Mothers returning to the workforce


By Jana

When I quit college after my bachelor’s degree because we were starting our family, I always had a strong sense that I would return for graduate studies because I’d seen this pattern modeled in many LDS homes.  Such women who’d elected to stay home during their child-rearing years then returned to their studies  or back to the workforce when their kids were older, typically when they started school.  So I found it fascinating to know that this isn’t a pattern that’s solely confined to the LDS experience.

I’m curious how many of you plan to return to work after a stint as a full-time Mom, or how many of you have already followed this path. For those of you who’ve done this, what advice can you offer to those women who want to follow in your footsteps?


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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24 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    I do intend to return to work… though I’ve never really done the full time mom thing. The first couple years of E’s life I taught high school part time, and now I’m taking grad classes part time.

    I don’t know where I will end up professionally – this is one of my issues of angst – but it looks like it might be teaching college (adjunct I imagine) if I finish the program. If not, I kind of want to explore trying to be a novelist or writer of some sort. Or if my practical side kicks in, I’ll probably head back to education in some way.

  2. chelseaw says:

    I definitely plan to go back to school. I had just been accepted to a MA/PhD program when we decided to start our family – fertility challenges meant that postponing for us could mean never having kids at all.

    I do worry that I’ll be off my game when I finally go back. It’s only been a few years and I already feel so rusty.

  3. Lori says:

    There was column in the WSJ on Feb. 19th entitled “You’ve Raised the Children; Time for a Job?” that addressed this my experience with this issue. Not sure how to post a link.

    Basically, the writer talked of his wife who quit work to raise the children, but then kept finding reasons not to return to work because the family needed her at home.

    It’s something I can relate to. When I quit work, I assumed I would go right back once my children were in school. Well, my youngest has finished a year of kindergarten and I’m nowhere near being ready to work full-time. But, I would like to get back into the working world, just haven’t figured out how. (‘course in my case geography is an issue since I live in small city in MS and jobs in my area are non-existent here).

  4. I’m hoping to ease back in when my youngest starts preschool in the fall of 2010 (I’m an intellectual property lawyer). At that point I’ll have been on my extended maternity leave for 10 years. I thought it would be considerably shorter, but I had unexplained secondary infertility between my first and second children, and an unexpected third child.

    I’ve thought about changing careers, and heaven knows I could find plenty to keep me busy without going back to paid employment (I currently teach music at both my sons’ schools), but I’d like to give my children the freedom to attend the college of their choice (which I didn’t have), and I think practicing law will give me the best buck for my bang.

  5. Angie says:

    What a timely post! I have a job interview on Tuesday to re-enter the full-time workforce. Both my children will be in school full day, beginning in August, so I’m looking to return to my profession – I am a school counselor.

    I have one main regret about my years at home: I wish I would have trusted God and His timing. So many days, as a SAHM, I felt that my previous education and work experience were either wasted or a cruel joke. I felt so bored and lonely at home. I desparately missed the social and intellectual stimulation I found at school and work. My biggest fear was that my successful days were behind me, that God was forcing me to give up huge parts of myself (namely, my intellect and my ambition) for motherhood, and that I would never again have a chance to make a meaningful professional contribution.

    If only I had trusted Him more, I would have saved myself the pain of these hopeless thoughts. Yes, the challenges of mothering small children would have still been tough for me. But I wish I could have believed that that stage was temporary. Instead, I truly felt that my best days were behind me.

    Now I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I look forward to a life of accomplishment that includes my husband and children, the Trie Loves of my life.

  6. Natalie K. says:

    I just finished school, have no kids, and have no idea what my husband and I will do when we want to start our family. My work feels very meaningful and important to me. He can do a lot of his from home. So maybe he’ll be the one taking a few years off?

    I think something that also needs to be addressed in this is women who never had a chance to take time off and then “reenter” the work force. My single mother has had to work for years. I wish there were more support networks for single women raising children. It would be great to see the church really push for that.

  7. Jessawhy says:

    Angie, thanks for this;

    “If only I had trusted Him more, I would have saved myself the pain of these hopeless thoughts. Yes, the challenges of mothering small children would have still been tough for me. But I wish I could have believed that that stage was temporary. Instead, I truly felt that my best days were behind me.”

    I feel like that a lot, especially because I don’t know what I want to do after my kids are grown.

    Thanks for your comments, they give me peace.

