There are not many events in our lives when our careers — along with their significance and financial status — suddenly become a topic of interest for family and friends. But once you have a child, the situation can change for many parents, especially mothers.
Based on your cultural background and social norms, family and friends can begin to pour unsolicited advice about the best setup – and the best person – to provide care for the child from the moment of birth until going to school and beyond. The discussion may extend to debate the significance of a parent’s career (typically mums’ careers) and perhaps hinting to that staying at home to take care of the baby is a viable option. Driven by good intentions mostly, some even may go as far as calculating the cost of childcare, and making a financial point based on assumptions related to this parent’s income.
Although many of the points typically raised in these situations may be valid, how childcare is arranged is not anyone’s business. People often feel strongly about one option or another, although they may be taking compromises in the process, which they don’t have to be discussed with anyone else – even close family and friends. To make an informed decision, here are a few job-related considerations that should be taken seriously before taking an extended break from work to look after a child.
There is a big difference between taking a few months or even a year off to look after a baby and becoming a stay-at-home parent for an extended period. The first can be easily recognized and understood by future employers. The second – although it may not be frowned upon – may raise some questions about how far you’ve kept up with the business, your ability to catch up and your overall skill set after such a long break. Again, it is not a hurdle that you won’t be able to overcome, but in a tight job market, landing a job after such a break will require serious preparation.
A career gap can be less damaging for an established professional than someone who is just starting. For example, if your entire professional experience is a couple of years, taking a long break – three to five years – can set you back to the starting point. However, if you’ve five to ten years of experience and you’ve developed a solid resume, you will be able to make up for the break shortly after you’ve got the first job.
Many people – mothers and fathers – plan to combine part-time, contract or freelance work with childcare to offset the loss of income and make up for the knowledge gap. However, to make sure that this initial plan can work out down the road, you need to ensure that you’ll have a steady flow of work, and you’ll be able to make time to deliver it consistently. Remember being the sole care provider for an infant or a young child can be the equivalent of a full-time job. Because contractors can be dropped easily if they don’t meet expectations consistently, make sure that you’ve the resources to assign time to do this work, and that these resources can be sustained on the long term. If you develop a routine, you will be able to manage both and you somehow will have the best of the two worlds.
Money is the most obvious consideration in any such discussion. It isn’t uncommon to find people who jump into a conclusion that a family that opts to have two working parents after having a baby is being forced to do so because it can’t survive on one income. Many working parents strongly disagree for the simple reason that money is never the only driver in pursuing a career – and professional childcare cost isn’t negligible. Still money is a big factor, and it is important to consider the impact of going from a two-salary household to making ends meet on one salary. In addition, you may be losing some other benefits in the process – like insurance, bonuses, air tickets, etc. So make sure that when you calculate the cost – especially if you’re doing so as a comparison to professional childcare, you’re taking into account all the benefits and perks that you will be giving up along with the salary. Even if money isn’t an issue for your family, you still need to consider the security of available income, including the stability of your spouse’s job.
Rania Oteify, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is currently a Seattle-based editor.