s not a good day.”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: One of my bosses always said, “When your hair was in a ponytail, I knew it was not a good night of sleep.” But with my clients, whenever I was at the firm, I would just say, “I’m not available,” or whatever. I didn’t always get into the details unless I was super close to the client. So I think it’s totally possible to have different levels of that relationship and to share different amounts with different people depending on your relationship with them.

Paula Edgar: I think that that is really excellent advice, because I do think people think it’s zero or ten, right?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah.

Paula Edgar: It’s anything that has authenticity to do with it. There are scales of it. You’re never always one of those things. It’s always you but it scales of you in that space. I definitely believe in that when it comes to motherhood. So I want to talk about a two-part thing. One is the coming back to work and navigating the expectations that already existed for you before.

Then I want to talk about the navigating the expectations that people have put on you because they think that you can’t because you are now a parent. How? Lori, tell me. I’m mad thinking about it, but I know that this is the sort of space that people end up being in. What are your suggestions or thoughts about navigating this?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I think we’re like zooming back out to systemic problems, aren’t we now? Right. So, first of all, I think it’s very important when you come back and let’s rewind, it’s important before you go out on leave to think about and maybe to articulate the things that you definitely want to take back when you come back versus things that you want to let go of. So your leave can be a fantastic opportunity to move some of the things on your plate off to other people who maybe you’ve evolved past a role and long overdue for someone else to take it over. This could be a great time. It can also be a really great growth opportunity for others on your team. But if you’re involved and engaged in that conversation, then you can help steer it more than if other people just pick up pieces of what you took on and do it willy nilly, and then you don’t get the work back that you wanted to get back. Right.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: So I think to the extent you can sit and reflect and journal about it and take some notes and then share your thoughts on what you want your role to look like when you come back, I think that’s sort of taking some ownership over your role in your career. Then there’s the expectations, as you said, that people are putting on you. Maybe you have people on your team who say, “Oh, you’re back. Fantastic, “and then they dump like 5000 things on you that are all due tomorrow and you’re like, “And I did want to sleep tonight and maybe nurse my baby.” Or you have the people who say, “Oh, no, don’t give her that big project or she’s not going to want to travel for that deposition because she’s got the new baby.” That is something I think we just have to work on one manager at a time.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: One of the things I do a fair amount of in Mindful Return world is manager training. So telling managers what this process might be like, like flagging some issues that they might want to talk about or raise, but also teaching managers not to make assumptions about things and to ask the person if while they’re out on leave, do they want to be invited to a big client dinner that’s happening or do you want no communication. Ask. Don’t make an assumption. Do you want to be put on that big case that’s going to involve travel to California? They might want to be put on the big case that involves travel to California because that is their professional goal and they have a whole system in place and they’re going to be sending the milk back via Milk Stork and they’ve got childcare lined up and you just deprive them of a professional opportunity by saying, “Oh, they can’t do that because they have a baby.” Or maybe they don’t want to travel, and that’s true, but you won’t know unless you ask. So again, I get on the soapbox about this, but don’t make assumptions about your employees.

Paula Edgar: I love soapboxes because that’s where our passion lies and I think that’s where our advocacy lies. It’s like, “I’m going to tell you all about this.” I can tell you I have done a lot of work with a lot of leaders in organizations, including in law firms. I always say I’m a trusted advisor to mostly White male partners. A lot of the questions that they have around how they can do things better or differently have to do with gender and particularly with dealing with moms and how to navigate like, “Oh, my mentee, Sheila, she is the best thing ever, but she’s pregnant.” And I’m like-

Lori Mihalich-Levin: So first of all, circle the word but.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Why is that in the sentence anyway?

Paula Edgar: I’m like, “Oh, no. Is it a bad pregnancy?” Because I’m like, “Are we happy? Yay.” And also, it is not a death sentence. It is pregnancy. Right. It’s a part of what we do or parenting generally, it’s part of what my point earlier, we don’t get to continue [inaudible] if we don’t parent. And one person in particular I’m remembering was saying to me, “Look, I really want, she’s up for partner next year,”

Paula Edgar: “We can do this, but it’s going to impact me if she decides to pull out. So I’m not going to put her forward.” And I was like, “What?”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Come again?

