Patience Key for Parents Returning to Work

More than 80 percent of stay-at-home moms find themselves at some point mulling over the idea of returning to the workplace. Their reasons vary. For some, the thought is driven by financial necessity -- ranging from divorce or a spouse's layoff to increased costs of raising children and managing a household. Others miss the stimulation offered by a career outside the home.

No matter what your reason for wanting to get back into the swing of things, here's some advice on how you can make the transition from home to office a breeze. Well, in fairness, that's an exaggeration. The truth is nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. And that's the first tip:

Be Patient

Prepare for ups, downs and disappointments. There are some steps you can take to make the move easier, but keep in mind that these things take time and it's unlikely that success will come overnight.

Mind the Gap

If you've been at home with kids for a few years, you probably have a sizable time gap between work and motherhood, which presents a challenge when trying to make a convincing case for your candidacy to potential employers.

Fair or not, there is plenty of snootiness toward moms who want to get back to work. That said, it's not a brick wall. Many women before you have convinced employers of their great worth and have gone on to balance work and family with aplomb.

You can and will do the same. The key is believing in yourself and your strengths, and telling any skeptical friends, pain-in-the-butt partners, or other doubters to get out of your way. Make no room for naysayers.

Instead of focusing on what you don't have, focus on what you do have. What skills and experience did you gain as a stay-at-home mom? You've probably taught, cooked, shopped, cleaned, scheduled, volunteered and a whole lot more. Create a brief section on your resume that neatly addresses how you've spent this time out of the office, as opposed to leaving the years unaccounted for. Consider a functional, rather than chronological, resume.

Don't Apologize for Time at Home

Never, ever, apologize for taking a break to focus on family. So often, I meet women at my Women For Hire career expos, and they say sheepishly, "I guess I'm really out of the career loop. I've been home with my kids for all these years."

What I'd rather hear them say, with a confident smile, is, "I feel fortunate that I was able to spend the last eight years at home raising my children. Now I'm ready and determined to redirect my focus to my career. I have so much to offer your company and I'm eager to talk about employment opportunities."

Keep in mind that unless you're working on an automated assembly line, no workplace can function effectively with just one type of person. Just as employers must embrace people of varying education, gender, ethnicity, experience, skills and ideas, so too should you be proud of the diverse perspective that you bring to an employer as a stay-at-home mom.

Identify Your Target

Once you know how you'll explain the time out, you can start looking into specific career opportunities. It's perfectly acceptable to pick up where you left off in your industry of expertise. But don't limit yourself solely to what you had been doing if that's not what you're truly interested in now. Many women pigeonhole themselves by thinking that because their only experience was in retail sales that's all they're qualified for. Au contraire. If you're itching for a change, there are three main areas to focus on.

  Recast yourself.

Consider the best parts of what you did before you took time off, and add a new twist. For example, I know a talented woman who worked for several years as an executive chef before getting pregnant, but the late-night hours weren't conducive to raising her children. Five years later when she was ready to get back to work, she got a job at a popular community center teaching cooking classes to children and adults. She gets to do what she loves in a setting that works for her family.

Another example is a former flight attendant who got laid off and chose to spend six years at home with her kids instead of finding a new job. When the youngest left for college and she was ready to get out of the house, she promoted her skills and training in crisis management and customer service, combined with her cultural sensitivity and world travel, and was hired as an account executive at a PR firm specializing in the hospitality industry.

  Become a Freelancer.

You can ease the transition from home to work as a consultant or freelancer. For example, it is often easier to provide PR, marketing and writing services for a project -- where you can build a portfolio of current work -- than to land a full-time staff position in the same field. Freelancing also offers the flexibility to try different things, get exposure to various opportunities and see what might excite you.

One woman I worked with had been an in-house accountant for a Fortune 500 company, but when she was ready to return to work after an extended maternity leave, the hours were not conducive to her family obligations. Instead, she opted to provide bookkeeping services to a few smaller businesses, which allowed for flexible scheduling, no commute and the same money.

  Start your own gig.

In record numbers, women are eager to be their own bosses and realize their own dreams. Even something as simple as gourmet cooking or dog walking can turn into a lucrative venture.

Don't Get Hung Up on Age

If you opt for anything other than the entrepreneurial route, be prepared to psych yourself up because you'll be competing for jobs with candidates who are younger than you, and who have the natural confidence (some might say arrogance) that isn't always present among people who have been out of a traditional job for an extended period. There's also a great chance you'll be interviewing with -- and ultimately working for -- someone who's younger than you. Don't assume that older means more experienced, or that younger means less competent. Focus on what you can control, which is the way you represent your own capabilities, wisdom, life experience, maturity and skills.

A few weeks ago, a 50-something woman I've coached asked my opinion of an exchange she had with a 20-something recruiter. The older interviewer -- somewhat defensively -- said, "Listen, I can do this job with my eyes closed. In fact, I've been doing this kind of work since you were in diapers." I winced, knowing it wasn't likely to have gone over well. She didn't get the job.

Flaunt Your Multi-Tasking Muscle

Worried about the single 20-somethings edging you out because they can devote late nights and weekends to the job? Remember that moms are notorious multi-taskers.

When my own kids, Jake and Emma, were born, I was forced to learn to do things in one hour that previously took all day. Instead of focusing on the number of hours you will put in, focus on the results you will be able to achieve. You don't have to be in the office 24/7 to be an exceptional employee.

Discuss Childcare Plans Openly

If a specific concern is raised about the time you can devote to a potential position, be crystal clear that you have your ducks in a row -- with solid child care and arrangements in place -- and that you're absolutely determined to focus on rebuilding your career. Even a family-friendly employer deserves your dedication to the job: just because you're a parent with child care concerns does not mean that your boss or company owes you special dispensation.

Once you find success and you're ready to take the plunge, it's always a challenge to strike a balance between work and home, especially as a new working mom.


Recognize up front that once you're wearing two hats -- career woman and mom. You'll no doubt feel overwhelmed at times, and you're not alone. It's perfectly acceptable to feel tired, guilty, even conflicted about what you're doing. To ease some of the burden, figure out what you can delegate or eliminate from your routine.

Establish a Support System

Develop a system that works for you and your family. This could be any combination of partner, spouse, friends, family, neighbors or a rotation of baby sitters. It might also include extended hours at a child care facility. Who will you call if you're stuck in a meeting? How will you prep your baby sitter so she's not furious that you've been late three evenings in a row? Be sure you've thought through several worst-case scenarios so you've got your bases covered.

Make Time for Yourself

We all might not be able to slink off to the spa for girls' nights out, but try to carve out even just 30 minutes a week for you, as impossible as it may seem. This time off could be as simple as a relaxing bath, a long walk or curling up with a good book or your favorite magazine. It must be a simple indulgence just for you. When you feel good and you're happy, everything else seems to fall into place.

To connect directly with Tory Johnson or for other information on career advancement, visit