Now that you’re a mom or almost a mom, every aspect of your life will be seen through a new lens. First and foremost, I promise you will never think about sleep the same way again. All that you took for granted before will now have to be reprioritized in relation to your identity as a mother, and never is this more acute than with your career.
Whether to return to work after maternity leave is a difficult decision for many. Oftentimes you don’t know what you want until you are in that position, staring down a return date that feels too soon for a role that suddenly feels too demanding.
While some women leave their jobs knowing they want to stay home until their kids are grown, the majority of professional women plan to do so only for a set period of time before they return to the workforce. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s helpful to consider the following questions before making any decisions regarding your work:
1. How Will You Stay Active?
For some, staying home past the newborn stage can feel isolating. Depending on where you live, it may require extra effort to engage in adult conversations and think of yourself as someone besides “the mommy.” Invest in friends who are also home, join groups, and sign up for activities that require you to keep a schedule.
Establishing routines and outlets for your creative and intellectual stimulation are important without the rigors of a structured job. Seek out ways to get positive feedback and a sense of accomplishment, as these become more elusive when caring for a young child. Be open to new experiences by volunteering at a soup kitchen, taking an improv class, attending book readings, lectures, and so on. Maintain your own sense of self while cultivating your child’s so that you can truly enjoy this time.
2. Is Your Financial Situation Stable?
Leaving a job can have a major effect on family finances in the short-term and long-term. Take a financial workshop or meet with an advisor to ensure that you consider all the repercussions. Often women compare the child care costs against their own salaries, rather than against the entire household income, when making the decision to leave the workforce. Remember, it is not only your burden to bear.
Returning to work obviously entails childcare but also commuting costs, clothing, and potentially other outsourced roles like housecleaning. Staying home saves those costs but may involve others, like kids activities, potential promotions, medical and other insurance benefits, and retirement plans, as well as ancillary reimbursements and credits associated with your job. Be sure you understand your entire financial situation and plan accordingly.
3. Who Is In Your Network?
Networking is just as important when you’re out of the workforce, perhaps even more so. You should still be in regular contact with your former colleagues, supervisors and direct reports (who may very well be running the show as your child grows). Stay present through social media. Be useful by sending relevant articles, recommendations, referrals, and offers to be of service when you can.
If you ever decide to return, whether to your former career or a new one, your network will help you perfect your rusty elevator pitch, practice interviewing skills, and build your brand. Being in touch will also alert you to the hidden job market and allow you to bypass standard application procedures. Your reputation will last long after you leave, so keep those channels open as you contemplate the future.
4. What Will You Do For Professional Development?
These days most people’s career path looks more like winding river than a straight line. The average adult will now have four job changes in their first decade out of college. Even if you’re not working continuously, there are ways to ensure that your career is still on its own trajectory. Look for strategic pro bono opportunities to add valuable leadership skills and experience, while also filling the gap on your resume.
Rather than downplay unpaid work such as serving on a board or executing large-scale community events, use it as a selling point for your ability to succeed in any role. For those seeking more of a commitment but not wanting a full-time role, pursue discrete consulting projects or cover a maternity leave at a desired employer. Should you need or want to return in earnest, look into returnships, which are specifically designed as post-break on ramps.
5. How Can You Keep Your Brand Alive?
Keep your marketing materials current while you are home with your little one(s). It’s imperative to have access to a working version of your resume for networking purposes and for your LinkedIn profile to be relevant and recent. Make sure you include the aforementioned volunteer, community service, as well as freelance roles and activities.
To stay current on new developments and maintain a competitive edge, take online classes to boost technical skills and update relevant certifications or licenses. Set Google alerts for a constant stream of information. Consider writing an article for a blog, magazine, or contributing to a podcast to get your name out. Your time out of the workforce provides an amazing opportunity to learn from everyone, especially your child, about what comes next.
Elana Konstant is a career coach and consultant focusing on professional women in career transition. A former lawyer, she founded Konstant Change Coaching to empower women to create the career they want. Change is good. Elana will help you find out why. Her career advice has been featured on Glamour.com, Babble, Motherly, and other outlets.
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