Re-Entry

Does anybody else hate these “working mom” stock photos?

A year and a half ago I re-entered the workforce. It wasn’t an especially convenient time for me to go back to work–I still had two little kids out of school, the youngest of which was barely 18 months old, and I hadn’t finished my Master’s Thesis (in full disclosure, I still haven’t finished the damned thing)–but I was also in very real danger of losing myself. The details are probably uninteresting to most, suffice it to say that after working through another bout of depression it became quite clear that something in my life had to change.

Though having a full time job had added another level of complexity to our family life, I have absolutely no regrets about going back to work. There have been a few things that have surprised me, however, about returning to the workforce. I didn’t have very many models to follow in the transition back to full employment so I thought it might be helpful to share some of my experiences here and allow space for others to do the same in the hopes that it will help other women going down this path.

Here are a few things I would tell a woman re-entering the workforce:

Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. You may feel vulnerable about your extended time off but you don’t need to. Our society is horrible at supporting mothers, no matter what their choice, so normalizing care-taking as a valid life choice is important. But you also don’t have to be the standard bearer if you don’t want to be. I struggled with this a ton when I first went back to work, feeling like people would know that I wasn’t good enough if they knew I had a five year resume gap. In asking for advice from my Exponent sisters, Jana told me I didn’t have to acknowledge my children or the time I took off, that I could keep that part of my life entirely separate from who I am at work. I followed this advice as I transitioned and became more comfortable with being a working mom. In the end, I realized that my time as a stay at home mother was actually an asset and have ended up embracing it. But whether you choose to embrace your past or stay quiet about it, the most important thing is to show up and work hard. In the end, that’s all anybody cares about.

I’m a little embarrassed about this next one but I’m sure I’m not the only Mormon woman who’s dealt with it so here it is: It may take you a while to learn how to interact with men again. I didn’t fully understand just how weird Mormon gender relations are until I went back to work and was genuinely confused as to why so many men were talking to me and actually making eye contact. The only men I came into contact with while I was a stay at home mom were the Mormon men in my ward. In my experience, Mormon men tend to be very formal in the way they treat women. I spent about 6 months feeling like all the men I interacted with professionally were hitting on me. Now some were, but most weren’t. As somebody who had often been vocally critical of Mormon gender relations it surprised me just how bought in I was to the culture. Just know that it may be feel weird for awhile.

The last thing I would say is that the notion that somehow being a working mom will make you appreciate your children more and make all of your time with them “quality time” is a myth. At least it is in my experience. Yes, some of my time with my children is magical but there are also plenty of times where they annoy me and I send them to bed early. I did go back to work thinking that it would make me a more fun-loving mother but that didn’t happen. I have found that I mother much the same way I did before, with a mixture of good moments and some bad. Overall, I think I am a better mother when I work full time because I am not clinically depressed and I think that is better for my children.

Those are a few of my observations about returning to work. I hope that others will share their experiences and what advice they would give to women thinking about going back to work.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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24 Responses

  1. Violadiva says:

    Those are great insights! Thanks, Mraynes!
    I would add that being at work makes less time for me to have girl friends outside of work. Not enough time to coordinate lunches or play dates for our kids, that kind of thing. That can feel kind of isolating, especially when I don’t necessarily rely on work to meet my social needs.
    With the right friend whose schedule can allow it, I’ve found that late-night dates after putting our kids to bed have been a good way to get some positive female company!

    • Mraynes says:

      You and I must be on the same wavelength–I almost included this exact point. My female friendships have really suffered since going back to work. It’s hard to overestimate just how necessary flexibility is in maintaining friendships and when you don’t have it, those relationships suffer. I haven’t found a great solution to this but I like the idea of late-night dates with my friends, I think I’ll try it!

  2. EFH says:

    Congratulations on your career move. I am very happy for you.

    For the majority of women, they loose a lot when they stop working. I have noticed this with friends that are not religious at all even. We as women and citizens, tie our self esteem to things we do and many of us to things we do outside of home. So it is very important to recognize what activities and social circles provide good self esteem for oneself and to go for them.

    Be ambitions and lean in in family life and professional one. There are days when the two of this cannot be balanced and that is ok. Prioritize one at a time depending on the day.

    • Mraynes says:

      Thank, EFH! I think it’s an excellent point for both working and stay at home mothers to find activities and social circles that enrich your life. Also, learning to be ok with things being unbalanced at times is vital to making life work. Thanks for your thoughts on this!

