When some women leave their jobs to have and raise children, they may say goodbye to their careers and never look back. But if you’re a mother who is searching for another outlet and itching to get back to a vocation, or if your children are suddenly spending full days at school, or if the recession calls for more income, you might be ready for re-entry into the workforce.
I often find myself wondering, “How do working moms do it?” With a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, I’m torn between giving them the attention they seek and wondering if I’d be a better mother if I took more time out for myself. It turns out that the key to achieving the work/family equilibrium is considerable organization, nothing a mom won’t already be a pro at after coordinating sleeping and feeding schedules. The balancing act of being a mother and having a job could be more manageable than you imagined.
Benefits of Re-entry
Mothers often talk of wanting to make a positive contribution beyond their immediate family circle. In discussions with working moms, a common theme is the desire to maintain an identity outside the roles of mother and wife. Eyee Hsu, the host of CCTV-9’s Up Close, has a 2-year-old daughter and is expecting another baby this autumn. Hsu is proud to have something in her life that is her own. “My daughter is too young to understand now, but the most important thing is that [my job]makes me happy, and that makes me a better mom,” says Hsu.
An obvious benefit is the additional financial support. Denise Chong, full-time program
manager for Rutgers International Executive MBA, has a daughter (5) and a son (2). When Chong and her husband moved to China, they did not have the benefit of an expat package, making a two-income household a necessity.
Finances aside, having adult conversations and professional interactions can improve your relationship with your spouse; you enjoy the self-confidence of having your own outside pursuits, and gain satisfaction in the results they bring. Jasmine Keel is a mother of two and the founder of INSPIRED, a Beijing-based coaching organization specializing in life and career support. She recommends really thinking about why you want to work, beyond the obvious financial benefits. “Once you assess the reasons, it can give you a great foundation on how to structure your work,” she says.
Choosing which hours to delegate to work and home is an ongoing and tricky endeavor. Time management is essential, especially if you are going to work part-time. Chong says, “Here in China, part-time can really be full-time, and full-time is really over-time.” Keel advocates moms build their organizational skills to be able to plan the time spent with clients, at work, and with the family. “Every one has good intentions, but it’s another thing to move intentions into action,” she notes. Don’t worry if it’s hard at the beginning – time management is a learned skill and ongoing challenge that will allow you to spend time where you intend, even if it doesn’t always go according to the plan.
Irene Tanner, mother of two children aged 7 and 4, works full-time as managing director of China eCapital. She says carving out your time and setting boundaries are very important. Many working mothers find that continuing their work after the kids have gone to bed allows them to maintain more flexible office hours. Using this method of time management, Tanner is able to leave the office earlier to be with her children without neglecting her work commitments.
Support structures are vital for working moms. “In Asia, it is easier to find household help so we’re free to pursue what we want,” Chong notes. Mothers agree that having reliable household help, such as an ayi, is essential to feeling comfortable about going to work. Knowing your children are being well cared for will allow you to focus on work when you need to. Conversely, having a good relationship with your boss allows you to take time out of your work schedule to handle emergencies should they arise.
Your spouse and family are also a valuable source of support. “Involve your children [in your work]where you can,” suggests Keel. She also says that showing your children where you work will help them understand why you’re not around as often. “Explain what Mommy is doing and that it makes you a happier mom,” says Keel.
A strong friendship circle can give you an outlet outside of work and family. Being able to voice your doubts to other mothers, or simply having a shoulder to cry on can be invaluable after a bad day. Working mothers often worry about how they can maintain consistency and discipline with their kids. They often feel that if only they weren’t so tired or if only they had more time to spend at home, they might not have certain behavioral issues with their children. Having a system to manage problems as they crop up is essential. Enlist your child’s teachers and caregivers, like their ayi, to help lighten the load and raise the alarm bells should problems get out of hand.
Despite the difficulties, doubts, and guilt many moms feel about going to work, all of the mothers I spoke to overwhelmingly believed their jobs had a positive effect on their family, and provided an outlet for their creativity. “It is positive for my children to have and develop nurturing relationships with other people in addition to myself,” Hsu says. Tanner adds that she’s in tune with her kids. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m spending all of my time with them, or as much time as I would like.”
A Career Change
When thinking of returning to workor changing career paths, especially after a hiatus raising children, women should not underestimate the skills gleaned from motherhood. Hsu started out in healthcare consulting in the US, and switched to communications after arriving in China. “It was always something I wanted to do,” she says. Although Hsu switched careers prior to having a child, the techniques she used to streamline the transition still apply. While networking and looking for job opportunities, she almost jumped back into healthcare consulting. An encounter with a woman who worked for CCTV finally gave Hsu the lead she was looking for. Settled in her new career, Hsu has a supportive producer and work schedule that allow her to do some of her preparation and research at home.
Working part-time can keep you in the professional loop, while leaving enough time to maintain your home life. Keel says part-time opportunities do exist in Beijing, but you have to look outside the traditional job-hunting forums. In the current economic environment, small and medium foreign companies are happy to hire an experienced professional part-time. Keel recommends networking, rather than simply job-hunting as way of separating yourself from the pack. “Demonstrate what you can do with the skills you have,” she advises.
Many women who had demanding careers prior to having children aren’t sure if the rigors of family life will allow them to return to the workforce with the same dedication they once had. Assess why you want to go back to work, and make an inventory of your skills and areas you need to develop. Going back to school and getting a qualification in your desired field can assist a career change.
Elena Lukyanets, the mother of two children, aged 4 and 2, is currently pursuing her MBA at Peking University (Beida). Recently, she worked as the Olympics Manager for the British Embassy, an exciting job environment she would have really enjoyed before having kids. “After the Olympics, we went on vacation, and my daughter (then only a year old) was not only talking, but speaking Chinese as her first language. I realized I couldn’t go on [working]like this,” she says. Now she is investing in her skills for the future, getting mental stimulation and adult conversation while still being able to be with her kids in the afternoon.
Being a mother is a challenging, rewarding, and inspirational growth opportunity. Whether you’re undertaking the demanding task of being a stay-at-home mother, or choosing to return to work, there are many ways to balance your family with your interests outside the home. Giving your kids the opportunity to spend time with other caregivers can broaden their horizons, as well as your own. “Mothers need to be honest about what works for them. For me, I wanted to work but still be able to pick up my kids,” says Keel.
INSPIRED Beijing: A professional and life coaching organization. On Oct 23 they’ll be running “Reshaping Your Career,” a workshop for mothers who are working, considering going back to work, or want to change career paths.
Viva: A support network for professionally minded women in Beijing.
Expatmamma.com: An online forum to help you connect with mothers in Beijing.