Each spring brings a rite of passage for a new crop of mothers as they register their little ones for kindergarten. I can still remember what it felt like to sign up my baby girl for school, and what that meant for me as a stay-at-home mother. I started to contemplate returning to work full time. Since my children are gone all day, what exactly is stopping me from heading back to work? For starters, I haven’t stepped into an office in nearly a decade, and it doesn’t seem as easy as grabbing my briefcase and jumping back into a job like no time has passed. Am I ready? Is it time?
Other stay-at-home mothers are asking similar questions as they wonder about returning to work after years spent rearing their children. Some women have chosen to head back to work to help with the family’s financial recovery after their spouses were laid off during the recession of 2008, while other women are starting to look for a job now that the economic outlook is improving.
“It is 2014 and the conversations about the recession have died down,” says Whitney Forstner, principal of Momentum Resources in Richmond, a company that helps mothers find jobs, as well as balance in their careers and personal lives. “Companies are hiring and great people are getting jobs through Momentum and on their own.” And according to Forstner, people who are currently employed have now begun to look around for their next position. “That type of job movement has not happened in the last four years,” she adds. “It is exciting to see the landscape changing.”
Peggy Westcott, PhD, director of the career planning services department at John Tyler Community College, counsels women and men who are seeking employment.
“I always suggest doing research first, Find out where your skills and interests lie, and what career best suits your needs,” Westcott shares. “Once you determine where you are going, then you can set realistic goals so that you don’t get discouraged along the way.”
Websites like vawizard.org aid moms in deciding what best suits them. If a woman has been out of the workforce for some time, enrolling in a course to brush up on her skills might be beneficial. Taking a class in the evenings at a community college or online can reserve important time for family as you work Toward your goal.
“I think communication and technology skills are vital in today’s job market, so you might want to consider enrolling in a speech or writing class,” says Westcott. “STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes are also helpful because they can help with problem-solving skills and analysis, which are required for many jobs today.”
Leigh Brabrand of the West End decided to head back to work after staying home for seven years with her three children, ages 10, 8, and 4.
“I had mixed feelings,” she admits. While Brabrand loved being home with her children, she missed adult interaction and felt guilty for not using her law degree and contributing financially to the family. At the same time, she found herself also feeling guilty and fearful of not being available for her children once she returned to work.
“Once we got used to our new normal, the family adjusted beautifully,” says Brabrand. “I was fortunate that my employer was extremely supportive and had a flexible working policy.”
Moms who want to return to work may have concerns about being out of the workforce too long, about a tough Job market, or they are just unsure about what they want to do, but there are resources available to address those issues. So, just what should a woman look for in a company when deciding to head back into the field?
Forstner of Momentum, a mother herself, says a woman should look for a job that matches her goals, whether that is a job with a particular schedule, a particular line of work, or the ability to advance within the company.
“In order to do that, one must be clear on what her priorities are, and what is On top of that list and then look for a company that aligns with that,” Forstner says. “Remember returning to work is a process. You might want to jump back in and be ready to go, and that is great. Whatever your choice is, go for it, but remember to take it step by step.”
Jim Godwin, vice president of human resources with Bon Secours, agrees.
“This is not only a transition to work, but a lifestyle transition,” he says. “Your whole daily routine is going to be different, and you will need time to get used to that.”
Godwin suggests eyeing an organization that has women in leadership roles and also provides family-friendly benefits.
“You want a company that values women and knows what women’s needs are,” he says.
“You also want a workplace that is very flexible and that will accommodate all kinds of employees’ needs.”
Desiree Hopkins, a mother of three from Henrico, admits returning to work was an adjustment at first.
“One thing I did not anticipate was how difficult it was to even find a job after staying home,” she says. “I was out of work for seven years and I was excited and nervous to go back. I spent So much time around children I felt like I did not know how to relate in an office environment.”
Some moms may have the same doubts or lack confidence from being out of the loop for so long, but it is important to have a positive mindset about your expertise.
“We suggest that people take the time to review their skills, their abilities, and what they are good at – independent of a job opportunity,” says Forstner. “We coach them to think about the times in Which they were most fulfilled. What were they doing? Where were they doing it? Building on those experiences, people can gain confidence in not only what they want to do, but what they can do.” According to Forstner, often it is a matter of pointing out and reminding people that they have very valuable skills or abilities, even if they have not gotten paid for them over the past several years.
When it comes to the logistics of the job search, building up your resume is important, says Kevin Tortoriello, president of Adapt Staffing Group, a temporary employment agency in Richmond.
“I’d also suggest picking up a book and studying, and talking to people about how to interview,” he says. “The job market is still competitive and you will be competing with people with more relevant or recent skills, so you want to keep your best foot forward.
Networking with people in your circle is also a good idea. Someone you know may be looking for someone part-time so that you don’t have to jump right in.”
Godwin of Bon Secours, is cognizant of how mothers fare in the workforce. After all, the health system has been named to the Working Mother 100 Best Companies list for sixteen years in a row. The national list promotes the interests of working mothers by recognizing companies that successfully help employees integrate home and work. Godwin suggests taking it slowly in the beginning. Women might want to start their new job mid-week, or even return part-time to make the transition easier for everyone in the family.
“When you return to work after being out for a while, you want to look at the first job as a stepping stone,” Godwin says. “Don’t be discouraged. It won’t take too long to get back into the swing of things.”
Once you’ve landed the position, balancing work with home life may be challenging in the beginning, but the key is to set priorities and be prepared. Chris Heithoff, who recently returned to work with Bon Secours full-time after a long respite, knows how that story plays out.
“Squeezing everything in that you used to do when you are now working forty hours a week has taken some getting used to,” shares Heithoff. “You just have to work on your time management and planning, and let the little things go. Let the laundry pile up and go for a walk instead. That’s more important.”
Other strategies to make the transition smoother include lining up child care ahead of time, organizing a schedule, asking for help, and scaling back on obligations. And don’t be afraid to say no.
“Do as much as possible to make life outside of work easier,” says Forstner. “Put snacks or lunches together on the weekends, order prepared meals, or hire a house cleaner. Getting the extra help or preparing on the weekends will allow the weeks to run smoothly and give you that time after work with your family instead of rushing around taking on the family chores.”
It’s important to remember as you adjust to your new schedule to give yourself a break. Let go of the guilt and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.
“There is more than one way to do this mothering job and you have to find what works best for you and your family,” says Brabrand. “You are going to drop some balls, an unsigned permission slip, a forgotten picture-day, or a missed deadline. Don’t beat yourself up. Just pick up the dropped balls and keep juggling.”