There’s been a bit of hoopla in recent weeks over Lisa Endlich Heffernan’s admission that she regrets staying at home with her kids. Although I can’t personally relate to the entire nine-point manifesto (for instance, I never felt as though my marriage had a “faint 1950s whiff” as a result of my being at home, and I certainly don’t believe “I let down those who went before me,” as I think the Women’s Movement was about empowering women to make their own choices whatever those may be), I do however see eye-to-eye with her underlying theme: “Although I am fully aware that being a SAHM was certainly a luxury, staring at an empty nest and very diminished prospects of employment, I have real remorse.”
You see, like Heffernan, I have three (nearly) grown boys who no longer need me to chauffeur them around town from activity to activity. And now that I’m staring at their childhood in the rear-view mirror, I have lots of time to think about how I would have spent my time at home differently.
Back when I got pregnant with my twins, I was working for a travel magazine. Like most jobs in journalism, my wages were meager but I loved what I did. At first I thought I would continue working after my boys’ birth but as I began to check out facilities and weigh the cost of twins in daycare—a double whammy indeed—it was clear that it simply wasn’t financially feasible. The cost of good-quality childcare took way too much of my weekly paycheck to justify my working outside the home. For the first few months of my fraternal twins sons lives, however, we gave it a go as my husband freelanced from home allowing me to continue working. But it was tough. Having only a cubicle as my office, I was forced to pump my breast-milk while sitting on a toilet in the ladies’ room! And I missed my babies terribly. I remember bursting through the door every evening running right past my man eager to get my hands on my kids. I needed my fix of that new baby smell! It wasn’t easy for my husband either who literally juggled two babies on his lap while trying to work at his computer. So when he was offered a full-time job with benefits, we both jumped at the chance—I wanted back in the house; he wanted out.
So for 17 years, I immersed myself in my boys’ lives not really thinking about the future once they would leave the nest. For me, it is not a question of regret, however. I want to be clear—this is not an assault on stay-at-home moms. I’m very happy that I had those precious years with my sons. I valued our time together and continue to think that no one could have cared for them better than I. Rather, I just wished that I had thought about an exit strategy. Between diaper changes, library story time, volunteering in the classroom, and general taxing my kids around town, I should have been thinking a little more about networking, keeping my skills relevant and sharp, and yes, even working part-time. Professionally, I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones having been able to eke out a living as freelance writer, albeit a modest one. However, I worry about how long I can keep this up. In a year or two, will my articles, books and blog posts be relevant to a new generation of moms with twins?
Maybe. Maybe not. And if not, then what? These are question that I’ve been grappling with for more than a year as I’ve been investigating working outside the home. I don’t want to give up freelancing necessarily but I’d like to find a job outside the home within my industry. But finding a job is proving to be difficult. I have great skills but as a middle-age mom who hasn’t seen the inside of an office for 17 years, I’m a little late to the game. There are plenty of other younger, more cutting-edge journalists out there competing for the same jobs. It’s not impossible to find work but at my juncture in life it’s improbable.
As the elder statesman here, I’d like to offer you younger stay-at-home moms some advice:
- Stay relevant. Even if you think you don’t want to head back to work any time soon, pretend you will. Subscribe to your industry trade journals and read them. Stay on top of industry trends. Join networking groups and occasionally attend a meeting. Keep your licenses current.
- Network. Keep in touch with former co-workers via email. Meet for lunch at least once a year. Create and maintain a Linkedin account.
- Make volunteering work for you. Don’t shy away from volunteering at your children’s school. Instead go for it and take on leadership positions. You may not be paid for your time and energy but it is work experience nonetheless and can be used to pad your resume.
- Consider a part-time job within your industry. Even if it’s just a few hours a week, keeping your toe in the water will help tremendously if you do decide to head back to work in a few years.
So…what’s your exit strategy?