By: Karen Bigman
Next to my divorce, one of the toughest challenges I've had in my life was trying to re-enter the workforce after a prolonged absence home with my children. You would think that getting moving to a new city and country at 17, getting married and raising kids would have been harder. For me, the idea of going back to work was much more frightening and intimidating yet it was something I desperately wanted and needed.
I worked for six years after graduate school at a large corporation. I was too young to realize that while I was smart and capable, I was totally not aligned with the culture of the organization I was working at. Within two years of getting married I had my first child and couldn't wait for a "legitimate" excuse to leave my corporate job. When I look back on those days, I realize that I actually left because I didn't have the confidence or the maturity to figure out what I would really enjoy doing.
It was easier to leave the workforce. My husband was working crazy long hours and we couldn't afford full time help. What a great luxury I had to be able to stay home with the kids, or so I thought. Don't get me wrong, I love my children and I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to be by their sides through every smile of accomplishment and tear of frustration. The problem was that while they blossomed, I shrunk.
I volunteered at school and tried finding other outlets for my energy and skills. I really didn't have anybody to mentor me and slowly but surely, I lost any confidence I had in my ability to succeed in the workplace. Everyone told me what great kids I have and what a testament to what a wonderful parent I was. Being a "wonderful" parent somehow didn't feel entirely wonderful. I had the sense that I wasn't valued by working mothers. I became very disconnected from anything outside of my family life. I felt aimless, unsatisfied and incapable of anything but kid stuff. What I didn't realize then was that the capabilities I had that had gotten me through graduate school and into a Fortune 500 company didn't disappear with the decision to stay home for a few years.
We need people who believe in our abilities and respect our decisions to be stay-at-home moms. We also need to stay connected to the "non-stay-at-home-mom" world. Most importantly, we need to find ways to keep our confidence up, regardless of the choices we make. Choosing to leave the workforce takes strength, as does choosing to stay in. Choosing to have children without knowing what kind of parent you will be or what kind of child you will have, that takes courage! How is it that we can be brave enough and strong enough to give birth but too scared to call our old boss for lunch?
After 12 years home and three attempts to find the perfect job over eight years, I can say, I've finally found my way. It was not easy, but by following my own strengths and interests, rather than trying to adapt to other people's plans or ideas for me, I've developed a business that I love and feel like I have a greater purpose.
What can you do to not lose your "mojo"? Here are a few recommendations:
1. Leave the workplace but don't leave the workforce entirely. Stay connected. There are so many easy ways to do that today through social media. Even good old-fashioned phone calls to old work colleagues are always a welcome way to say "I'm thinking about you."
2. After you read Pat the Bunny, open the newspaper or read a trade journal. Just reading the headlines keeps your brain moving in a different direction and helps you stay on top of the latest news and technology. It also helps you to have a conversation about topics other than the latest theories on potty training.
3. Go to classes. This may be tough when your kids are infants but as they become toddlers and start pre-school, take an hour a day for yourself a few times a week. Whether it's a class on beading that you always wanted to try or a social media class to keep your skills and understanding sharp, it's all good training.
4. If you loved what you were doing, make sure you keep your skill up to date. If you weren't sure it was the right thing for you, think about what would be the most enjoyable job that you would like and wouldn't feel horrible about leaving your kids for.
5. Write down your goals and then break it down into what you need to do to get there. It may be five years from now or 20 years from now. It may be a job you do a few hours a week now that leads you to something more engaging when you're kids are older. What's important is that you keep the wheels turning.
6. Think about the following: What are your skills? Why do you want/need to go back to work? How much time can you give to work? What are your cash flow needs? Emotional needs? It's taken me over 20 years of moving in and out of the workforce, and I'm happy to say my confidence is coming back. I have a terrific relationship with my now grown children and feel grateful that they are turning into the adults I hoped they would be. I'll never know what would have happened had I taken a different path but I have no regrets. Each decision I made and hurdle I overcame brought me here. I love what I do and I now know that the experience I had has lead me to help other women navigate a smoother path.
Karen Bigman works individually and through workshops with women navigating divorce in various areas including financial fluency and strategies for workforce re-entry. For more information please visit: TheDivorcierge.com or email Karen@TheDivorcierge.com.