Six Ways a Stay-at-Home Mom Can Remain Connected to the Job Market

Lisa writes: There are many things I could have foreseen about my life, but what I never could have imagined was that I would be one of the one in three moms  who opts out of the workforce after their children are born. I am a cliché, the stay-at-home mom who moved to the suburbs and, facing a second or third child, becomes overwhelmed and chooses to stay home. According to research, I was a classic opt-out, a woman who had never before imagined herself outside the workforce but found that the long hours and inflexible schedule left her feeling overworked, overwhelmed and devoid of options.

I became a stay-at-home mom with itchy feet, happy to be with my adorable sons, but highly cognizant that there was someplace else I wanted to be. I drive 22,000 miles a year without leaving my home turf in Westchester County, New York and, before long, I felt like I was not going anywhere literally or metaphorically.

Stay at home mom can keep a pilot light under her career

When Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie asked me what I should have done differently my answer was simple. I should have left a pilot light on under my professional life. As a stay-at-home mom, I should have nurtured a flame, no matter how small, that could later be fueled into a fire. I should have realized that my profession could not be my children’s lives.

It sounded good, I thought, but what does it really mean. Leaving the workplace for some period of time was not my mistake and, as I tried to point out, I have never met a parent of either gender who regrets time spent with their children. My mistake was not failing to stay in the job market, but rather failing to stay in touch with the job market. Walking away entirely, that I regret.

Life affords few do overs, but were I to be granted one, here is how I would have nurtured my dormant career. Here is what any parent who wants/needs to stay home with their kids can do to keep a toe in the water, without drowning.

1. Stay close to your working parent friends.

While we have long known that teens are heavily influenced by their friends, recent research suggests that in some ways adults are as well. And while the camaraderie of other stay-at-home moms is one of the many joys of being home with our kids, a life spent exclusively among the non-employed can begin to alter anyone’s outlook. Keep close to your friends who are working. Their life might not be for you right now, but when it is they will be your supporters and guides when you transition back into the workplace. A great divide can open up in the mom world and SAHMs can distance themselves from working moms. Don’t do that. Stay in the day-to-day lives of friends who are working even if you have decided to take time off. They will be a reminder of how it is done when you are ready to go back. It may be a year. It may be 10 years, but it is your working friends who will be your trusted advisors when the day comes.

2. Stay in touch, real touch.

I lost contact with every person I ever worked with. My family moved back and forth between the US and the UK a number of times and, with social media yet to be invented, I just let those contacts slip away. Big mistake.

Social media, an effort to maintain real connection and emails can keep you in touch with former (and perhaps future) employers. The people you used to work with still see you as a highly competent professional and, as my friend, Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of back-to-work organization iRelaunch, points out, their view of you is frozen in time. Have lunch with former colleagues or clients if possible. Send personal emails to keep up, attend professional association meetings or see if there is a company alumni network. If this doesn’t work and old office mates are the type who grab drinks after hours, get out of the mommy clothes and join them once in a while. They may go out every week, but if you join them a couple of times a year, it will keep the connection alive.

3. Volunteer strategically.

This is something Carol also taught me. Many stay-at-home moms work hard outside their homes for no pay. This is how our communities, our schools, and our religious organization run. But for moms with unpredictable schedules and the demands of small children, it can be a way to gain, or at least maintain, valuable work experience.

Volunteers may not get paid, but they have choice of what they do and a parent who foresees returning to work can volunteer in ways that will align with future career goals. Volunteering need not be limited to the non-profit sector. Journalists who can no longer write to a deadline can publish on the Huffington Post, keeping their resumes current. Lawyers can take on pro bono assignments and teachers can tutor kids with limited resources. We tend to think of volunteering as moving out of the corporate world, but the two can intersect. The word “volunteer” has a very wide definition.

4. Keep current.

There was a time when the only way to keep up with a profession was at the office. With massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online professional organizations, it is far easier to stay current and, when you do go back for that interview, sound like you have never dropped a beat. The technology allows us to listen to Podcasts, log onto live streaming from conferences, or watch academic lectures online in the months or years spent home with children. You may be out of the office, but you don’t need to become out of date.

Read widely and keep abreast of new developments. Paradoxically, time at home might be the first chance to read professional documents that languished on the to do list while at work. While knee-deep in small children the notion of volunteering, professional organizations or even leaving the house for a drink might seem beyond the limits of endurance. And at the end of a long day, with the kids in bed, a novel and a glass of wine beckons. Resist the calling (okay sometimes) and look upon reading in your field as a job, and commit to it for a certain number of hours a week.

