When Your Job and Motherhood Don't Mix

Learn how to make the transition to a new career after becoming a new mother.

As much as you love your job, you may find that your present career and motherhood are not compatible. Before you make a move, though, consider the benefits you might be losing. It's hard to provide health care for a child, for example, without medical insurance. Make sure you have enough cash on hand to get the family through a period without your income. In other words, there are risks involved.

Choosing a New Occupation
When you're exploring career options, keep your search focused. Limit your interest to no more than the three areas that most appeal to you. The easiest way to change a career is to choose something that builds on your past experience. For example, a medically trained person could look in the health-insurance field where they need people to analyze claims. The following steps are essential:

  1. Assess your skills—The most expensive option for this test but the one that guarantees expert advice—is a career counselor. Personal recommendations are the best way to find a good one. Lacking that, you could ask a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or other professional association. Other sources would be:

    • Outplacement firms
    • College career-development offices
    • American Society for Training and Development
    • Community college career-counseling service
    • University alumni clubs counseling services
  2. Test new possibilities—Some occupations look more attractive from afar than they really are. You can't go back to school full time to test a career's potential. But you can test the water with your toe by taking a few evening classes. Another way is to moonlight on the side to examine the culture of your prospective industry, or perhaps,take a temporary job during your vacation.
  3. Consider the cost—Gone are the days when you could throw caution to the winds and make changes impulsively. Now you have a family's security to think about. Your first task is to consider the affordability of the proposed career change. The standard advice to job changers is to have adequate cash on hand to cover family expenses for several months. In times of economic slowdown your cash reserve should cover at least six months. The alternative of starting your own business, an even riskier venture, requires a reserve of up to a year's expenses. Draw up a budget to pinpoint areas where expenses can be trimmed and be sure to pay down credit card balances; a time of austerity may be ahead.
Start Looking from Work
Ideally, your search for something new will take place while you're still working. Not only will your salary and benefits continue, but also, ironically, an applicant for a job looks more interesting to an employer when he or she is still employed elsewhere. Your search should begin with networking, and here are some ideas to do that:
  • Expand your business contacts—Speak to customers, suppliers, lawyers, anyone you come in contact with in the course of business. Don't forget to let your accountant, your banker, and vendors know that you're in the market for a new job. Of course, if you're still employed, ask these contacts to be discreet about your new job search.
  • Use professional organizations—Perhaps the most fruitful source of information is a professional or industry organization. The country's largest female network, the National Association for Female Executives, is an excellent source. Also, you'll find chapters of the Business and Professional Women's Association throughout the country. The list of organizations is almost endless. You can also get online or tap business message boards for support and tips.
Starting a Business
Sufficient capital is the lifeblood of any business, particularly a new one that needs some time to get established. More than 50 percent of new businesses fail within the first four years, almost always because of lack of capital. Yet, beginning entrepreneurs find it very hard to obtain borrowed money. In times of economic stress, obtaining a loan, or a grant of any size, is all but impossible, according to experts.

One source of limited help is the Federal Small Business Administration. Although funding has been reduced, the agency still guarantees some loans and recently announced plans to grant "micro" loans of up to $15,000 to new business ventures. Another source is the National Association for Female Executives venture-capital program. The group makes investments of between $5,000 and $50,000 to members with an association-approved business plan. Otherwise, the only other practical options are independent venture-capital funds or loans from private investors.

A home-based business is the answer for many women. Approximately two million American women currently own and operate their own home-based businesses. No more traffic jams and expensive child-care fees for them. Compared to retainer franchises, home-based franchises are easy enough to start. A business letterhead and a phone line are all that's needed. In general, they require less capital than other business ventures, and the percentage of profit is greater because there are no overhead expenses for an office or a store.

These franchises can be risky, however, because many of the products are new ideas that have no established track record. Also, you must be sure the franchise company has backup systems that you can call on when you need to. Some of the two thousand franchises available give you nothing more for your money (around $10,000) than marketing materials, a training tape, and a handshake at the door.

Starting your own business takes commitment, a solid business plan, and a support system. The American Women's Economic Development Corporation is a nonprofit origination dedicated to advising women entrepreneurs. This group and the Small Business Administration offer pamphlets, counseling, and seminars on how to start and manage a business. Use these organizations to develop a support network of the professionals you'll need later on.

Returning to School
A small amount of retraining may be feasible while you're still working. You may even get your employer to cover the costs if it relates to your present job. Attending school full time is a costly way to retrain your self. It not only requires high tuition fees but also the loss of your salary. Start out by taking individual classes that have been recommended to you by people who work in the field you aspire to enter. Some women have done it, but taking a full load at school, caring for your baby, and working full-time needs almost superhuman strength.

If you do decide to leave work for full-time education, a number of scholarships and loan programs are available to adult students. Information about and applications for several of these programs are available from the Business and Professional Women's Foundation.