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It is not uncommon for a working parent to decide to stay at home for a period of time to look after young children. What's often surprising, however, is the myriad of reactions and misconceptions that such a decision may be met with from relatives, friends and, sometimes, coworkers and employers — current and future.
When it comes to career, a short stay at home often has minimum to no impact in the overall scheme of things; but the pressure that some may go through at the time may be more damaging as it impacts their own views or their skills and ability to reintegrate into a work environment. That is why it is important to keep a few points in mind to avoid being torn between your decision to stay at home and your fear of falling behind professionally.
Although others' validation of your decision may be nice, people who stress too much how your decision is right may be showing a level of confidence you yourself may be lacking. What do they know about you to make such a statement? The answer is: They probably know you're going through a touch choice and some support can go a long way.
The problem, however, is when this sort of support turns into expectations. For example, if your entire plan was to stay at home for a few months or a year, the pressure may make you feel you need to extend that to fulfil expectations to do the right thing. It is important in this case to shrug others' input — except for those who are directly influenced like your spouse — and look into whether reconsidering the length of your break is valid or not.
Again, most short stays can be easily overlooked by employers in the future. Long breaks are not the same, however.
Your next step
Anyone who has cared for young children know it can be a demanding full-time job in itself. Expecting yourself to keep up to date with your industry, or acquire additional certification or training during your home stay, may be asking too much. With that in mind, it is important if you're taking a long break from work that you try to do the minimum so that you don't lose touch with your contacts and previous co-workers who may facilitate your return to work.
Practically speaking, your determination and clarity about what you want to do next should help you exert your efforts in the right direction.
Families that opt to have several children within a few years may decide to put a parent's career on hold to fulfil the care needed by them. If that is the case, you need to reconcile with the fact that when you return, you may have an uphill battle in getting started from where you left off.
When possible, keeping current with what's going on in your field may help you refresh your memory and stay in touch.
Don't get confused
If you're an experienced professional, a short stay at home won't erase your professional and technical knowledge. Your confidence is the best signal that communicates to employers your abilities and willingness to return to work.
Keep in mind, however, that although employers are not supposed to hold your marital situation against you, they may be wondering about how recent your experience is. Any concerns related to this potential gap should be easily handled if you keep the focus on your skills and what you can bring to the employer.
When you're ready to rejoin the work space, there is no doubt that your family and children come first. But it is important that you don't bring this up in interview discussions — unless an unlikely question is asked. Keep in mind, many hiring managers probably have been in your shoes — or have a dear person who has been — so there should be no space for concern.
What you need to be cautious of is making an impression that your home and children are the only thing on your mind. As with any interview, you should leave the interviewer with one image: a dedicated worker who is the best fit for the job. Being a mother or a dad should be a detail — if it ever comes up — rather than the main identity you will be remembered for.
Source: Rania Oteify, Special to gulfnews.com
The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is currently a Seattle-based editor