Hi ho, hi ho, is it off to work I go?

Recently I have been bombarded with questions about returning to work. My clients are wrestling with how/when/if to return to work; I am starting a group for moms in transition this fall (more info below); and a woman in my chat room this past week asked this very question. When is the right time to return to work after being home with kids? Should I return at all? What should I do when I get there? Can I get hired after so many years out of the workforce?

To try to get some expert advice on this, I recently interviewed Carol Fishman Cohen, co-author of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, to ask her for her thoughts on these important questions.

One misconception is to view “Should I return to work?” as one big question. We think moms tend to get overwhelmed by all the issues involved in the back to work decision and wrap them all up into this one big question – should I go back to work? This leads to what we call the Floundering Period – it was two years in my case – when a mom knows she is restless or unsettled in her current mom role and either for financial or other reasons, wants to go back to work but just can’t figure out how to make it happen. So she stews on it and thinks about the roadblocks and as a result, she flounders and nothing happens. We developed the “Relaunch Readiness Quiz” to help women at home determine their readiness for returning by breaking down the back to work decision into quantifiable categories – their appetite for work, their childcare and eldercare demands, and their non-paid family and friend support system. It helps a mom determine whether she is ready to relaunch right now or whether she has to wait because of issues in one of the categories.

I have found that many moms have trouble identifying how strong that appetite is because it is often framed in opposition to the “strength” of the desire to be with their kids. As one Mom said to me, “I just cannot imagine how they would manage without me!” What should you do if you have career ambitions, but also want to be at the bus stop?

In this newsletter you’ve heard me talk about figuring out your values and then building your life in a way that reflects those values. (See Issue #8 Priorities!) What do you do when you have two strong and conflicting values? Carol Fishman Cohen suggests that you consider waiting to relaunch your career. Instead, use the time to reflect on your past career work to see if you still want to stay in that area. Alternatively, you could use the time for re-education in a new career area, or for volunteer work in an area in which you might want to pursue a career.

If you think you might want to return to your previous career someday, Cohen suggests you stay professionally connected and try to do occasional contract or project work in your field.

My two cents? First, get your values in order. Try to eliminate self-doubts about your ability to get hired or to work out childcare arrangements; just focus on what you value more – staying at home with your kids or working in a career. Try this to get some perspective: if you were at the end of your life looking back, how would you feel about how you spent your time during this period of your life? What would your mentor or role models do? Does one of the values win out?

Finally, recognize that you are making a decision for right now. This doesn’t have to be your final answer to this important question. As your kids’ grow and your own life changes, you may discover you feel differently than you do right now. Just try to answer the question for where you are today.

If you aren’t sure whether you want to return to work at all, or are feeling conflicted about this decision, please feel free to give me a call or e-mail me at: beth@mosaiclife.net. And if you’d like to explore these issues in a group setting and you live in the Washington, DC area, I am starting a couple of groups for “Moms in Transition” this fall. These are a good way to figure out how you feel about these issues in a supportive environment and meet other women who are trying to answer similar questions. Find out more...

By Beth Sperber Richie, Ph.D. of Mosaic Life. Please visit Beth's web site at www.mosaiclife.net for additional information and resources on integrating multiple roles for mothers with busy lives. © 2007 Mosaic Life.