5. Seek out consulting, substitute teaching, part-time, job shares, temporary or shift work.

If you can get it, take it. Some professions are far better suited to part-time employment and some employers more willing. While no parent should ever need to explain time spent on family, in reality, employers will inquire about career breaks. If you can manage 20 hours, great. If you can get 10 hours, great. With part-time work, when you return to full-time, your resume will have not have any gaps. A fire only needs a pilot light, this will keep yours lit.

6. Don’t quit without a plan.

Leaving the working world, ideally, should be moving towards something not running away. In reality, all too often it feels like an escape from the overwhelming demands of job and family. If work and life are out of balance for your family and, right now, working is not the best option, make a plan.

How long do you plan to be out of the workforce? Which strategies will you use to keep a toe in the professional waters? What, if any, volunteer or part-time opportunities will you try to find? Answering some questions like these will help set up the next stage of life. It is all too easy to sink into the encompassing morass that is our families. Their needs are always there, calling out to us and without a timetable and a strategy it is easy to succumb. There will never be a perfect moment to go back to work, only better and worse moments.

No one is naive enough to think that life doesn’t intervene and plans change, but parents who hope to return to work can begin to lay the groundwork for that return from the moment they decide to stay at home with their kids. We work hard to establish our careers, as we do to care for our families, and it would be a shame to abandon all that effort by failing to keep a pilot light lit under our professional lives.



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Comments

  1. My path has been a bit different from the standard working parents’, but the only other thing I might add is to not wait to do what interests you until some magical right moment. I took time off from violin making when my first child was born, and at some point after the second it hit me that whatever opening I thought was going to appear in my schedule as my kids got older was never going to happen. If I was going to build violins again I had to make the time then and there. I think there is a sense when you are home with small children that there is free time on the horizon if you are just patient, but that time gets sucked up by other things unless you make conscious choices.

    Nice post. I hope it helps others benefit from your experience.
    Korinthia recently posted..Can we please do this again?My Profile

  2. Great great advice…I too never envisioned myself as “opting out” and in my case, it was an easier choice because I was in a career I wasn’t sure I loved anymore. I used my stay-at-home mom time to test other waters and took writing classes at night and also took online classes. While I’m still trying to nurture that “2nd career” and figure out where I’m headed with blogging/writing, I at least know I’m on a path I want to continue on. You’re so right about trying part-time work or volunteering. I have a friend who was a lawyer, stayed home with her kids, started working part-time as a substitute teacher in her daughter’s preschool, had a lot of exposure to speech therapists working with some of the kids, and guess what? Now, she’s back in school herself to become a speech therapist! So, you never know where your volunteering/part-time work will lead you…
    Emily recently posted..A Plea To Lebron James and The Miami HeatMy Profile

  3. Terrific idea to “volunteer strategically.” Without any thought to the future, and more as a creative outlet, I used to co-write our school’s annual gala’s auction book.
    Carpool Goddess recently posted..On My Way To Bed Book Review & GiveawayMy Profile

  4. Staying home was easier for me, I think, because my job was one I could (and did) do from home — writing. The other jobs I had off and on through the childrearing years were just a J.O.B. and I never felt I missed out by leaving them and staying home.

    That said, these tips are perfect for my daughters — career women all — to keep in mind.
    Lisa @ Grandma’s Briefs recently posted..My grandson the hypnotistMy Profile

  5. I was very, very lucky to be in a field in which there were part-time opportunities: accounting. Although I didn’t love every aspect of my chosen profession, I did love the flexibility it provided. For many years I worked 3 days per week, 9 to 3 with summers off. Summers were a very slow time in the office since most of our clients had a calendar year end. My employer was happy to take someone off the payroll during the quiet months. It was pretty perfect.
    Mo at Mocadeaux recently posted..Spending The Week With The GrandchildrenMy Profile

  6. “Don’t quit without a plan” – great advice! I diverged from traditional 9 to 5 job almost five years ago. Before I took the leap, I made sure my rolodex was intact and my calendar was full with at least one lunch meeting a week.
    Kim recently posted..Stray Dogs and Ugly PumpkinsMy Profile

  7. I was also the typical stay-at-home mom who left her long-term career for the suburbs after my second child was born. I discovered blogging was a great way to stay connected and keep your skills fresh. There are also flexible opportunities such as mystery shopping, merchandising and product demonstrations that are only done once then you get paid. Home parties are an excellent way to build a business at your own pace and be sociable (another aspect of our lives that quiets down a lot after kids). LinkedIn keeps stay-at-home moms connected with former business associates, which can come in handy later.
    Jenny recently posted..History of California Cabernet SauvignonMy Profile

  8. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Excellent advice. Now that social media has provided a way to stay connected, it matey be easier to maintain relationships with former work colleagues.

