I hear from many mothers who’ve been out of the workforce since starting a family and now feel confused and apprehensive about if or when they want to get back in.
Many make the choice to be a stay-at-home mother when the kids are little, but later wish they hadn’t let their skills and contacts lapse to the point where they’ve lost confidence in their abilities. Others aren’t crazy about returning to work but need or want to contribute to the family income or would like some financial independence.
A big concern is finding work that fits in with family life. Unlike mothers who returned to work straight after maternity leave, women who’ve had years at home with the kids can’t imagine not dropping them off / picking them up from school or being at all of their events. They worry about what would happen if their child was home sick or what they’d do about childcare during school holidays.
More than anything, women aren’t sure what kind of work they would even want to pursue. Some don’t want to go back into the corporate world, either because their skills are out of date or because they find motherhood meaningful and no longer think a desk job will satisfy them.
I put this topic out to the members of my private Facebook group to hear what they have to say about finding work that fits in with family. It got a very strong reaction, mostly from those who are indeed feeling perplexed about what to do next.
Fiona says: ‘This post is so relevant for me as I’m completely petrified at the thought of going back into the workplace after 10 years break! I’m really interested in finding out what I really want to do work-wise that’s meaningful and worthwhile and how that would fit in with family life.’
Jan agrees: ‘I made the choice when my kids were little to be a stay at home mother. I have now been out of the paid workforce for 15 years (gulp!). Now my kids are teenagers I feel like I “should” be back at work; I would love to be contributing some money but I don’t want to be back working corporate hours, or have work stress (running the family is enough!). My hours between 3pm-10pm are so busy now that I’m not sure how I would find time for exercise and me-time if I was working. I guess I’m very lucky to be able to be in this position as many mothers have no choice but to work. Some days I would love to be working. Especially when my daughter made a comment about me “having nothing I have to do all day”. I feel like I need to be a better role model. Other days I am very ambivalent about it. Somewhere in there I’m sure is a fear of not fitting in anywhere anymore, concerns about what I would actually like to do and how I could use my skills.
Sue says: ‘This is a big issue for me right now. I currently help out with my husband’s business and although it’s nice to have something to do and use my brain, it isn’t especially rewarding for me professionally. Being a mother is far and away the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done – more than any job – so it’s tempting to just carry on as I am. But I know they won’t need me so much forever and I would like to be a good role model. I also feel that I should make my contribution to the world! I’m passionate about nutrition, and would love to work in this area, but don’t have any qualifications. Should I spend a lot of time and money getting some? I already have three university degrees! At 40, I feel like I’m ‘too old’ to start again – but then I probably won’t retire until I’m 70, so that’s 30 years stretching away in front of me… Another issue is that my husband is self-employed, and I worry that if something were to happen to him and I needed to support the family, that I’d end up having to take whatever job I could find with bad hours / bad pay, it would be better if I started now to build up a new career for myself, just in case.’
Kathryn had some encouraging words to add: ‘I was out of the work place for over seven years and there had been immense changes in the industry as you can imagine, but after two and a half years back in the saddle I’m more senior than I was pre-kids and so much wiser. It’s bloody hard but not impossible. Earning my own money is amazing, liberating and gives me choices – even when I chose to do ‘nothing’ I feel safer knowing I can provide for myself and my daughters without relying on anyone else.’
And Paola: ‘I only had one year break with both kids, but I remember that when it was time to go back I was scared of no longer being able to do my job and use my brain. Also I was dreading the amount of work in the office and at home (and I am still overwhelmed). But I’m so happy I’m working, no matter how difficult it is to organise everything.’
Anna chimed in with: ‘My hubby is the sponsor of the women’s forum at the bank where he works. One of the biggest challenges the bank faces is the scarcity of female employees, particularly post children and post 40. It makes for an unbalanced workforce and he says that his teams perform much better when there are a good proportion of females within them. What the banks research has found so far is that it’s not necessarily lack of opportunity in the workplace. Women are better at working for themselves, so quite often will want to set up businesses that have greater flexibility and have greater meaning. From the standpoint of enticing women back to the corporate world, I know that my hubby’s bank is looking at ways that women could work from home, giving them greater flexibility. It’s really a great time to re-enter the workforce, a lot is being done out there to facilitate this.’
I love what Mari-Liis had to say: ‘It’s exciting to look at myself and this point in my life right now and wonder ‘what’s next?’ I trust that everything will work out, like it always does. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. I’m seeing this messy and scary period as an exciting opportunity.’
This is a great way to reframe it. Your thoughts create your reality, so the very first step is getting yourself into a more positive mindset.
I turned to Miisa Mink, founder of DrivenWoman, a women’s LifeWorking™ network where like-minded women support each other to achieve their goals. I asked what advice she has for mothers who are struggling to know where to begin when it comes to finding work that fits around family.