Paula Edgar: Literally. He was like, “When you sponsor somebody, you are aligning your brand with theirs, right?” And he’s like, “Well, what if she comes back and then she’s not the same? And then I’ve already said that she’s my person.” And I was like, “Have you had a conversation with this woman about this? One. Number two, why are you assuming the bad part as opposed to what if she comes back and she’s got 10,000 more skills than she had before? Because that’s probably more likely what it’s going to be.”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: We don’t have that narrative. Nobody talks about the skills.

Paula Edgar: Those discussions don’t even happen. So getting in a space, to your point of asking, is ideal for any kind of inclusion, which is this what this is to make it better and to make it more open for folks. So I’m glad that that is something that we have touched on. When I think about personal branding, and I’m going to pull it back to this, I think about you have to self-assess, be self-aware, and then think about what your identity is and what your values are. When you have that addition and shift, it can change how you show up in the workplace. So we’ve talked about the space of expectations and we’ve changed the space about whether you should talk about it openly or not and kind of modulate in that space. But what are your thoughts about using the skills and using the strategy that you might have for yourself in your career, but using parenthood as a lever for that as opposed to something that you may want to push down. I’m probably not being as articulate as I want to be.

Paula Edgar: What I want to say is, how can we use this as an elevating strategy as opposed to something that we feel as something’s bad?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah. Well, I have one example, which is around annual reviews. I had a Mindful Return alumnus come to us and say, “Hey, I was out for so many months this year, I don’t think I should fill out my review. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.” One of the principles that we teach in the Mindful Return course is that on your review, the year that you are coming back from parental leave, you should be building into that review all the things that you did to prepare your team for your departure and how you help the team integrate back in. So I think that’s sort of a very visible way of claiming credit for, first of all, the unseen, invisible labor that went into preparing everybody for your departure, that hidden office housework. This is one of the things that falls in that category. Then two, whenever the people on your team read your review, it will make that link for them to the skills that you’ve gained and that you’re gaining and that you’re sharing with the team through this process, that you helped train the team for the projects that you were passing off, and you took this, this, and this back on and helped successfully reintegrate.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: So you’re sort of putting it in everybody’s face a little bit that these parenting skills are relevant to the work that your team is doing.

Paula Edgar: 100%. Another brand amplifier or detriment place can be, you will yourself experience self-judgment or guilt. What are your thoughts about kind of parents and having to navigate the guilt of not being around for some of the things that they may want to be around for or any area of guilt that comes to mind about this?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah, we could go on for a couple of hours here about the G word.

Paula Edgar: Settle in.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yes. Okay, I have three thoughts I want to share about guilt. One. One thing that helped me a lot when I was personally transitioning to working parenthood and feeling some of that guilt was Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. In that book, she interviews a woman named Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, who is an evolutionary anthropologist, and she has studied women in the Kalahari desert thousands of years ago and discovered that the women left their babies back at camp and went off to work, and the babies were taken care of by whom she calls alloparents, who are people who step up and support the parents in the community. So when I made the connection to, okay, historically, for thousands of years, it has not just been the mother only who is taking care of the child, but instead, an entire community that helped sort of normalize and put it into a historical context for me. The second thing that I’d like to tell new parents is

Lori Mihalich-Levin: the first time a baby does something, it doesn’t count until you see it. It’s that whole like if a tree falls in a forest and nobody was around, did it make a sound? Your baby could learn to stand up in his crib in the middle of the night or while you were in the bathroom, they could take their first step. It’s not because you went to work that you missed this first thing. I also tell people around that guilt that your childcare provider can be instructed not to tell you when certain things happen. I did not even know that my daycare had a policy of not telling us when the baby firsts happened. But one night, our oldest son came home, he was, I don’t know, six, seven, eight months, I don’t remember

Lori Mihalich-Levin: and he started clapping at the kitchen table. We’re like, “Oh, my gosh, he’s clapping.” We took a video and we called the grandparents, and then we went into the daycare the next day, and we said, “He just learned how to clap,” and they said, “We know.” And it did not diminish my joy because it happened before. Who cares? I saw it. I was excited. Okay, so the last thing I’ll say about guilt is something I learned from a really wonderful leadership coach named Lauren Gordon.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: She’s a working mom coach as well. She says, “When you find that your brain is saying the words ‘I feel guilty because,’ ‘I feel guilty because I have to stay late tonight to finish this project,’ whatever, flip that around and change those words to, ‘I made this decision because.’ ‘I made this decision to stay late tonight to get this project done so that tomorrow I can be present with my child at X, Y, and Z time.'” It’s a much more empowering perspective to acknowledge why you chose something as opposed to dwelling in that guilt. We’re all going to feel guilty sometimes.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: I think I’ve heard Dr. Pooja Lakshmin talk about guilt tolerance. We need to build guilt tolerance around saying no to things. That’s an important skill to grow through parenthood.