  9. Great piece. Keeping a foot in the door and staying current is good advice, and it is so much easier to do now with social media than it was when we were younger.
    Lisa Tognola recently posted..Thanksgiving and Hanukkah Makes Thanksgivukkah!My Profile

  10. Lisa,

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. For the past two months since my husband is going to be working out of NYC we were looking to buy a home around the Westchester area. For many reasons we finally decided that we would settle in the city for the time being and go forth from there. I know it sounds crazy to be moving to the city with two young boys but I’m actually elated. When I became a stay-at-home mom about 3 years ago I didn’t have any definitive plans pertaining to my career, and although I love being at home so many things that you write about in your article happened to me. Not keeping up with work friends, not taking any classes or maintaining part-time work. And in some ways becoming isolated. This time I’m not letting that happen. So even though it will be a challenge to be in the city with two small boys I fully intend to take advantage of being in the city. I’m actually pretty excited at all the possibilities!
    Thank you for writing a very relevant, insightful and on-the-spot post.
    Nareen recently posted..Be The Change…My Profile

    • Nareen, good luck and please let me know how it goes. What about your stunning photography?

      • Thank you Lisa . I will definitely stay in touch and regarding my photography I’m already looking into enrolling in a class : ). It’s going to be interesting to see the direction my photography takes now that I’m going to be in the city.
        Nareen recently posted..Through the branchesMy Profile

  11. Lisa, I am also a work at home mom who always on the track of giving ideas and tips on how to market through social media. Despite the circumstances of being a ‘at home mother’ as well as at home worker I never forget what are the good things happen to me that the opportunity of staying at home mom. It is a good news to read your blog which really take me to a new knowledge of being a mother.

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  13. lisa says:

    I really appreciate your thoughts, Lisa. I left the workplace exactly for the reasons you state (and frankly without enough thought). You can add to the list of ds – divorce, death – disability that can make this a terrible decision. Subsequently, my husband became disabled and left the workplace. I have never felt as vulnerable. I have a law degree but not a lot of experience. I have found full-time work but it is almost entry level and I’m never sure my job won’t be eliminated so these last years I have faced a lot of job insecurity which has added to my stress. I really want to stay employed but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to. Also, financially it has really had an impact. I harp on this with my daughters, wish there was something we could do to prevent this. Thank you for your cautionary tale.

  14. lisa says:

    Please keep this forefront on the Huffington Post. With economy constricting and jobs ever harder to find, leaving the workplace for any extended period of time is not a good choice for women

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  19. Your post hits home for a lot of women. Like you, I could never have imagined myself as a stay-at-home mother. But, life is not about what you expect it to be, but what course it takes based on a bunch of factors – some within your control and some not. I never reconciled to the fact that I am at home with the kids. Yes, you are right, we can do something about it and I am trying, but it’s not easy and the options are really limited. My blog is one way for me to disconnect with the life around me and connect with women like me, and I find solace in that. Don’t ask me why knowing that there are others in similar angst-ridden situations makes me feel better, it just does. I guess it’s the whole human need about identifying and feeling not alone..

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  29. This is so insightful. I’m a working mom; however I did consider staying home when I was pregnant with my son. I’m happy with my decision and have no regrets. I do think though that should I ever have gone the stay-at-home route, I knew I still needed to freelance.

    I work in graphic design, a field that lends itself easily (or easier) to freelancing and working from home. Most everything can be done remotely, barring a few meetings here and there.

    In general I think we should always keep all our work prospects open. Even now with a job, I still maintain my resume and portfolio site, making sure that everything is current.

    If any stay-at-home moms asked me for advice, I would say that they should keep their skills current as much as possible. That could be freelancing or volunteering, like you said. Some other pursuit that keeps us on our toes.

    Sometimes that’s difficult for some careers(how exactly does a news reporter freelance, for instance) but I think it’s important to have a long, LONG-term plan.

    After all, our kids only need us home for 18 years. It seems long, but it’s still going to happen. What then will we do at the end of those years?
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