Should I take a break from work?

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PSP working mothers talk about taking a break from work. This article summarizes two exchanges on our PSP forums, one discussion (2014) with a parent working part-time and deciding whether she should stop, and another thread (2017) about one mother on maternity leave who is debating whether she should return to her job

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Original Poster:

"I'm hoping for advice from some of you who took a "break" from the paid workforce for some period of time. The good, the bad, advice on what you wish you had done differently, etc. I am currently 3 days a week at work, but have been notified that I'll need to either go back to full time (with crazy hours, which I can't imagine) if I want to continue at the organization I work for. I love the job, most days, but can't imagine going back full time as it would mean nearly never seeing my one year old during the week. I don't want to miss out! I'm inclined to take this time to study for the CA bar exam and job search out there, closer to family, but this probably means being out of the workforce 6-9m at least. Trying to wrap my head around this decision, would love to hear about others experiences!"

 

Responses:

 

Be prepared to work hard, and work hard during your down time:

"I am an attorney in private practice. I totally 'get' you. I came from London where I was a qualified solicitor, working at a Magic Circle firm. The move from an English firm to a US/NYC firm was a massive culture shock. Its INSANE what US attorney hours and expectations are - I don't understand why the navel gazing then, on why women make the choices they do.  The way I have made it work with two children, is to work like crazy from 9am - 5pm in the office, at the desk (when I am not traveling) then come home for dinner/bath and bed, and start up again at 8pm till whenever-o-clock. This is with the caveat that there is no client emergency - and - more importantly - I am an advisory lawyer. So I can somewhat command that break in the day on most days. If that is an option for your type of lawyering, perhaps you want to consider going back full time, i.e. Monday - Friday, but with the ability to work flexibly? Is that possible? I am so sorry you find yourself in this position. Also - I took the NY Bar when my daughter was 14 weeks old. NOT fun. Lets discuss, if you like, how to juggle that demanding task. Good luck. As someone else has said earlier - your gut knows what is best for you."

"Can you negotiate working from home in evening?  I would try that before leaving - I agree with those stating the extreme penalty in pay / stature when folks leave for a bit of time.  So you are home (dinner, kiss go to bed, u go to work)."

 

Take a break - but find work and projects to remain relevant, like blogging and writing:

I just recently made the decision to stay home with my twins full time; my last day is this coming week. So this conversation is very much of interest. I had a break in the past when my now-husband and I moves to NYC. It took me awhile to find a new job (although I was also trying to enter a new industry).  My plan for this break in career is to continue to write for some of the sites/blogs my company maintains to remain "relevant" (& honestly to have something grown-up to do). I work in an industry that's pretty family friendly, but I still worry about my re-entry in a few years (my twins just turned 2, so I'm looking at a three year break). It's really unfortunate that this is the society we live in, but it is a reality that must be factored in to any decision.

 

Think ahead and plan what story you will tell when you return to work:

"Resume-wise and for interviews, it's really helpful to have a "good story" that sounds good to a potential boss for why you took a break (even if it’s not e whole story); best is if you acquired a new credential or skill, which passing the California bar would be. But if it’s "Left my job for family reasons ", that will raise red flags about your juggling ability and commitment level, fairly or not (and knowing how things change as kids get older, I think it often IS unfair, but that doesn’t stop a lot of managers from thinking that way). This matters more for positions where long hours are expected and if you’re ambitious. My poast-break staffer with the 7-year-old is still working for me with her daughter a sophomore in college, at the same job, and that has worked well, but it might not suit everyone."

 

Finding a good job is easier when you already have one:

"Another way to look at that is that it's easier to find a job when you already have one (because of the "good story" issue; resume gaps always make people wonder). So before making a change, be sure that moving to California is a realistic goal, shared by your spouse (I'm assuming you have a spouse or the finances would loom larger?) and reasonable for his/her career too."

 

Push to discover what your options really are:

"If you haven’t already, it may be worth pushing back on or at least digging deeper into the "You have to return to full time" dictate: is that company policy or your particular manager - in which case, could you possibly transfer to another group? - and  how soon do they want you to switch back, meaning how long to you have to job hunt if you need to?"

 

Don't expect to be productive during any time off:

This may be obvious, but: Don't kid yourself that you'll be able to do anything requiring focus, like studying for the bar, while also taking care of your child full time; you'll need more than naptime and evenings or you'll be fried and un productive. So you should probably plan to have paid childcare 2-3 days a week, which will need to figure into your financial calculations. (I know this from watching a co-worker briefly try it and from a couple of friends who finished PhD theses with babies around: as it happened both had babysitters 3 full days a week, and spent time with their children the other 4 days, and that felt OK balance-wise and they did finish up, although it probably took extra time.)"

