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.