  3. Jen says:

    This is such a needed conversation. My lived mormon experience has been that the majority of women in my ward work but that reality is ignored. The conversations in my ward environment assume stay-at-home life experiences. This is a disservice to the women because they are not sharing with each other tips and secrets for doing family, religion, and work life well. When I went back to work I began to have more conversations with working women who were not LDS because they would comfortably share information that was needed and helpful. One of the best pieces of advice I received was how to handle school appointments with teachers while working. My career friend told me ” I confidently email back to teachers that it is very important to me that I meet with them and then I list several times that will work with my schedule even if they are weekend, early morning, or evening times. No guilt about being unavailable during the day. Just state your availability and move forward.” I have used this technique with great success and am received with respect and understanding from my children’s teachers because, I suspect, many are working parents themselves.

    • Mraynes says:

      That’s awesome advice! I agree, these conversations are so needed and it would be awesome if we could talk about them in Relief Society but I have also noticed a reticence to acknowledge the reality that many women work. Unfortunately, I still hear working mothers attacked on a fairly frequent basis. I’m hopeful that we can get to the point in the near future where all women’s lived experiences are supported.

  4. Carrie Ann says:

    I remember crying one morning because going back to work was the first time in my life the men who talked to me were treating me like a human being; neither wanting to sleep with me nor lead me. It was a welcomed change, but I didn’t know how to fit it into my puzzle. My husband was kind to listen but I also felt very alien at that moment of realization. Also the social life thing…I am still working that out.

    • Mraynes says:

      Yes, that is exactly my experience! I was so perplexed by men treating me like an actual human being that I couldn’t appropriately name the behavior. It was such a bizarre realization to make!

  5. Jana says:

    I feel like my worklife is so enlivened by the men that I work with (and would never ever consider sleeping with). It feels ‘right’ to me to have such great bonds with my colleagues. That my marital status is somewhat ambiguous (I wear a wedding band and refer to my ‘spouse’ but am not legally married) seems to bother some people, but for most it seems like no big deal.

    • Mraynes says:

      I agree! It’s been a really empowering experience to build professional relationships with other men and to know that they respect me for my contributions and hard work.

  6. Liz says:

    This is so important to me, mraynes, as I look to make the jump back to school/work very soon. I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve had Impostor Syndrome despite knowing (intellectually, at least) that I have something to offer and that I would do a good job. I’ve also been surprised by the guilt I feel at shifting a lot of the household-related stress off of me and onto the household generally (both my spouse and my kids), but at the same time, I’ve realized how much of that stress I’ve been carrying alone. It’s a big shift, but I’m so glad that you’ve both made the right choice for you, and also that you’re willing to share your path so that others (like me!) can benefit from it.

    • Mraynes says:

      Thanks, Liz! The guilt over shifting household responsibilities is a real thing and I’ve struggled with that over the past year and a half. That being said, it has also been wonderful to see my husband step up and take on more of the responsibilities surrounding the care of our children and home. It also proved to me that perhaps things weren’t as balanced as they should have been when I was at home and that I had participated in some gate-keeping that kept him from fully engaging. I don’t want to speak for my husband, but I don’t think he has resented the added responsibility at all.

  7. Rachel says:

    All of this just feels so important. Thank you.

  8. Ziff says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Mrayens. I’m glad to hear you’ve been able to make the transition back!

  9. Jenny says:

    Yes!!! I have been on a slower course to joining the workforce, because jumping right in after ten years at home would have been too much for me and my anxiety. But I have experienced all of this. I have worked through imposter syndrome and learned to embrace my time at home, finding the right words to persuade people that that time was a great asset to me and my ability to be a good student or employee. I have also been shocked by the way I am treated by non mormon men. That does take some getting used to. I love your title “re-entry”. For me it has almost felt like rehabilitation. I have had to retrain my entire way of thinking, to say yes to myself when I used to say no, to feel worthy of receiving an investment of my family’s time and resources, and to let go of my feelings that I was responsible for everything in the home. I also got great advice from my exponent sisters that helped me with my first resume when I felt that I had nothing to put on it. They told me to start listing out anything and everything I had done as a stay at home mom because it was all volunteer work. So my resume was full of things like, “taught co-op pre-schools, organized dance classes and recitals, taught swim lessons to my kids, taught piano lessons to my kids.” Amazingly, it worked. I think if I can offer advice it would be that it’s okay to move slowly if jumping into full employment right away feels too overwhelming. Invest a little at a time, build up some skills, trust the process and keep moving forward in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

  10. Sue says:

    It’s wonderful to hear such great comments. Being one who chose to stay home, I feel I did a disservice to my children, husband and myself financially and emotionally. When it was time to go back into the work force, there were no opportunities that I was not considered to old for or inexperienced unable to learn. I did however appreciate the opportunities and memories from staying home.