 

"I have seen time outs only hurt women - leading to multi year breaks and depressed salaries for years."

 

Examine and reflect on the advantage of your situation, and remember that a work/ life balance is as much a creative process as it is a logistical one:

"OK, we are talking about 2 equally important, but very different aspects:

1. We work to make a living. All of us. So, if your job is the only mean that provide food and shelter for your kids and yourself, obviously, keep it. If you are blessed that your salary goes to the nanny, you should think about it, you have a luxury not everyone has.
I am a single mom and afforded to take time off 10 years ago and last year to be with my kids only because I busted my (can I say butt on this forum? LOL!) in my 20s and bought real estate then.

2. Working often becomes a routine, and as a person, and also as a mother, you might be creating bad emotional aggravations for yourself and your family if you are unhappy. You can work in many fields and functions, and maintaining a work-life equilibrium is very complex at times. It definitely can be done creatively.

I believe that one can escape the trap of a corporate job, but it all depends on the person and her circumstances.
A corporate job can be a curse and a blessing, it's up to you to decide what is good for you and for your family. It is true that there are responsible adults who quit and end up not regretting it. It takes careful planning, back up plan, a supportive spouse (if you have one, keep it!!!!!! LOL!!!!)  and the perfect circumstances.
Make all these elements coincide, and voila'!

I have never heard of someone considering taking a break when they are overwhelmed with debt, mortgages and childcare expenses. Am I right?"

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As a longtime retirement-focused columnist and marketing exec, and someone who also unexpectedly found herself as a single mother, I would advise thinking long and hard about the impact on your ability to take care of yourself and your child(ren) -- not just now, but throughout your lifetime. At the very least, bump your and your partner's life and disability insurance coverage.I'm sure (I hope) my kids would like to see me more, but they were also relieved that I managed to keep our home. And I'm very proud of setting that example for my daughter!

 

"I dont think the legal profession is too kind on moms who take a break, especially in today's hyper-competitive market."

 

Further Resources:

"Check out this short doc on women lawyers looking back on their choices... From The New York Times. Twelve years after being interviewed by The New York Times Magazine, five women, who all started their law careers at Debevoise & Plimpton, reflect on ambition, leadership and success.:‘Great Expectations for Female Lawyers’"

 

"I was just reading something about leaving corporate life this morning that I thought this was a little smack of reality. Having been an academic before my corporate job, I had a sense of many of these things-but now I'm a business owner/freelance person I can attest to these things being quite spot on and related to freelancing. This doesn't cover the positive aspects of quitting your job, which we are hearing about from others-KEEP THOSE COMING!

10 Little-Known Facts About Quitting Your Corporate Job

From the article: "I have recently quit my job as a public accounting auditor and decided to make the bold move into becoming an entrepreneur. Two weeks in and I have already figured out why so many people decide to never jump into the world of entrepreneurship. And I can't blame them for it. Below is a breakout of the 10 differences in your way of life between working in Corporate America and becoming an Entrepreneur. However, two weeks in, I still think I made the right decision. Check in with me in a year and we shall see if my opinion still stands."

 

Conclusion, from the Original Poster:

"A belated thanks to everyone who responded for your advice on this. I'm officially taking the leap of leaving work, with the aim of making the break short and focused on making it possible for us to move to CA. I feel lucky that I have that option. The FT gig I was being offered is work I know and love but it does require being on site most evenings 6-8pm; my clients are low wage immigrant workers who are unable to meet during the day. And since I work for a non profit on the low end of the public interest salary scale, the lost income from me stepping away (for what I hope is only a few months) has depressingly little impact on our home finances. I do plan on reaching out to some of you lawyers for the top tips on how to negotiate for (or find) family friendly positions. And hopefully I will finally get my butt to a working mamas meet up in my final month of work ."

 

Original poster:

One parent shares with the group:

"I work for the Department of Education and have been on a childcare leave since my son was born last June. I have to decide in the next few days if I will be returning to work next school year. I enjoy my job but it is far from my first priority right now, so I'm not experiencing a real desire to return to work for work's sake--the decision really comes down to finances. We are doing okay financially but would do much better if I return to work. (We would like to buy a home, for example, but the likelihood of us depleting a big chunk of our savings if I continue to stay home is very real.) I know that this is an incredibly privileged decision to get to make, and in either case my child will be fine. Still, I am really struggling with this and would love to touch base with anyone who also struggled with this decision (which I'm sure is many parents) and talk through how you decided, and what made your decision right for you. (Or what made you change your mind later.)"

