My husband’s company just announced a generous maternity/paternity leave policy and I couldn’t be happier with the news. While I think everyone understands the need for a mother to be home with the baby: bonding, recovering from childbirth, nursing, childcare; to some people it is less obvious why a father should have a leave policy, too. (I’m just speaking in terms of a heterosexual couple here, same sex couples have their own leave policy/childcare challenges.)

During the first few weeks after giving birth, my husband did everything I usually do plus his own responsibilities: taking care of older children, taking care of me, preparing meals, cleaning, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, running errands, managing the household (visitors, bills, doctor appointments, pets, lawn care), filling in for me while I napped, etc, etc, etc. Did I forget to mention he had to hold down a job on top of all of this? I’m not even mentioning the lack of sleep. Let’s just say there is no time for sleep.

In the 17 years my husband and I have been together, I can honestly say that the most stressed out and ragged I have ever seen him was in the first year of both of our children being born. He would say the same about me. Those years were coincidentally low points of our relationship, there just wasn’t enough in the tank to take care of each other’s needs. Normally our priorities are: our relationship, then kids, and then work. During the first year of their births, it was: kids, then work, and then us. Not good for any relationship. At this point with baby 3 on the way, we have a mutual understanding that we just need to get through the first year and then reprioritize. The new paternity leave policy doesn’t change the order of priorities, but it will give both of us more time to focus on our relationship and make that first year a little more bearable. It will make him a better employee because he will be less stressed at home. He’ll also be more alert at work and mentally stable. And he will not be as distracted or feel guilty about not being present in the baby’s life as much as he would like to be. Win, win. Hopefully that is the company’s reasoning for extending the policy. It is a tremendous gift to have more time to be together as a family. I sincerely hope this is the start of a new workplace trend for everyone.

I read this article yesterday about staying relevant in retirement, which has some great tips for anyone really. The main point is to do what you can to stay healthy and connected. It got me thinking of how it also applies to stay-at-home parents, who are also transitioning out of a work environment and are desperately avoiding being overlooked. There is one major difference between the two groups: retirees have the benefit of more time in their day. Since I haven’t found many articles pertaining to relevance for full-time parents, I decided to come up with my own list.

  • Stay Sharp. Read, write, create, make time for your hobby, exercise, eat healthy, learn a language, take a class. The key to this point is that you want to maintain your identity outside that of your role as a parent. Find something that inspires you. It keeps you interesting. Your friends, family, and partner will appreciate that you have more to talk about than the everyday minutiae of raising a family.
  • Stay Sexy. You probably never thought you’d see the day, but it happens to the best of us. When you are suffering from exhaustion, you rationalize that sleep is more important than sex. But, you clearly aren’t thinking straight. You’ll never feel caught up on sleep. Make time for intimacy. Plan a date night. Don’t let the dry spells turn into the norm. For the health of your relationship, sex needs to be a priority.
  • Stay Positive. Keep the complaints to a minimum. Your job is thankless, non-paying, never-ending. I, and many others, can sympathize. But, nobody wants to hear it all the time. Find the silver lining and focus on THAT instead. If for no other reason, there are young, impressionable minds watching how you deal with life. Model positive behavior.

If you want to maintain healthy relationships and feel connected to others, especially your partner, implement all of these things into your routine. I know that the reality for most full-time parents is that your personal well-being is lowest on the totem pole, but I assure you that everyone in your family will benefit when you are in a healthy place. Find the time. This is how you stay relevant.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you currently do these things? Is there anything you would add to the list?

I recently moved to the exurbs. Generally regarded as a conservative enclave, exurbs are pretty far physically and ideologically from where I thought I’d end up. I’ve been thinking about my outward progression through the eyes of a geographer. I love studying the movement of people and I find it fascinating to see these changes happening on the ground, rather than through census data from 10 years past. This has been my perspective and is by no means representative of everyone. To give you some background, my demographics are: I am white, married with two soon to be three kids, four year degree, upper-middle class, I lean left, and I consider myself to be an old millennial/young gen X’er. In the past three years, I have moved from the first ring suburbs of a small city to the suburbs of a large city to the exurbs of a huge metropolitan area. My political tendencies have not changed. My ideal neighborhood does not exist. Or I should say, I can’t afford it and nobody my age, that I know of, can either.

For me, living close to a city meant diversity, access to the global marketplace, and top-notch food/culture/art. In the small city, I was lucky to have all three and the cost of living was much lower. Midwest cities are pretty great. When I moved to the suburbs, diversity fell by the way-side (New England is not the most diverse region) but it was a short drive to the global marketplace and food/art/culture. Now, in the exurbs I don’t have any of those things. So if you are asking why -the biggest driving factors for me was quality of schools and number of bedrooms. This is not unlike the reason my parents moved to the suburbs in the late 70s, but I think the difference now is that people marry/cohabitate and start families later today than back then. Cities have become effectively a playground and jumping off point for my liberal-leaning generation, often shaping our identity. And by the way, cities are also becoming the playground for empty-nesters, eager to start their second act in gentrified neighborhoods. Both of these groups are essentially pushing prices up and pushing young families out.

