Some months ago I published a three part series On Motherhood in The Ascent.
I left the series as a happy stay-at-home mother of three.
In recent months with my daughter turning 18 months, I made the push to return to work. I had to start from scratch. Two years prior, I had been downsized from a position that had been my dream job.
Through this journey, I sought a balance between the freedom I had while being a homemaker and the efficiency required to resume a full time workload.
A shout out to dads. You are appreciated. You work and come home to pull whatever weight I ask of you. You do your best even when your best is incomparable to my expectations.
I begin with the dad because the conversation around WHEN mom goes back to work almost always involves him, the budget, and the finances. Whether this is the right thing for mom’s mental health or career is also worth evaluating and these aspects are related.
Some months before I started looking for work, I took stock of my daily contributions. I was responsible for more or less all the things with Dad carting the kids off to various classes in the evening while I looked after our infant. Laundry, three meals, kid drop off & pick up, homework, bed time/bath and kitchen cleanup all fell to me. My husband had taken the opportunity to head off to work early, return late, rely on grandparents for backup, and start a small business in addition to his 9 to 5 job.
As we discussed my eventual return to work I had the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that he did not have any idea how impossible the transition felt to me. My anxiety increased steadily until I admitted that I did not have the time of day to work on my resume let alone apply to positions. I also could not rely on the grandparents to manage the kids while I went to interviews.
I admitted defeat and began resenting my lifestyle.
Money was tight. How can you rationalize spending on a nanny or daycare when there is no budget? What if I took steps and it took me 6 months to find employment. My outlook felt bleak.
I finally broke down and confided in my husband. To his credit, he stopped in his tracks to reassess what we were both trying to do together.
From that day, he took on the kid chores that he could handle. It was not perfect, but it emphasized his love and support of me. I in turn made an effort to drop things. I would leave the kitchen a mess (for him) or leave the clothing in its basket until the kids or he put them away. I would sleep in on the weekend so that he could take a turn making waffles with the kids. Soon, I started using the time in the evenings or mid-day to my advantage.
I set small goals and had a long timeline. With low expectations I made a list.
- Update LinkedIn & my resume
- Every couple of days or weeks look at available jobs meeting my criteria
- Spend at least one evening a week communicating with people in my network
- Check my inboxes daily
To do this right takes time and effort. The only way I could free myself from my daughter was to either drop her at my gym’s playroom or ask the grandparents to watch her while I lost myself for hours reading job postings and writing cover letters. There was always a finite amount of time that never seemed like quite enough. I got used to performing on a stop-and-go basis returning to my task once the kids were fed or in bed.
As luck would have it, my outreach to my network paid dividends. I was invited to interview with three separate companies.
I bombed my first interview.
To give myself some credit, it had been over 7 years since my last interview and like with a first date, which I would be sure to bomb given its been over 12 years, I was completely unaware of where I needed to be, what I needed to know and whether or not I had what it takes. I assumed that my knowledge of what was on my resume would be enough.
The company interviewing me did not fare well on the interview either.
From my perspective, entering a Go to Meeting call with a lady easily ten years my junior who showed up 10 minutes late, failed to make eye contact, failed to make small talk, and who just dove straight into technical questions without providing more information about the position that was available and who and what and why — was enough for me to lose interest in the position being offered.
From my experience interviewing candidates it was clear I was a token interviewee. Perhaps the position had been filled or I was simply not a good fit. My next question could be “Then why waste both of our time?”
I learned two things:
- Be prepared for the technical questions (think recent graduate level or basic “what does this mean”). On a different interview someone asked me what “Markdown” was. What I found hilarious was that I knew exactly what markdown was, as someone who often does not give weight to semantics — I don’t know what the thing is called but I had been using it for years.
- Know your value. I knew what my value was and I recognized that the woman interviewing me was not using a means to understand my value. In this situation, it was easier to cut loose than to try to make a case. I lost interest in pursuing the opportunity during the interview.
I also knew that every opportunity to interview is an opportunity to learn and practice. My most pressing concerns were commute time/distance, work hours, and being compensated at a comparable level as when I had last worked. In answer to these questions I was learning about what my options would be.
Your network is your lifeline
Early in the job hunt, I encountered a posting by a company where I had co-organized events with the founder. I privately reached out to him to ask about the position and this action led to a series of discussions and interviews. The company’s flexibility and generosity in trying to ‘make it work for me’ was the catalyst to relax the tensions I carried with me.
In the meantime, I reached out to more people in my network. I was beginning to realize that remote work was probably my best bet for having appropriate work-life balance with the three kids, husband, and two dogs. In some cases I did not hear back from contacts for months. In other cases, I was met with sincere responses where they could not consider me.