  8. VirtualM says:

    I’ve been lucky – there were only a few months after my son’s birth when I wasn’t working some. I’m in the middle of having kids; I have an almost three-year-old and another due in about four months. Therefore, I don’t know how pertinent my comments will be in this forum, but here goes. I was pregnant with #1 when I finished my MA. I was working full-time in a good corporate job and went part-time (two days a week) after DS’s birth. When the company merged, I found myself without employment. The real turn-around happened when I found a part-time job teaching online courses at the community college. I love it because it 1) keeps me current in my field, 2) is 100% on my own time, 3) gives me something that is valued by the academic world to put on my resume during this time with young kids, 4) the pay is comparable to teaching traditional classes and 5) I don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy of teaching on a campus and I hardly have any supervision, so I can pretty much do whatever I want (within reason.) I get to focus on the students and I love it. I think that’s one of the great things that have changed in the last few years – opportunities such as this have come about that allow women to better ‘bridge the gap,’ so to speak, during the SAHM years. I do hope to get my PhD some day, but I’m actually content not to at this point if it doesn’t work out. I’m going to look into that once both of these nuts are in school. We’ll see!

  9. Kelly Ann says:

    Thanks for an interesting thread. I of course am not married and do not have children but always envision teaching at night. I’d be side-stepping though because it would be very difficult to return to working to the lab after a long hiatus given techniques and instruments and science change so rapidly. I think it would just be the excuse for a career transition though as that is what I eventually want to do. I am beginning to wonder if I really want kids though.

  10. jks says:

    When I had two children, I thought about the exciting “Perfect part-time job” I might have once they were both in school for 6.5 hours per day. However, now that we have four kids and having them all in school is still far off, I think it would take a miracle to find that perfect part-time job. With two kids I could imagine packing them off and being able to concentrate on a job. Four kids, however, it sounds less realistic. Four kids will mean three different schools and the way the high schools are around here means I might only have 4 hours once I send elem. kids off to school that high school kids start coming home. Can I also just mention that I will have 14 years in a row of early morning seminary?
    My third is entering kindergarten in the fall, so I do think about the day that my youngest will enter school. I try to imagine what could I do? Could I find that perfect job? Would it be worth it to go back to school?
    I am a planner, but I’ve lived long enough to know that sometimes you have to go with the flow. I do not know what life has in store for me or for my family.

  11. X2 Dora says:

    Saw an interview with Katty Kay (BBC news correspondent) on the news the other day. She and Clair Shipman have just published their book, _Womenomics._ What I found interesting about the interview is that she discussed how women (and men) nowadays are trying to find balance in their lives. Balance between work and family. This may mean not gunning for the top spot on the totem pole, but allows for a more holistic approach to life. Granted, she added the caveat that this applies to women who are able to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families.

    As a nurse, I am in a woman-dominated field, and it’s remarkably flexible. I currently work three 12 hour shifts a week, which gets me full-time benefits. However, there are those who work 3-4 shifts a week. There are those who work 2/week, and even those who work maybe 4 times in a 6 week period. What I find is that those with children, are generally able to balance out work and childcare with their extended family and husbands to make sure the children’s needs are met. Then again, there are many whose husbands also work in hospitals, or work for the police or fire departments, which also have alternative scheduling.

  12. EmilyCC says:

    That’s a great article, Jana!

    I’ve found it invaluable to listen to others’ womens’ stories of how they maintain their careers as they raise families. I love reading the comments here of how others have done it.

  13. Sarah says:

    Coming from a web site that constantly rags on the media for driving the negative views women have of themselves (mostly looks, big boobs etc) I find it kind of sad that so many ‘feminist’ women are influenced so much by the media with respect to their ‘work’.

    Since when was your career something that defines you. Lets face it, none of us are going to change the world at work. If we are lucky we are going to change the world a tiny bit in our communities.

    I would quit my job in a minute if I could. There are a thousand outlets and opportunities to work with others and use your brains by voluteering to help those around you.

    It seems like you have all come so far alone the ‘feminist’ path, but then chuck it all to go and work for the man just to prove you are worth something.

  14. wendy says:

    I have gone through the angst of the dilemma of going back to work twice if you count the number of children I’ve had, but much more if you count all the times I’ve questioned and debated whether it was the right thing to do at the time and really the best thing for my family (and my family includes me!)

    I am a teacher and have had the good fortune of finding a teaching job with maximum flexibility (one day required at an office; the rest can be done at home) and it is in a field that I feel passionately about and thus find very engaging. I felt strongly that I should return to work part-time after my son was born. This required hiring a very trust-worthy member of the singles’ ward to be our nanny for two days a week. I often debated the long-term impact of delegating his care to someone else and faced some hurtful questions from some judgmental people for this decision. My decision to return was also not based on financial need, and so I felt a little selfish for making this decision (despite my husband’s consistent support). For the most part, I really liked the balance of mothering and teaching and I could foresee how the variety would restore a little bit of sanity and identity during my active mothering years.

