Remember the old work-life balance ideal? That place of stability and equilibrium so many of us once aspired to? We were building a sense of purpose in our futures back then, honing our skills, while at the same time focusing on our personal goals of exercise, friends, and hobbies for “all about me” time. And then maybe, like me, you eventually found your focus changed at the hands of your precious newborn, a trade you were happy to make, right along with a good night’s sleep. The joys of motherhood made it all worthwhile.
As the baby bliss settled, a new set of emotions trickled into my maternal joy. Feelings like dismay at finding my five-year-old perched in front of my laptop, trying her best to pry the keys off with a butter knife, or cringing at the sound of the crackers my preschooler crunched loudly from a corner mat in the back of a yoga studio during my desperate attempt to squeeze in some afternoon me-time.
The days danced by as my girls grew from toddlers to elementary schoolers; the daily whirlwind continually spinning while own my life seemed at a standstill. Most days felt chaotic, and my sense of purpose was accompanied by a mild sense of either guilt or worry. Without a source of feedback, I found it hard to know whether I was getting the whole parenting thing right.
Staying at home felt more and more like work, but without the recognition or the paycheck. I remember complaining to my sister, “Going to an office was so much easier, most people pick up after themselves and everyone knows how to use the potty.” Despite these challenges, Pew Research found that more women are staying home with their kids now than in recent history; a full 29% of moms opt into a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) role, at least for a time. Of course, it’s the amazing moments we couldn’t bear to miss, and the privilege of being there for our kids that makes the trade-off worthwhile.
Maternal joys aside, most SAHMs eventually find themselves craving a sense of purpose and recognition beyond family life as their kids become more independent. For some that’s a meaningful volunteer role, while 75% of women a return to the workplace. For reasons ranging from financial necessity to professional recognition, most women choose to reenter the workforce eventually.
Going from work-at-home to a full-time role is a big step, especially when you’ve been out of the workplace for a while. Maybe you’re still in the contemplation stages, not ready to jump back into a 40-hour job just yet. Regardless of your timeline, if you’ve decided to reenter the workforce at some point, it’s never too soon to begin laying the groundwork.
Moving from SAHM to a place of recognition beyond family life begins with meaningful volunteering, regardless of your planned destination. Volunteering is a great way to connect with your community and find a sense of purpose, regardless of returning to the workforce or not. Yet for those planning to find a job, volunteer work offers a bonus opportunity to illustrate how you’ve kept your skills sharp, given back to the community, and is a great testament to the type of employee you’ll be.
Research shows that women returning after a career break are five times more likely to find work through a contact than through a recruiter. The connections you make through volunteer participation will also help you to extend your network, a critical channel to finding your next role. Job seekers who’ve taken an extended absence from their careers for more than a year can use relevant volunteer experience to fill the resume gap as well.
Full-time parenting is both a wonderful and a daunting role that can stretch us to our limits. When you find yourself needing a sense of purpose and recognition beyond family life, volunteering in your local community is a great way to find it. Choosing skill-building volunteer work helps pave the way to a future career path, no matter the road you travel.
Elizabeth Borelli is a professionally trained Career Coach, curriculum developer, and workshop facilitator. Frustrated by a lack of resources for candidates ready to return to work after a career break, she created CareerBuilders Bootcamps, a set of interactive, online courses to accelerate job search success.