In one case where I can only imagine the universe or some higher power leading me: I was looking up a contact for my sister and ended up being invited for a call. I joined the call thinking it was a good moment to catch up with an old friend. We had met while networking at various conferences and meetups. His company needed someone of my caliber and with my experience to join their team. Further, they were willing to go above and beyond my expectations to make it work.
From the thirty or so jobs I applied to on LinkedIn I was called to interview for only one. From the people I connected with from my network, I received two job offers.
Know your value
I did not know my value when I was young. As a result of not understanding my worth, I burned myself out frequently and changed my career several times.
Your value is more than compensation and benefits packages. Your value is also what has brought you this far on your career path and what makes you unique. Your value is the sum of your parts and what you bring to the table.
In my journey to find my next job I was lucky to have the guidance of several key friends who through their words and actions help me to remember my value even when post partum turmoil threatened.
One friend who worked for a large consulting firm shared with me a questionnaire that helped align my skills and thoughts to find the direction I wished to take for my career.
A fellow mom, of my son’s daycare friends, who had held a position supporting Women in Business Management at the University of Toronto, reached out to me to spend an hour giving advice on how to not accept less than my prior base salary, to apply above what I thought I could do, and to push myself to a higher role than I had had before. Rejoining the workforce should be a push up instead of a settling down. Strangely, this was a very hard pill for me to swallow. I felt so run down in my day to day as a mom that it bled into my confidence.
A BFF chided me when I was considering an offer. Her exact words were
“… this is the minority immigrant daughter in you that thinks you have to accept what is given because it was offered… so what if you refuse? You will get another offer. If you look, you will find what you want. Don’t settle for anything less.”
Other friends in my circles were pure inspirational in terms of their own entrepreneurial endeavors. I was lucky to know many women who had re-built their careers after motherhood. Several had self imposed restrictions such as being out of the workforce for 6 or more years. Others had suffered the slights of their male dominant work places as they returned from maternity leave forcing them to escape the environment altogether. There is nothing more liberating than realizing you have no time for nonsense.
Working moms are not free.
We are juggling a hundred conflicting needs and effortlessly doing things that leave our husbands or other family members, friends, and colleagues in awe. We are mending broken toys and hearts. We are singing to console and listening to small and loud voices telling us of their woes. We are also the ones who drive communication; keeping in touch with people. In our attempts to not ‘nag’ at our loved ones, we practice finite wisdom and patience.
So of course that will spill into the productivity and efficiency of our work life. Suddenly, we have people around us who appreciate our words and listen. We get things done. We listen. We communicate. We are excellent project managers.
- Make the time and DO the time
- Ask for help, ask loudly and ask often
- Reach out to your network, don’t impose limits
- Do not accept any offers that leave you uneasy, trust your instincts
- Use a survey/questionnaire/tool to help define clear goals for your career
- Remember to interview the company/group (this is not all on you)
- Know the worth and value of what you bring to the table
- Talk to close trusted friends about your options
- Talk to other people in your field or related about salaries and aim high
- Do not let the limitations imposed on you by motherhood keep you from achieving your dreams
A final word on the Limitations of Motherhood to a career
Networking is hard. You do not have the time you had in your 20s or pre-childbearing years for staying out late. You may have to support your spouse who is also working. Its a tough choice but you will spend less of your time wasting your time. Enjoying a night out without the spouse and kids becomes liberating.
Kids will get sick. While kids are young, some things will seem impossible. Life is long. If you really want to pursue that extra Masters degree or take a night course, work late nights, or start your own company — the time and funds will come. If its a priority and if it is important, trust that you will make it happen.
Self care is often times the last thing on your list. Re-joining the workforce is liberating and will provide the needed release both financially and in terms of adult interactions that may restrict a stay-at-home mom in the long run. There is a balance and working is not the same as going to the gym or spending a day reading a book. What you do with your time is a choice and YOU own that choice.
Best of luck with your endeavors and I hope this helps you to rise up along the way.
You are not alone. THIS is a global issue.
Why women in their 40s, 50s and beyond are a force to be reckoned with in the workplace By Halley Bondy, NBC News, 17 Dec 2019
Women who take an extended maternity leave face a tougher return to work By Lesley Evans Ogden, University Affairs, 27 Nov 2019
Indian women still pay the “motherhood wage penalty” when they return to work By Sangeeta Tanwar, Quartz India, 8 Dec 2019
Offering parental leave isn’t enough — Companies need re-entry programs too By Jeff Miller, Forbes, 18 Dec 2019
Returning to work: out of the loop or older and wiser? By Alana Kirk, Irish Times, 22 Nov 2019
It wasn’t long before I started missing the sense of adequacy work gave me By Atoanela Safca, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Dec 2019