How to Return to Work After Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

There I was just one month into my first full-time job after being a stay-at-home mom for two-and-a-half years, when the mortifying moment happened: I saw my boss's Skype conversation. We were in a meeting and she had her computer screen facing me so I could see her screen.

My boss and a co-worker were making fun of me because I didn't understand a technical term my co-worker had used. I was absolutely furious.

I could feel the tears coming, but I refused to let my colleagues bring me down. I left to get some tea and chose to expel my tears in a nearby Starbucks, and came back calmly, explaining in a professionally written but incredibly sharp email that making derogatory remarks about other employees was not professional at all.

Man, was that email a stinger! The two women (with tails between their legs) apologized to me profusely, saying they meant no harm, but still, I never trusted either one of them fully again.

Considering it was my first full-time experience back at work, it was a real blow to my ego. I left that day asking, "Can I do this? Am I stupid?" It didn't matter that I went to an Ivy League school or that I knew deep down I wasn't a dummy. I felt insecure. And while that job ended up opening other doors for me down the line and gave me great experience for my résumé, it wasn't the best situation for me. If you're a stay-at-home mom who needs to or wants to go back to work after a long break from being employed, here are some serious tips that I wish I had had in my back pocket when I first applied for that job.

Consider the Distance and Schedule

In my field, all of the jobs are a good distance from my home. I had searched for almost two years to find a job closer to home while freelancing without any luck. When that job came through for me, I didn't have a choice at the time. I knew the job would expand my résumé, plus my ex-husband and I were having serious problems, and I knew I needed to get myself together financially.

But with that said, the commute was torture for me. It was a commute of anywhere from three to four hours — five to six in bad weather — per day, not to mention it was for a start-up, so the hours were insanely long. Most people worked 9-7. These were not good hours for a mom, and while I had three days of a modified 9-5 schedule, the other two were 9-7. I barely saw my kid and had to rely on her dad and our parents to do almost everything for my daughter. I cried a lot while working that job. I would come home to my little toddler and as soon as she saw me she would smile, and then sharply turn her back and say to me, "No hugs for mommy." She was hurt I was gone so much. I felt broken.

Pick something — if it's possible — close enough to home with a schedule that works comfortably for your family. This will make the transition from home to work that much easier for both you and your kids. Plus, if there's an emergency, it helps to be close by. One day she was sick. It took me three hours to get home, and on top of that, I had to wait for a bus to be available — that was another two hours before I could even leave to get her. Don't do that to yourself if you can help it.

Build Your Résumé

On the flip side, you may be like I was: just trying to get some experience under your belt in any way possible in order to build up your résumé. If this means taking work that won't initially bring in a lot of income but will end up paving the way for better jobs while you transition into "working mom," do it! It will pay off. Today, my freelance work has grown and my day job is wonderful. I put in the time — and still am — in order to get to a more comfortable place, and I'm still striving for it. You may not love the job itself, but if it teaches you something you didn't know before, I guarantee that it will help you get closer to your end goal.

Free Tutorials

On my professional résumé, the majority of my work is purely writing and entertainment. When you're an actress or stand-up comic, you don't use programs like Excel, so at the time, I was behind in terms of some office and technical skills. Most of what I have learned has been through trial and error or on the job. However, I did try a few free tutorials online in order to sharpen my skills. I highly recommend this if you're rusty or completely new to certain programs that your potential job may require.

Now You Got the Interview, and . . . ?

Work Environment

At that one job, there were no other moms and only one dad. It may sound ridiculous, but I think it hurt me in the long run. I was told my job description had "suddenly changed, and we need someone with skills like HTML, etc." And while I am sure they did need someone with those particular skills, I found it odd that they just realized it out of the blue instead of putting it in the job advertisement.

Although I can't prove it and don't care anymore, I think my commute and home responsibilities, like being with my kid when she was sick with the flu, were big no-nos for that company. My current job is more flexible and has a ton of other parents on staff. When you interview, pay attention to people's attitudes about any schedule issues you might have and/or their general attitude toward parents. It may be hard to see this in an interview, but I got a good feeling at my current job during the interview.

You Got the Job! Now What?

Dress to Impress

Always dress your absolute best and most professional. If you don't know what to wear, ask a current working mom friend to help a sister out! And in my opinion, it's better to come overdressed the first few days than be underdressed.

Prep the Kids

If your kids have not been in preschool yet or away from you for a stretch of time, I highly recommend prepping them by sending them to daycare or whoever will be watching them before you start work. Give them a few days to adjust while you're still at home and can help them with this new stage. If you can, write notes in their lunchboxes, telling them what you're looking forward to doing with them over the weekend, and perhaps tuck in a special treat. Take photos — work selfies! — of yourself in action at work and show your kids. If they're old enough, talk to them about what you do all day.

Emotional Prep

Whether you have to work or want to work, prepare yourself to feel a bit guilty for quite a while. Even though I've been working now for some time, after being home with my daughter on vacation, I always feel horrible going back even though I love what I do. And please, whatever you do, find support from other moms. Juggling a new job, the home, your kids, and possibly a marriage or partnership if you're taken is very hard and if you're a single parent, harder.

Expect also that like my girl, your kids could act out or give you the cold shoulder or experience separation anxiety. Mine had no issues separating, but just like a woman, she gave me such "tude" at first when I went back to work!

Captain, We're Going to Need Backup

God bless my ex in-laws for all they do with my daughter. They help my ex and me out quite a bit. But in addition to them, my parents live near my daughter's school, and I have quite a few friends as well as one sister who are home that I trust and could watch my daughter in an emergency. This makes working easier. I am also incredibly fortunate to be able to work from home occasionally or bring my daughter with me. Set yourself up so that you don't just have two emergency contact backups but five. Trust me, you will thank me.

And lastly . . .

Believe You Can Do This

It may take some time for you to transition, and it will be exhausting, but you can do this. I remember how crappy I felt that day crying into my chai tea over those two women and their petty comments, but if I could find that old me, I would hug her and tell her, "Don't worry, you've got this," because it gets better, dammit.

Forge on and tell yourself: I am woman. Hear me roar!