We get lots of advice through our lives. Especially when we get married and have children. People mean well. They give us tidbits, gently or forcefully, but typically well-intentioned.
We don’t take all the advice (or sometimes even most of it) for various reasons. Sometimes we think we know better, it doesn’t fit with who we are, we don’t think it applies to us, or we don’t see the value in it (at the time). I used all these to ignore some advice given to me by my mother many years ago. She passed it on with a wisdom I couldn’t see from my youthful vantage point. But fast forward a few (ok, a lot) years and it resonates strongly now.
It was good advice. I should have taken it. My position now would be very different if I had.
So, I’m Going To Share that Advice with You
Maybe you can benefit from my mistake.
It was nearly 20 years ago. I had been married for a few years, my mother nearly 30. My dad left. Just up and walked out one day, and left her in shock. Left all of us in shock. She looked at me one day (a new mother, staying at home with a new baby) and said: “Always stay working. Don’t stay at home. Work.”
I scoffed. I dismissed.
Of course I was fine to stay home with my kids. Of course nothing would happen to us. He would never leave. If he died there was life insurance. I didn’t need to work. We were fine. We would always be fine. It wouldn’t happen to us.
Fast Forward 20 Years
It’s happening—the unimaginable.
So many things I have learned in the last year have been unimaginable. So many decisions, so many kernels of information so many choices—all unimaginable.
My mother’s words haunt me.
“Always stay working. Don’t stay home. Work.” They taunt me with my rejection of her wise words in my youthful arrogance. It reminds me that sometimes, mother knows best.
It’s not that my mother knew what would happen. It’s that my mother was wise. She had learned that sometimes, we cannot see the twists and turns life will take. It’s best to prepare for the possibilities. We buy insurance in case something bad happens.
Staying home with my children put all of my eggs in one basket. His basket. And I can’t get them back. I can’t get back those years, those lines on my resume, the years of experience, the income growth from years of working.
Going Back To Work After Being At Home Is HARD
My mother got divorced in her 50s. She spoke with other women in their 50s who were getting divorced or who had been divorced. One of the biggest factors in determining who did ok and who struggled—really struggled—was who had worked outside the home and who had not.
It’s HARD to go back to work after years of being at home. The working world does not respect stay-at-home moms very much. Your peers have years of experience on you. You aren’t worth much money. It’s HARD. But if you have always worked… your work life goes on as normal after a divorce.
I’m not saying plan on getting divorced. I’m saying that like many other areas of life, you should have a plan for the worst-case scenario. Had I kept even a minimal presence in the working world, I would be in a very different position right now. There are things I could have done that would have significantly helped myself. With all that I have learned in the last year, here is the advice I would like to share.
What I Would Do Differently:
- Always work. That does not have to mean full-time, or even part-time. Find a way to keep active in your field. Do something. Volunteer, help out, keep in contact. Don’t let those skills and contacts completely die off.
- Keep track of what you do. Volunteer work, part-time work, work on demand-whatever it is, keep track of it: what you did, the skills involved, and the people you worked for. Keep your resume up to date.
- Get reference letters, letters of recommendation and contact info for the people you did work for. Keep your references up to date.
I like to be involved and did tons of volunteer work. That has helped me put together a resume. But time has passed. It’s really hard to go back and write up what I did, when I did it, and who I worked for. That is valuable information, especially as years have go by and you are trying to pull it from memory. It’s also tough to go back to people you haven’t kept in touch with and ask for reference letters or recommendations. Had I gotten letters of reference at the time, it would have been so much easier!
So, take it from me, who should have followed her mother’s advice: Always Work. Work doesn’t necessarily have to mean working for pay outside the home. But don’t let too much time go by without being involved with something. And when you do, record it and get references.
The world has changed. The resume doesn’t require 9-5 business credentials to be worthwhile, but it needs something.