When our baby initially arrives, we moms rise to the occasion. We bring our A game. We approach child-rearing with the same zeal that got us recognition in our careers. We trot around town in our yoga pants and UGG boots doing errands and feeling as if we might have the hang of this motherhood thing.
Then, the maternity leave ends, and many moms are forced to make some hard choices regarding their jobs and parenthood.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, 55 percent of first-time moms return to work within six months of giving birth. Yet, regardless of whether a mom chooses to stay at home with the kids or work outside the home, often a shift occurs in a mom’s professional self once her first child arrives. “I used to know where I was going professionally, but the baby changed everything,” says Patricia B., a corporate mom who aptly characterizes the challenge of finding balance among parenthood and professionalism. “When I stayed home, I thought about my professional life; and when I was at work, I just wanted to be home with my kid.”
For the 5.1 million stay-at-home moms and the millions of moms who work to financially support their families, what happens to their professional dreams? And how do stay-at-home and working moms keep from becoming a shadow of their once fabulous professional selves when kids start demanding time and focus?
There are no easy answers. However, rest assured that you can find a manageable medium between child-rearing and having a career— one that keeps you from sacrificing your dreams in the working world for motherhood. Here are some tips to guide you along the way.
While mom groups provide support and encouragement on the parenthood journey, they are not designed to help you grow professionally. Join and actively participate in at least one professional group related to your field or your desired field of interest. This helps keep you refreshed on the professional front, and if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you’ll get good use out of all of those clothes that require ironing. For working moms, a professional group can be just as valuable for staying abreast of changes in your field and networking for future career moves.
Continue to Learn
Children are like sponges. We marvel at their eagerness to learn and explore. Moms can be sponges, too. Even if you do not have the luxury of large amounts of free time, take advantage of online courses. A weekly hour-long course can provide additional skills to make you even more marketable now and in the future.
Consider Contracting and Freelancing
You don’t have to abandon all professional plans once kids arrive even if you choose to stay at home. It is possible to continue to contribute to your field through freelancing or contract work. Contact people you know in your field. Let them know you are still involved, and ask them to forward any potential opportunities. Maintain an up-to-date profile on professional networking sites like LinkedIn as a way to stay connected with former colleagues.
A traditional 9-to-5 job may not be for you. Still, many other options exist these days that allow you to fully use your talents and gifts. Explore a work-from-home option that grants you freedom and flexibility to set your own hours, or research business ownership if that permits you the opportunity to achieve your occupational aspirations.
This may come as a surprise to the super-achiever types, but balancing motherhood with professional goals isn’t something that you necessarily figure out overnight. Give yourself permission to relax and accept confusion as part of the process. It takes some women a few years to figure out how to best mesh their roles as a mother and a professional, and that’s perfectly fine.
Stay the Course
With a bit of dogged persistence, mothers can realize their dreams of raising great kids and accomplishing some of their personal and professional goals. One day, you may take a step back from the hard work and realize that you’re enjoying both journeys: being a mother and having a career.