Paula Edgar: I love the whole framework, and I’m glad you brought up that part, because if you didn’t bring up the part about the reframing, I love that part of the book. Yes. But in particular, the part about it is not being the first time until you’ve seen it. I was like, “This is a game changer.” It is because you see every insert brand here commercial on television where babies walk-in or [inaudible], whatever, and you’re like, “Oh, no.” It reminds me, I had my daughter when I was in law school, so I got married my first year.

Paula Edgar: I had a baby my second year, bought a house the third year. All the things you should not do. But when I was studying for the bar, she was just kind of up and starting to get moving and I felt terrible because I would leave in the morning at 7:00 and I wouldn’t come back to eleven because I needed to be someplace else in order to study.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah.

Paula Edgar: I was like to my husband, “Oh, my gosh, I’m not going to see her walking.” He’s like, “She’s going to be walking the rest of her life. You could see her.”

Paula Edgar: I said to him, I was like, “You don’t know much that gave me,” because I felt like, “Oh, you’re absolutely right.” But in my mind I was like, “Well, that’s my baby. I created those legs.” I hope that what you just said is as hopeful and helpful and empowering to women and parents just generally, right? Because you don’t, and they are going to continue doing it, God willing, all of those things. The first is not the only.

Paula Edgar: And it’s all good. It’s all good.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: She’ll be walking for the rest of her life.

Paula Edgar: And now she’s in college. I’m like, and I see her walking, I’m like, “Look, you’re still walking.”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah. And I’m watching it.

Paula Edgar: Exactly. I saw it. I saw it. Oh, my goodness. Well, I mean, number one, I feel like we could have this conversation over. We could talk about so many different things. And I know that we hopped all the way around and I’m glad we did because I think that somebody’s going to get something out of everything. I want to just really focus for one minute on parents who are not the child birther. Right.

Paula Edgar: Because the new wave of, rather than it being maternity leave and being parental leave, I think was a significant shift in society, one. I know that there are still places that don’t have leave for folks who are not the birthing parent, but I do think that that is really where the change that we’re looking for is going to come from when we say, “Hey, parenting is not a solo sport,” it shouldn’t be, right? It is for some so I’ll acknowledge that. But when ideally, you want to have two parents and a community to support, and when people who are not the birthing parent take that leave, it shifts the world. So what do you say to parents, and it’s primarily men we’re talking about, who are nervous about taking leave because of what it’s going to mean for their brand and how they navigate their career?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Oh, Paula. Oh, soapboxes.

Paula Edgar: Step on up.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah. So I hear this and we’re consistently coaching fathers in our programs about how to navigate these waters. Because even if a policy is on the books, it doesn’t mean that everybody’s actually taking it. There’s research that shows that when a father who is in a leadership position in an organization takes his full amount of leave, all of the dads who are in his division follow suit. So even if you do not do this for you, do it for all the dads who follow you, do it for all the women who get stigmatized and penalized for saying that they are taking leave or, oh heavens, they might one day take a leave, we’ll never get to that point of true gender equality until we degender and destigmatize the taking of parental leave. Anecdote, when we were at that same conference a number of weeks ago, someone stood up in the session that I was leading and said that at her firm, the fathers have banded together and taken sort of an unofficial pledge to all take their full leave together in solidarity with the moms.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: So there’s also research that shows that women’s careers are more successful when their partners, male partners, take parental leave. So do it for the success of the career of your significant other. If you can’t do it for any of those reasons, do it for your own child’s future, so that you are modeling for them, even in a way distant way, that taking of leave for your baby daughter or for your baby son who might one day also want to live their full humanity and be considered a caregiver. It’s a big one.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. I kind of felt like I could not start to close this without us touching on it because it is a huge piece. When we think about going back to work, we’re often thinking about mothers. But I’m like, “I want a mindful exit and I want a mindful return and I want more men to be thoughtful about this.”

Lori Mihalich-Levin: There was a Wall Street Journal article that just came out on Sunday that was all about the taking of paternity leave and the idea that not only are you missing out on time with your child, if you’re not taking it, which is in itself invaluable, but you’re leaving money on the table. You are literally leaving paid leave on the table and what you could be compensated for while you’re not at work if you don’t go back.