Responses:

 

It's a tough decision, with financial, personal, and professional issues intersecting:

"I stayed home and it's tough in its own way, financially and personally. Even with some ongoing freelancing, reentry will be really hard. I wish everyone had the chance to choose good part time work. Even for people without kids, wouldn't three days a week often be just right? I hope you'll round up the responses and post them, because it's fascinating (to me anyway)."

 

Keeping your job is your insurance policy on your future:

"I say go back to work. The biggest reason - you never know what will happen to your partner (you mention "we"). Separation/divorce, death, s/he loses his/her job, a family member gets sick and needs financial support. YOU NEVER KNOW. You need to stand on your two feet alone and that is so much harder to do the longer you stay out of the workforce. Good luck, I know it's not an easy decision to make."

 

Keeping your job means keeping a stable track record, which invaluable down the road:

"Go back to work! While staying home may seem tempting at first, and you are not motivated at all to go back (very common), it's important to keep a resume with no gaps for your own professional future. If you stay home, one day your kid/s will be fully in school and they won't need you as much, and you'd want to go back but you'll have a big gap in your resume which would mean you'll be basically starting from scratch and it will be very hard to find work at that point. Keeping a stable consistent resume and work experience, even if you end up wanting to do something else later and even if childcare eats a big chunk of it - is key. On the personal side, it is perfectly normal to not feel motivated about going back to work. But think about gaining back not just your job, but also an adult environment, which is so important for parents to maintain sanity. And it benefits the kids too - sets up a good positive example and you come home with a different kind of energy."

 

Keeping your job is a personal decision. Do what is right for your and your family, exploring creative options such as negotiating part-time employment or a work from home situation:

 

"Going back to work at any time is a very tough - and personal - decision. I highlight personal because I'm sure you'll get lots of feedback with various opinions. Ultimately, you have to choose what's best for you and your family. With that said, I'm happy to share my experience - I work for a mid-size retail company and had nearly four months off. I went back and forth and back and forth on whether or not to return. In the end, I felt like it was important for me personally to do something outside of being a mom. I went back full time, working from home one day a week (I had FT childcare though so I didn't really get to spend time much extra time with my daughter). After a few months, I was miserable! I was actually surprised just how miserable I was - I felt like I missed all the day-to-day of being with my daughter and only caught the cranky parts of the day. In the end, I ended up being able to work three days a week with two off and it's been really great - I feel very lucky. I get to spend more time with my daughter and still keep my job which I really enjoy.
In terms of finances, it's worked out because I'm still getting a paycheck, but will say that childcare is a huge expense. I would definitely factor that in. Depending on your income, that may use up a big portion of your salary and not make it worth going back.
Something someone mentioned to me that was very helpful is that all this is only for a short time - whether you're looking at from the financial aspect or the time you get to spend with your child. It's really only a few years - if your goal is to buy a home, you can still do that, you may just have to wait slightly longer. Thanks for listening to my tangent and hope this was a bit helpful! I wish you the best of luck with your decision - whatever you choose, it will be the right thing for you and your family."

 

Similarly, this parent worked out a part-time solution as well that is working right for her:

"I don't know if this is a possibility, but I work part time and it's the best of both worlds.  From the time my son was about 6 months until he started a full day (to 2:30) 3s program at 3 1/2, I worked more like 2.5 days, now I work more like 4 in terms of hours, but the majority of it is during his school hours (he's in KG now).  I pick up from school 3 days and do most of his afterschool stuff with him.  It's not always easy and I sometimes have paperwork to do at night or on the weekends, but for this time in his life I think it's the best trade.  Similarly to you we would be able to make it on my husband's salary, but my working makes things much more comfortable and I see it as an insurance policy if he was ever laid off, etc. 
Hope that helps!  Best of luck with your decision."

