As I left my job almost two years ago, the words of a trusted co-worker rang in my ears: “If you want to come back, you better find part-time work or a way to make yourself appealing to employers or you won’t be able to find a job”.
Last fall, out of the blue, another co-worker graciously recommended me for an amazing job (thank you). The appealing job description and company seemed like a good fit for my previous experience. While nothing is certain, if I’d pursued it, I think I could have gotten the job and would have enjoyed it.
For the first time, in a long time, I paused to question whether it was smart to pass on the opportunity. Was I blowing my chance to return to a career I excelled in and enjoyed? If I stay out much longer, will my 4 years of school and 9 years of experience be obsolete? Worthless? How long is too long?
I spent hours thinking, praying and trying to make sense of ‘what could be‘. I sought counsel of my husband and friends. The consensus reached was that now isn’t the right time, even for a perfect job. I am already in the right place; at home with our kids.
When I replied to the recruiter, he commended me for choosing to stay home. Then, in the same sentence, he warned – find contract or part-time work, soon, or re-entering the workforce will be challenging (he also offered his services to help me find such work).
I appreciate the truth behind this repeated warning. Biotechnology is a rapidly developing and changing field. While I read journal articles and do my best to stay up to date with emerging technologies, I’m not working in the industry. I can read all I want, but when I do return, there will be a learning curve. It isn’t that it can’t be done, but the longer the time away, the harder it will be to return.
The warnings made me wonder if I was going to wreck any chance of getting a similar job when I am ready. Did I throw my career away? Society often thinks of stay-at-home moms as doing just that when they leave the work force. Just look at forums where moms discuss trying to go back to work. The boards are filled with encouragement, but are laced with critical, harsh and ignorant comments from people who made different choices. Different decisions don’t have to be judged as worse, or better.
But a decision to stay home is a bold one, not an easy or foolish one. It is carefully considered; options weighed, pros and cons listed, and agonized over. I did put my career on hold to stay home with my children. I did contract work during my first year away. I didn’t choose to throw my career away. I understood the warnings. My career may look differently in 10 years than it would have otherwise. I’m OK with it.
No matter what happens when I am ready to work outside the home again, I won’t feel penalized. Having the opportunity to be with our children beats any career success, published journal article, patent application, financial reward, or respect of co-workers that I may have earned during that time.
I was with the same company for 9 years. It was a busy (sometimes chaotic) job. I enjoyed the quiet solitude of the lab, loved technical writing, and appreciated that my co-workers were dear friends. When my son was born, my job was less fulfilling. Before, I’d have been excited by a priority project, even if it required some (or a lot of) extra hours. But now…I longed to run out the door.
I wanted to do both jobs well…but I found the demands of an infant and toddler and working to be often overwhelming. I was drained at work from sleepless nights, and drained at home from working. Some working moms find this balance less challenging – I am in awe of you. I found I wasn’t wired to do both while our kids were small. I wanted to give my family the best of me, not the left-overs.
I struggled sending our child to daycare and knowing I might miss precious first waves, words or steps. I wanted to be there during the ‘formative’ years; while they develop and learn new things every day. More and more…my desire to work waned. My greatest impact and legacy will not be in the field of biotechnology, it will be in our children.
Initially, we couldn’t make it work financially. I kept working; a mutual decision, and not one I regret. We trusted in God’s perfect timing. My husband is my hero. He was willing to do anything he could to help me stay at home. He worked a full-time job, while also earning his MBA. The MBA helped him achieve career goals, which allowed me to quit my job after my daughter was born. The timing was perfect.
Still, quitting was not easy. No, it was hard because I liked my job. I tried to have the best of both worlds…a part time gig. My employer and I couldn’t make it work, so it was full-time work or none. Tears were shed. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t work part-time. It would have been difficult to have one foot in each world when the purpose of leaving was to have two feet at home.
It also wasn’t easy to transition home. I missed my work, friends, and solitude of writing and the lab. Like any job, it took time to adjust, and the learning curve was huge.
While there is truth to fears of being obsolete when I want to return to work, there is also a misunderstanding of what I am doing while out of the traditional work force. I may not be working in a lab or traditional business, but I am still developing skills that will be useful to an employer. They are much more than perfecting laundry, cleaning, and cooking skills. Raising little people is no small feat.
I spend nap times and evenings doing part-time marketing work for a talented speaker and consultant, writing this blog, volunteering, and working for an online company. It is not about money, but to keep my brain busy and to spend time thinking about things beyond our household.
These years are a gift; a different career path.
I didn’t throw away my career to stay at home with my kids. I took a break to focus on what was ultimately stealing my focus already. I spend my days with two of the most precious people in my life. I enjoy smiles and giggles, and help them with challenges and tears.
What will I do when I go back to work? I honestly don’t know. It will be different than if I’d kept working. Fiercely loyal, I’d probably still be working at the same company; my current job is more fulfilling. I may not be able to jump right back in where I left off, but so what? I am not the same as before I left, so why should my work be? I expect and hope for more fulfilling work. With the joys and challenges I’ve encountered as a mom, I am not sure that writing and editing procedures or the solitude of the lab will be enough for me.
To the working world – I hear your warnings and take them seriously. But also take note: being a mom is changing me, for the better. My worldview is bigger, my skills are better-rounded, and if the lab world doesn’t think I am qualified when I go back, it may not be the right place for me.