As a mother, I opted to pause my career for a few years when raising my two children. However, choosing to embark on a career hiatus has benefits and risks regardless of when you do it, and there are valid reasons to choose one stage over another — whether children are in infancy or their teen years.
Is there an optimal time for both a woman’s career and a child’s developmental stage where it's best for the mom to temporarily hop out of the workforce? Right away, it may seem obvious that children in their infancy need the most parental care, making that the best time to interrupt a professional path.
But think about the less obvious.
Once they hit their teenage years, children begin to pull away from parents for greater independence, have more peer influences, may be prone to sexual exploration and might make choices that could be detrimental to their safety and future. Arguably, children who are learning the ropes for adulthood may need more parental guidance and supervision.
It’s not an easy decision to interrupt a woman’s career journey at any point, and there are several important factors that weigh into the choice. Here are three questions you should ask yourself when considering putting your career on hold.
Can you financially afford it?
Being home with the children won’t help you or your family if you don’t have the ability to feed, clothe and shelter them. Your children's basic needs must be met, and that includes a nurturing, stress-free environment. Money woes can be a number one cause of anxiety, depression and stress; they can even end relationships.
Financial needs will certainly intensify as children age, activities increase and college approaches. From a dollars and cents perspective, the teen years may not be the best time to skip out of work and miss out on a steady paycheck.
When does your child need you most?
Even if the teenage years signal a need for more parental oversight, adolescents who are given a strong foundation early on may be less likely to engage in risky behavior. As they mature, your children may not need a high level of parental care, which builds a stronger case for a woman to choose a child's formative years over their teen years to be at home with children, which was my choice.
What’s best for mom?
The flip side of the coin is what a woman needs to keep her long-term career thriving. While children are aging, so is their mother. A woman who leaves the workforce to care for her young children can still get back in the game soon enough to build a solid career history. Older women have a harder time getting hired. A career interlude as she ages could lower her perceived value when trying to rejoin the workforce.
In my personal experience, early childhood was the best time for both my children and I to take leave. However, like with all life choices, there is no one best way for everyone. Individual circumstances and preferences impact your decision.