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Guest blog: Work - is it getting easier to re-establish your career after time off for kids?

(16 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 11-Jun-13 12:12:13

In today's guest blog, columnist, author and blogger Gaby Hinsliff spies glimmers of hope for women who are struggling to return to work after taking time off to have children.

Read the post, and do share your own experiences. Did you glide seamlessly back into place after a career break - or was it all a bit of a struggle? If you blog about it, don't forget to leave your URL on the thread - and feel free to share this post far and wide via the social media buttons at the top of the page!

As Gaby mentions, she'll be appearing at Mumsnet Workfest this Saturday. There are still a few tickets left, so if you're struggling with work issues, do come and join us.

"NOTHING kills a career like walking away from it - or so we're always told.

The nice things said at leaving parties soon get forgotten: doors stay ajar for a bit, but after a few months they're inevitably closing. The world moves on, and after four or five years - just when the woman who gave it all up to be with her kids finally gets a second wind - tough, it's too late to come back. But what if it wasn't like that?

For the last week, I've been interviewing women who bounced back after breaks of anything up to 17 years into genuinely stellar careers. The controller of BBC Radio Four, the MP advising David Cameron on family policy, one of the scientists behind that front page story recently about how diet in pregnancy affects the baby's IQ.... The article's finished now and published in today's Times (here, if you're a subscriber) but my inbox is still pinging with emails belatedly suggesting women who took time out and are now apparently running the world (check out this American site for more heartening stories: can we please have something similar here?).

Nobody's pretending this kind of comeback - or as Lily Allen calls it, mumback - is easy. Everyone I interviewed struggled at first and the best advice for exhausted parents tempted to give up work is to try going part-time if you can, and keep your options open. But while that's great advice if you're thinking of leaving, it's rubbish if you've already left: hence the Times article.

Which turns out, frankly, to be the most cheering thing I've written in years: so much so that I want to shove it under the nose of every employer - nevermind every stay-at-home mother who would love to do more now the kids are at school but thinks she'll never get back into a job worth having and there's no way she could do what she did five years ago because she's not the same person and oh god it's all too scary). Because talking to women who'd done it, there are three reasons to hope it might be getting easier.

1. Women are having kids later, which means they're established in their fields and have built solid reputations by the time they quit. And that creates the platform for a comeback. You've still got the brain you had before, whatever it's done for the last five years.

2. Social media makes it easier to stalk your old boss. All the women I spoke to advised tapping into your old contacts, not just firing off CVs. LinkedIn and Facebook make it quicker to find and reactivate your network.

3. Working life is getting longer, which is crucial because women who have taken time out naturally lag a bit behind colleagues who haven't, and are often older than average by the time they're ready for senior positions. One good thing about no longer retiring at 60 is returners are less likely to run out of time to make it.

The only tricky question, of course, is whether this heaps yet more pressure on full-time mothers who are perfectly happy at home to get a job....

PS If any of this strikes a chord, Mumsnet has a big conference this Saturday June 15 on going back to work (or, indeed, changing careers). I'm speaking at it, so please come and say hello."

Gaby Hinsliff is the author of Half a Wife: A working family's guide to getting a life back

Amazinggg Tue 11-Jun-13 22:10:50

I gave up my well paid, rewarding, highly thought of role to stay home with DS. He's now 18mo and I'm starting to want to do some freelance stuff. The problems I'm facing are a bit more direct: how do I plan and prepare for a return to work when I'm 24/7 on duty atm with childcare and all the housework? DH is also successful career-wise, works long hours, and so on. I have no energy or brain left at the end of the day / week to make business plans and be creative. It's a chicken and egg situation for me - I need a few hours a week of childcare to start to do stuff, but we can't afford it until I'm earning. My job is to look after DS - who else will do it? - and keep the house clean, stocked up and working. I am so frustrated but don't see a way forward. I want to work for myself but it's not as simple as being skilled and having a great CV. Childcare is important, not a little thing to consider but the absolute overriding thing. Even when DS is at pre-school and beyond, his needs will take priority so I will still struggle I think. Ask me again in 18 years...

VillaEphrussi Wed 12-Jun-13 18:24:13

Amazinggg, I sympathise, as it's tiring when your child is 18mo, but can you work from home at night while he sleeps? I left work when I had my first, five years ago, and have managed to carve out enough clients to take up a few hours every night, which means I can still look after the children myself during the day. It's a bit of a dream really - I left work only intending to look after the children until they got to the nursery year of school, but actually I'm enjoying doing both now without sacrificing my childcare. The only reason I'll go back to my initial career is for mortageability! Is this sort of night work practicable in your field?

Amazinggg Wed 12-Jun-13 20:07:09

Thanks - I can't really say much without outing myself, but it's in the performing arts so not really... I have managed to get myself working on Saturday mornings, but it feels like the worst of both worlds atm... sigh.

Daytee Wed 12-Jun-13 21:04:25

@villaephrussi I would suggest you look at a couple of weekends when you can go to the Library without 18 mo and write up your business plan. I realise your sleep must be precious to you at this time so no chance of doing an all nighter till at least the next 6 months when your 18 mo is sleeping better.

However, you will find once business has launched that dishes can wait and so can tidying up. It takes time to find a balance even as a work at home Mum. Just take things in your stride and never give up on your dreams. You can do it!

