Returning to Work After Having Children

Many women make the choice to leave the workforce when they have children, staying home with their kids for several months, years or indefinitely. For various reasons—money, the need for outside fulfillment or their child’s first day of school—many moms then decide to rejoin the workforce as “comeback moms.”

It can be a challenge for anyone to return to the workforce after a leave of absence, and stay at home moms often face many hurdles in their journey from nursery to boardroom. You may lack the skills required in a field that has changed during your hiatus, or you may lack confidence from years spent away from the workforce. You might not know how to explain your absence on a resume or in an interview, and it’s possible that you may struggle to achieve the flexibility necessary to balance a career and a family. And unfortunately, you may also face a loss in income—a study from the American Sociological Association found that moms face a 7 percent wage penalty per child. What can you do to ease the transition?

During Your Leave of Absence

One of the many ways to spend your time as a stay at home mom is to volunteer for organizations such as the local government or your child’s school. Volunteering is just as good as—and may be even better than—work experience on a resume. Your volunteering experience won’t just look good to future employers; it will also teach you valuable skills, making you a better prospective employee when you decide to begin the job hunt. Your volunteer activities can also provide networking opportunities and word-of-mouth job leads.

You might want to consider attending classes and seminars in your spare time, to help ensure that you continue to build on the skills you can offer to a potential employerThere are many flexible programs available to mothers, from night and weekend school to online classes.

Finally, networking is still key to your career advancement, even when you’re not actively looking for a job. Attend networking events, make friends with other moms and stay in touch with past co-workers and managers so you’ll be top of mind if anyone hears about a job opening.

Decide What You Want

A flexible work environment is probably going to be on your list of job needs. Being a working mom means balance is imperative, and you’ll need a job that allows you to meet your obligations at home, too. Many companies now offer flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks, telecommuting and other family friendly arrangements.

Don’t be surprised if the jobs you apply for or are offered are not the same as the jobs you previously held. Interests and skills change over time, and you may find yourself pursuing a completely different industry. Keep in mind that you may have to take a pay cut or a lower position than expected if you’re starting fresh in a new field or if you request a flexible work arrangement. You’ll also need to decide how much travel and responsibility you can tolerate as a working mother—you may have been a high-powered professional before, but a low-pressure job might suit you better now.

Make a list of the things you’d like in a dream job, including flexibility options, company culture, how the company views and treats working parents, hours and schedule required, level of autonomy and independence, etc. Rank these values in order of importance, and keep them in mind when you begin your career search.

On the Job Hunt

Explaining your extended leave of absence will be an important part of your job hunt. You may want to consider adapting your resume to a skills-based format, rather than using a chronological structure, to de-emphasize your time out of the workforce. When it comes to the interview, elaborate on the many skills you honed while raising your kids, such as:

  • Budgeting
  • Communication
  • Multi-tasking
  • Working under pressure
  • Organizing
  • Time management
  • Negotiating
  • Managing conflict

If you took classes or volunteered, describe your experiences and skill building in business terms.While there is no doubt that running a home and raising children is challenging, you may want to avoid bringing this up in an interview. Focus instead on the skills and experiences you bring to the table. Your interviewer may either be a working mom herself or see your home life as a possible distraction.

After You Return to Work

Once you are acclimated to your new job, there are a few financial housekeeping items to attend to:

  • Retirement savings: If you had a retirement account at a previous employer, decide whether to roll it over into your new employer’s plan or into an IRA. Make a plan for contributing to your new account and make sure you’re getting the employer match.
  • Health insurance: You may be eligible to switch to a new insurance plan under your new employer. Review the details and compare it to your current plan to decide if you and your family should make the change.
  • Life and disability income insurance: Now that you’re making money, you need to protect your income potential in case of death or disability. If you don’t already have coverage, look into your options and consider purchasing it.
  • Budget: The money going into and out of your bank account will be changing soon. Your new salary may cushion your savings, but new expenses such as work clothing, commuting and childcare will detract from your earnings. Rework your budget to reflect your new lifestyle.

Your return to work can be a difficult adjustment for all of the members of your family. It’s important to explain to your children why you are going back to work, and the many ways it will benefit your family Use this as an opportunity to instill independence and ambition in your children.Make sure you have emergency child care plans in place in case you are stuck at work if one of your kids gets sick. Some women know when the time is right to have children, but for some women, there never really is a right time. Similarly, some women know when the time is right to return to the workforce and some may have other factors that contribute to their decision to return to work, such as their finances or the economy Having a strong strategy in place may help you overcome the hurdles faced by the mothers returning to work.