If you, like me and many other mothers and fathers, have decided to stay at home with your children for a few years, it may seem as though you’re sending your career on a fast track to nowhere by taking time off. That is certainly one of the concerns that would-be stay-at-home parents often cite as part of their decision-making process. And while putting your career on hiatus will certainly cause some changes in your career trajectory, that does not mean that those changes have to be negative. Here are some ways to make sure you can balance your time at home with the kids with a long and satisfying career:
1. Own your decision. No matter why you chose to stay home, it’s important to be proud of what you are doing. Unfortunately, there is still a sense in our society that stay-at-home-parents don’t “do” anything. So whether you are in the midst of your full-time parenting or just getting back into the work-a-day world, don’t downplay your role as a stay-at-home-parent. Taking the time to parent your children while they are young is an admirable decision, and one that likely meant you had to make personal sacrifices. Be proud of it.
2. Stay informed about your field. Not only will staying on top of the new information in your field help you feel current about what’s happening while you’re away from work, but it will also help to alleviate some of the boredom that stay-at-home-parents can be prone to. There are only so many times you can sing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” before you’d be absolutely thrilled to see a spreadsheet. So keep your subscriptions to industry magazines and newsletters current, and carve out some grownup time for yourself to absorb them. It will be a great help when you’re ready to get back to work to feel like you haven’t missed out on the major events in your field.
3. Stay in touch with your contacts. It can be easy to lose track of colleagues and clients when your life is going in a completely different direction. But it’s a great idea to hold onto your contact list and check in every once in awhile. This will let your contacts know that you eventually want to get back into the field, which can make networking to find a new job much simpler when it’s time to get back into your business suits.
4. Take classes. One of the toughest aspects of getting out of the working world is the fact that your skills can become obsolete by the time you’re ready to return. Don’t let this be a problem for you. Sign up for classes online or at local community colleges to keep your skills current. This will be another way to network, have some important grownup time, and impress your future employers, all while still staying home with your children.
5. Explore all of your alternatives. Sometimes taking time off can help you to decide that you want to make a career change. Now is a great time to find other ways you can use your skills. For example, after taking a year off to stay home with my son, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to public school teaching while he was small — it was simply too stressful a career to try to fit into my life as a mother. So I started teaching Sunday school at our local synagogue and I am looking into teaching a couple of classes at the community college. This allows me to use the skills I’ve been honing throughout my career and still leaves the door open for me to go back to teaching once my son is older.
Taking time off does not have to be the death knell of a promising career. Using your time wisely can help you to have a satisfying life at home and a great return to the office.