Moms talk about transitioning back into the workforce after staying home with kids.
It’s 7 a.m. and Cristina Riggins’ washing machine promptly starts filling, preparing to wash a load of clothes the Norman mom prepped the night before. A year ago Riggins didn’t know the delay wash function even existed, but the former stay-at-home mom who recently returned to the workforce said that button, along with several other time-saving strategies, have helped her transition into working outside the home. Motherhood comes with many decisions, including what to do career-wise after kids are born. Oftentimes when moms choose to stay home that decision is not permanent, many finding themselves reentering the workforce and adjusting to new routines, expectations and schedules after staying home.
“It was always a goal to stay home with my kids, but financially it wasn’t realistic,” Riggins said.
Riggins, who has a 9-year-old and 4-year-old, decided to stay home after the birth of her oldest in 2010. She opened an in-home daycare but as years went by she decided it was best she return to work outside the home. She began looking for jobs that would fit her family and skill set.
“My advice is to think about what schedule works best for your family,” said Riggins, now an elementary resource assistant for Norman Public Schools.
Many fears and uncertainties can come into play when considering returning to work. From resume gaps to worries about inadequate or outdated training, some mothers feel discouraged or intimidated about making the transition. But Lyndi Zavy says women need to remember the skills they’ve developed raising a family can be utilized in the workplace as well.
“No one knows how to negotiate, balance and juggle life better than a mother,” Zavy said. “We get it.”
Zavy, a mother of two and a former human resources director, said women are capable and their voices are needed in the workplace no matter how long they have been away.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Zavy, now vice president of organizational development at an Oklahoma-based alternate site infusion pharmacy. “Go in and say, ‘here are the skills I’ve honed while at home and what I can bring to the table.’ From an employer perspective, we need her, we need her voice.”
Oklahoma City mom Jenna Worthen agrees mothers returning to the workforce need to talk up their skills, experience and willingness to learn on the job.
“It’s been incredible to see how reluctant some women are to share their stories because they don’t think it’s relevant,” said Worthen, who owns her own strategy company and has been witness to numerous moms returning to positions below their skill sets.
In 2018, Worthen founded Mom Who Works, an online community that examines what it means to be a working mom.
“There are expectations that are put on that title that don’t come for my working husband,” said Worthen, who has two children and one on the way.
Moms should remember there’s nothing wrong with simplifying some aspects of home life in the interest of striking better work/life balance.
“You do not have to do it all,” said Worthen. “I think the badge of busyness is gone. No one is getting a prize at the end.”
Housekeeper and grocery delivery services are among the options moms can utilize. Riggins hasn’t only relied on the delay wash feature to ease her transition. Her Instant Pot has become an asset, and she’s thankful to be able to lean on family.
“I have huge family support,” said Riggins, whose stepdad helps with school pickup for her oldest child. “I couldn’t do it without him. I’m very fortunate.”
Diana Rogers Jaeger also attributed family support as integral in her transition from working full-time outside of the home to starting her own consulting firm and working from home.
“The transition would have been so much more stressful if I didn’t have my mother-in-law,” said Rogers Jaeger, who lives in The Village and has two children.
Rogers Jaeger started her own business two years ago because she wanted more flexibility with her family, and the ability to live abroad in the summer, and she found the best model was to own her own business. Going from the boardroom to working from her home definitely has its challenges as she manages work and her boys.
“I just make it work,” said Rogers Jaeger. “I didn’t really have fears; I saw it as a challenge.”
Mom of two Holly Rhoades had to face her fears when considering reentering the workforce. The former Norman resident, now Corpus Christi, Texas transplant, was scared she would be out of her element when she returned to work after staying home with her oldest for two years.
“There was this fear of ‘will I remember how to do things,’” said Rhoades. “It all came back really quickly. It was just like riding a bike.”
Even if it doesn’t mirror riding a bike, Worthen encourages moms to remember reentering the workforce is not the first big transition they’ve tackled.
“How long did it take to be confident as a mom?” Worthen prods. “It’s the same as a new job.”
Rhoades is currently back to staying home with her kids but plans to once again return to work when her 15-month-old son turns 2. She thinks it’s important mothers do what is best for them and their families, whether that is to stay home or go back to work. She said those who do return to work after staying home should remember they were more than “just” a stay-at-home mom and to not be afraid to take that step back into the workplace.
“Don’t get paralyzed in fear,” Rhoades said. “Let fear be a motivator instead of a road block.”
Editor’s note: This article is the first of a two-part series examining career change questions and challenges women often consider after becoming moms. ReRe Lunsford is a Norman mom of two boys and an adjunct journalism professor at The University of Oklahoma.