In an ideal world, you would really be able to “have it all.” You know, the perfect parent with a model career, which fits neatly alongside family life.
The reality is, though, parents often feel like they’re under pressure from all directions. Naturally, you want to do the best for your children and support your family unit. Oftentimes, this means one parent taking a break from their career, dedicating their time instead to raising a family. Many of us worry about the impact this decision will have on our long term career, and whether we’ll ever be able to pick up where we left off.
Taking time out for family doesn’t have to negatively affect your career path. But there are some considerations–and some smart steps to take–to ensure that you can still access the roles you want when you’re ready to reenter the workforce.
Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
Plan your time out or risk resenting it
There are pros and cons to taking time out of your career to raise your family. You might worry about slowing your career progression, but it’s also common to find yourself missing adult company when you’re at home with tiny humans most of the day. Of course, that’s without even considering the financial impact of losing pay, pension contributions, and other benefits.
Whatever you do, time out will have some impact on your career. For many people, the benefits of spending time at home far outweigh the potential pitfalls. However, it’s a big decision and more likely to pay off if you plan for the time in advance.
You should think through the financial impacts. Also plan how you’ll balance your varied roles as a parent, a partner, and an adult in your own right. Keep a flexible mindset if you can. Each individual and family unit will have a unique way of organizing life. If you decide to take time off work, but ultimately the arrangement doesn’t suit you, have a backup plan so you don’t feel trapped.
Prepare for the Unexpected With a Flexible Career Plan
You risk long-term damage–not only of your career, but of your personal confidence–if you end up resenting your time spent out of the workforce.
Avoid missing professional development opportunities
Time out of work can cause you to fall behind your peers in terms of professional development or lose track of the latest changes in your field of work. As well as making it more difficult to reintegrate into your previous job, this can damage your confidence… you may feel like the world is moving on without you.
However, it’s not inevitable. You can still take advantage of professional development opportunities when you’re staying home if you plan carefully. In some cases, you might be able to formally arrange to spend some time in the office to maintain relationships and undergo any necessary training. In the UK, these (paid) days are known as “keep in touch” days. However, even if there is no formal arrangement for doing this, it’s worth talking to your boss about setting something similar up if you can afford to take the time away from your child.
If that’s impossible, keep up by reading industry news or taking online courses. Follow your business and its competitors on Twitter and Facebook to get the latest updates. Listen to podcasts presented by industry insiders. If you enjoy writing, you could even consider contributing to industry press, which has the added benefit of giving you an online footprint during your time off.
You’re building new (marketable!) career skills
Don’t underestimate the skills you’re building while you’re out of the workforce. The “soft” skills of parenthood can be hugely valuable, and deserve a place on your resume. Parents who return to work tend to have developed better prioritization and planning skills–of course, these are needed to ensure you can deliver at work while still holding home life together. Working parents also have strong drive and resilience. Their renewed focus can make for a big leap in productivity, which is an asset for management.
Periodically review your resume and update the skills section to remind yourself of how you’re developing as an individual and reflect your growing list of transferable skills.
Aside from better organization and planning, it’s also common to have more empathy (and find that you’re better at building relationships), once you return to work from having a family. Having kids is a life experience many people share. You can make this shared experience a way to build new and deepen existing, relationships, taking your work connections to another level.
Isolation can damage your confidence
Being home with children can be an isolating experience if you’ve always been part of a strong work team. You can easily go from being with other people day in and day out–those you know well, and with whom you share goals and purpose–to rarely seeing other adults outside of family. While this is inevitable to a degree, especially with very young children, it’s important to find ways to be involved with other adults. Isolation has a way of denting your confidence.
With parenthood, your friendship groups might naturally change. Get to know other parents by joining local groups and clubs, but also keep in touch with work colleagues when possible. Simply meeting colleagues on a social basis is an important link to your professional life.
Even better, if you are able, is to find opportunities through a site like Meetup.com. That way, you can get to know other professionals and grow your network, even while you’re out of work. If you really can’t make time to get out and meet people face to face, try joining professional groups on LinkedIn. There, you can get involved in discussions and stay up-to-date with industry developments.
Feel free to think ‘outside the box’ if adjusting your goals
Although taking time out of the workforce might impact the long-term future of your career, becoming a parent will also make a significant difference. You may even find that your ambitions change. This is actually very common; having family commitments could be the catalyst that makes you think creatively about your working future. While you might choose to adjust your career goals, though, you certainly don’t need to ditch them.
Maybe you decide you don’t want to work full time after taking a period of time off. Think differently: how about part-time, flex, contract, or even online work? You might stay at your current workplace but ask to work from home or to take on more family-friendly hours. You could also set up your own business or exploit a hobby in order to make some cash. A side hustle has the ability to not only bring in additional income, but also be a segue into a career you didn’t even realize you wanted. The increased autonomy and flexibility may be just what your new family needs, too!
Making a dramatic career pivot is fairly common these days, as the popularity of online/remote working has brought with it many new opportunities. Taking time to reassess your career options when a baby comes along can make you see ideas you never thought existed.
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Although taking time out of the workforce to raise a family might signal the start of a new chapter in your career, there is no need for it to be the beginning of the end. Combining your new skills as a parent with your professional experience can give your career a real boost. You never know… it might even be the springboard to starting something new and incredibly rewarding.
What’s something you (or your spouse) learned from taking time away from a career to focus on family? Would you choose the same path if you could do it all over again?