    When my daughter was born, however, I did not feel ready to go back to work after my year of maternity leave (yay for Canada!). So, I elected to have an additional year of personal leave. I felt all of a sudden that I had hit my “mommy-groove” and I felt filled with taking care of my children and didn’t want or need my career anymore. I anticipated ending my tenured contract at the end of this leave, largely feeling at peace with this decision.

    Well, then my husband unexpectedly lost his job (despite his three degrees and years of experience). He has tried for 10 months to find something with no success. It has been so different dealing with this dilemma when there is less choice. I am now back at my job, and it’s because I need to earn money to buy groceries and because we don’t want to lose our home. On the one hand it has been nice to return to my job, where I like the people and I feel engaged and appreciated for my ideas and efforts (rare events when you’re a SAHM). And this working experience is different from the first, as it is largely guilt-free and it is my husband who is taking care of our children. And I am filled with so much gratitude that I was lead to a career and specific job (all questions that were made after much prayer) that would work for me and my family in this trial. Had I not returned to work when my son was born, my contract would have expired and I would not have had this current job that is so ideal for our family (and teaching jobs are scarcer these days because of economic woes that have forced many back). The whole experience has deepened my trust in my Heavenly Father and has made me feel that I am in His hand.

    And yet, not having a choice to work has made me realize how much of a privilege it is to be able to afford to stay home with your children. There are many mornings when I wake up to my alarm to start my work, or battle traffic if I’m going to the office that day, when I just want to be home and make breakfast and play at the park with my kids. It nearly broke my heart when my 4 year-old, who has explained out situation as “mommy and daddy are taking turns working right now,” said to me, “Mom, I really love Dad. But you’re my favourite.” I know how every woman needs to make this personal decision with much thought and prayer, and I do not judge other women for what their choices are on this dilemma. But, my experience has showed me that mothering cannot be abdicated; I believe that I am meant to be my children’s mother. And, you have to make your decision about work somewhat conditional on whether your return to work will make you a happier (and thus better) mother. And for different people, finding happiness as a mother will require different things.

    Sorry for the long post– this has been an issue on my mind a lot as I went back to work this month! Thanks for the forum to discuss this.

  15. ZD Eve says:

    It’s very helpful to read others’ experiences balancing work and family. Currently I’m trying to balance a baby and a graduate program, and it’s instructive (and encouraging!) to see how all of you have managed family and financial responsibilities.

  16. Alisa says:

    Wendy, beautiful story and thoughts. You have an amazing sense of grattitude, even though I know what you do can be hard. I am really touched by what you shared, and wish you and your family the best.

  17. Zenaida says:

    “Since when was your career something that defines you. Lets face it, none of us are going to change the world at work. If we are lucky we are going to change the world a tiny bit in our communities.”

    Since when was your relationship with your children something that defines you? I think we all have different attitudes about work. I am a musician, so maybe my perspective is a little different. I’ve worked jobs that I hate and desperately wished I could quit, but even then there was something about putting in a days work that was valuable enough to be given an honest days wage for. I feel like my work defines me just as my relationships to other people define me. I think it’s more about prioritizing than dismissing a career outright.

    Music is a deep part of me, and I revel in being able to share it and in using something I love to enrich others lives as well as my own, so yes, my career defines me. I am grateful for the power to direct my life as I see fit by earning a living.

  18. hawkgrrrl says:

    I have three kids and have had a fulltime career the whole time. It seems to me that younger kids do fine in a daycare environment, but that perhaps the older they get, the more coming home to a parent would be useful. However, I do not see that happening. I have never felt it was my path.

  19. Bonnie says:

    Being a mom and a career woman for the past 25 years, I might have something to add to this topic–take it for what it’s worth.

    My career (education) has been very meaningful to me and to literally thousands of kids and hundreds of teachers. I taught for 17 of those year and have been an administrator since then. I know that I have made a difference in many lives–I still have contact with many of my past students.

    Having said that, if I could live my life again, I would not work full or part-time. The price I paid has been much too high, and I can never go back and raise my kids again.

    Raised in the 70’s, I was fed the line that you can “have it all.” I still believe that, but now I know that you can’t have it all simultaneously. (Did a feminist just say that? Yes I did!)

