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What They Don't Tell You as a Working Mom

I'm seeing a number of my female peers recommit to their careers at this stage of their lives. It has the sense of a new beginning, and there can be a sense of enjoyment of work that we just didn't have while we were doing the work-kid balancing act.
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Mixed race businesswoman working at home
Mixed race businesswoman working at home

Here's what working-outside-the-home mothers are told again and again: The early years of their kids' lives are going to be tough. Sleep deprivation while trying to establish your career while working to get your kids off to a good start in life is no piece of cake.

I remember feeling like I was holding onto my career by my fingertips, operating through a fog of exhaustion, barely able to stay awake in the mid-afternoon hours. And the pictures of me from then: wow is all I can say. There wasn't enough under-eye cover-up on earth.

Here's what working-outside-the-home mothers are not typically told: Their kids' teenage years can be even tougher. You are likely more established in your career, but the kids demand more of your attention. Less of the "I have a boo-boo" and more of the "My friends are smoking pot; how do I handle this?" It's unpredictable and it's time-consuming. And for me sleep deprivation was back in full force. (My daughter never met a curfew that she didn't cut too close. Result: I was up most nights in a cold sweat watching the clock tick.)

And then. And then they head off to college.

So here's what else no one tells you: This can be a career renaissance for women. I miss my kids; I miss them like crazy. But, all of a sudden, I have oceans of time -- and the ability to sleep through the night uninterrupted. My energy level is through the roof. I have decades of career experience behind me -- and I have a couple of decades of my career in front me.

And it doesn't seem to be just me: I'm seeing a number of my female peers recommit to their careers at this stage of their lives. It has the sense of a new beginning, and there can be a sense of enjoyment of work that we just didn't have while we were doing the work-kid balancing act.

(In contrast, when I've asked my male peers if they have a similar feeling, they look at me quizzically and describe this career stage as simply the next step to what came before. Maybe this is because in many households -- I'll admit it, mine is one -- I shouldered the curfew worries while my husband slept soundly through it all.)

And here's the interesting thing. For many women, this career stage can also be a transition point for doing new things, in some cases entrepreneurial things. According to the Kaufmann Foundation, people 55-64 started 23.4 percent in the U.S. in 2012, up from 14.3 percent in 1996.

This can be in part because, at this stage in life, women are more financially secure, and so can take on more career risk. At the same time, the cost of starting businesses is declining, substantially. Think cloud computing instead of buying servers, WeWork instead of long-term leases, video chat instead of business trips and, in some cases, freelancers instead of full-time employees. Thus entrepreneurialism is more accessible than ever before. And thus it's an option for people who wouldn't have considered it an option even a handful of years ago.

But that's not the only trend that may be emerging. I'm also seeing an increasing number of cases in which these businesses are underpinned by a real sense of mission, and making a difference. Again and again, I hear: If I'm going to throw myself back in, I want to throw myself back in to something that can matter. A few examples:

Susan Lyne is now running BBG Ventures (for Built by Girls), a venture capital fund sponsored by AOL that funds women-led businesses, after a career at companies like ABC Entertainment and at Gilt.

Deborah Jackson transitioned from her career at Goldman Sachs to found Plum Alley, a crowdfunding site for women entrepreneurs.

Blythe Masters is leading and building Digital Asset Holdings, after a career built at JP Morgan; this has the potential to transform her former industry.

Jacki Zehner left a career as the youngest female partner from the trading businesses at Goldman Sachs and is now the Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions.

And I've done it too, starting Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women. I know for me, the mission -- that of building an investment platform that can help close the gender investing gap, by fundamentally rethinking the investing process for women -- was paramount.

One more thing that may be facilitating this emerging trend. As I watch my peers navigate this stage, it feels to me that in our culture, women are more allowed to learn -- to explore -- to be uncertain. We can rail against gender stereotypes, but one that may accrue to our advantage is that our society doesn't box us into the archetype of manly decisiveness and certainty. Thus, we are allowed to learn, and to continue learning through our lives.

If this is really an emerging trend, what does it mean?

It's all good. More women working later means a bigger economy; more women working later means they can save more for retirement; and more women working later means more talent for companies to draw upon.

So are we entering a world in which women's careers may peak later than men's? In which the guys continue to build straight-line careers in which one step leads to the next, in which time-in-a-company matters, in which stamina is a key driver of success? And that women today often take a more scenic route, blending career and childcare responsibilities in their children's younger and teenaged years, and the roaring back in their third acts. And given that women live longer than men, those can be third acts that last quite awhile.

I'm not saying this will be the case for everyone, but the model is certainly working for some. Just ask Bill and Hillary.

Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women. You can request an invitation here. She is also the Chair of Ellevate Network, the global professional woman's network.

A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn.