Are you considering quitting work and being at-home full time with your baby, but you’re worried you won’t be able to get back into the work world later if you step out now? Did the recent New York Times magazine article, “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In,” scare the pants off you? If so, take heart, my friend, and read on.
First of all, let me reassure you that you can get back into work later. In my coaching practice, I have worked with moms returning to work after career breaks of two years and 13 years, and they have all found work. It is possible. It’s even possible to find work you really truly love that allows you more flexibility and control over your schedule – something most parents will tell you is key to their work/life happiness.
Before you start typing your resignation letter, however, here’s the fine print: it can be hard to step back into the work world after a break. For most women, the degree of ease or difficulty returning to the workforce isn’t (as you may think) related to the number of years they have been out. It’s about how relevant they remained as career women during their time out. Here’s three things moms and moms-to-be can do before and during their at-home years to make the move back to paid work easier.
1. Make New Friends But Keep the Old
The most important thing you can do now to set yourself up for a smoother transition later is to maintain your work-related networks while also joining new, mom-related groups in your community. In my experience, women who found work most readily were members of multiple and varied groups. They joined neighborhood baby meet-ups and toddler playgroups, volunteered at their kids’ schools, and served on committees at their synagogue. They also hadn’t completely fallen off the map with their old work friends and colleagues. They had a semi-annual lunch with their old boss and met up with the “gang” for after-work drinks a few times a year. If you are considering stepping out of work for a while, I suggest you write out a plan for how -- and how often -- you will stay in touch with work colleagues, like: “I’ll have coffee once a month with someone,” or “I’ll go to the summer happy hour each year.” Note that I’m talking about face-to-face contact; LinkedIn is great, but it’s no substitute for in-person interaction. Not only will having multiple networks make it easier to find a job later, studies show that you’ll also be happier.
2. Stay Open to Opportunities that Come Along
Here’s one thing you simply must do before you tell your boss to “take this job and shove it” -- update your resume with your current position. Just believe me when I tell you that after approximately three months at home with your darling wee one, you won’t remember your major clients or projects, or that you “increased revenues by 30 percent by launching a new, client-facing platform.” Another benefit of having your resume ready to go is that if and when interesting opportunities come along in the first or fifth year of your career break, you’ll be ready to spring into action. What’s really exciting is that, if you keep yourself open, a lot of interesting opportunities WILL come your way. Things you’ve never thought about doing – like helping your friend market her new Peruvian baby clothes website -- will present themselves. One of the best things about having this time away from the rat race is that, while you explore your identity as a mother, you can also re-imagine yourself career-wise. So stay open to potentially wild and wacky opportunities that arise. You might find yourself transitioning to a whole new field later.
3. Keep a Pinkie Toe In
When I ask my clients what they wish they had done differently, the number one thing they say is that they wish they had kept working in some capacity. None of them regret the time they had with their children. They all say it was a great decision to leave the work they were doing and focus on their kids during those tender years. However, the clients who have continued to work in some capacity – occasional freelancing, part-time consulting, interning, even substantial unpaid volunteer work such as chairing a committee or event -- have found it much easier to on-ramp back to work later. Staying occupied keeps your skills sharp, your networks alive and kicking, and your work persona on life support.
If you do these things when you’re opting out, you’ll be in a much better position when you’re ready to lean back in.