Mama got a brand new bag.

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What does your bag say about you – High-powered female executive, or Mommy CEO? Is it the traditional Coach briefcase? The super fancy look-at-me-I’m-a-Mommy designer bag? Maybe you carry one which can manage both baby and work things? Or quite possibly, you’ve given up on style and just haul around the free one they gave you at the hospital?

As conversations go regarding the Mommy Wars (working moms vs. staying-home moms, and the My-Way-is-Better catfighting between them that the media likes to propagate…), there are really only two topics. Do you leave your career permanently and dedicate the rest of your life to raising your children? Or do you maintain a career and raise a family? Is one a martyr and the other selfish? No. Either stance holds truth and consequences. And nevermind that there is actually a spectrum of choices in between the two.

Technology has brought us the Mompreneur, the Mommy-blogger who makes money from her ads, and a new generation of party consultants like Pampered Chef, Passion Party and Arbonne that make Tupperware and Avon look like relics from the June Cleaver age, a modernizing problem both are trying frantically to solve. And corporations have changed in these modern times, too, offering more employee-focused benefits like flex-time, job-sharing, and providing laptops and crackberries for free, actually increasing productivity by making their employees available to work 24/7. It is possibly to do both career and raise a family, and live to tell about it.

But when the conversation turns to “taking time off” to raise kids, with the intention of going back to your career someday, most opinions become negative. Most people believe leaving work for a few years to stay home full-time and raise kids is career death. But then why are so many doing it?

Many of the best and the brightest women choose to go home in the middle of their high-earning years (between the ages of 37 and 42), says Myra Hart, a professor at Harvard Business School. Fifty-seven percent of them are considering going back to work, reports the Boston-based research firm Reach Advisors. How hard is it for them to get rehired? To read some news accounts, it would seem that once women quit, they’re off the job path permanently.

The trouble with returning back to work after a mid-career break isn’t finding a new job, most studies show. Its finding a new job which will give moms the flexible time they think they need in order to maintain the accessibility for their families that they enjoyed while not working. But here, we go back to the same issues surrounding getting hired into any job, at any point in your career. Its not about your needs, its about how you solve problems for that employer. If what you bring to the table solves the right problems for that employer that no one else can, you can get what you want.

However, most companies won’t negotiate upfront what you want or need in the way of flexibility and family priorities, unless its clear upfront what you bring to the table. They want to know that as an employee, that you are focused on their needs, not your family’s. Most companies want you to prove your worth, first, and then after a trial period may be prepared to offer you more flexibility. So be prepared to go back full time, normal office hours, just like everyone else in that office who doesn’t have kids (or have responsibility for them). Get daycare lined up, it won’t kill them (it may even help their immune systems). Or if you have family in town, get them to help with the kids. Do whatever you have to do to be able to accept a full time job that puts you back on your original career path.

The question really is, how dedicated are you in returning to your career, given the things you have to do in order to get there? Do you really want to commit to it at the level you did before your break, or are you just bored and want some adult interaction? The difference between getting a job to get out of the house and returning to a full-force career can be enormous.

If you are still deciding whether to quit your day job and stay home to raise your kids, and how it might effect you later, consider this:

In research conducted nationwide in 2005 among 2,443 college-educated women of all ages, the Center for Work-Life Policy (CWP) found that 74 percent of women who want to go back to work do manage it. … “We’re finding that women who want to come back are having great success,” says Eliza Shanley, a cofounder of Women@Work Network, a resource center for women looking to reenter the workforce. “This is not the story of the woman with an MBA who has to work at Starbucks. You can come back.” Headhunter Julie Daum, from the executive search firm Spencer Stuart, echoes, “It’s important to realize that leaving for a few years is very different from dropping out.”

Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin are the authors of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-At-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, a book offering strategy and advice to women resuming careers after extended time at home with children. One of their key points? Network, network, network. It’s more important than polishing up your resume.

So plan your staying-home exit strategy, just as you would with anything else. If you know you will one day want to get back on the career train, stay in touch with your network, have lunch with work friends and close industry affiliates regularly. Offer to consult or freelance for the company you are leaving, and through your network, you can gain other consulting projects, too. Keep getting the trade magazines and email newsletters and stay up on industry trends. Go to industry functions once in a while, and show you still know how to present yourself in a professional environment, regardless of the fact that you mostly run around in your yoga clothes and a ballcap.

And when you’re ready to get back in, you can work those connections that never got dusty to land the job that will work best for you, and your family, too.

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One Response to “Mama got a brand new bag.”

  1. drunkdreamer8 Says:

    Hello,
    just wanted to invite you to my blog (If I haven’t already- I have a new home)at http://www.drunkdreamer8.com if you needed some encouragment today.
    C.Apana

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