My mom is a licensed physical therapist, and when I was growing up, she was always around. When my sister and I were younger she stayed home full time and as we got older, she worked in a way that gave her flexibility, opting to do at home health care as opposed to working in an office. And when my brother came along, nine and a half years after I was born, she continued working either part-time or with individual clients. Watching my mom figure out how to work in health care while never missing a piano recital, ballet recital, school field trip, dinner time or bedtime showed me I, too, could work and be a mom.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I realized I wanted to take a break from my career in television and stay home. So I did. And 18 months after welcoming my older daughter, we welcomed another baby girl into our family, meaning my tenure as a stay-at-home mom continued.
But when my girls got a little older and went to preschool, it felt like time for me to get back into the workforce. I loved my career in journalism and always knew I wanted to go back. I had a master's degree and a background as a TV news producer, so I figured I'd pick up where I left off. Or I would find a job using my skills in a new way.
But as I started job hunting and determined what I needed my work-life balance to look like (including flexible hours and remote options), I realized going from a stay-at-home mom to a working mom was going to be harder than I thought.
Here are the preconceived notions I had about making the shift that turned out to be lies.
That getting back into the workforce would happen quickly
With a solid résumé, years of work experience, a master's degree and a handful of connections in the journalism/public relations field, I figured going back to work would happen pretty quickly for me. That was not the case because I had a large gap in my résumé that stood out. Even though I had a good reason for the gap—like staying home and caring for my kids—I felt I had to prove myself all over. To do so, I offered to do some volunteer work for publications and clients to build up a portfolio once again.
That it was going to be about what I knew, not who I knew
Going from stay-at-home to working mom was less about what I knew, but who I knew. While this was the case early in my career, I felt it even as I re-entered the workforce. I spent hours networking in person and on LinkedIn, cultivating relationships with editors, and sharing my career goals. Since getting back to work, I've gotten the best opportunities and leads from people I build relationships with as opposed to those I blindly send my résumé.
That my kids would feel neglected
As a stay-at-home mom, my sole responsibility was to take care of my kids. I spent my days getting my kids out of bed in the morning, giving them breakfast, going to mommy-and-me music classes, lunching with other stay-at-home mom friends and their kids, putting my kids down for naps, getting them up from naps, playing, making dinner, giving baths, watching a television show, reading books and putting the kids to bed.
I was there for it all and I didn't want my kids to feel neglected because I had new responsibilities with work. Once I started working again, there were mornings I missed breakfast and school drop off because I left early for an assignment and some evenings where I missed bedtime as the result of an event. My kids didn't care. They were just fine and more than happy to have solo time with just daddy!
That work-life balance was attainable
I figured I'd create the perfect work-life balance when I started back to work. I purposely found part-time and freelance opportunities to ensure I had flexible work hours, making it possible for me to participate in my kids' activities. However, having that work life balance is nearly impossible; I either have too much work and feel overwhelmed when trying to get it all done or I don't have enough to do and feel bored when my kids are occupied. I'm finding a way to integrate work into life and life into work but finding the balance is difficult.
That going back to work would be worth it financially
One of the main reasons I wanted to go back to work was to make a little extra money to help contribute to my family. However, I quickly realized the amount I had to make to pay for child care alone was larger than what I was bringing in. For our family, being a stay-at-home mom was more economically efficient than working and paying for childcare. I'm lucky to now work flexible hours and have a support system of friends and family to help me out, but not everyone has that luxury. If you ask me, child care is too expensive, and companies should offer all moms the gift of flexibility so they aren't forced to spend the majority of their salaries on childcare.
That I had to say yes to everything that came my way
As a result of my own self-conscious feelings surrounding my résumé gap, I felt I needed to say yes to every opportunity that came my way. Because I was a stay-at-home mom for almost five years, I wasn't in the driver's seat; instead, I thought I was lucky to have anyone take a chance on me. I made the ultimate mistake: I undervalued myself. Then I heard my Peloton instructor talk about the power of saying no as a way to empower our yes. I realized if I don't say no to offers that undervalue my skills, if I don't believe in myself, no one else will. Now I'm working on saying no to projects that don't pay enough or don't feel like the right fit because contrary to what I believed, I am in the driver's seat.