It’s certainly not easy being a mom, and it’s even harder being a working mom. But deciding to straddle both by taking time off to be with your children, all the while trying to remain relevant in your absence, may be the hardest task yet. Is remaining relevant even possible? Are we trying to surmount the insurmountable? The truth is, if you’re a mom, you overcome challenges that seem insurmountable every single day, so why should this be any different? And like everything else in our lives, remaining relevant needs to get done, so we put that on our plate, too—like we didn’t already have enough on our plate!
There is a lot to consider when it comes to remaining relevant. One key component to remaining relevant will depend upon the industry you’re leaving and how long you will be away. Some industries change with lightning speed, while others change much more gradually, so remaining relevant can be somewhat easier to accomplish in these slower moving industries.
With the understanding that each leave is unique, here are a few simple ways to remain relevant while on childcare leave. Please note that simple is not the same as easy. I know how hard it is to be at home with children, I am the mother of four; adding another thing (or three) to our already lengthy to-do list is not something any mom pines for. These three ideas are simply suggestions and they don’t need to be done every day, just periodically.
- Read — Remaining relevant in your industry means you need to know what is going on. You do not need to act on this information, so basic knowledge is all you need. This task can quickly become overwhelming, if you let it; so to avoid this hazard, create a reading plan. Answer two questions: “What will I read and when will I read it?” Chances are you will not have the time to read something like The Wall Street Journal, cover to cover, each day, so don’t bite off more than you can chew. Perhaps a better choice is reading Barron’s every Sunday, when there’s more help around the house. Find the news source most pertinent to your industry and make a reading plan.
- Remain Connected —Not only do you need to remain connected to what’s going on in your industry, you also need to remain connected to the people within that industry. This will require that you carve out some time periodically to network, in person or on the phone, with colleagues, past bosses, co-workers, etc. This will give you an opportunity to check in, keep up on the business at hand, all the while strengthening the bonds of friendship and keeping your name front and center. Come prepared to these conversations with a few relevant questions so you can “talk shop” a bit, making it clear you are keeping up with the industry.
- Consider a Consulting Gig — If time permits, consulting is a great way to keep yourself relevant or to inch your way back into the industry as you’re getting ready to return to work. This isn’t as much about the income as it is about remaining relevant. You may even offer your services pro bono so that the job is easier to secure. Being able to add some work experience to your C.V. can only help.
Finally, childcare leave needs to be kept in perspective. After working so hard to build your career, leaving it behind is downright frightening. You don’t want the last umpteen years to be flushed down the toilet, but your decision to leave work was the right decision for you and your family. It doesn’t make it any easier, I know, I left my Wall Street career to raise my children. Your heart is pulled in so many directions and you want to do it all—but you can’t. Carrying the heavy weight of trying to remain relevant is a burden; it is also often unrealistic and unfair. So go enjoy your kids! You have this 3-Step process in place: read, chat, and help others. Trying to be Superwoman will ultimately leave you feeling frustrated, ineffective, and exhausted. You cannot be all things to all people and the quicker you learn this, the quicker you can be the right thing to all the right people. And that will leave you feeling successful, fulfilled, and happy! Trust me, I learned it the hard way.