So, where am I going with this? I am anticipating a shift as millennials start recognizing that the housing stock and city schools are not suitable for their family, and the few city neighborhoods that are, are not affordable. I am hoping we’ll see more diversity and food/art/culture in the ‘burbs in the years to come. Maybe all my empty-nester neighbors will move to the city and the former hipsters, too tired from parenting to keep fighting for the urban life of their yesteryear, will set down roots across the street. I will be waiting with open arms. I am here to tell you, it is not so bad. I am making the most of it: composting, gardening, and bat and bluebird boxes. Word of caution, kombucha and craft (anything) won’t be anywhere in sight…yet.

Do you see this happening around you? What demographic trends are you seeing?

This post is dedicated to my brother-in-law who chided us about getting a mini-van this past weekend. Mind you, he is a DINK living it up outside the greatest city on Earth, and I am so happy for him. And NO you are not detecting jealousy. I lived the city life and I’m happy with the mini-van, suburban, wiping kids’ noses life that I lead now. We’ve all reached a point when we begin to do things for our kids that we never thought we’d do. At first it feels like you are selling out, but in reality you just don’t have the energy to fight it. You have to pick your battles. In our case, a mini-van was more convenient to transport 3 kids and 2 dogs on our trips to visit family. I fought it like hell for a while (“I was NOT going to drive a mini-van”) and then I thought rationally and it became an easy decision.

As I laughed off his chiding, I started to wonder if we each have, in our head, a line that we will not cross as parents? Something that will turn you into that ‘ugly’ stereotype you never thought you’d be. They’re pretty funny to think about. I feel like I have a few of them and I admit they are ridiculous. Completely arbitrary. I have no leg to stand on, I am completely and utterly a suburban mom (and if my kid wanted to pursue something I would normally cringe at, I’d oblige). BUT I am still very much me. I didn’t sell out. I just happened to trade up from my fast, yuppie sedan to a shaggin wagon, as my husband likes to call it.

If you’re curious about what lines I won’t cross, here goes: I won’t plan a vacation to Disney. I won’t be a dance mom (sorry Mom). I won’t plan extravagant kids birthday parties. I won’t convince my children that santa, elf-on-the-shelf, a leprechaun or the easter bunny are real. Go ahead, laugh. What is the ‘line’ you won’t cross?

The Five Things I Want to Tell Employers About Women Returning to Work

http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2015/mar/23/the-five-things-i-want-to-tell-employers-about-women-returning-to-work

I’m surprised they didn’t mention stay-at-home dads, too. Gentlemen, do you feel this represents your obstacles returning to work as well?

I submitted my final time sheet today. I’m a little melancholy about it. Ok, I’m actually a lot melancholy about it. The past year I have been working part time, 15 hours a month, for the town I just moved from, as a Program Administrator. It was a very fulfilling position for me as for those few hours a month I could work in a professional setting and put some of my other skills to use. Side note: town government is a great field for transitioning back into work since they often have part time positions available. I was extremely lucky because I was mostly working from home, submitting reports and emails after the kids were in bed.

I’m still kind of shocked that I got the position in the first place. My interview was pitiful. It was probably tied with my very first interview out of college, as the worst one I’ve ever had. I could not form a complete thought. I could not think quickly enough to come up with examples of prior experience. (I am not making excuses, but I had a six month old at home and barely slept that night.) I felt so disconnected from the person who was represented on my resume. I had to keep reminding myself, they were asking questions about me the professional, not someone’s mom. For the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about what I could have done differently to be better prepared. I’d like to think it will be smoother next time, but in reality, having a great interview comes down to practice. I’m anticipating a few more rocky interviews in my future (and I kind of don’t care). I can’t emphasize this enough, if you have someone who is willing to give you a mock interview, take them up on it. I had prepared my thoughts on paper but I found it was very different when I said them out loud. I also think it would have helped if I thought about what I had gained the most out of each position and talked more broadly (since the finer details were escaping me anyway). Also, I will say that it would have helped if I gave myself an hour buffer before the interview to get out of mommy mode and into the right mind frame. And lastly, don’t be so hard on yourself. It may not go smoothly, but at least you’ve learned from the wee ones how to pick yourself up and keep on going.

Do you have any interview prep tips?

Who cares? What does it even mean to be relevant in today’s workplace? I’m still trying to figure this out myself, but I suspect my yearning to stay relevant has to do with human psychology. This is not my area of my expertise, but I am going to take a stab at it anyway.

I should back up a little bit. I wasn’t planning to be a stay-at-home parent. Here is how it went down for me. I worked my ass off in college and did what I could to stand out, particularly in my departmental studies. I did the whole, work for free for a summer because it looks good on your resume, internship. I took on leadership roles in different clubs to show I was well-rounded. I graduated top of my department and was ready to take on the world. (Mind you, I selected to major in Geography, a liberal arts degree, which I am wholeheartedly passionate about, but I admit has not lead to a stable career path). I found a rewarding career in non-profits and gave it my absolute all for the next eight years. In that short time, I relocated, was promoted, was laid off, was hired, managed a team, and was finally settling in for the long haul. My husband and I were ready to start a family and the plan was that I was going to continue working. At the time, I didn’t think much would change career wise. Amateur move! I went from managing a department to being a full-time parent in mere seconds (or so it felt that way).

