September 8, 2022

What we learned from 8 parental leaves

Karen Gould

Small business doesn’t have to mean small perks for moms and dads

Marketing campaigns, sales materials, website builds—we know that projects can’t stop when a bundle of joy is on the way. But we also know (and research shows) that when organizations give parents space and support for their growing families, employees return as happier and more committed team members.

treetree offers 12-week 100% paid parental leave for that reason. We miss our trees’ talents over those three months, but it’s worth knowing that the parent, their family, and yes, treetree, will be stronger for it.

In fact, we’ve gotten really good at augmenting our clients’ internal marketing teams when Mom or Dad is away because we’ve supported so many parental leaves of our own.

We sat down with four parents (who have collectively taken eight parental leaves at treetree), including our CEO, to hear how our policy supported their new family dynamic and what it was like to return for the first, second or even third time.

Becca Apfelstadt, CEO & Co-Founder

Being a working parent in America isn’t always easy. Many companies will hold your position, but some will not pay you for that crucial time with your new child. If you are lucky enough to get parental pay, it is often only 50% (or less) of your normal salary, and only for a short time. Many new fathers get zero PTO. Those that do, often have to turn over all their vacation time. In treetree’s early years, we had a policy that did some combination of those things—until I experienced that policy for myself, twice. 

Bennett was born six weeks early by emergency C-section. That very morning, I was supposed to be going over my parental leave plan with my team. Instead, I was signing paperwork from my hospital bed while my husband bounced our newborn baby.

I took treetree’s parental leave, taking eight weeks to recover from my cesarean and 60% of my pay. I returned to the office with the equivalent of a 2-week-old baby, pumping three times a day. It was hard—really hard—but we did it. We survived. 

Next came Rowe. On this go round, we not only had more time to plan (no emergencies!) but I was also less tied up in the day-to-day client work and had an amazing leadership team in place. I was no longer the bottleneck handing off work after major surgery. Again, I took eight weeks of leave.  

Our parental leave policy at the time was comparable to other businesses. Generous, even. But it did not feel as generous as it could be—as generous as it should be. Just because we are a small business doesn’t mean our benefits should be small. I wanted to stretch wherever we could to give parents the support they deserved. 

Just because we are a small business doesn’t mean our benefits should be small.

Becca Apfelstadt, CEO & Co-Founder

I thought: If I were making this decision for my own family, I would want 12 weeks’ leave with 100% pay. I would want it for both moms and dads. I would give it for birth or adoption. 

So that’s what I did. 

And then, nine years after my first parental leave, I took my third for the adoption of our son, Henry. 

This time I experienced the full 12 weeks, and it was beautiful. More things in the business can move without me. I spend most of my time planning future strategy and sales and marketing. But those things can keep moving while I’m away on leave because of the skill and experience of my leadership team.  

I would say it was even fun to have a little brain break. It’s so different spending time with a child who’s adopted. It’s similar to how a father would experience leave: I didn’t have stitches, I wasn’t pumping, I wasn’t up all night by myself breastfeeding. My partner can help just as much as I can. 

For every parental leave, it has been a different me. It has been a different company. It has been a different family dynamic. And when I have come back each time, I have taken the opportunity to look at my role as a blank slate rather than jumping back into the same old stuff.  

My calendar has unusual white space, so I’m spending time asking: What’s this version of Becca now in relation to treetree? The business changed. People were hired. New clients were onboarded. The acquisition was in full swing, thanks to the leadership team’s amazing work. So many things happened while I was gone.  

And every time I take a break, it proves to everyone—whether it’s my annual July sabbatical or it’s the medical leave of absence I had to take last year or it’s a three-month parental leave—that they’re okay without Becca in everything all the time. It gives others the confidence to make independent decisions. It gives them the time to gel and perform together and lean on each other and consult with one another. 

Every time I come back, I see the leadership team sharper. I see the business even stronger. And somehow, the trees are even better than before. 

Niki Calvaruso, account director | tree since 2012

The treetree parental leave policy has allowed my body time to heal and my family time to bond. I have taken two 12-week parental leaves in the last four years, and each was a blessing for my family. 

In the weeks leading up to leave, we have a thoughtful and deliberate process of onboarding existing projects and relationships with other team members, keeping momentum and ensuring a smooth transition for the client. This process does what is best for the clients, the work and our team. Most importantly, it allowed me to unplug, let go of the work and focus on my family (and reruns of ER). From enjoying baby snuggles to regulating sleep patterns, I had the time to start navigating our family’s new normal. 