    My typical morning, when the four children were young, started well before dawn. I had to nurse and bathe the baby, dress and feed the older children, drop them at day care, and be to school twenty minutes before classes started at 7:30. By evening, I was so exhausted that I was often short-tempered and less than attentive to my husband.

    Life is long. You can have it–just not all at once.

    My children didn’t hte best mom I could be. I didn’t get to be the mom I wanted to be. Yes, I love my career, but I love my children more. Sadly, I chose wrong.

  20. mb says:

    I stayed home with my children when they were growing up. There were a few years when I worked a few hours a week in my profession but I was mostly home. Now my children are all grown. Life continues to be full, challenging and engaging and there is plenty of work to do. My advice, if you are choosing to be at home with your children, is to live in and celebrate the now. Do interesting and challenging things in your life WITH your children, not in spite of them. See every difficulty as a challenge to your creativity and live a full, creative life where you are right now. Do not live a life (or keep house) as scripted by your friends, your neighbors or your co-workers’ expectations. Create your own. Whatever script you do create, do be present 100% for your children and spouse and celebrate every good thing. When your children are grown and gone, if your life is like mine, there will still be plenty of work to keep you engaged and productive. It may not be exactly what you anticipated it would be when you were 25, but it will be good, satisfying and interesting. And you will look back on the previous decades with your children with gratitude for having been able to be there with them through that time. Use your gifts in positive creative ways where you are and with whom you are and celebrate something each day. It works.

  21. Jessawhy says:

    These comments are awesome.

    I really like the idea of thinking of my daily difficulties as challenges to my creativity (is there a catchy phrase in there I could put on my wall in cursive vinyl?)

  22. Jen G. says:

    I recently read Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’ for the first time. To me this was a huge part of her message; simply put, having more options and more flexibility for women in the workforce. Really she wanted it for men to, for families, but of course her message was especially tailored to women. In my opinion the feminist movement got hijacked someone along the way by those who thought men and children completely got in the way, and that’s where it got a bad rap, and strong divisions of ‘us’, versus ‘them’ were made. That’s why it took me so long to read this book, I had been told how evil it was growing up. But when I finally did read it, I realized that at the heart of the feminist movement were the exact same things I was looking for in my life. Sadly, in many professionals, things have not changed much in the past 50 years, in fact they’ve gotten worse in the sense that women and men now feel they have to work 80 hour weeks to stay at the top of their field, or just to keep their job. Though there is change being made very slowly, but it’s not very widespread, especially in many graduate programs/studies. I desperately want to engage in graduate work when my children are school age, but for me, I KNOW it would need to be part-time, or my family would get none of me…I’m not a superwoman and could not do a program full-time and still have a family at home. But, unfortunately, I have been told numerous times that for what I want to do, there really aren’t part-time options. Isn’t that sad, especially since I want to go into marital/family counseling. It really gets to me, I want to do this with everything that is in me, but where is the flexibility, options? Why do I have to choose between my family and vocation? Graduate programs (like many professions), are still formatting themselves to the 1950s husband who had a wife at home to take care of the kids and all of life’s details…it’s so frustrating, it makes me feel trapped. I want to change things but I don’t know how. This does not mean I don’t love my children and enjoy being with them, but I like everyone else need balance. I feel I’m a better mother and person for it. Too bad society at large has yet to amend itself to that concept. The lines still seem rather firmly divided.

    Jana, I’ve been meaning to ask you, how do you do it? Aren’t you a full-time PhD student, and mom/wife? How do you do it all, even with kids in school full-time, how do you get everything done? I assume your husband helps a lot, mine does too, but still, I think I would go nuts doing all that. I need me time, time to exercise, un wind, read, talk with friends, hang out with hubby and kids, etc. How do you do it all? Sorry if this makes you feel on the defense, I in no way mean it that way. I really am just curious. Is your program full-time, or do they give you flexibility, or do you find yourself forced to arrange everything around your school schedule? I’m really curious what women have found in this specific situation, graduate studies with kids I mean. Maybe I’m wrong and more programs than I had previously thought offer flexibility…but all the inquiring I’ve done would say the opposite. I sure would love to find out that’s not the case though. But I’m guessing it just differs greatly on the chosen field.

  23. Jana says:

    I am a full-time PhD student, full-time Mom, full-time spouse, etc, etc. I have lots of strategies for making it work, and I’ve also failed at things more than a few times, too.

    Sounds like a good topic for my next post (Friday, here I come!).


  1. August 29, 2009

    […] on August 29, 2009. Filed under: Mormon Life | This post is a response to this comment on a post about mothers returning to the workforce. Jen mentioned that I’m a full-time Mom […]

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