Career Planning For Career Mothers

So you are going to be a stay at home mom, for now …
It is such a joyous time, anticipating the birth of your first child. You have prepared everything for a newborn; the room, the clothes, the equipment, but have you prepared yourself? If you decide to stay home, career planning should be part of that decision and not an afterthought, possibly years from now, when you decide to return to work.

Career Planning For A Stay-at-home Mom?

What do I mean by that? Making the decision to stay at home shouldn’t be a fork in the road.  Rather, it is more than likely just a detour, and at some point you’ll make the decision to merge back into your career.  Whether you spend 2 or 10 years at home, the plan you put in place can make the difference in how successfully you reenter the work force.   So the starting point is: How many years do you want to stay home full-time? What are your long-term career goals? Actually articulating your goals beyond “I want to go back to work some day”, will help you make smart choices with your time for the next few years.

I have my career goals in mind, now what do I need to do?

Next, plan to keep your feet in the water. Your skill set is your greatest asset, and like any muscle, needs to be exercised to stay strong and current. While you take time to raise your family, find some free time to strategically volunteer. Simply choose an organization that speaks to your heart and soul, and pursue volunteer opportunities there that utilize and stretch your talents. If you are a marketing professional, design and implement a new marketing strategy for a non-profit that you love. If your area is law, pursue pro bono work when you have the time. The perfect organization may be your child’s school, and there are always opportunities for management level volunteers there. The key is to not just show up – thoughtfully choose positions that use your talents, and as you complete them, add them to your resume. Here is an area where you can have it all: you can do something that is very meaningful while strategically enhancing your background.

Also today there are increasing opportunities to pursue professional work on a part-time or contract basis. Companies are hiring everything from accountants to marketing professionals on an as-needed basis, and these short term projects can fit into a school day schedule.  This is such a valuable way to gain experience and contacts in your industry, so consider looking for contract work when you have a block of time available.

Network, Network, Network.

Third component is networking. We hear from so many women who have been home for years that they are too intimidated to attend a professional meeting where they know no one, and for a career they haven’t practiced since having children. It is much, much easier to stay involved than to start over after a long period of time! Staying involved in professional organizations will not only keep you current regarding trends in your industry, it will also connect you with other professionals who will be invaluable contacts when you decide to return to work full-time. Even attending one meeting a quarter may be enough to maintain those relationships, and as you get closer to re-entry you can increase the frequency. Let’s face it, most jobs are found through connections, so continuing to network may be the smartest move of all.

Networking also means investing in keeping up with social media.  LinkedIn is the go-to site for professionals, so if you haven’t created a profile, do so.  Not only can you connect with individuals, but you can also join online professional organizations as well.

Continue To Invest In Yourself

Finally, while you are at home, take classes at your local college or university that enhance your skill set or that prepare you for the new career you want when you return to work. This may be the best time to get that MBA, JD, or certification that you have been meaning to get. It is so tempting to put this off, reasoning that it is expensive or that there isn’t enough time. You may also question whether you will ever use it (i.e. Will I get my money back?) You must invest in yourself as much as you are investing in your family. You will reap the rewards financially and emotionally!

Eventually Returning to the Work Force

I speak from experience, having decided to stay at home 18 years ago. When I made that decision, it was without any thought to the future of my career. I did think it was that fork in the road, but found that I needed and wanted to go back to work.   Looking back now I know I would have benefited from my own advice. My decision to stay at home and raise my girls was the right one for me. I just wish I had been more forward thinking in planning for career re-entry and strategic in my activities so that when I decided to return to work I would have been better prepared. I also wish I had paid attention to job openings all along the way. Being a working mother is easier now than it was 18 years ago. Telecommuting, flexible hours and progressive employers are willing to create flexible work schedules for candidates they want.