I met Angela when my first child was four days old. In fact, my daughter hadn’t even been discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) when Angela and I wound up in the same breastfeeding support session at the hospital’s women’s center. At the time, Angela had committed to being a stay at home mom for her daughter, Lola, who was just three months old; I, on the other hand, was planning on returning to work after my maternity leave ended.
Fast forward almost four years, and Angela and I are still friends. I now wear the titles of working mom and stay at home mom simultaneously – thanks to the blurry lines of freelancing – while Angela continues to care full-time for her now two daughters, ages four and two.
But everything is about to change… because Angela’s returning to work.
I spent an afternoon playdate interviewing Angela about her decision to re-enter the workforce after four years on the parental sidelines.
Me: Was it always your plan to – at some point – return to work after you were done having kids?
Her: Yes and no. To be honest, I always thought I’d start a family sooner than I ultimately did. (Note: Angela just turned 40 years old; she was 36 when her oldest child was born.) So I got in way more working years on the front end of my career than I ever anticipated. I mean, when I left my job before having Lola, I’d been working for almost 15 years. In many career fields, that’s halfway to retirement.
Me: Remind me again about what you did before becoming a stay at home mom.
Her: I was an event planner for a regional home builder’s association. Actually, the timing of my departure was perfect. The housing market was already starting to slump [in the summer of 2008] and the industry was really scaling back. The stock markets crashed just as I would have been returning from maternity leave, although I’d told my employers that I wouldn’t be returning to work before I even gave birth. Ultimately, they eliminated my position in November [of 2008]; they have yet to re-create it or anything like it.
Me: The U.S. Census has some pretty interesting statistics about stay at home moms. 44 percent are under the age of 35; more than a quarter are Hispanic; nearly one-in-five don’t have a high school diploma. You, on the other hand, are in your 40s, white, and have a four-year degree from a private university. What made you decide to stay at home with your kids?
Her: I really think a lot of it had to do with how I was raised. My mom never worked; she stayed at home from the time I was born until the day my younger sister graduated from high school. It was her presence in my life – her involvement, really, in the day to day stuff – that really made me realize that I wanted that kind of relationship with my kids. (Note: at this point, Angela looks up at me alarmed, as if she’s offended me, since I worked full-time until after my daughter’s second birthday.) That’s not to say working moms don’t put the time in with their kids! In some ways, it’s a battle of quality vs quantity. I have the luxury of spending huge amounts of time with my girls, but is it all quality time? Of course not! We spend way too much time watching TV or arguing with one another. But I just wanted to be able to say to my girls, “I was there. I saw your first steps, heard your first words.” That was important to me.
Me: And you’ve told me that finances had something to do with it as well.
Her: Well, sure. My husband was about to launch his own [dental] practice, and we both knew there’d be a lot of time involved in starting it up. My job was very time-consuming as well – there were weeks I was out of the house 60-70 hours. Not only didn’t we want somebody else raising our children for that amount of time, but we just couldn’t afford to. More than half of my paycheck would have gone to babysitters and daycare providers. I just didn’t see the point in that. Better to budget our own finances on one salary than to shell out half of what I made to somebody else.
Me: So why are you returning to work now?
Her: [laughs] I know you’ve been dying to ask me this question. The real reason is, I’m scared. I’ve taken a four-year sabbatical from my job. And here’s the really scary thing: my old job doesn’t even exist any more. I couldn’t go back to it even if I wanted to! I just didn’t feel like, at age 40, that I could afford to take any more time away from my career without really paying a heavy toll for it. At this point, I’m still going to have to explain to any potential employer why there’s a four-year gap in my resume. I felt waiting [another three years, until her youngest daughter was in kindergarten] would be career suicide.
Me: You said your old job isn’t available – so what will you do?
Her: Yeah… I’m still trying to figure that out. My degree was in marketing, which is how I got into event planning, although the two aren’t that closely related. Over my years of staying at home, I’ve really realized that my passions lie elsewhere. I’m more interested now in financial management. Now, I’m not going to go back to school at my age to get a degree in that, but I have thought about applying for marketing jobs in the finance industry. I figure it’ll get me into a company where I could at least learn more about the industry while doing a job I’m qualified to do.
Me: What are your long-term career plans now?
Her: Well, I realize that I’m at mid-life – so I don’t have any plans of being in the workforce another 40, 35, even 30 years. I’d like to retire while I’m still young enough to enjoy it. Since I’m done having kids, though, I can really commit myself to a job – I can say to an employer, “Look, you don’t have to worry about me taking three months every other year for the next six years while I have a family.” I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I can give my career my all for the next 20, maybe 25 years or so.
Reader, what are your thoughts on taking time away from work after having kids? Is it career suicide? How long is “too long” to stay out of work to care for your family?