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Every woman will weigh different aspects of career and family before restarting her career. To see if you're ready, Maria Bailey, founder of BlueSuitMom.com, says you should make a list of your values and priorities.
"If you value personal growth, and a priority for you is to contribute financially to your household, then these two items are in balance and are a pretty good indication that by going back to work, you will fulfill a value and priority," Bailey says.
When your values and priorities are out of alignment, you find yourself feeling out of balance and searching for something to make you happy, Bailey says. Getting back to work could be the answer.
After being out of the workforce, whether for a short time or for more than a decade, you're probably going to wonder if you're up to the task of going back.
Making the decision to go back to work -- and actually starting in an office -- will be nerve-wracking, but it doesn't have to be so stressful that you can't function, says Dr. Peter A. Wish, a psychologist based in Sarasota, Florida, and author of Don't Stop At Green Lights: Every Woman's Guide To Taking Charge of Her Life and Fulfilling her Dreams (Adams, 1998).
"Expect the first-day jitters," Wish says. "Expect to be nervous, and if it turns out that you aren't, it's a bonus."
Your feelings while getting back in the game may depend a lot on how long you've been out of the workforce. If you're not sure about how you'll stack up next to your coworkers, Wish recommends you consider some additional job training in your field.
Bailey says many women worry that spending a long time out of the workforce makes them less desirable to a future employer. But those fears are mostly unfounded, she says.
"These women do not realize that since they originally left the work world, the work world has gained a great appreciation for the multitasking abilities of women and, in particular, mothers," she says. "It's a skill perfected by mothers who have to juggle carpool, homework, household chores, and personal needs."
Bailey says there's also a perception that working mothers are more productive in the workforce because they have to focus on getting their job done in the office -- so they can leave on time to get to their job at home. She says the old saying, "Want to get something done? Give it to a busy person," is taken to heart by many employers.
Bailey says women who have been off the job for a long time should include volunteer positions and community work on their resumes. It shows you used your management skills or people skills while you were away, she says.
If you're not stressing about the work itself, but about the impact your return to work will have on your family, there are steps you can take to make the transition easier on everyone.
Communication with your family is the key to balancing your new mix of work and home life, says Wish. If you communicate closely with family members, you can get them to come along for the ride.
"If a woman took off to raise the kids and now the kids see she's not home, they may have some resentments," he says. "But if everyone is prepared properly, it reduces the resentment."
If you're married, Wish suggests enlisting your husband's cooperation in amending his schedule to allow for more time at home. Or, make sure the kids are involved with other activities when you're not going to be around. You can also give kids special jobs to help out around the house, which could bring the family closer together.
To help ease kids' worries, plan to spend special times together, including weekends. Make sure your kids know they're still special to you, and that you enjoy spending time together.
Wish says you have to plan for some guilt, but guilty feelings will dissipate, especially as they are replaced by the joyful feelings of earning a paycheck and shaping a career.
"If working is good for you, it's good for your family and good for your head," Wish says.
Bailey says a lot of women don't give themselves permission to feel good about going back to work, and that's a mistake.
"There will always be some kind of guilt, like eating Oreos with whole milk," she says. "You have to take ownership of your decision and say, 'This is what I want,' and then find a way to make it benefit you and your family."
It's important to create a support network, Bailey says, that includes your spouse and friends. And don't be afraid to ask for help.
"It's not about being Super Mom, it's about being Smart Mom," she says.
If you go back to work but decide you're unhappy, nothing says you can't quit. You don't lose anything by trying.
Bailey says you shouldn't walk away with a sense of failure or disappointment. It's simply that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
"Life is a journey and there is a lesson you have learned in going back," she says. "You've probably discovered something about yourself that will make you a better stay-at-home mother."