Six Keys to Opting In (or Career & Skills Emergency Preparedness 101)

by Chrysula on December 15, 2011 in defining,mothering,planning,work life balance

This is the second is a series of three posts focused on those who have mothered (and fathered) at home for a substantial period of time, the so-called ‘opt out’ cadre. I am passionate about what these parents (yes I was (am?) one) bring to the table of companies and communities if and when the need or desire arises to dive back in. In part one, I promised thoughts on what you can to do to stay gently connected whilst mothering full time.

It doesn’t stop just because the children are all in school

There is a life of meaning, contribution and yes, ambition, to be lived that never receives a paycheck. I am surrounded by women and a couple of men who have made that wonderful choice. They run schools, communities, they serve in churches, shelters, women’s groups, they make endless meals, create fundraisers, reading groups, coach sports teams, and music groups. Let me say this loud and clear. This is not trivial work, and of course parents in the paid work force do all of these things too!  The stay-at-home-mother (and father) has forged a unique role that can continue long after little ones are on the path to independence. However, in a society that has such deep value attached to fiscal reward, it can be a tough sell if you need or want to leverage that path to paid work.

I have many friends and associates who’ve found themselves as unplanned breadwinners because of the end of a marriage, sickness or death, or the most common cause, spousal unemployment. It doesn’t take much — most families can’t get past a few weeks or months of the primary breadwinner’s job loss without severe consequences. I come from a culture where traditional roles are actively encouraged and I honor the great women of my past and present who have been powerful voices in their families, in their communities and in the world from a traditional vantage point. But stuff happens! Even those who never ever plan a return to the professional workplace, need to be prepared. So whether you are planning to opt in when the time is right, or just planning to be prepared for an uncertain future, read on!

Career and Skills Emergency Preparedness 101

1. Mission & Vision: What Matters to You Most

Having a clear sense of what matters most to you, your partner and your children is pivotal in this regard. Your vision and guiding principles inform how you navigate financial need, professional development goals, and the kind of parent you want to be. It becomes your north star, your mantra, your gut check. Not what the media, advocacy and interest groups, your favorite bloggers, extended family or gossipy neighbors say.

2. Emergency Preparedness Basics

What happens if you’re told to evacuate your neighborhood? Who’s getting the children, where will you meet anyone who’s not home at that time? What is your central call-in point? Who has the important documents and essential medicines, clothing, toiletries etc? Do you have cash on hand if power is out and ATMs are not functioning? What about gasoline when the pumps can’t work?

Anyone who’s pulled together an emergency plan or lived through this kind of thing understands that there is some planning and strategic thinking required to make sure a family can function in a crisis if  things fall apart in the larger system. If you’ve ever stored a few weeks of food for use in emergencies, you’ve learned about the need to use and replenish what you have on hand. Your skill and career preparedness is exactly the same. A little bit of thinking and planning goes a long way.

3. Deliberate & Focused

Be where you are. Be in your decision, deliberately, consciously and with focus. There is so much pressure around us to do what others think is the right thing. Pressure to stay home. Pressure to go back to work. Again, this is about what is right for you and your family. It might sound counter-intuitive to plan for the future whilst staying in the present. Rather, that emergency preparedness gives you the peace to be present in the current season, rather than a repressed sense of panic and unreadiness. As many of us have learned the hard way, life can change at any time. Knowing where to start, and coming from a place of personal peace, gives you an enormous advantage.

4. True Partnership

Just as you need a vision for yourself, you need a vision for your family. How you make choices about money, needs and wants as a collective, and you you talk about those things, is pivotal to understand before making the opt-in (or out) decision. If you are married or in a partnership, do you understand the core desires for family life your significant other holds? Do they understand yours? Spending time on the big picture, the values you jointly hold, informs the choices you make going forward on things like budgeting for career and skills maintenance (time and money), managing children and household responsibilities and all that goes in to a functioning, happy family.

5. Resumes – Why and How

Why do I need a resume when I’ve mothered at home for 10 years and things are only becoming more intense with my children and I cannot ever imagine heading back to the professional work force?”

Firstly, see Emergency Preparedness. Secondly, if for no other reason than feeling amazing about all the incredible things you have done in this time. Start by making a list of all your community, volunteer and household management contributions. Then you get to turn them into ‘business speak’. And if you do plan on heading back to the professional work force at any time, it is critical. Working with the teens at your church for example, can be expressed as:

Youth Group Leader (2008-present)

    • Responsible for annual strategy of engagement and motivation of teens, weekly activities, twice annual camps managing 40+ children and team of 5 adults, expanding to 200+ children and 12 adults for large scale events.
    • Managed planning, logistics, administration and workshop/content development….

You get the gist. Frame your important work in numbers and business language as much as possible.

Each of these points is a post in it’s own right, but for now, here’s a quick list of “do’s” to explore:

  • keep a resume updated every year (even if only one line changes)
  • have a presence on social media (a few of mine are here as examples, not as a prescriptive (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
  • traditional networking (an annual conference, local events)
  • stay informed (industry publications, websites)
  • constant learning (Ted Talks, Power of Moms, formal and informal continuing education)
  • professional and alumni networks/groups (in person, LinkedIn)
6. The Language of Mothering

Here’s another key point that we should more deeply explore. For today, I simply want to challenge you to watch your mouth. Banish the word “just”, as in “I’m just a mother” not only from your talk, but from your brain. Remember that list you wrote from point five? Even though you might be joking, let’s skip the, “Oh there goes my Mom-brain again!!”, or “I’m such a bad mother” or any litany of negative self-talk I hear coming out of amazing women every day. Can we just stop? And then extend that same courtesy to others? And make sure when you answer that inevitable cocktail party question on what you do, that you answer with held high and eyes fierce. Delivery is everything!

In part three, my next post, we will discuss what companies can do to reduce bias against return to work mothers and fathers.

What’s your top tip for career and skill preparedness whilst home full time? Let’s build and leverage each other’s knowledge in the comments.

A few of my favorite resources for staying at home and loving it, and/or workforce readiness:

Get clear on what this all looks like for you. Join me in my new online learning community project The Daily Thrive! Kick off 2012 right. Get on the list here.

If you have a great work life story, or know someone who does, please share! You can reach me here or comment below. Thanks for stopping by my site. I’d love your comments and to have a conversation here. Please subscribe here or at the top right by email or rss feed. Or connect with me on twitter or facebook.

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Note: Much of the content for this post was discussed at two recent panels I was part of on work life balance and opt-out/opt-in issues: How to Make the Workplace Work for Families and Staying Home, Staying Connected at the BYU Women in Business Conference and a discussion panel at the Annual MWP Salon on Crafting a Deliberate Life. I am grateful to my fellow panelists for their thoughts and perspectives -- most certainly our discussions further influenced my thinking on these topics.



Kara December 22, 2011 at 3:45 pm

This is all great advice.  In particular, I think having an updated resume is key. You never know when a job opportunity will pop up–I’ve seen them come from soccer team parents, church friends and other random places.  Now if only I followed your great advice . . . .

Chrysula December 22, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Ha ha! Well, now you have your very first New Year’s resolution! And I firmly believe the resume is important for that random opportunity but also as a stake in the ground of what you’re doing right here and now – just framing it in a professional way reminds you that you’re kicking butt at a time when it can be hard to remember that part!

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