When I was pregnant with my older daughter, I knew I wanted to take six months off. I knew financially the six months was a beautiful gift for which we had saved and planned—but that I could not take longer than that timeframe. My income was a necessity for our family equation. I was prepared for this reality, but often lamented and shared with friends my sadness that I did not have the choice to stay at home full-time as my mother had. I had enjoyed a successful career in digital marketing, but the excitement for this next chapter, this chance to be a mom—something I'd dreamed about since being a child playing house—was my first priority and consumed my every thought.
Then I gave birth to my daughter, my love, who came out of the womb with a big heart and a strong will. I adored my life of caring for this new and curious creature, but around month four, something unexpected happened. I yearned to talk to former colleagues about projects and have conversations that didn't include topics like the color of poop and the number of ounces anyone drank in one sitting. At a time I thought I would be mourning my dwindling leave, I was strategizing about the people I could talk with so that I could land a more flexible role. It was then that I realized that we are all wired differently, unaware of how we will react or the decisions we will make until living in and through a situation. And that's okay. I had to do what would be right for me as a mother. I needed to work and I also wanted to work. That was good information for me! What's critical is that I didn't make myself feel bad about my realization. I was going to be a happier parent if I was working.
In my practice, I coach many clients who have made the opposite decision, taking a break from their careers when becoming parents. I admire and respect that they have made the decision that is right for them and their families. That said, I hear and see many of the challenges they face when returning. Some are internal challenges, yes—and after our work together—they kick those issues to the curb. But some are realities of our culture that they wish they'd known before taking their break. Even with this knowledge, I still believe this could be a viable option for you, but I want you to go in with the data and the understanding of what may be meeting you on the other end.
So if you're thinking of taking a career break after becoming a parent, here are the things I'm compelled to share:
1. Go beyond finances and consider your identity
Often I hear stay at home moms say something like, "It didn't make sense for me to work because my salary would simply cover the cost of childcare and we would break even." If you've run the numbers, that may be true in the short-term. We'll talk about long-term financial impact later, but for now it's important to note that pre-kids, much of our identity is interwoven with our careers. For many that have college and graduate degrees and then years of intense careers under their belts—bringing that path to a grinding halt can be traumatic, no matter how in love with their children they are. If you and your partner are making a decision to take a break solely for financial reasons, I would push you to consider how this will affect your happiness and well-being—given who you have been and your priorities to date. I would also suggest you work with a financial planner who can help you create a model that is longer term. You may be able to get creative and figure out a way to stay in the game in some way if that's what you desire.
2. All or nothing are not your only options
While the fast and rigorous pace of your current role may not be what you want for when you become a parent—it doesn't mean there aren't other options out there for you. I went from working long hours at a fortune-100 company, to leveraging my most marketable skills three days a week for a non-profit. I eventually ramped up my hours, but for a temporary period while my kids were young, I was able to stay in the game, continue to learn and get paid what I believed I was worth. If your concerns are around, not being able to "do it all", let me put this to bed for you. You will not be able to do it all, no matter what option you choose. Flexible options are tougher to find, but they're out there and what's nice is that you can create them by leveraging the strong network you've built to date.
3. Keep at least a toe in
Thanks to companies supporting women returning to the workforce sprouting up all the time, I'm happy to say the tides are turning. A career break on a resume is becoming more of an accepted and even overlooked phenomena. That said, companies are still looking to see that you were doing something professional during this break. Whether you're starting your own website or doing freelance writing or volunteering with the PTA—you'll do yourself a solid if there's something that can be added to this timeframe on your resume. More importantly —beyond your resume— doing something professional during this time will move mountains for your confidence and what I call your career mojo (that feeling you have when ideas are flowing and there's momentum on your career path). One of the first things I ask clients to do if they're considering a return to the workforce is to take on a project or some professional work to get their confidence and career mojo back. See my post – To Re-Enter The Workforce in 2017, Do These Three Things.
4. Your lifetime earning potential will shift
According to Samantha Ettus, author of The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction, "18 percent of future earnings disappear if moms leave the workforce for a year, and that increases to 39 percent for two years, according to research…Most couples calculate the lower earner's annual salary compared to the annual cost of child care…The real equation is the lower earner's income from now until retirement, compared to five years of child-care costs." It's important to take a long-term view of the picture rather than a snapshot in time, the moment your child is born. A women's lifetime earning potential has become critically important as women are statistically living longer lives than their partners and are left to manage the household finances, requiring more money to manage their care as they age. As I've said, this does not need to be a deal breaker for you if your decision is to stay home, but it is good for you to know and weigh as a factor in your decision.
5. Prioritize self-care and confidence
As moms, we're constantly doing for everyone else and making ourselves the last priority. As a result, many of the women I see are overwhelmed, exhausted and depleted. Often for stay at home moms, they can feel guilty for not bringing in an income so they feel like they need to be productive every minute of the day, constantly doing for the family -- which rarely includes care for themselves. As you may have experienced in certain times of your life, when you give up on exercise, mostly clean eating and doing the things that bring you joy or make you feel like you—your confidence can plummet. Taking steps to get support whether it's with friends or professionals, can be a huge part of bolstering your confidence. If you think you may want to return to work at some point, keep up with former colleagues and your network throughout your break. Feeling like you'll need to start from scratch when you return is one of the things that can keep you paralyzed during your search.
Whatever you choose, it's important that you and your partner are on the same page, checking in with each other from time to time to see if your current arrangement is working for both of you and your family. If you're not open, resentments can and will grow. Know that returning to work after a break is absolutely an option. It simply takes some time, support, thoughtful vetting of the right next role and a belief that you can create your version of having it all.