I rocked in the chair and fed my infant daughter while singing my toddler son a lullaby, and I could see the moon and some stars over the East River in Manhattan when I peeked through the curtains. It was always the way we ended the day.
I would imagine everything they had seen and absorbed — the morning had brought fresh pink and yellow tulips and buds had become bright green leaves on trees we passed in Central Park; the sound of a saxophone player under the bridge toward the Belvedere castle, the soft blanket I laid out with some sensory toys, and a ball for my son to kick around. I won’t forget how he had pointed up to the sky when we heard the song of a bird above us. In the afternoon, a trip to the bookstore and a visit to the playground for digging, climbing, and swings.
I was pushing my babies forward into the new day, a unit, a visceral attachment to each other in each step. The stroller was the caravan that held milk I had pumped in the morning, and ice packs. There were plenty of snacks and puffs, so many fruit and veggie purees, a change of clothes for each kid, diapers galore, a phone charger, and — depending on the weather — a rain cover, hats, and gloves, all stuffed under the stroller basket. It was the treasure trove of my stay-at-home-mom life.
Sometimes I imagine living these moments again with my children, every milestone, molding my kiddos to be good people. I loved stimulating their little minds with daily outings, smelling the smells and gliding along the sidewalk, through park grass, strolling on the smooth museum floors, and parking at baby gym classes. I hold dear the nights I would clean painting smocks and the mornings of peeling tons of stickers. I would do it all the same.
Sometimes a baby bottle fell out of the double stroller and rolled toward a city street gutter, or before the crosswalk I would unwind the end of a torn blanket that got caught in the stroller wheels. Some afternoons, I’d show up to a music class with two crying kids who didn’t want to wake from their nap and feel the beat. Though I didn’t see it as such then, I now realize that the effort in being imaginative, the ability to have a plan but being nimble enough to shift, the learning to adapt at a moment’s notice … those were actually life skills taking form that would serve me well beyond stay-at-home motherhood.
I grieve sometimes for those years; I treasure this time I had with them every day, because I know not every family is fortunate to have one parent home with the kids. Now as a full-time working parent, I understand how limited it could feel for a parent with only three hours in the evening before bedtime with their little ones — to snuggle, to nurture, to talk with, sing, connect with their child — if not nearly impossible.
In my stay-at-home phase of motherhood, I learned to be openminded and patient with my expectations. I learned to bring extras, to prioritize and have a backup plan, to know when my kids needed a nap or a bottle, and as they grew, a pep talk or some encouragement. My life was moving fast with two little ones, and while calming fits, meltdowns and cleaning up blowouts, I learned about having grace under stress. Through soccer games, preschool, being the PTA secretary and fundraising, and event planning as the room mom, I learned about coordinating, scheduling, and resourcefulness.
Those years of early parenting were exhausting, but they were perfect for me. Only it wouldn’t last. Life shifted, the stroller was donated, I found myself in an unexpected place — going through a divorce and rebooting my life — and I needed a full-time job to support my kids and me. My daughter was finishing pre-K by then, and my son was in second grade.
At first, I felt like I had missed the boat for a serious career path. Years had gone by since I was in the workforce; I had to dive deep to retrieve who I was when I wasn’t a mom and find my additional self-value. I felt like a non-traditional candidate, 10 years late. But looking back on those years, I realized something important: nothing has prepared me as well for a career as juggling the demands of stay-at-home motherhood.
Keith Wolf, managing director with recruiting firm Murray Resources, agrees. He tells SheKnows that it’s a great time for non-traditional applicants, or those with gaps in their resume — a positive change that stems from the pandemic. “The last two years has seen companies’ increasing acceptance of non-traditional candidates, both because our collective perspective on careers and work/life balance has shifted and because, in many cases, companies don’t have a choice,” Wolf says.
He says that parents looking to re-enter the workforce should be emboldened by the fact that there’s never been a better time to do so. “Low unemployment, combined with record demand for talent has resulted in companies being more open to applicants who may not fit their idea of the ‘perfect candidate’ in past job markets,” he states.
If you’re in this situation too, Wolf advises to start by brainstorming everything you’ve done during your “career gap” that could be remotely applicable to a job. “Include parenting and family related responsibilities that demonstrate any soft skills that may be relevant to the corporate world, such as time management, coordination skills, and leadership aptitude. Did you coach your son’s soccer team or volunteer at your children’s school? Write it down,” he says.
Also important, Wolf points out, is including any metrics associated with a task: “Did you plan a 5K to raise money? How many participants signed up? How much money did you raise? How many volunteers did you coordinate? The more you can quantify, the more valuable and relevant the task will appear to potential employers.”
I edited my resume and leaned into my skills. I had balanced playdates, laundry, and school drop off with writing, and had published work in national newspapers and magazines on my resume while being a stay-at-home mom. To get something fresh on my resume, I started with a contractual content strategist gig with an advertising agency, and continued to publish essays to keep the portfolio up to date. I also kept applying to full time positions that involved writing and marketing — another strategy that Wolf suggests. “Part time work or temp work is an excellent way to not only gain new skills and exposure to a new industry, but it can also often lead to full-time employment,” he says.
Amazingly, just as my divorce process was starting, I secured a full-time job as a journalist for a nonprofit news source; then as a manager at a communications firm, where I basically write all day.
For me, becoming a parent first helped shape my work ethic, communication skills, and empathy for others, too. Although I’m a little older venturing into my career in the workplace, I spent precious years of my life with my children when I was younger, time I am grateful to have had, and would never give up.
Monday morning, when I’m taking the elevator up to my desk in a high rise, in my veins is everything motherhood has shaped. Any feat during this new chapter has bloomed from those valuable years raising my kids: emotional intelligence, punctuality, organizational skills, the way I prioritize, and an ability to work with urgency and passion. It is all because I was a proud stay-at-home mom first, and that doesn’t make me “nontraditional” — it makes me valuable.