You can be a stay-at-home mom.
For Monica Samuels, it happened when she was standing in front of the salad bar at the Radisson Hotel restaurant in Orlando, Florida. The smell of slightly curdled bleu cheese dressing was making the already nauseous two-month pregnant Monica sick, and it made her realize she couldn’t go back to work after the birth of her second child.
The question: Is it professional suicide to be a stay-at-home mom?
The answer: No. You can take time off but you must have a plan. Quitting is more than saying the words. It requires a strategy. It’s also something an increasing number of professional women are doing. Each year since 2000, a few hundred thousand women more have decided to stay home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year 5.4 million women identified themselves as stay-at-home moms.
For Monica, quitting when she decided to, was a huge sacrifice career-wise. She was working on the 2004 presidential campaign. All those months toiling away in bad hotel rooms and working until the wee hours of the morning were supposed to pay off with a bounty of job offers after the campaign. There she was throwing all those offers away.
What she didn’t throw away were her connections and neither should you. The most important factor in whether or not you are employable when you want to go back to work is whom you know. People still in the loop can tell you where there are job openings. Ex-coworkers and former supervisors who still know your name might suggest you as a possible hire when something comes up. Networking is the one thing you can’t hang in the back of your closet when you decide to shed your suit for sweats.
Optimally, you should know you’re quitting a few months before you do because you need to shore up your contacts at work. Make sure you have all your coworkers’ and supervisors’ contact information. Schmooze. Take people to lunch. Do extra work. Do the assignments others don’t want before you announce you’re leaving. Sow the seeds of good will. Commit yourself to e-mailing these people every couple months, going to lunch once or twice a year and sending Christmas cards.
Besides networking in overdrive, you have to look at other ways you can keep a hand in your career. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are there professional organizations I can join that will help me stay connected?
- Are there other women in my field with whom I can form a loose network? Maybe plan to meet for lunch every couple of months.
- Are there charity or volunteer opportunities that will keep me connected? For example doctors can work in clinics and journalists can teach a section of a course.
- Is there part-time or project work I can do?
- Could being active in politics or religion or the schools help me stay connected? Choose where you spend your time wisely.
- Are there courses I can take that will better me professionally?
Don’t make the mistake so many women who leave work make. Don’t commit one hundred percent of your time to your children. Save a couple of hours a week for yourself. Use that time to keep your contacts alive.
Take a lesson from Brenda Barnes, chief executive officer of Sara Lee Corp. Brenda left a leadership position at PepsiCo to stay home with her kids but she didn’t let her contacts languish. While she was home she:
- served on seven boards of corporations
- chaired the trustees at her former school, Augustana College
- taught a class in leadership at Kellogg Graduate School of Management
When Brenda was ready to go back to work, her contacts and skill sets were up to date. She took the job of president of Sara Lee in 2004 and was made CEO a year later. Not bad for a mom of three who took some time off.
How accepting is your profession to women taking time off? Can you make your job description more family friendly?
is a former journalist for the Wall Street Journal and Dallas Morning News. She has two children and works from home writing books. She co-wrote Comeback Moms, a nonfiction book about how women can take time off and go back to work seamlessly. She also wrote The Dallas Women’s Guide to Gold-digging with Pride, a purely fictional novel. She is currently working on her second novel. www.momsnextmove.com.
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