Reentering the Workforce after Having Children:
The Internal War Women Wage with Themselves
By Diane Lang, M.A.
Forget about the Mommy Wars — the supposed battle between stay-at-home and career-oriented mothers. Watch out for the battle going on closer to home: the internal debate of deciding which option is right for you.
As a therapist and life coach, I’ve seen firsthand how hard women are on themselves. Mothers are constantly asking themselves impossible questions: How can I be the best parent if I choose to work outside the home? Could I work part-time and have the best of both worlds? Which choice will bring me the most happiness?
Here’s my advice: Don’t let fear paralyze you. Instead, let the fear guide you to good decisions about whether a job outside the home is right for you and your family—at this point in your life. Women tend to get caught up in the notion that this is a decision they only have to make once, when, in fact, your situation — as well as your motivation to work outside the home — may change as time goes by.
So where do you begin? You start by taking a close, honest look at your motivation. Is going back to work right now really right for you? Being a mom is a full-time job. Moms work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. You already have a lot of responsibility. Are you ready for more?
Then ask yourself this: Do I want a job or career? There is notable difference between the two. A job can bring you a paycheck and benefits; a career, on the other hand, is something you feel passionate about, something that creates a sense of purpose and happiness in your life. You also have to consider how the job or career will fit into your already full life. No matter which option you choose, it must align with your values. Consider how many hours you want to work, whether you’ll be able to take time off for your child’s illness or “special occasions” at school, or whether you’ll have flexibility to take time off during your child’s school holidays. Only by evaluating what’s important to you will you be able to find work that brings you real job satisfaction.
Next — and this is a big one — you must consider whether your decision is financially feasible. Going back to work might not put more money in your pocket. How is that possible? Well, for starters, you’ll have to pay a sitter for your travel time, and that’s time when you’re not actually making money. There’s also commuting costs, whether it be gas, car maintenance, bus passes, or train tickets. You’ll probably have to buy a new wardrobe. And you’re likely to incur “incidental expenses” associated with going back to work — like lunches out, or pitching in for a coworker’s baby gift. Those financial commitments could take a significant chunk out of your paycheck. Will you still be ahead?
If you do decide that going back to work is right for you, give yourself a break. The first few weeks, your emotions will be everywhere. You might feel sad, guilty, and overwhelmed. Your kids might feel hurt and resentful. Your husband might be angry and confused. This is all normal.
Of 100 moms surveyed, almost all agreed that guilt was the strongest emotion they felt their first week back at work — the guilt of leaving the kids, the guilt of having less family time, and the guilt of missing special events. If you are feeling guilty, ask yourself if the guilt is real or if you feel bad because your family is angry and resentful. Keep the lines of communication open. Have a discussion with your family and let them tell you how they feel. Let your family know why you have decided to go back to work and how they can be involved in your new schedule. Make sure at least once a week you sit down with your family and see how everyone is feeling. Determine whether their anxieties are realistic.
It is natural for you and your family to have mixed emotions about going back to work. The one thing all working moms agree on: It gets better with time. You will learn to balance schedules, find a routine and get help. Just give yourself time. You may decide working outside the home isn’t right for you right now, after all, but you need time to make the adjustment before you can make that decision.
You also need to be kind to yourself during your first weeks back at work. Women are so used to taking care of others that we tend to feel selfish when we nurture ourselves. So making a decision to go back to work — doing something for yourself — can make you feel uncomfortable at first. If you’re feeling like that, ask yourself these questions: Does having a job make you a better person? A better mom? Do you enjoy work? Are you feeling fulfilled in your life? If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you are doing the right thing. Take confidence in that.
Going back to work is a huge life transition. You are making a lifestyle change that affects not only you, but your family as well. It is easy to focus on everyone else and forget yourself. However, it is important to take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Always consider how you are feeling and always take time for yourself.
Time management is an essential component to finding balance between work and family. You need make sure family time still exists. It is important to sit down as a family and discuss what is going on in everyone’s life. Schedule time together and plan for vacations in advance so the whole family has something to look forward to. You also need to delegate chores to your husband and kids. Balance takes time, but usually within a month or so, most families find a good routine. Consider hiring outside help, such as a cleaning service, landscaper, etc. But no matter how you decide to manage your schedule, you have to be flexible. And when you start to feel overwhelmed, learn to say no. You can’t do everything.
There is a lot to consider the first few months back at work. Keep a journal of how you are feeling. Try to write in it daily. Writing is a good stress reliever and putting words down on paper helps you sort through thoughts and emotions.
After a month, look back through the journal. What do you notice? Is your guilt and confusion fading? Are you enjoying your new work environment? Do you like working outside the home? Are you resentful of moms who stay at home? You will be better able to make a judgment call about your life by reading your journal. Then you’ll be better equipped to make adjustments, if needed.
About the author: Ms. Lang has an M.A. in Counseling and a B.A. in Liberal Arts from the New York Institute of Technology. She currently works as a therapist at Universal Institute in Livingston, NJ, where she provides therapy to patients with traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse issues. She has been employed at various colleges in New Jersey both as an Adjunct Professor and as a Chairperson. She currently works as a therapist and life coach in the New York and New Jersey areas. Ms. Lang made the decision to go back to work part-time, not long after the birth of her own daughter. It was that experience that made her realize how much smoother the transition could have been with a little advice and coaching from someone who’s been there. She has since authored a new book from Bent Tree Press, Baby Steps: The Path from Motherhood to Career, Reentering the workforce after staying home with children. The book is a reference guide and journal, with tips, guidance, and questions for reflection. An appendix at the back of the book provides employment ideas and opportunities for mothers who want to reenter the workplace. For more information, visit Bent Tree Press at http://www.benttreepress.com/products/desc/lang_prod_desc.htm.