Money seems to be on everyone's minds these days, understandably. So imagine what it's like to leave a well-paying job to stay at home with your kids. And then imagine trying to re-enter your field 5 or even 10 years later, while technology and tastes have progressed out of pace with your résumé. These circumstances are explored in The Comeback: Seven Stories of Women Who Went from Career to Family and Back Again by Emma Gilbey Keller.
Some of the women in these stories paused their careers because they had to. A sick child needed Mom more than the family needed her paycheck. Some of the women quit their jobs to go back to school and start a different career. But what they all have in common is this: a lot of flexibility in how they define success and a little bit of luck in finding a re-entry point in the job market.
To me, what was most interesting about these highly educated, very driven women were their attitudes toward their time at home. In one story, Peg, a medical student, left her residency to stay home with her children, while the family depended on her husband's salary. (He's also a doctor, which helps explain how Peg was able to leave school.) While she and many of their friends wondered if she would be happy doing "nothing" all day, Peg was ready for what she considered a break. (I read that and thought, "Pffft! Yeah, right.") But Peg soon realized the obvious – that being a SAHM is the last job on earth where you can do "nothing." She only traded one set of stresses for another.
All of the women in these stories grapple with the sacrifices – not just financial – their families have to make for Mom to stay at home, and they all eventually balance their work-family scales, although it often takes decades. It caused me to wonder: If women's careers tend to be less of a continuum, more of a zigzag between opportunities (either at home or in the work force), why is that path seen as less successful? With few exceptions, this type of career path trajectory leads to less earning potential in the long run, which is unfortunate / just plain sexist / annoying. And finally, I'd love to read a book about women who didn't start out in well-paying jobs (or with well-paid spouses) before they took a long break in their careers.