  11. Quimby says:

    I am on the other end of the spectrum – I’ve recently become a stay at home mom after being a working mom since my school-aged kids were born, and I’ve really struggled with that transition. My work situation was hideous but there was still a very long period of mourning. I’ve gone back for my Master degree and should be finished in about 6 months’ time (they gave me half the degree as earned credit because of my years of work in the field). I’m working part-time from home for my husband’s new business, which is kind of weird – we work well together but I worry that I’m really not doing such great job and he’s too kind to say anything, since it’s not like anything I’ve ever done before. But there are times when the kids are in school, I have no course work, and my husband has no work to give me, and I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. Last year I got a Diploma (sort of the American equivalent of an Associate degree), decluttered and organised the entire house, painted all of the outside of the house, repainted the kitchen, and redecorated both kids’ bedrooms; earlier this year I raked the yard (several acres of it!) and repainted the entry way. I’m anticipating another quiet period in about 3 weeks and I don’t know what I’ll do then. I find that I’ve been a lot less organised since I stopped working; things just keep falling through the gaps, and I’m not sure if that’s because of the emotional upheaval of losing my job (and the circumstances in which I lost it) or if it’s just that I can’t get my stuff together. I’m grateful for the chance to go back to school and I’m particularly grateful I’ve been able to help my in-laws more, as their health is declining rather rapidly; but man, this is a tough transition.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This post was so intriguing to me for so many reasons. First, I’ve been back in the workforce for the past nearly 3 years, and I was trying to remember my own re-entry into the work place, after a hiatus of a couple of years. I remember it feeling so tumultuous: I was going back as primary breadwinner, after a long period of unemployment for my husband and I, and I’d never felt 100% like I’d belonged in the moms group from our ward. I had grown up hearing and learning that the woman’s role is to give up her career aspirations and be home with the children the moment she has them, so I was also feeling conflicted there. I felt like I had to justify my return to the workplace by citing what felt like a buried line in the Family Proclamation which says (after basically saying women be home, men be at work) that parents should work together to figure out what’s best for their families (though of course, not nearly so straightforward as that in the actual one-liner in the FP). I remember one member of a bishopric cautioning me on my interpretation of that single line to justify the current setup in our family of me being primary breadwinner and husband stay-at-home-parent. I also remember feeling so confused when our HT was the one who focused on me joining the company he worked for because my credentials were a perfect fit for a role they’d been struggling to fill for a few months. I remember being so confused why he wasn’t focused on getting my husband the job, and not me. I very much remember feeling so confused at the male/female interactions in the workplace. I’d forgotten what it was like to be treated truly as an equal. And then my HT and I started carpooling, and I forgot what it was like to understand someone isn’t actually intending to have sexual relations with you just because you’re in the car with them.

    But here’s the weird thing to me. I was telling another LDS friend about feeling so conflicted because of being taught that I should be the stay at home parent, and she was shocked. She grew up in a place where she said that message *never* came across. In fact, she said it was expected women would be working, so there was a huge emphasis on college educations and work experience! She said her getting married earlyish (a year out of high school) was actually outside of the norm for where she grew up, whereas that was very much the norm for me where I grew up. It was the first time I’d heard or learned of any place NOT emphasizing the stay at home motherhood model. She said it was practical, though – cost of living where she grew up meant both parents needed to work to afford decent homes.

    Anyhow – my advice: take your time readjusting. It’s okay to feel all weird for awhile, because it IS weird compared to how men and women treat each other in the church. Not every man wants to sleep with you instantly; you have a brain and are often expected to use it; you ARE an equal in the workplace and will be sharing opinions, expected to make suggestions for the betterment of the team you’re in at work. But feeling comfortable with that can take time. And that’s okay. Also – it’s NOT a sin to go out for a happy hour with the team. There are so many non-alcohol options to drink at happy hours, and the food can be so delicious!

  13. Nona says:

    When I went back to school, on my way back to work, I was astounded to realize how much I had missed the company of men. As a child and teenager all my best friends were always boys, but when I had children and quit work suddenly I had no interaction with men other than my husband and people at church. Having normal, non romantic, equal relationships with men again was overwhelmingly positive.

    I agree with the above comments though about missing my Mommy Friends. That was a rather unexpected consequence.

  14. EmilyCC says:

    I love this post! I would add that my kids and spouse have changed in ways I didn’t anticipate. My husband is grateful that he is more involved with our kids’ lives. With us both working and going through busy times, we don’t have the luxury (?) of keeping traditional gender roles, and our kids have come to rely on him and each other in ways that have helped us grow as a family. I love not being the hub of the wheel that is our family.

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