By Lauren Beam (’07), Associate Director for Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University
As a mom to two young children and a part-time working professional, I can certainly relate to parents who are struggling with whether to exit the workforce or keep a foot in the door. For many families, the need for two incomes is huge and being able to choose to leave a job is not an option. However, some families are able to make this type of decision, often precipitated by needing to care for young children, ill family members, aging parents, and a host of other life circumstances. If you find yourself in the decision-making process around staying in the workforce or leaving, take some time to consider and reflect on the following questions.
What do you really want? And what does your family need? While I know this decision cannot be based solely on what you personally want, I think it’s helpful to begin here. Consider your current job situation. Do you enjoy your career and being in a professional setting? Or, are you excited by the idea of being a stay-at-home parent and leaving your current role? Before jumping the gun and making a huge life change, gain an understanding of what you want and what type of work/life situation would be a good fit for you. From there, you obviously have to consider what your family needs (income, time, caregiving, need for balance, other factors?). As we consider additional questions below, you will want to determine if there’s a way to bring together what you want and what your family needs as you move forward.
Is leaving or staying in a full-time job role my only option? Before deciding to leave the workforce (unless you have already decided that is definitely what you want to do), determine if there are other options available to you besides staying in a full-time role or leaving completely. Ask your employer/manager about part-time or flexible work options. Network with other professionals in your field and put out feelers for part-time work (if you are good at what you do, someone else might want to create a role for you!). Additionally, research flexible job options in which you could translate your professional skills. For example, if you are a teacher or have a background in education, might you be able to teach an online class? While it will take time and effort, know what opportunities and options are available to you, as you may not necessarily have to decide between full-time work versus stepping out of the workforce.
Will your income over time outweigh childcare/caregiving or other family costs now? I often hear from parents who have chosen to leave their professional role and stay at home that they made this decision because the majority of their salary would have gone towards childcare. Each family has their own budget and financial situation which dictates their work and family choices. However, another perspective to consider is a long-term one. If you stay in the workforce with your current salary (which hopefully will increase over the years!) and childcare costs eventually decrease as your children get older (again, which is hopefully the case!), would it be more financially beneficial over time for you to keep your foot in the professional door? Again, these are all helpful questions to reflect on and discuss with your partner as you examine your current financial situation.
Will it be difficult to get back in to the workforce? If you hope to re-enter the workforce in the future, determine the potential barriers for getting back into your chosen career field/industry. For example, do you have certifications or licensure that will need to be maintained? Will you need to receive special training to keep up with changes in technology? Keep these things in mind, particularly if you do decide to step out of the professional world for a few years. And, find opportunities to engage in professional development, skills training, volunteering, or other related activities that you could leverage on your resume for workforce re-entry in the future.
Ultimately, your decisions around how to juggle work and family life are personal and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Know your options, determine your wants and needs, and choose your path based on what will be best for your family and lifestyle.