The Questions Working Moms Should Ask Before Taking A Career Break

The authors of "Your Turn" get honest about the "messy middle" time in working moms' lives.
Mladen Zivkovic via Getty Images

Seventy percent of moms with kids under 18 years old participate in the labor force, and odds are every single one of them would say some version of the same thing: Juggling a career and family is damned hard. Overwhelming, even.

Circumstances differ wildly, of course, but as Jennifer Gefsky and Stacey Delo of the digital platform Apres (which helps women find jobs when returning to the workforce) write in their new book, “Your Turn: Careers, Kids and Comebacks — A Working Mother’s Guide,” what women “all share is the silent responsibility of making career compromises when others’ needs come before ours.”

Their book takes on big questions of what Gefsky and Delo call the “messy middle,” those years when women are just fully ... in it. The challenges and decisions are big, thorny and sometimes frightening: Should I lean in? Pivot? Quit? If I do, will I ever get hired again?

HuffPost Parents spoke with Gefsky and Delo about their practical guide to staying, going and everything in between.

HuffPost: So why this book, right now?

Delo: We know there are a lot of women out there who are spinning their wheels, who have kids at home and who feel really burned out. And they’re trying to figure out if that means looking for more flexibility, or taking a career pause, or maybe making a career change. Look, leaving a job is a lot to give up financially. And being away from your kids is a lot to give up if what’s most important to you is spending time with them. So we want women to understand that there are costs. But we also want women to understand that the decisions they make are not forever, and there are many paths.

Gefsky: We really want women to be able to approach all of this with their eyes wide open. The fact of the matter is that when you take a career break as a woman, you’re not just losing your immediate salary. You’re losing your salary, and any benefits, and you are most likely coming back at a significantly lower salary if you go back to the workforce. The research shows there is a significant cost. That doesn’t mean it’s a decision you shouldn’t make, but we want women to know.

So how do you know if a career break is right for you?

Delo: We talk about a lot of the questions women should ask in the book. Of course, you want to think about money and whether you can afford to leave, but you also have to ask yourself about future financial losses. You want to spend some time thinking about how a change like this could affect your relationship, and about your identity and goals.

Your Turn

And you guys have been through this yourselves: Jennifer, on top of your work with Apres, you’re a partner in a national law firm focused on labor and employment law, and Stacey, before pivoting to women and work issues you were a journalist with The Wall Street Journal Digital Network. But you both stepped back, either by leaving altogether or working part-time.

Gefsky: In a way, I wrote this to help women avoid the mistakes I made. I was a 37-year-old mom who convinced myself that the only way I was going to be a good mom was to quit my job. I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t analyze any of this. I just reached that point where I was saying, “I’m so stressed out. I’m so tired. I can’t keep going like this. I quit.” For me, it was a mistake. If I could go back now, I would try and take some of the emotion out of it. I probably could have gone in and said, “Let me go part-time and see if that works.”

Delo: I decided that what I needed was a part-time schedule. I think the message there is that there are different models you can make work for you.

But asking to, say, go part-time can be really daunting. How can women do it?

Delo: First I would say that this is something companies need to understand ― that flexibility isn’t just a nice “perk.” For many millennials, it’s a requirement. I do think more employers are understanding that.

Before you go in and ask for anything, it’s important to know what is important to you. Maybe it’s working from home. Maybe it’s arranging your schedule so you can get to that 4 p.m. basketball practice. What you want to do is describe the specific scenario you’d like to try, and then make the case for why it’s good for your employer. That’s a step that women often miss.

Gefsky: Why is flexibility good for companies? Well, for one, it makes for really loyal employees. The turnover rate goes way down. I’d say, “Here’s what I’m looking for, here’s why it’s good for you ... give me six months to try it.” I think women will find a lot of employers are open to that.

Conversation has been edited and condensed.