My mom went back to work after being a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. I laugh a little at that title because we never stayed home — we were always out and about with my sister during that time, as I’m sure most stay-at-home moms today can relate to.
I don’t remember ever talking about if she worked or didn’t and why, but given her drive and personality it seemed natural when she did.
As the new school year gets going, it seems natural that some women will think about heading back to work and what it will mean for their family.
For me, my mom’s decision to go back to work was life changing in a good way for my whole family. And while it’s hard to boil down everything I learned as a result of her transition and subsequent second career, there are five things I’ve carried with me:
1. You can take a break — a long break — to be with your kids and still have an incredibly successful career — perhaps one in an entirely new direction.
My mom stopped working on the communications team of a Fortune 500 company while she was pregnant with me. Ten years later, while at a brunch, someone overheard her talking about the stock market and gave her his card, suggesting she might be interested in financial planning. This simple moment catapulted her into a thriving financial advisory business that had nothing to do with her first career, but ultimately a successful one to include the launch of her own firm.
I offer this point because a lot of women worry about the breaks they’ll take to be with their children. My friend Johanna Beyer who is a career coach actually says taking a break can be great for your career, and this recent Fortune article talks about it too.
2. You can find work where you work on your own terms.
My sister and I do laugh remembering when my mom would pick us up after school once she started working again — she usually peeled into the parking lot on two wheels to make sure she got there on time. But otherwise we took the bus home or had after school activities and carpooled home with other friends. There likely was some transition in our family from mom not working to working but I really can’t remember any, and I never wished that she didn’t work. This was pre-mobile phones and pre-email of course, and I do think the ability to compartmentalize those as a working parent is really important for your kids. But the point here is that she picked a career that would allow her to work largely on her own terms. She worked incredibly hard, and often woke by or before 5 a.m. to get a start on the day. When looking ahead to my own career, I never doubted that I could work how I wanted to work because I knew it could be done.
Bottom line: Be selective and seek companies that can work with you.
3. The importance of modeling work to children.
I learned a lot as a kid from my mom having a career. I learned the freedom it can bring financially and how valuable it can be to find inspiration in your work. And I learned a lot from watching two parents run their own businesses — the pressures and responsibilities included with the rewards. I hope my kids learn the value of work from me and my husband.
4. The importance of having a partner who supports your ambitions.
Before going back to work, my mom’s focus was me and my sister, and my dad’s career, which took us to six different cities by the time I was nine years old. Since her return to work, one of the biggest keys to her success has been the ongoing and unconditional support of my father, who was and still is her biggest advocate. Sheryl Sandberg writes about this in LeanIn, too. I’m lucky to be married to someone who is a willing participant in my risky decision to leave my job and start my own business.
5. How to make dinner.
I realize this may sound silly in relation to my other points here, but truly my mom’s work is the reason I can work throw a meal together really quickly! Her working led to some additional responsibilities for me. For example, when we were older, she would call and ask me to get dinner started. There was generally some kind of meat thawing in the sink and we would talk through how to cook it. I learned to make pork chops, round steak, roast, stir fries, spaghetti, stuffed peppers, chicken, salad, sides, vegetables, tacos — you name it. And don’t get me started on working with left-overs. The dinners were never fancy — her recipes were always very simple and relatively quick to make. I didn’t even know about cilantro back then. Whatever it was, I’d get it started, and we would usually finish it together.
And it’s that part — the together part — that I remember most from my mom going back to work.