 

and:

"Fellow DOE Employee here. I worked as a teacher for ten years before my first son was born, and I have to say that the DOE's childcare leave policy was one of the best things...well, ever. Simply the freedom to choose to take more time (and know I had a job waiting for me) was so liberating, and allowed me to actually figure out what I truly wanted to do instead of what I should do. I ended up working F-status two days a week (another great option!) for a different school, doing a different kind of work (first teaching a different subject, then coaching) that I had always wanted to try but never would have been able to do at my original school. F-status money isn't great (it's not quite 100% of your salary step at a daily rate) but certainly better than anything else I could find. Financially, no, it wasn't a great decision, but my husband happened to get a job that paid better, so...who knows what could happen in another year? There are obviously so many factors that you're considering, but I think going back to work when you're not quite ready is really hard - and how much you love the job you're going to makes a big difference. Anyway, I am so, so grateful for getting to spend so much time with my son in early childhood, and so grateful for the DOE's policy."

 

Taking a break for a few years can be worth it:

"I took three years off from work and for me it was the right thing to do. Returning when my kids were both old enough to be in a school setting instead of with a nanny made a sense financially and emotionally. The cost of childcare against my salary, my commute time and the time I would have missed seeing them-- it didn't add up. Now I am back at work and it has been a wonderful transition.
My advice would be, listen to your gut and know that you will never regret time spent with your son now, and if you have an easy path to return a little later that's even better! I had to look for work after being unemployed for 3 years and it is much more challenging to get back into the workforce that way. Being able to extend a leave and come back a little later is a wonderful setup. There are pros and cons to both but that is my two cents. Good luck with whatever you choose!"

 

Similarly, taking a few years "pause" can make financial and personal sense:

"I am a teacher with the DOE.  I had my first daughter in Nov 2013. I had planned to return to work the following September. After a few months I realized how much I loved being home with her. We decided that I would stay home another school year. I would've been paying a nanny or daycare ~75% of my monthly take home so the stress associated with going back to work, leaving my daughter with a stranger, etc just wasn't worth it financially. We are so lucky that we can take a five year pause in the DOE. We had another daughter in March 2015 and I haven't even considered going back to work until my younger daughter starts school. My husband is also an educator so we are not "raking it in." But we are very lucky to be living easily on just his salary and my weekly tutoring take home. You only get one chance to be home with your child when they are pre-school aged. It's going so fast. My older daughter is starting prek in September. I'm going to miss her so much. I honestly never thought I would love being a stay at home parent. I loved teaching but since becoming a parent, I'm not interested in spending all day with other peoples' kids when I could be with my own. Good luck with your decision."

 

Reentry can be a huge challenge:

"Hi -  my kids are much older (almost 6 and almost 10) but I remember having a baby at home like it was yesterday.  Plus I acutely recall the emotional struggle of leaving them to go to work in those early years.  It has always been hard and it is *still* a challenge not to be with them - the emotional tug of being with your child never goes away.  That said, I have been working throughout my entire period of motherhood, I love my career, and I am so grateful to have stuck it out and have no regrets about doing so.  Doesn't mean it was or is easy, but it has been the right call.
If it is helpful, I think you have to start with the realization that it is emotionally hard, and always will be.  Once you reset your expectations, establish a "new normal," and adjust your baseline, it is more manageable.
I would note that workforce reentry is very hard (at your same salary and level of seniority), plus you are a state employee (which probably means decent pension and other benefits, which are hard to come by).
It will be tough, but I would urge you to consider going back in June rather than preemptively dropping out without even having tried to balance both.
Plus, the logistics of childrearing get sooo much easier after they hit school age. There will come a time when your children can make their own breakfast, change clothes, take a shower, read a book, all by themselves :)
Good luck!!"

 

Consider the industry you are in when making this decision:

"I am still home with my nearly 18-mo old and was not planning to take so much time but have been dragging my feet about going back... This may not be a consideration for you, but my main reason for feeling like I need to go back sooner rather than later is not so much short-term finances, but longer term career viability. In other words, I work in the type of industry where if I am "out of the game" for too long it will be tough(er?) to go back in a meaningful way. If you are a teacher/administrator that may not be an issue, but are there other long term implications (e.g. if you don't go back to a board of ed job at this time do you lose long term benefits, seniority, etc)?
I also worry about if I want to have a second child - I wouldn't want to get pregnant immediately after going back to work, but am also at an age where I wouldn't want to wait too long. Delaying a return to work delays a possible second child, but if I choose not to have a second child I will be happy to have spent as much time as possible with #1.
I am loving being home with my baby. I witness every little part of his development and can't imagine missing that... It's such a tough decision, but I do think it's harder on mom than baby... they adjust and are happy either way."

 

Related Reading on Park Slope Parents:

Would you keep the job you have now if you didn't have kids?

Negotiating Hours at Work

The Impossible Juggling Act: Motherhood and Work