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Stay-at-Home Mother to Career Changer: The Interrupted Career Pattern

By Andrea Christensen

Preface

Having been a stay-at-home mom and career changer myself, I speak from the heart and with a great sense of empathy to women who are in the midst of navigating this stage of life. My experience as a teacher, stay-at-home mom, business manager, and then career practitioner (in that order) has provided me with an excellent sense of the realities of career transition and career interruption, including the discouragement of feeling left behind, and the excitement of starting something new and meaningful.

Today, as a career and education consultant I feel I have found a perfect blend of interests, skills, and passion, and my current work truly encompasses all of my career and life experiences into a wonderful direction that I happily anticipate with each new day. I have had the opportunity to bring my varied experience and passionate spirit to a field that, I feel, is only in it’s infancy.

It is exciting to be working in the career development field, which clearly has limitless potential to grow into something amazing, and to be a part of that transformational change.
~Andrea Christensen

Women who leave a career behind to devote themselves fully to raising their family face a complexity of emotions and challenges surrounding the decision. Often, these decisions are not straight-forward, and come with many sacrifices. For those that stay home, many eventually face a time when the decision to return to the workforce is near, usually once all of the children are in school full-time, or are grown and fairly independent. Super (1957) described this as the Interrupted Career Pattern, one of seven career patterns for women, who “return to the workforce after childrearing demands have lessened or ceased” (Osipow & Fitzgerald, 1983, p.251).

For these women, the period before returning to work can be a time of deep exploration, reflection and contemplation. For some, it seems like a logical time to make a career transition, if one will ever be made. They see this as an opportunity to find something that fits their interests and personality, as well as to explore career options which allow for work-life balance. Additionally, there may be an increased awareness in finding work that aligns with their ‘core-self’ (Clark, 2000) and in discovering the work that they were meant to do (Imel, 2002).

However, starting a new career direction, along with returning to the workforce after an extended break can be stressful and overwhelming for some women. There may be times of self-doubt, anxiety and guilt mixed with excitement and anticipation. In working formally and informally with this segment of women, I have observed some common themes that may be helpful for career professionals in supporting clients with an interrupted career pattern. Often, these women:

– desire to be a part of meaningful work that fills a sense of purpose.
– value flexibility and the ability to work part-time or flexible hours – this can be a deal-breaker when looking at possible career options.
– feel they may have ‘missed the boat’ on a productive career, think their skills and experience are out-of-date, and wonder if it is too late.
– do not wish to spend a long period of time upgrading skills but some re-training or higher learning may be considered.
– experience some guilt in taking action for themselves since these decisions will likely impact their family life to a certain degree.
Wiese & Ritter (2012) have identified two psychological resources that helped women better transition to work life after a longer leave: emotional stability and feeling prepared for the transition. Therefore, future research and development could focus on the types of activities that women find helpful in preparing them to return to work, such as counselling, return-to-work programs, higher learning opportunities, or published resources. Having such supports could help these women reduce stress while exploring viable career options, identifying skills and interests, learning work-search skills, and receiving support with decision-making, resulting in a smoother transition for the entire family.

 

Andrea Christensen, B.Ed, CDP is a Career Practitioner and Learning Specialist and holds an Education degree, an Alberta Permanent Teaching Certificate, along with certificates in Career Development and Adult Education, and is Strong Interest Inventory® Certified. Andrea works with adults and secondary students on career guidance, career-life management, educational planning and work search skills training. She is currently completing a Masters degree in Adult Education with a focus in career management and adult learning. Andrea believes every person should enjoy their work, and live with meaning and purpose.

References

Cabrera, E. F. (2007). Opting out and opting in: understanding the complexities of women’s career transitions. Career Development International, 12(3), 218-237.
Clark, J. (2000). From career angst to bliss: An explorer’s tale. Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, 15(4), 93-104.
Imel, S. (2002). Career development for meaningful life work (Vol. 237). ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.
Osipow, S. H., & Fitzgerald, L. F. (1983). Theories of career development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Super, D. E. (1957). The psychology of careers. New York, NY: Harper & Row. Wiese, B. S., & Ritter, J. O. (2012). Timing matters: Length of leave and working mothers’ daily reentry regrets. Developmental psychology, 48(6), 1797.

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