Careers For Moms Returning To Work

RELISH YOUR PAUSE (BUT DON’T FRITTER AWAY YOUR HUMAN CAPITAL)

One of my favorite Sunday morning pleasures is to read the blog Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. She scans the breadth of literature, culture, art, and ideas, and opines on the issues at hand. She is always witty, insightful, and honest. Unlike many modern writers, she is never snarky or unkind.

A few years ago, she ran a piece on British philosopher and writer Alan Watts,249 who is largely attributed with bringing Eastern philosophy to the West. His 1951 book, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, is considered a classic. Of the book, Maria wrote, “What keeps us from happiness, Watts argues, is our inability to fully inhabit the present.” She, and he, could easily have been writing about the challenges many of us face when we try to juggle work with family: how to be in the here and now of childhood when we are tasked with the demands of daily life.

If you have decided to pause your career, you have said with your actions that you believe slowing down and getting on “kid time,” as one women I interviewed called it, is worth investing your human capital.

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And yet when we asked the respondents of our Women on the Rise survey how they felt during their pause, the words “guilt,” “self-doubt,” “fear,” and “anxiety” were repeated again and again. These highly educated, highly skilled, highly capable women were riddled with negative emotions that undermined their ability to enjoy their decision to focus on their families. In other words, they couldn’t inhabit the now and so weren’t truly happy.

As one said, “I spent most of my time worried I wouldn’t be able to get back to my career so I was never fully present with my children.”

I remember one sunny afternoon when my then-four-year-old son was lying in the middle of our small backyard lawn. We lived not too far from the airport, and he liked to watch the planes circle above as they prepared to land. He begged me to come and lie down with him, but I was pacing back and forth, worrying about the consulting client I had just lost, and trying to decide if I should go back to full-time work. We needed the money. “Mom, come here,” William whispered. I ignored him. “Mom, you gotta see this.” His voice was slightly louder, but I still ignored him. “MOM!” “What?” I snapped at him. “Hummingbirds. Tons of them. All over the flowers,” William said, his voice quivering. “They’re gone now. You missed it.”

He was right. I did miss it, and so much more not because I was working and not present, but because I was worrying and not present. Don’t do as I did. Stop worrying. You’ll get back your career, but you’ll never get back that moment when your son shows you a swarm of hummingbirds dancing from flower to flower.

During my pause, the time spent with my children was life changing. I am a better person for the hours we chased butterflies, imagined faces in the clouds, and built castles from wooden blocks. But I also frittered away my time on activities that kept me busy but didn’t add value to my life or my career. Why? Because I was worried that if I wasn’t busy, I wasn’t doing something of importance. I know I am not alone.

Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte spent years overwhelmed by the demands of work and caring for her family. Even though she negotiated a reduced workweek, she still found herself buried by the constant busyness of her life. Her best-selling book, Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, was the result of her personal and professional journey to understand how it is we never seem to have enough time.

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