Women who step off the job track to have kids face particular challenges in heading back to the workforce. Whether spurred by economic necessity or by a desire to re-engage socially and intellectually, the path back to meaningful work can be tricky to navigate.
After leaving a demanding job in the movie business to be a mom, I kept myself busy as a volunteer – I coached and organized the kids’ sports teams, served on PTA boards, ultimately becoming president of the PTA at our elementary school. I loved being busy and so continued volunteering once my kids were in school full-time, even as I was also starting to write more seriously.
I created and ran several fund-raising events for a local charity and got involved planning book clubs; both were purposeful and stimulating activities that kept me engaged with a community I enjoyed. But at a certain point, I felt I had a touch of volunteerism-itis – as much as I’d loved feeling connected to those communities, it was time to find a way back to the workplace.
It took me a few years to create my own on-ramp back to meaningful work…here’s my story.
I grew up on the East Coast, but chucked all that lovely tradition when Hollywood called. I was lucky enough to land jobs with some of the finest movie directors and producers, and considered my ten years in the movie business a first-class graduate level education.
Having kids changed all that. I gave up my studio job when my first child was nearly two, soon after my boss referred to me – in front of a bunch of hungry, young (male) literary agents — as being on the DL (that’s sports-lingo for Disabled List — ouch, right?). He was a funny man, and it was less awkward than it sounds, but it was my ‘A Ha!’ moment as a working mother.
I turned to screenwriting and was initially thrilled to work alone in a quiet room. Although I sold a few scripts, writing movies was not for me. However, I realized that I loved to write.
During this time, a good friend and I were in a Mother-Daughter Book Club. Each time we read a new book together with our girls, we set out to recreate the literaray experience around LA. (Think The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler and pretending we were stowaways at the Getty). Both of us were itching to get back to work, and dreamed of creating a project that could grow into a viable business by the time our kids were in high school.
We created a popular newsletter that chronicled our adventures with kids – our gimmick was to pair classic films with excursions to local venues in LA, and we called it Kids Off the Couch. Designing the website, writing the copy, and exploring LA was gratifying in a way that my corporate jobs had not been.
As fate would have it, our kids grew older and my business partner went onto greener pastures. Since I can no longer just toss my teens into the back of a car for a family adventure, I’ve taken what I learned on Venture #1 and started Venture #2, another website called The Family Savvy, this one a curated guide for LA parents eager to enrich their family’s diet with a little high culture.
Our mission is simple – to make it easier for families to enjoy each other and all that LA has to offer. As Editor, I interface with cultural institutions to insure that parents are kept abreast of worthy events, ideas and art around town, choosing the highest quality events to feature on The Family Savvy. I create the editorial content, manage the site and its adjunct social media platforms, work with advertisers and handle ticket-giveaways and other promotions.
Finding my voice was key to cultivating an audience – and I used my own experience parenting as my navigator. The lessons learned bringing up my own boy and girl become useful guides in helping other parents navigate the twists and turns of raising kids in the city. Getting excited notes from parents about the experiences they’ve had with their kids at a show or location we’ve suggested is the best compliment we can get…proof that all those hours scheming a way back to meaningful work have paid off.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about the transition from motherhood to meaningful work:
On the Internet: In high school, I fell in love with photography and in college I fell in love with movies. Both are still close to my heart, but now – while running a business and managing the family – it’s fabulous to be able to accomplish so much online. After running around to galleries and museums with my camera, I can come home and post everything online, working late into the night and getting up early (when I do my best writing). Communicating with my subscribers is easily accomplished through my weekly e-newsletters and I can also follow the news, organize kids and sports teams, plan vacations and get essential shopping done.
For fun, I organize our family photos and explore my own sense of style (for instance, on Pinterest). I honestly believe that being unplugged will become more and more of a luxury as our screen-addicted kids grow-up… but for now I feel my life is enriched and wonderfully complex, because of the Internet.
On creativity: Creating something new is exciting, but often a lonely venture. Not everyone will understand what you’re trying to achieve, so you need to rely on those who believe in you (your cheerleaders) and steer clear of the people who might be discouraging when you most need support. Likewise, you’ll need to be a cautious protector of your own inner process when bringing a new idea to fruition.
Once a new idea takes hold of your brain, it will throw up all sorts of adjunct notions that can be distracting. The trick is to figure out which ideas hold the clues to move your project ahead. Be present. Take care to capture all the new concepts that will pop into your mind. But learn to turn each one around carefully in your mind before deciding if it is a keeper.
On Finding Meaningful Work: I’ve always been a better mother and spouse when my working persona is positively engaged. It’s easy to get lulled in the rhythm of the household and forget about the inevitable future that lies beyond all the carpooling and birthday parties. Ideally, the mental journey back to the working world should happen while kids are young, even though that is long before most women are ready to go back to work. It’s great to volunteer. But why not try to take a job that can help you hone skills that you can use later, or take on responsibilities that allow you to learn a new technology or skill?
I liked being Team Mom for my children’s sports teams because it involved communicating by email, something that directly improved my messaging skills for my newsletters. Be the class photographer and teach yourself Photoshop; tackle the treasurer job and be sure you master the Excel spreadsheet. Volunteering is a powerful way to get involved with an organization or business that you might want to be associated with at a later time. If you are thinking about becoming a landscape architect, offer to work for a well-established one for free, and learn what it will take to enter that field. You might quickly realize that you need certain skills, so take a class and be prepared by the time your kids are launched enough that you are ready to be hired.
Are you cultivating your skills and passions in a way that can lead you to creating meaningful work for yourself? Share your story in the comments section below.