Returning to work after parental leave is always a mix of emotions. I was given the space and grace I needed to return in my own way.

Jumping back into a 9-5 work schedule was a big challenge for me with my first sapling. I struggled with feeling as though I needed to be fully present at work and fully present at home. Almost as though there should be a switch I could flip.

My leadership and team supported me. They helped me come up with a plan to ease back in and offered support and personal experiences. Just knowing this struggle was common made me feel a million times better! The flexibility of the hybrid work model has been amazing for returning to work after my second parental leave.

The flexibility of the hybrid work model has been amazing for returning to work after my second parental leave.

Niki Calvaruso, account director

Our hybrid model has allowed me to spend time with my boys throughout the day, taking purposeful pauses to feed or play. This flexibility has given me the gift of being there for major milestones that I missed the first time around. It has also allowed me to spend more quality bonding time with my older son. 

I’m grateful that I work for a company that sees value in this time. 

Daniella Siebert, associate creative director | tree since 2016

treetree has a wonderful parental leave policy: We get 12 weeks at 100% pay for birth and adoption for both mothers and fathers. To care about your employees enough to offer such a generous parental leave—one that many large companies don’t even offer—was a huge reason I joined the team six years ago.

I have had the joy of experiencing two parental leaves at treetree. You truly get to take those three months to welcome your little one into your family and just focus on what matters most in that time.

My team was so supportive in my offboarding and re-entry for both births (little did I know when I went out in December 2019 that I would never fully return to the office, but that’s another story). 

Both times, I fully unplugged because I was confident the work was getting done without me and that my team had my back. I never checked my email. I deleted Slack from my phone. I always joke that the only time I heard from our CEO Becca was when she came to our home to bring us dinner and hold the baby. 

And when I returned, there was so much grace. The pace was slow, I was given the space to ease back in. Everyone understood that I was navigating how to have a toddler and a newborn—to get them off to daycare, pump multiple times a day and operate on little sleep (again). Everyone was endlessly kind and just wanted what was best for me and my family. 

You truly get to take those three months to welcome your little one into your family and just focus on what matters most in that time.

Daniella Siebert, associate creative director

I feel so lucky because our hybrid work model meant that I was able to visit our daycare to nurse every day those first few weeks. Working remotely most of the week continues to relieve so much pressure within all the chaos of having two in diapers. 

I’m ever grateful for a culture that sees us first as humans. I can’t imagine raising babies anywhere else.

Amanda Gibson, strategy director | tree since 2022

I began interviewing with treetree during a time in my life when parental leave was more important to me than ever—while I was expecting our first child, Rowan. On my first day as a tree, I was 30 weeks pregnant. 

Instead of viewing my parental leave and transition to motherhood as a liability, the entire team celebrated me as an asset to the company. I remember being told in my interview process, “We’re so happy for you and your family. Don’t stress. We’re in this for the long haul.” And, those words were backed up with action. I took my 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave eight weeks after starting at treetree.

Being a parent is filled with so many contradictions: exhausting and exhilarating; smiles and tears; bliss and anxiety. It’s a balancing act between letting go of who you used to be and growing into who you are meant to be.

My fellow trees have been a grounding presence during my transition to parenthood. I was encouraged to rest in those final weeks of pregnancy when walking up a flight of stairs felt like running a marathon. During my leave, when I’d attempt to “check in,” I was gently told to get back to my family. When my daughter started daycare, I was heartbroken to leave her, yet excited to return to work. I turned to my fellow trees for advice—and was met with meaningful, insightful and empathetic responses. I felt not just supported, but deeply understood.

Parental leave doesn’t just benefit birthing parents. This is why comprehensive parental leave policies—like treetree’s—are so important. Thankfully, my husband also works for a company that has parental leave policies that support all parents. While I recovered and learned to be a mom, David supported me and learned to be a dad. We used the time away from our day jobs to learn how to be equal partners in this parenting gig, which is something we will forever cherish.

Parental leave doesn’t just benefit birthing parents. This is why comprehensive parental leave policies—like treetree’s—are so important.

Amanda Gibson, strategy director

I recently saw this quote: “You are a better mom when you get to live a full life.” For me, this means being engaged in my relationships, empowered to grow in my career and being given the flexibility to take care of myself along the way. treetree’s flexible schedule celebrates and encourages the full life I want to live—and I am a better mom and employee because of it.

Is one of your team members ready to go on parental leave? We’ve got you. Learn more about our expanded capabilities or check out our creative firepower in action.