The subject of taking time off to be an at-home parent (aka “off-ramping”) is suddenly coming up again quite a bit on social media and among our own friends. Heather’s excellent post about the dangers of off-ramping is still important and relevant; if you haven’t read it, head over there right now and take in the hard-won advice. We’re going to talk about it a little more today, because we keep getting asked this question:
How do you decide whether or not to quit your job and stay at home for a while?
Big question, my friends. Big question indeed.
We almost always get this query from moms who do NOT plan on being at-home parents forever; they plan on returning to the workforce at some point when their children are older, in school, etc. (In other words, this post is not for moms who know they want to be at-home moms permanently. We send you nothing but love and support in that choice.)
Here are four things we STRONGLY believe you should think about – as honestly as you can – before you make the decision to quit. Some of what we’re about to raise is hard stuff, and we wish we didn’t have to think about it at all. But the somewhat astonishing truth is we’re the grown-ups now, and we have small people who depend on us. We have to act like adults sometimes and face adult realities, even if we wish it wasn’t the case. So, that being said, here we go:
- What would you do if your spouse disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow (or just disapparated, Harry Potter-style)?
This one is the worst, so let’s just get it over with.
I love my husband, and I believe our marriage is solid. But you know what? I have several friends who believed that too, and for a variety of reasons, things didn’t work out like they planned. I am 38 years old, and that first wave of divorces is starting to happen among my group of friends. It utterly sucks.
And it sucks a lot worse for my friends who are stay-at-home moms. Even in California, which is a community property state, it is possible to end up with a divorce settlement that will dramatically impact your quality of life. I have seen it happen, more than once. It makes me sad and angry every time. But it’s the truth.
I also have a friend whose husband recently died of cancer, which is so sad and awful I don’t even have the words to express it.
Gah, we don’t mean to scare anyone (seriously, this is the most depressing blog post ever), but if something really, truly bad happened, would you be in a position to take care of your kids financially? Think about this long and hard before you walk away from your career.
- How much money do you actually make? Add it ALL up.
Obviously, if you’re thinking about leaving your job, you need to consider the financial impact to your family. But don’t just look at your salary (and bonus, if you get one) and call it a day. Think about all the benefits your job provides, big and small. Here’s a sampler platter:
- Stock options or other forms of long-term incentive
- 401(k) matching
- Health insurance
- Pension plan (don’t laugh, some companies still have these)
- Medical and/or childcare flexible spending accounts
Perhaps most overlooked is the fact that most people get raises each year (even if small). If you’re planning on being out of the workforce for 5 years, for example, don’t just look at your compensation today. Consider what you’d be giving up next year, and the year after that, etc., and factor that in. Writing it all out might make you think about it with a different perspective.
- Do you have a definite plan for getting back into the workforce?
It’s not the best idea to quit without a plan in place for how you’re going to get back in. We suggest you set a rough time line for your return (e.g., in two years, or when your youngest enters kindergarten, or whatever works for your circumstances).
We also encourage you to write a list of concrete things you’re going to do to keep your resume from getting stale in the interim. This could be anything from attending an industry conference or trade show once a year, to freelancing, to specific volunteer opportunities that complement your profession.
We’d also suggest setting some specific networking goals, like attending industry mixers once a quarter or having lunch with a former co-worker once a month.
In other words, we want you to give yourself a great story to tell about what you’ve been up to when it’s time for you to start interviewing again.
- How will you feel if your plan fails (whether partially or completely)?
This is the second worst, after divorce or otherwise losing your spouse. Ugh. Sorry.
You need to consider what you’re going to do if, despite all your efforts, you can’t get land a job when you’re ready and willing to get back to work. (Go re-read Heather’s blog post again if you need a refresher on the unpleasant statics here).
Will you be OK with that? Or will you be not OK with that?
Candidly, if it’s the latter, we’d suggest working really hard to find a way to stay in the workforce. Maybe try some of what we suggest here. Because we have seen our friends go through this, and it is tough. We don’t want that to happen to you. For real.
All right, friends, we are done talking about this ugly stuff. Tomorrow, how about a blog post about kittens and how much we’re loving Season 3 of House of Cards? Really, it should be called House of Claire, Robin Wright is so ridiculously good in it.
Hugs and high fives to you all. Keep fighting the good fight.
Erin & Heather