Deciding What to Do After Being a Stay-at-Home Mom
My kids are in school and I’m still their mom, but I have time to be someone else for several hours each day. This someone only wipes one bottom. Her own. This someone is creative and powerful and became the amazing woman she is BECAUSE she was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years. I’m proud of that time. And now I get to do something else. But it’s hard to decide what to be when you grow up… again. How do you decide what to do after being a stay-at-home mom?
I’ve used a fairly scattershot method for tackling this
problem opportunity over the past year and a half and I’m finally starting to make some progress. There are five things I’ve learned that are helping me focus and move forward and I hope they help you spend a little less time wandering and a little more time enjoying this exciting next step.
Just as you are helping your high schoolers decide what they want to be when they grow up, you’re deciding for yourself. Getting a handle on the process will help them as you share your experiences.
1. Catch Your Breath
I spent the months before my final child started full-day school planning what I would do. After years of rejoicing when I got an hour to myself during nap time, I knew that 5 hours every day would be bliss. I would accomplish everything… immediately. Allowing a luxurious 30 minutes for lunch, I planned on 4.5 hours each day of structured productive time.
My more experienced mom friends said, “It’s kind of a rough transition. You’ve been going hard for years and this is totally different. Consider taking some time to rest and regroup before jumping straight into work.”
One said, “You will likely spend the entire first year your kids are in school napping.”
Haha! I thought. No I will not. I have plans. I have goals. Not a minute wasted. And I started the school year full throttle, all the goals, all the plans, all the lists. And, even without kids, I failed to accomplish my goals. Every. Single. Day. I jumped immediately to the what of filling my days, without taking time to think about the why and the how. This made for a rough first year of missed expectations.
2. Don’t Choose by Default
While raising kids, I’ve worked a little. I wrote blog posts for myself and other sites. I managed a blog on a corporate site. I’ve written a few books and done some paid speaking. So, my path seemed obvious to me. I should keep doing this, but more of it. My plan for the first year was just to do what I’d always done but bigger.
The problem was, I don’t love it. I love writing. I love speaking. I really struggle with marketing my writing and pitching myself to people as a speaker. I thought the problem was education. So, I took classes on marketing. I enjoyed the classes but when it came to doing the actual work, I floundered.
Just because you have a marketable skill does not mean that you HAVE to do that thing. The fact that you have a degree in something does not mean you need to spend your life doing it. Maybe you will decide to use your marketable skill or your degree but you need to DECIDE and you need all the information.
Perhaps you will end up using those assets, but in a non-traditional way that you enjoy. Whatever you do, do it on purpose. Right now I’m considering writing and speaking, but hiring someone to do the marketing and scheduling for me so I can focus on what I love. I’m mapping out possible futures so I can make an informed decision and this feels right.
3. Dream Big
My friend was a photographer for several years when she suddenly announced she was going all in to become a firefighter. This seemed random to the rest of us who had not lived inside her dream. I had no idea that was something she had always wanted.
She had to work HARD to be physically and mentally ready. So, she did, and she is killing it in her new profession. I’m sure she told herself for years that she couldn’t do it. She was a photographer and a mom to three kids. But she started researching and working and she proved to me that I can do anything I set my mind to.
If you have a dream, it’s not impossible until you’re dead. At the very least, do the work to find out what it would take to achieve and how your life would be if you went for it. Then you can decide whether you’re willing to make the change.
4. Prototype Your Decision
The term prototyping comes from an amazing book, Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Their focus is on living your life the way a designer would create a new product. You prototype when, rather than jumping in with both feet and planning out your entire life forever, you experiment with action in the direction of your decision.
For example, instead of going right back to school to get your masters in teaching, you could do things to help you get the feel for what life as a teacher would be like. You could invite teacher friends out for tea and interview them about their lives. You could get permission to job shadow a teacher for a day or two or volunteer at a local school. Then maybe you could get hired on as a substitute to see if you enjoyed working in a classroom environment.
Each of these prototyping steps would give you an ever-clearer picture of the life you are considering. None is a huge investment of time or money and they could help you feel more confident in your decision. Similar steps could be done with nearly any job you are considering.
Designing Your Life has helped me plot out writing projects, make minor decisions more confidently, and it’s helping me zone in on some major life transitions. I obviously can’t summarize all of their processes here. You really just need to get a copy of the book and work through it cover to cover.
5. Value Your Experience
After staying home for a few years, it’s easy to look at the professional world and feel overwhelmed. It’s hard to see where you fit in this constantly moving and changing world.
But, the truth is, you have been growing and developing your whole life and there are likely many people who would love to work with you. You just need to show them why.
Spend time brainstorming all of the pertinent experience you have to the job you’re looking to land. For example, I recently applied for a job as a substitute teacher, so I updated my resume to include classroom volunteering time, teaching time in my church youth program, piano teaching from way back when, and work I’d done with the PTA. Most of these weren’t paid positions, but when I brainstormed “Things that Make Me Qualified to Teach,” the list was long. I’m a mom, for the love of Bilbo Baggins! I teach all the time and sometimes in a formal capacity.
Most likely you have more experience than you give yourself credit for and, if you can’t think of any, ask a friend. If you’re still coming up short, think about what prototyping experiences you could do to build confidence and boost up your resume.
It really is daunting to think about starting over with a new life and a new identity as the kids get older. It’s almost like witness protection but you get to keep your old pajamas and your current neighbors. But it’s also super exciting. The world is our oyster, fellow moms! The sky’s the limit.