Miisa said, ‘There’s a new tribe of women emerging who don’t want to be bound by the traditional career framework. These women had brilliant careers pre-kids but don’t want to go back to commuting and be bound by the office hours. I meet a lot of these wonderful women at our LifeWorking groups at DrivenWoman, and in fact, I belong to this new tribe myself.
Who says we have to ‘go back’ to what we used to be and what we used to do? I believe we are ready to give success a new definition. For me it’s about spending time with my kids whilst being able to do something that I love and make some money. But it’s not always easy to be self motivated, work from home, have no support and manage million other things at the same time!
Perhaps you have lots of ideas but are not quite sure which ones you should pursue? These thoughts might be circling in your mind for months, and suddenly months have turned into years. That can feel very frustrating.
Women who have a chance to stay at home with kids for a couple of years have a unique opportunity to build something that fits around their new lifestyle. Sadly, many miss this chance as plans are not put in place and nothing happens.
Miisa has put together 7 Steps to Help You Get Off the Starting Blocks Towards Finding the Right Work For You:
Step 1: Commitment
You don’t need to know exactly what you want yet, or to have a clear vision or defined goals, all you need is to get fully, deeply and thoroughly committed.
Start by making a firm decision that you will find a way to create the life and the income that you want, in your own style. Formulate it as a question rather than a fixed goal:
‘How can I create a flexible lifestyle doing what I love?’
Or ‘How can I earn enough money working from home so that I don’t have to go back to the office?’
Or ‘What is the best way to spend half day earning money so that I can spend the rest of my day with my kids?’
Now all you need to do is to fully commit to finding a way of answering that question! Sounds easy, but actually isn’t. 100% commitment requires full honesty and acceptance that you don’t have the answers yet. It’s ok at this point to have many ideas or no ideas.
Step 2: Share your decision
This may sound like a scary step and you might be thinking ‘Is this really necessary? Surely I can simply get on with my plan without telling anyone?’
Not telling anyone is the reason why you won’t get off the starting blocks. Research shows that people who share their goals are much more likely to achieve them.
Besides, you’re likely to discover that you are not alone in your quest for a new life! Join or form a group of like-minded friends so you can all support each other. Once you start speaking about wanting to find work you love, you’re opening yourself to ideas and opportunities.
Step 3: Find mentors
It may be difficult to find ‘live’ mentors, but don’t be defeated. Online mentors will be almost as good. Search for people who are already living a lifestyle you want. Usually these people have a blog or YouTube channel you can follow. Try to find out how they have got to where they are and see which parts of their journey you can copy.
Step 4: Make a plan
You need a plan. It doesn’t have to be very detailed, and don’t use making a plan as an excuse not to take action. It’s easy to spend a lot of time drafting a plan rather than trying things out.
Your plan should have a defined, doable goal which you can reach within 3 – 6 months. Break it down to smaller chunks and ultimately tiny doable steps. Aim to execute a maximum three steps per day. Use the Project Me ‘Design My Day’ action sheet to plan your day and schedule in your action steps.
Step 5: Dedicate time
Random time slots are a killer. You need a regular point in your weekly diary to dedicate time to put your plan into action. This might be immediately after the school run for three hours every weekday, for example.
Remember, once you’re working again you’ll need to have dedicated working hours, so view this as practice. You’ll see that you have to squeeze other things into a tighter time frame and you’ll realise what you need to drop or cut back on.
Schedule a regular time slot into your calendar, tell those you’re closest to about it. Find a space where you won’t be disrupted and tell people who are most likely to interrupt you why this is so important and why you need this sacred time to focus.
You must protect this time slot like it was your child. It should become a routine and working on your plan should be a normal event, not just once in awhile when you’ve got some extra time.
Step 6: Accept trial and error
Focus on taking small steps and getting feedback rather than ‘finishing’ your project. For instance, if you want to sell yoga socks online, get your idea out there as soon as possible to get real feedback from your potential customers, rather than fine tune your website or blog forever.
Or you may decide to apply for some jobs and then refine your interview and CV writing skills.
The sooner you’re ready to trial different ideas, approaches or ways to earn money, the more success you’ll find later.
Step 7: Don’t give up
Most things don’t work immediately. Accept it from the start to avoid giving up when you face your first setback. It’s good to remember that there’s nothing wrong with you, or perhaps not even with your idea.
Go back to your question (step 1), stay committed and see if there are other ways you could solve it. And be ready to ask for help.
Thank you Miisa for these great first steps!
In the comments below, let’s start a discussion about going back to work after having kids. Are you wanting to find work that fits in around family life? What do you think of these first steps? Do you have any questions? Let’s get this topic moving! We have so much to learn from each other.
Miisa Mink is a founder and chief-doer at DrivenWoman, a women’s LifeWorking™ network where like-minded women support each other to achieve their goals. Groups now operate in London, UK, Helsinki, Singapore and New Zealand.
Mixing practicality with self-awareness, Kelly helps mothers get on top of their endless to-do’s, set goals and improve their lives one small step at a time.
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