(Getting) Back to Work (Outside the Home)

(Home-based) Chief Operating Officer of your family, Stay-At-Home Parent, whatever title one may go by in this position, knows more than anyone the triumphs and challenges associated with making the decision to leave the conventional workforce and focus solely on child-raising.

But, for those thinking about dipping their toe back into the workplace pond, there can be challenges associated with re-entering when there is a gap in your resume. So, when is it a good time to re-enter and how can one overcome the perception that just because you were out, you are not down and out?

Sandi Stevens is Senior Vice President at Challenger, Gray and Christmas, where her job duties include providing career transition services to displaced employees. She acknowledges that time out of the workforce can be challenging, but states that returning and thriving in the workplace post stay-at-home hiatus is very possible.

"Just because you don't go to an office everyday doesn't mean you aren't acquiring skills. Keep track of your accomplishments during this period away. Include volunteer activities or organizing events, whether for the PTA or some other organization," said Stevens. "If your field or position require certifications or certain skills, make sure you keep those current, and stay up to date on emerging technologies."

Stevens adds that, when preparing for re-entry, this is not the time to be shy.

Be ready to sell yourself and your accomplishments. If you took time to raise a family, before interviewing, make sure you've educated yourself on trends in your industry. Have a well-practiced short speech on your career and past accomplishments, as well as how you can benefit the company.

Kelly Crabb, a Senior Director of Admissions in the Higher Education industry in Colorado and mother of two children, 6 and 4, echoes many of Sandi's sentiments. Crabb made the decision to stay at home for three years as she raised her then very small children.

For Adeyinka Ogunlegan, Vice President of Public Policy and Outreach with a public affairs firm in Maryland and mother of two children, ages 6 and 5, the decision to stay-at home to raise children was not entirely her own initially.

"I started my post-law school career working in government affairs for a major cable company," explains Ogunlegan, "There were hundreds of layoffs when the recession hit in 2008. Unfortunately, my department was affected and by December 2008, I was unemployed and four months pregnant."

While primarily a stay-at-home mom during this period, she occasionally picked up projects and did pro- bono work until her return to the work force fully in August 2012.

Despite the initial challenges, Ogunlegan describes that period in her life as one that was a blessing in disguise.

"You do not get those years back and I am thankful I had those full-day uninterrupted hours with my children. "

Ogunlegan was not entirely sure that it was time to return to work full-time after being at-home with her kids.

"I didn't know per se that I was 'ready', but I felt I owed it to myself and my family to restart my career," said Ogunlegan.

For Crabb, when it was time to return to the workforce, she just knew.

"I realized that I was not being fully true to myself and that there was something missing. I have always been a competitive, driven person who gets a sense of accomplishment from achieving and supporting others in reaching their goals. I am lucky to be in a profession [Higher Education] which allows me to do both," said Crabb.

But, Crabb fully acknowledges the guilt she felt from both a stay-at-home mom and working mom perspective.

"At home, I felt guilty because I knew my kids needed more social interaction and structure than what I was able to give them. When I returned to work, I was fortunate to find a childcare environment which met all of those needs and more, Crabb said. "I was literally seeing my kids flourish and grow each week! I was also seeing them get exposed to a lot more sickness, which was a challenge when starting a new job."

Ogunlegan was also concerned with child care when she was looking to make the leap back into the work force.

"We were also nervous about childcare. Finding the right fit for our family's needs and budget was important. "

Returning to the workforce after a hiatus of any kind is a process. Once you've made that decision and start the resume re-writing process, Crabb advises to get honest feedback from those you trust. Then, the real work begins.

"Continue to build your network, continue to find ways to advance your skills while at home and be assertive in communicating your value when it's time to return to the workplace, said Crabb.
Ogunlegan agrees.

"The people you know, both professionally and personally are an excellent resource to learn about potential opportunities and can help you get your foot in the door when the time is right. Look for opportunities to sharpen your skills or acquire new ones," said Ogunlegan.

Before returning to work in a full-time position, Ogunlegan applied for a campaign training program and took an unpaid fellowship with President Obama's re-election campaign. It proved to be an invaluable experience.

"I was able to learn a whole new set of skills and establish relationships that are invaluable to my career."

Ogunlegan was recently featured on the Maryland Daily Record's Successful Before 40 VIP List for her work with her current employer. Both Crabb and Ogunlegan received promotions within a year of returning to the workforce full-time.

Crabb emphasizes the importance of learning the art of letting go and not always being in total control.

There will be times when the laundry piles look like an excitebike course, there may be fewer times you are able to be the Pinterest Mom who makes crafts for school events and you will have times when you can't keep up with the birthday parties, school projects and social events.

Ogunlegan adds that controlling your own narrative in the interviewing process in crucial.

"Do not be ashamed about being a stay-at-home parent. If you're asked about gaps in your resume, then be upfront about it. If it was a conscious decision or if you were laid off, that is your reality. Own it," Ogunlegan said. "Hopefully you can also to point to volunteer work and other activities outside of the home. "

Whether one decides to make the leap or to wait, Crabb and Ogunlegan both made it known the importance of being honest with yourself and about what can realistically be done at this phase in your life and career.

"Take a deep breath," said Crabb, "Your kids are not being scarred for life. Just when I start to feel like my kids are feeling the effects of the chaos they surprise me and say something like 'Nobody works as hard as my Mom. She is always helping other people.'"