By Sarah Bennett-Astesano
nt-size: 12.0pt">So, you’re a mom who has stayed home with your kids for a few years, and now you want to return to work. You’re not alone.
nt-size: 12.0pt">Most moms eventually head back to work. Nearly three-quarters of all mothers – and 60 percent of moms with children under age 3 – are currently in the labor force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Re-entering the workforce – whether you’ve been out for one year or several, whether it’s a quick decision or a more thoughtful process – isn’t always easy. But work/family balance experts say there are some key steps you can take to prepare yourself.
Laying the Groundwork
nt-size: 12.0pt">Even if you’re not returning to your previous career, it’s easier to ease back into the workforce if you’ve never been completely out of it. Experts offer these tips for staying workforce-ready:
nt-size: 12.0pt">• Stake a claim to outside activities and an identity that’s all your own. Even if the things you do aren’t work-related, it’s important to have confidence-building activities of your own – participating in community theater for example – while you’re a stay-at-home parent.
nt-size: 12.0pt">“Once you’re past the newborn stage, keep your identity alive as a person, so you’re not just ‘Sam’s mom,’” advises Amy Tiemann, the author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Yourself While Raising a Family.
Deborah Haber, the mother of a toddler, found this to be true. “I think in some ways it was easier for employers to accept my time off because I had been pursuing other projects, even though they weren’t work-related, as well.”
• Seek out volunteer opportunities. But look beyond school bake sales. Focus on accomplishments you can put on your resume, such as raising significant funds.
“Think about non-school committees in communities, too,” suggests Mary Quigley, co-author of Going Back to Work: A Survival Guide for Comeback Moms. “These can look good on a resume, and they also attract other men and women in the workplace who can become part of your network.”
Jenny Callaway, a mother of two sons, ages 4 and 8, worked as a volunteer while at home for three years taking care of her kids.
“A little volunteer project for a nonprofit organization I admired turned out to be a great way to use my skills in a way that I had been missing,” Callaway says. “It also allowed me to learn more about the organization and for them to learn about me, which came in handy when they posted a part-time paid position a couple of months after I had started volunteering. I applied and got the job.”
• Keep in touch with your professional colleagues. Whether it’s having lunch on occasion with former co-workers or attending one conference or trade event per year, it’s important to continue to be seen in your professional role.
• Keep a hand in. “Add one or two professional items to your resume each year,” Tiemann suggests. Give a talk at a conference in your field; offer help during seasonal crunch time at your former employer; fill in for someone else on leave or do a little freelance work. “If you’re a tax accountant and you do 10 returns a year, that goes a long way,” Tiemann says.
If you’re planning on returning to your previous career, you might begin by offering to do contract work for a few hours a week, or by providing a service or a project-based piece of work that you know your former employer requires, Quigley says.
Changing Horses …
Many people can’t or don’t want to resume the work they were doing before children, Quigley says. So they’re faced with the challenge of reinventing themselves just as they’re trying to get back into the workplace.
Going back to school is one way to get into a new field. “Going back to school works really well with kids,” says Quigley. “You can take one or two classes and be home when they’re home. You can get your degree and also get access to professional supports, such as internships and employment offices.”
But Quigley doesn’t recommend rushing back to campus. Instead, she emphasizes taking the time to thoroughly check out a potential new career before investing significant time and money in retraining.
“Nothing beats going in there and trying things out,” she says. If you can afford it, you can do this through volunteer work. Otherwise, Quigley says, “part-time is my mantra.” A part-time job is a low-stakes way to try out different kinds of work. It can also help ease the stress and guilt you may feel as a parent making the transition back into the work world.
“It’s a little intimidating when you’re first starting to go back,” says Emma Weiler, a Cambridge, Mass. mother of four children, ages 10, 7 and 5-year-old twins who was out of the work world for nearly eight years. “Little things can feel insurmountable,” she says. “I overcame the intimidation by going slow and taking an easy first job.”
Jenny Callaway agrees. “Don’t be afraid to take a job with less salary, title or responsibility than you had when you left the workforce,” she says, noting that more flexibility, fewer hours and less responsibility are more important to her right now as a parent.
Tiemann emphasizes that most mothers will belong to both the stay-at-home and the working-mom categories at some point in their lives. And Quigley points out that each part-time job is a step in what will likely be a very long journey.
“It’s really important to think of your work life as a long hike in the woods,” she says. You may have 30 or more years of work ahead of you. If you can think of this phase of your work life as one of many stages, the choices seem less stark. And, even if you’ve been out of the workforce for a few years and haven’t been following the suggestions offered here, it’s not too late to start. Just as your children grow and develop, you can take it one step at a time when it comes to getting back to work.
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Sarah Bennett-Astesano, the national associate editor for United Parenting Publications, frequently writes on work/family issues.