Paula Edgar: I love that, the business case for paternal leave. Do not waste your benefits.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Don’t waste your benefits.

Paula Edgar: It’s a point. I love that they’re like, “If it’s not for the kids, make it for the money. It’s all good.” Oh, my goodness.

Paula Edgar: Okay.

Paula Edgar: Well, obviously I have had a really wonderful time having this conversation, so I’m going to start to wind us down to the end, which is, I want to know for you, speaking of being ourselves and not just a mom, and never say just, in addition to our momness, where’s your fun factor? What are you doing for fun, Lori?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Well, first of all, I don’t know if you can see it in the Zoom, but I do have fairy hair, which is like, sort of-

Paula Edgar: I do. Yes, I love the glitter.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Sparkles. In fact, I started wearing it whenever I was working as a partner at a law firm. I had another partner come up to me at our global partner retreat and say, “I just joined this firm a few months ago, and seeing you with the sparkles makes me happy I joined this firm,” and I was like, “There you go.” The other fun factor of late has been our family’s adventures to the national parks. This is all related to my brand because, to personal brand and Mindful Return’s brand, because most people in this country don’t know that President Obama started a program that allows all fourth graders in this entire country and our families free access to all the national parks. So when you’re a fourth grader, you pull into any national park and they say, “Roll down the window, show me the fourth grader,” and there’s little pass, and anyone in the car gets in for free.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: So, for our family, we’ve taken two cross-country trips to see a whole bunch of the most amazing things we’ve ever seen because of this program. So part of my fun factor and brand is like getting the word out about this amazing fourth-grade program.

Paula Edgar: Well, you just did because I’m going to make sure that people know. Now I have a 6th grader and [inaudible]. I would like a retroactive fourth-grade in this.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Exactly. Yeah. They don’t do a very good job about raising the profile of the brand of that program.

Paula Edgar: Clearly not. Well, so I’m really glad that I asked that question and you shared that. So all of you with folks who are not up yet fourth grade or who have no fourth grade right now, it’s time for a road trip. So, Lori, I ask folks two questions in my podcast, no matter what. One is stand by your brand. It’s essentially what is an aspect of your personal brand that you will never, ever compromise on?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Yeah, I will never compromise on making our program to be about community and connection. We had some courses that were just take it on your own, and that’s not where the juicy growth and support really lies. So everything we do will always be about connecting you to other people who are going through the same struggles.

Paula Edgar: Yes, struggles.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Of which there are many.

Paula Edgar: I’m like, “Ooh, child.” Okay, then Branding Room Only, which, okay, the podcast is called Branding Room Only, it’s a play on the standing room only, so the question is, what is it the skill, experience, something that people will be standing in a room just to see you do or for them to experience about you? What is that?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: So two things come to mind. One, I’m a lawyer with high EQ, and I know how to bring people together and have empathy for situations while also navigating the politics of an organization. Then the other one, which is more relevant in my legal world, is that I’m a lawyer who speaks clear English. I translate, as I said before, regulations into things that people can understand. I like to think I do that in my Mindful Return world, too.

Paula Edgar: I love that. Especially because for those folks who maybe are not in a legal profession, saying I’m a lawyer with EQ probably just sounds like just a regular statement. But all the folks in legal profession are like, “Hmm, child. Yes.” [inaudible] just because it is so often separated as things. Well, Lori, this has been a wordable and wonderful conversation. You’re welcome to come back and talk about whatever you want.

Paula Edgar: whenever you want.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Oh. Thank you, Paula.

Paula Edgar: This is fantastic. Thank you so much. How can people connect with you and your work?

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Absolutely. So our website is I do a Tuesday tip for working parents every week on Instagram at mindfulreturn. You can feel free to connect with me over on LinkedIn and just say that you listen to Paula’s podcast and I’m happy to accept your LinkedIn invitation and head over to whatever place you listen to podcasts and look for parents at work.

Paula Edgar: Fantastic. Well, everybody, make sure you tell a parent to be a parent, that is, and an employer that needs to know about this podcast and spread the word. Find all your fourth graders, too. Just find one so you can go to a park. Anyway, I’ll see you when I see you and thanks for being in The Branding Room. Bye.

Lori Mihalich-Levin: Thanks, Paula.