A reader writes:
I can’t tell if the answer to this question is obviously “no” or if there is some leeway here.
I am about to go out on maternity leave. I will have almost four months out of the office, and while I intend to spend time with the new baby, I’d also like to use this time to keep up with my network. I’ve got a handful of requests from former colleagues on LinkedIn to “meet up for coffee” or “catch up,” which I’d love to do during this break. Is it totally out of line to bring the new baby along?
My approach would be to explain that I’m on maternity leave and so have a bit of time and would love to catch up by phone if they have time. If they push for the in-person meeting, is it totally off-base to give them fair warning that 30 minutes with me may include an infant carrier? These would all be people I’ve worked with in the past (including an old boss–to whom this question doesn’t apply since she’s already threatening to come over and see the new baby if I don’t bring her along!), and are all people who have reached out to ME for catch-ups.
Next, what about any conversations I initiate (again, former colleagues)? I’d love to just keep it to the suggestion of a phone call, but if that doesn’t seem likely, is it way off-base to say something like, “Well, I can do coffee next Thursday, as long as you don’t mind a tag-along?” Or do I phrase it more like, “Unless you’re OK with an infant along for the ride, an in-person may have to wait a few more months because of the new baby”?
If these questions are totally off base, please blame the pregnancy brain. I have 8 days to go :)
I’d say it depends on the person. If you have a close relationship with them and no reason to believe they’d be annoyed by the presence of a baby, go ahead and ask/warn them.
But if you don’t know the person well, I wouldn’t bring the baby, even if you mention it in advance and they say okay. The reason for that is that very few people are going to feel comfortable saying, “No, please don’t bring your baby,” even if they’re thinking it. So you could find yourself in meetings with the baby, thinking that everything is fine because you cleared it ahead of time, while the other person is thinking, “Why on earth did she bring a baby to a networking coffee?”
And sure, if they feel that way, they should say something ahead of time. But the reality is that many people won’t, because they feel awkward about it.
And it’s not crazy that some people wouldn’t want the baby there. Babies are distracting, after all — to both parties. They fuss, and people fuss over them, and they cry and have to be taken outside, and they have terrible diaper incidents that must be dealt with immediately, and so forth. And when you’re trying to talk professionally — even if it’s very informal — that’s a distraction. And of course, some people just aren’t baby people, and that’s okay too.
So, in sum — Ask with the people you’re close to, and delay meeting up with others until you can make it adults-only.