Taking Time Off From Your Career to Raise Kids
Part One From the Career Crossroads Series: Stay at Home Parents
When I put my career on hold in 1996 to stay at home with my infant daughter, I had mixed feelings about my decision. I felt I was doing what I needed to do, yet I felt a certain loss of identity. I had worked as a librarian and coordinator of a job information center for six years and had very strong ties to my career.
Yet, my heart told me that I would not be happy leaving my daughter every day. In addition, it made financial sense for me to stay at home. When I subtracted the cost of childcare from my take home salary I realized that what was left wouldn't really make much of a difference.
In time I adjusted to my "new" life and enjoyed watching my daughter go from infant to toddler. However, I felt like something was missing. I felt as if my skills were weakening. I worried that by the time I decided to return to work there wouldn't be a place for me. Not to mention the fact that I was bored — there's a lot of downtime with a small child.
Many of my friends worked and I found it difficult to make new ones. I began looking for things to do while at home — not necessarily to earn money but to keep up my skills and learn new ones. In mid-1997 I became the Career Planning Guide at what was then The Mining Company. I was able to use my knowledge of career planning combined with my research skills to provide information others needed.
I also learned new and valuable things in the process — my knowledge of the Internet deepened and this, in turn, opened up new opportunities. As my daughter got closer to kindergarten, I continued to build my skills so that as she needed me less during the day, I had a career to turn to (and another transition to get through).
What You Can Do
The beginning of your child's life does not need to signal the end of your professional life. The choice is yours though. No one can tell you that you need to concentrate on anything more than raising your family. However, the thing that encouraged me to continue to develop my career while at home was something several women inadvertently taught me.
While at the job information center I worked with several clients who, due to different circumstances, found it necessary to return to work. When asked what skills they had, they all responded that their skills were hopelessly out of date — they had not kept up with the current technology in their respective fields. I swore to myself then, that I would not let that happen to me.
There are several things you can do to stay current. If possible, you can work part-time in your field. You can read professional journals. You can continue to network with former colleagues and remain involved with trade associations. If you would like to learn some new skills or stay on top of skills you already have, you can take continuing education courses or attend seminars. There are also many courses and tutorials available online.