After “staying home” about twelve years with my three kids when they were younger, I decided to gingerly test the job market about seven years ago. At that point, my kids were all in school and could manage to look after themselves for a few hours without burning down the house. My logic was that I could earn a little money for the extras, while getting out of the house and re-developing skill sets that could enhance my resume. The Mommy Track became very real to me as I looked for something to get myself back into the workplace.
I didn’t expect to jump from “Stay At Home Mom” to CEO or anything, especially with my big girl career background being mostly in a niche industry (I had worked in the very heavily-regulated secondary federal student loan market). When the kids were little I had done odds and ends paid jobs—Assistant Pre-School Teacher, home-based business cosmetics and skin care, some contract work doing computer work—but nothing that made me a stand-out job candidate. I had also done a lot of non-paid jobs, mostly kid-oriented—coaching, volunteering at church and knee-deep involvement with two Girl Scout troops. I loved my volunteer work with the kids’ activities, but I was seeking to spend time with people that I would not have to remind to use their indoor voices or sit “crisscross applesauce”.
I ended up working for a little over a year at a Retirement Home as an Activities Assistant. It was a very fun job for someone like me who loves talking with people and learning about their lives. I led exercise classes and discussion groups, helped with our facility’s numerous and magnificent parties, bar tended at Happy Hour and learned how to play Euchre with some wonderful people. I learned a lot about people at that job—mainly that BINGO could be considered a contact sport at times—but the pay wasn’t that great, and the hours were split up in such a way over the week that I felt like I was working much more than 20 hours a week. So I went back to what I was comfortable with, and ended up working part-time as an Administrative Assistant, focusing on placing past organization and computer “hard” skills on my resume. It’s a nice gig, Monday through Friday six hours a day, a flexible boss and a very short commute.
Occasionally I’ll take a look at a job website to get a feel for what’s out there. I’m amazed at how much job searching and applying has changed, not just since my fresh-out-of-college days, but in the last seven years. Almost all job applications are online and involve uploading documents. It drives me crazy to painstakingly fill out detailed employment history on an online application when you’re giving them your resume’ anyway. I understand how it can make a hiring director’s job much easier to have a computer program pre-screen applications searching for specific keywords, but it certainly takes the human out of Human Resources. When one hasn’t taken the traditional career path, trying to tie a non-job related life experience skill set to a specific career keyword can be frustrating.
There are a lot of women (and men, too) that have taken similar career paths to mine, and I’ve noticed that most of us overlook some notable character traits that come with the Mommy Track territory. Sure, career websites and other experts tell us to highlight our past career and volunteer knowledge and not to diminish the roles we’ve played in being our own Household Executive. My personal experience has been that it is easier said than done. Calling myself my family’s Chief Operating Officer? I can’t picture that on a resume that gets taken seriously—especially if the person reading it has juggled full-time employment while being Family COO. It’s not that the strengths of many stay-at-home Moms are exclusive to just those individuals by any means; they are just often not acknowledged as being experience to easily taut while re-entering the workplace.
Often, potential qualities and strengths I’ve seen in others on the Mommy Track aren’t tied to the hot buzzword of the moment, but that’s not to say they are not resume-worthy, timeless assets. As time distances me from those days in my own life, it’s easier for me now to identify in others some typical skills honed during those years with the kids. My goal is that perhaps this short list will help others who need to see themselves with new eyes come up with some translatable terminology. I’ll use the title “Former Stay-At-Home Moms” for simplicity’s sake with apologies to all the Dads and others who may be offended because I find writing she/he/his/her on every point cumbersome; feel free to insert the appropriate title and adapt.
#1. Former Stay-At-Home Moms possess great leadership skills. “Because I’m the Mom” aren’t just words to be said when avoiding the “Why?” question. The parent who is organizing schedules, making sure that some sort of nourishment is given throughout the day and deciding who gets to ride shot gun on the way to the grocery store can’t be a follower. She has to be able to make a decision, execute it and be willing to re-visit later if necessary. That’s not to say her authority won’t be questioned, so a strong backbone is required. Kids like to push limits, especially when they are tired, hungry or miss their favorite Spongebob episode. The ability to identify every-changing needs in varying situations, as well as coming up with an action plan and following through are all vital skills.
#2. Former Stay-At-Home Moms must be resourceful and think creatively. Anybody who has ever tried to keep the younger set occupied day after day in an environment that’s safe and allows for learning opportunities has to be able to be flexible and work with what’s available. Sometimes that means the Halloween costume might be a simple green shirt with brown pants and drawn on beard-scruff so “Shaggy” can go trick-or-treating at the last minute. It can also mean making sure Mom’s “It” during Hide and Seek so she can throw a load of laundry in while actively “seeking” the kids in their hiding spots.
#3. Former Stay-At-Home Moms develop insightful diplomatic and people-skills. What job can’t use the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of a saint? The ability to read and understand people’s motives while remaining neutral and calm is part of all parenting. Some are better at it than others…sometimes I was better at the insight part than the being calm part. A person who can learn to referee squabbling siblings diplomatically can transfer that ability to clients and fellow employees.
#4. Former Stay-At-Home Moms know how to research and learn. Why do dogs circle around their bed before they lie down? Why is the sky blue? Who was Genghis Kahn? Shh…don’t tell the kids, but parents don’t always know EVERYTHING. Sometimes we need to research an answer (thanks, Wikipedia, YouTube and Google). What is most fulfilling about this kind of learning is that sometimes it leads to producing lifelong interests for our children, or even ourselves. The ability to find accurate answers quickly is a job skill that crosses every industry.
#5. Former Stay-At-Home Moms understand being realistic and “The Big Picture”. It can be hard for all of us to visualize how the small steps we take today towards our goals really do produce results when those results seem so far in the future. Anyone who has ever been a Girl Scout Troop Cookie Manager knows that rounding up everything needed to get the troop’s cookie-selling is not for the faint of heart. It requires patience, the ability to chase down parents for required signatures on documents and orders, and oftentimes a large vehicle for cookie hauling. In the moment it is hard to see how this does anything but add a mere quarter per box to troop funds. Big Picture thinking is required to see the true impact of that thankless job—girls who learn how to set financial goals and follow through with them by marketing and selling a product. Being able to see beyond the here and now towards a goal that’s not guaranteed is certainly an asset in today’s immediate gratification world.
I’m positive that not all of these in my list apply to everyone who has left paid employment to raise a family; however, it’s a good start for those who may have forgotten that what they do can translate into tangible job skills at some point. While I’m not sure how to best encapsulate these observations into a blanket-statement, bulleted list on an individual’s resume so they make it past the pre-screen, they are definitely points to be made in cover letters and interviews and can be tailored.
If you’re a stay-at-home parent that doesn’t happen to be looking for employment outside the home right now, may it encourage you to know that these years do matter. Involve yourself with the community and your family—and don’t forget to work in time for your personal pursuits. The Mommy Track doesn’t have to be a separate path from career building—consider it the scenic route.