Firsthand Advice for Parents Reentering the Workforce
Once upon a time, your career was off to a strong start. You worked hard and seemed to be making solid progress in growing as a professional.
But when you learned you had a little one on the way, your whole world changed. Suddenly you found yourself in the role of Chief Household Officer instead of climbing the career ladder. Now that your children are a little older, you’re ready to consider reentering the workforce. But that’s also a prospect that’s grown more intimidating by the day—have things changed? Will I be able to pick up where I left off? Will my kids be OK?
You haven’t fallen for the lie that it’s impossible to have kids and a successful career, but that doesn’t make reentering the workforce any less daunting. What if you don’t have the skills employers are looking for anymore? How will you balance your responsibilities at home and at work?
Whether you were out of the workforce for 12 weeks or 12 years, you’re not the only parent who’s faced these questions. We’re sharing tips from parents who have stood in your shoes. Learn from their experience with these tips for parents transitioning back into the workforce.
7 Tips for reentering the workforce from parents who have been there
Who better to learn from than those who have been in your shoes. Consider this firsthand advice from other parents who have successfully launched careers.
1. Start the search for childcare sooner rather than later
One of the most basic questions you’ll have to tackle as a working parent is “Who’s going to watch the kids while I’m at work?” Even if your children are school-aged, you might need help with summer or after-school care.
Betty Boiron, a senior sourcing specialist who returned to work when her son was 12 weeks old, believes it’s never too soon to start thinking about childcare. “After trying out a few nannies that completely failed our expectations, I was about to quit my job so that I could stay home with my son,” Boiron says, adding that it can be impossible to focus at work if you don’t trust the person caring for your child.
Now Boiron encourages parents to search for nannies or childcare centers months in advance. “It’s a lot less stressful if you give yourself plenty of time to find proper childcare for your baby.”
2. Don’t let guilt hold you back
Parents reentering the workforce may feel guilty that they’re not spending as much time with their kids as they used to. Vered DeLeeuw, a former contracts negotiator, was out of the workforce for seven years before starting her own business. Even though her kids were in elementary school when she reentered the workforce, she still struggled with feelings of guilt.
“You will probably feel some level of guilt for the first few months, and your kids might give you a hard time about not being there constantly the way you used to be,” DeLeeuw says. However, she stresses that it’s important to remind yourself why you’re working in the first place.
“Just remember that it’s okay for you to work outside of your home, to use your talents and professional skills, and to earn an income,” DeLeeuw says. “Your kids will get used to the new reality and they will thrive!”
3. Ask for help
Parents who are reentering the workforce are adding a lot to their plates—but too often, they don’t ask for help managing all these responsibilities. Parents who try to “do it all” without support from others can risk facing unhealthy levels of stress.
“It’s important to ask for help when it is needed, and to reconsider the way that tasks are divided among family members,” says Kelly Rupiper, a mom who stayed home with her kids for almost six years before becoming the content director at Upparent.com.
Acknowledge that you need extra support around the house, whether it’s asking your partner to help with chores or hiring out tasks like grocery delivery or lawn care. “For me, this has meant keeping a shared to-do list with my husband that we each have a hand in tackling, and giving the kids more responsibilities around the house,” Rupiper says.
4. Learn from “the village”
Parents lament that “the village” that’s supposed to help you raise your children is long gone from modern society. But it doesn’t have to be! Boiron advises creating your own village, seeking out advice and support from coworkers who are also parents.
“Talk with other parents in the company and seek their advice,” Boiron says. Other parents have a wealth of information to share, from tips on approaching your boss about flexible work arrangements to reviews of the nearest daycare centers.
Boiron adds that some colleagues can even save money by working out a nanny-sharing arrangement to “alleviate the cost of childcare. There are many things you can learn from experienced working parents.”
5. Communicate with your boss
Navigating company policies around family leave and reentering the workforce can be tricky, but they shouldn’t be avoided. Boiron put off communicating with her boss until after she returned from her maternity leave, but she wishes she’d done it sooner. “I was lucky and my boss was very understanding of my situation of wanting to work from home on a flexible schedule,” Boiron says.
Adopt a policy of upfront, honest communication with your boss or any supervisor you interview with. Being open with your company about your availability can pave the way for more flexible scheduling options, making the transition into the workforce easier on you and your family.
Even parents who are reentering the workforce after years of being at home can reap the benefits of open discussion. Some might find that a company is willing to implement a remote work policy, while others allow parents to leave early for childcare pickup—you won’t know until you ask!
6. Have realistic expectations
Your kids might see you as a superhero, but it’s not your job to save the world. Having realistic expectations for what your time will be like as a working parent can help you avoid putting too much pressure on yourself.
“I wish I had been more realistic about the flexibility I’d need to extend into my home life when returning to work,” Rupiper says. “It’s okay to leave the laundry until the weekend, to pick up takeout for dinner more often than I would have before, and to make any other adjustments I need to ensure quality time for both family and work.”
As much as it might bother you, you’ll likely need to relax any strict standards you have for maintaining a “perfect” household. Instead, leave time for important self-care activities like exercise, sleep and hobbies you enjoy—life can’t be a never-ending to-do list of chores.
7. Brush up on the skills you need
Parents who plan on going back to work may face another fear: Will employers even want me anymore? Unfortunately, this fear might not be unfounded.
A research article from the American Sociological Review found that “mothers and fathers who temporarily opted out of work to care for family fared significantly worse in terms of hiring prospects” when compared to those who did not have a gap in employment.1 One cause of this is employers’ belief in skill deterioration theory, which suggests that employee skills become “rusty” over time if they’re not in use.
Brushing up on your skills can boost your resume and show employers that you’re still committed to advancing your career. This could take many different forms, from attending a certification course on a specific topic to earning a degree in your field—or a new industry you’ve always dreamed about.
View your transition back into the workforce as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to overcome. You may be surprised at where your new career could lead you!
Ready to restart your career?
Reentering the workforce takes planning and preparation, but it is possible for parents to confidently go back to work after staying home with their kids.
Equipping yourself with the necessary skills is one of the keys to navigating this tricky time. If you think it’s time to restart your career, find out whether education is your first step with our article “Should I Go Back to School? 4 Questions to Help You Find Your Answer.”
1American Sociological Review, From Opt Out to Blocked Out: The Challenges for Labor Market Re-entry after Family-Related Employment Lapses, [accessed August, 2019] https://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/wss5qdJRASWnqYiQiBpp/full