So here is where the psychology comes in. At first, the rollercoaster of emotions after welcoming a child into your life overshadows any thoughts you have about your career (or pretty much anything else). But once the dust settles, and the little one is toddling around, you start to realize the more entrenched you are in baby world, the further away you are drifting from the professional world. It’s a very unsettling feeling, especially if you weren’t planning to be home full time in the first place. What makes it worse is that you are battling a corporate culture that looks down on the dreaded ‘gap in your resume.’ This is why I am so focused on staying relevant. I’m staring down the barrel at eight years of work experience and an eight year gap, which in reality might land me back in entry-level positions. (I have absolutely no regrets. I love being home. I loved working outside the home, too). Hopefully, when you are applying for positions, you get a hiring manager that sees past the gap, but if not, you will have to be diligent in crafting your experience.

Am I still boring you? I’ll admit this isn’t the most riveting topic, but it means a lot to me. I’ve spent a lot of time and money building my career and to watch it fizzle away (if only temporarily) is a hard pill to swallow. I am pretty sure I am not alone.

Do you have any suggestions on staying relevant? Am I the only one who thinks about this sort of stuff?

In a previous post, I recommended that every stay-at-home parent reentering the workplace should consider volunteering. I also suggested that you include that volunteer experience on your resume, particularly if it is relevant to your skill set. There are several types of volunteer positions and here’s what I would recommend: first and foremost, find an organization that you feel passionate about; next, consider a position on their board or a committee, especially if your skill set aligns with their need; last, take on an individual project or something substantial that will maximize your time and challenge you. Full disclaimer: I worked for several non-profits and relied heavily on volunteers, which means that I know firsthand the importance of your commitment to that organization.

Now, here is why I think it’s important to YOU.

1) Networking. We all know the obvious reasons why networking is important, but a not so obvious reason is that the coordinator or director could act as a reference for you when you start applying.

2) Confidence/Self Worth. Those beautiful, precious kids that you are raising are physically and emotionally draining. Giving something back to the community might just be the confidence boost you need to remind you that you possess a myriad of skills, and at one time someone paid you for your expertise.

3) Keeps you sharp. If the only help the non-profit needs is stuffing envelopes, go ahead and do it, but try to aim for more skilled activities.

4) Makes you accountable. The important learning here is that you might be out of practice following deadlines and working under someone else’s direction (I should say, under another adult’s direction – ha!).

5) Interview. Last and absolutely most important is that volunteering gives you something to talk about at the interview.

You will no doubt be asked questions about projects you worked on, yours strengths and weaknesses, difficult personalities you had to deal with, a time when you missed a deadline, and on and on and on. Answering those questions with anything having to do with a toddler is completely unacceptable (although very tempting!).

Now go out and volunteer!

This is a really well written piece about the perception that Staying Home is a luxury. None of the stay-at-home parents I know are leading the glamorous life. I don’t run in those circles. Ha! We’ve each made sacrifices to our lifestyle and sometimes that means hard choices and going without, and naturally not-the-latest clothes and shoes. (Our kids dress better than us!)

http://nyti.ms/1BvqX2d

If you’ve been home for a while and you plan to return to work at some point, do yourself a solid and open your resume. Seriously. I know it’s the furthest thing from your mind right now. But, there are a few good reasons for this: 1) you likely didn’t update it with your last work experience as you were preoccupied with expecting a new addition, 2) you NEED to see what story your resume tells about you, and 3) you need to make a plan to transition back in and that may require more schooling or certifications.

We recently relocated to a new state and my husband’s employer graciously provided me (! wow, something for me) with a career coach in the event I was going to be job searching. I am not going back just yet, but I did take them up on the offer of resume help and it was fabulous. One thing I had not included on my previous resumes (and I will going forward) is a summary of my work experience at the very top. In just a few bullet points, the coach showed me how to pull out the experience I want to highlight, and in my case since I would like to work in a completely new field, how to connect the experience I have with the type of candidate they are looking for. Very broad brush summary. Think along the lines of what are your defining, strongest skills. Do the work for the hiring manager! Connect the dots. Makes a ton of sense to me.

The other piece of advice they gave me is that volunteer experience can be included on your resume, especially if it is long-term in nature. It shows you are engaged and motivated. Use your judgement with the type of position you are seeking, but by all means, take credit for the hard work you are doing for the school or MOMs group or wherever. –Don’t have volunteer experience? Go get some. It’s super important. Stay tuned, that will be an upcoming post. —

And once you put all that time into your resume, you should update your LinkedIn profile and keep your connections up to date.

If anyone is interested in reviewing each others’ resumes, please comment.