VillaEphrussi Wed 12-Jun-13 21:04:40

Ah I see, not something you can do discreetly in your pyjamas then!

VillaEphrussi Wed 12-Jun-13 21:05:24

Sorry that was to Amazinggg

Amazinggg Wed 12-Jun-13 21:53:42

I do sort of hate 'the dishes can wait' - can they? Can they? Will fairies swoop in and do them? Because if I don't do them, they won't wait, they'll fester and the next day a million more will pile up. Not glamorous, mundane, but fucking necessary. Dishes need to be done, children need to be cared for. Any task I don't do today will have to be done tomorrow in the hours I can magic up from sunrise to sunset.

I wasn't going to reply again / don't want to thread-hog - but I can't stand the assumption that mundane household tasks are done for fun [anger]

ginthepidge Thu 13-Jun-13 07:23:22

Amazinggg, I'm in a similar situation at the moment.

At my gym they have a morning creche open for 2 hours Mon - Sat (you remain onsite). Cost isn't too prohibitive (£4.50/hour for members & £6 for non-members) & you can work in the the cafe using wifi during that time (+ headphones if you need to). I've started to take my 13mth old to the creche for an hour a few times a week to get him used to being looked after by other people & to prepare him for when I take on more freelance work. Could this type of arrangement be something you could look into?

If your budget really can't stretch, could you offer to look after a friend's baby of a similar age for a couple of hours & she return the favour once a week so you can get a bit of work done?

I definitely find I'm fresher in the mornings to tackle any work, e-mails, admin.

Best of luck!

Littleredant Thu 13-Jun-13 09:47:15

Amazinggg, 24/7 childcare and housework really doesn't leave any space does it? If it's feasible, Gin's suggestion is a good one for now and would also give you an opportunity to get away from the relentlessness of it all. Because it really can be relentless, but it does change and becomes easier to cope with eventually.
It might help to remember that state-funded Nursery provision will kick in under 18 months time and may be best to try to plan for that kind of timescale.

My own experience is that as a returner it can be very hard if you're going into a new work environment and haven't got a supportive employer. The part-time route can be potentially soul destroying as many 'professional' jobs aren't designed that way (they are 24/7 and part-time doesn't compute) and employers'/clients'/co-workers' expectations are off the radar.

I've had to totally change my expectations salary-wise etc and have relaunched myself via minimum-wage temping and a very part-time evening job. It is scary, it is nerve-wracking, I worry about my old age, but hey I'm out there and loving it! I've also got the satisfaction that my child is a happy, healthy 12 year old who I'm now encouraging to age-appropriate independence.

CatsAndTheirPizza Thu 13-Jun-13 15:33:44

Noting with interest that there are so few replies to this, despite it being on the front page. That probably says it all really.

It's really hard. In my case - husband usually works away, ridiculously short primary school day. Most part time jobs in my field are for four days a week, which is great in term time (though after and post school child care extortionate and what do you do with an 11 year old who is too old for after school clubs but probably doesn't want to be home alone for 3 hours after school each night?). School holidays would be a nightmare and I would miss out on so much family time for so little financial gain. My solution has been to start something up myself. Fine with DH around currently, but when he is away again, it will be tough.

Amazinggg I so relate to: 'I do sort of hate 'the dishes can wait' - it's not just the dishes though is it, it's the organising after school activities, taking and fetching, playdates, making volcanoes out of fecking paper mache, cake sales, dress up days, PTA events, birthdays, parties, the reading, the tables, the spellings, the projects. Not to mention the most important bit - actually spending time with them.

ssd Sat 15-Jun-13 10:04:06

I'm at the other end of this. I tried to return to my previous career but due to a lack of any childcare here and no family support, in fact elderly parents for me to support into the bargain,I had to walk away from a job I really enjoyed. That was 10 years ago. I've never found a job I enjoyed since, or anywhere near the money I was earning. But as dh earns a low income I've always had to work, mainly part time low paid jobs that have fitted around the kids school days/holidays. But god, its frustrating and soul destroying. Especially when all around me seems to be other mums with great family support networks who look at you like you're mad to be doing what you're doing, like there's a choice.
And no, the dishes cant wait, the dinner needs to be cooked, the kids need looking after all the in service days, the long school holidays, elderly parents need help and support and someone needs to do it and in my case its always been me.

Anyone who does manage to go back to a "stellar career", whatever the hell that is, has money to buy help or family providing it for free and if you have neither you're stuffed.

CatsAndTheirPizza Sat 15-Jun-13 10:22:54

I think you are right ssd, family support can be really important. The people I know who have interesting careers are either pretty senior, have husbands working locally who seem to be on hand, or with young/helpful grandparents.

HoleyGhost Sat 15-Jun-13 15:34:21

I think that there should be more honesty about how crucial it is to have support and how tough it is to come back after a few years out of the workplace.

The women profiled by the OP have suceeded against the odds.

ssd Sat 15-Jun-13 19:37:30

I'd like to ask what support these woman who succeeded in the blog had? A dh with a flexible well paid job? A set of healthy fit grandparents nearby?

until I know I think hmm

bet they never did it on their own

HoleyGhost Sun 16-Jun-13 09:03:27

Yep, as it stands it feels like the OP is pushing an agenda.

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