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10 Things I wish I'd known before I took time out of the workforce

April 23rd, 2008 at 06:40 pm

When I had my son, I quit my job as a software engineer. I considered it a sabbatical rather than a career change to permanent SAHM, and knew I would eventually go back to work. When DS was 20 months, I found a contracting company that enables me to work at home 20 hr/wk. I thought this contest entry might be useful to people who have a real choice about working or staying home, and realize that not everyone can afford to do so.

1. It's worth taking some time off.
I thoroughly enjoyed the two years completely focused on my boy and would recommend it to anyone. It's a short enough time to not completely set your career back to ground zero, but gives you time to watch and enjoy the day by day changes that your child goes through in the years when they're changing the fastest. I like to think of it this way -- if someone offered you a once in a lifetime chance to quit your job and travel around the world for a year, would you do it?

2. Join a playgroup ASAP.
I waited until my son was 3 months old before joining a playgroup. If I'd known what a lifesaver it is, I would've forced myself to get out there sooner. Just having the chance to get out of the house and chat with other moms is a lifesaver when you are a SAHM.


3. You can keep the cleaning lady.
Before I decided to stay home, my biggest dread was the drudgery of housework. I had this notion that a SAHM was REQUIRED to do the cooking and cleaning. It was the least appealing thing about the job description. I planned to keep our cleaning lady for the first 3 months and then take over these duties. As the deadline approached, it occurred to me that if I could find room elsewhere in the budget, it was really my choice as to whether to spend the money on cleaning or on other things. Don't let preconceived notions of what you "should" do box you into a corner.

4. Have faith in your ability to restart your career.
The scare-mongerers out there like to make a big deal about the number of elderly women in poverty, and what happens if you get divorced. I truly believe that if you keep your time out to just 2 or 3 years at a stretch, it's not such a big deal to find work again.

5. Network, Network, Network
The best thing I did was to continue to go out to lunch with old coworkers. It directly led me to the part-time job I now enjoy. (My mother was available to babysit, but if necessary, find another mom to trade time with.)

6. There will be regrets.
Another woman at my old job became pregnant a few months after I left. She decided to continue working, and is now director of software. There are days that I think with regret that that could've been me, and I doubt I will be the one to break any glass ceilings in the future. For every decision there is a trade-off -- something lost, something gained. Make peace with that beforehand.

7. Try harder for part-time or a job share before you leave. Now that I know how much I like working part time, I wish I'd pushed harder for staying at my last job, in a part-time capacity. I'll never know what would have happened if I'd found a job-share partner and really made a case for how it would work. On the other hand, I really loved having no other pull on my attention during the first year, so I guess what I really wanted was a LONG maternity leave and then a job share! Smile

8. 30 months is ideal developmentally. I started working when my son was about 22 months, but if I had to do it over, I'd wait until he was 30 months old. I just see such a difference in his interaction with other kids and lessening of separation anxiety at this stage that I would recommend it as a better age.

9. Nannies come from Craig's List. If you work part-time, a nanny that comes to your home costs about the same as part-time daycare and offers you a lot more flexibility. Craig's List is THE place for nannies/babysitters and families needing childcare to meet each other. You can post to find someone whose schedule suits yours. You can find college students, a SAHM who wants to care for a second child, or a nanny who works part-time for another family and wants to pick up more hours.

10. Working 5 half-days is better than 3 full days I work 5 half-days, where a coworker with two preschoolers works 3 full days. We put in the same number of hours each week(usually between 18-22), but it seems that I'm able to respond to emails and meetings a lot easier than she is. I also feel fresher working a shorter stretch at a time. It seems easier on my son to have more a more consistent schedule day-to-day as well. Of course, it does make a difference to be working from home, as commuting is not a factor.

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