By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/15/2007 4:07:18 PM ET 2007-07-15T20:07:18

Much of the debate over whether women should become stay-at-home moms is focused on what is best for the child. But little thought is given to what is best for mom, especially when it comes to her future career, economic and personal well being.

Unfortunately, opting out can come back to haunt some women.

One former stay-at-home mom who lives in Doylestown, Pa., says she regrets her decision to leave her work life behind.

"In 1986, I started my career as a computer programmer and moved to management easily when I was in my 20s. Due to my husband’s career goals and lack of good child care I choose to stay home and felt it necessary to choose my kids as my new career."

"Now I wish I hadn’t and will teach my four daughters to never leave their careers behind," she says. "My husband left me after 16 years of marriage."

She was thrust back into the workplace, and while she found a position she liked initially it now looks like it’s a dead-end job, causing her to wonder: “Is it harder for a woman in her 40s to get a good-paying job after having not been in the workforce for a while?”

Alas, it can be. I get quite a few letters from stay-at-home moms who never thought their decision to opt out of their careers would hamper their ability to re-enter and thrive in the workforce.

Women are often blindsided when they’re confronted with the realities of the workplace after opting out, says Leslie Bennetts, author of "The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?" Women re-entering the workplace encounter a host of obstacles, including everything from ageism to a “very strong negative bias” against former stay-at-home moms by both male and female managers, she says.

Women need to understand what they may face if they choose to give up their careers, especially those women who do little to keep their skills up to date or educate themselves during the years off, she adds.

“If you add up all the risk factors it instantly becomes clear that the majority of women who give up careers to stay home will end up on the wrong side of the odds," she says, pointing to the 50 percent U.S. divorce rate. “If you stay home for 10 years you are compromising the other 60 years of your adult lifespan for the sake of your children, jeopardizing the family’s economic survival and certainly jeopardizing your future,” she says.

While Bennetts acknowledges the workplace has a long way to go in terms of offering both men and women the flexibility they need to make balancing kids and work easier, things will never change if women just hit the road.

That said, women can re-enter the job market, but you have to brush aside your fears, be extra savvy and in some cases be willing to take entry-level gigs in order to learn and to get back on the paid-work track.

And play up stuff you did as a mom that would be valuable to an employer. No one cares if you volunteered at a bake sale, but if you ran the PTA and raised thousands of dollars that should definitely be resume fodder.

Here are some of your questions:

After being married for 12 years and being a stay-at-home wife, then mom (6-year-old twins), then divorced, every practice/company where I have applied to has the same concerns.  The first is that my resume shows too much instability and is not consistent.  Eve, I am starting over without a college degree at 46 years old with 6-year-old twins. Now that I am divorced (3 1/2 years), it's like I'm not employable.

My friends in L.A. tell me that this is not an issue that they consider when they are hiring employees, but it is here.  I make cold calls, answer ads and apply to any industry and tell everyone I know that I NEED a job. What are women like me supposed to do?  I now have to make a decent salary to support my family?  I never thought that former stay-at-home moms would have such a difficult time, especially when I have worked in the medical field for over 10 years.
— Exhausted and hopeless in Atlanta

First off, cold calls and answering ads typically go nowhere. You need to have an "in" somehow and that means you got to put your networking hat on.

With 10 years in the medical field, you already have a foundation for one of the hottest sectors in the job market so build on that and find a positions in a hospital, medical office, etc., suggests Vivian Steir Rabin, co-author of "Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work." "Use the skills you have," she adds.

Even though you live in a different state now, I would start calling former co-workers and supervisors and find out what they’re doing. They may be working for a health care company that has operations around the country so they might have the inside track on openings near you.

Focus your resume to include the top three to five positions you held that in some way relate to the job you apply to. You can have a different resume for each job. And I would leave the dates off your resume; explain time off during the interview.

Also, think about taking some courses at a local school and look for financial aid opportunities that are geared toward women coming back to the work force, says Steir Ravin.

And don’t let your cover letter, or your tone during the interview, come off as desperate. "Don’t say, 'Now I have to return to work,'" advises Steir Ravin. "Say, ‘I took some time off and now I’m eager to return to work.'"

I am 42 years old and am going through a divorce and will have full custody of three children. I will be moving from a large home with a hefty mortgage to a more manageable (in both upkeep and finances) home. I also will be going back to work for the first time in 17 years.

Shortly after I married I quit my job as an insurance underwriter (which I hated). Due to the constant moving and then having a child, I never returned to work. Now due to the divorce, the realization of work being a necessity is weighing heavy on my mind.

I would be willing to consider either an associate's or bachelor's degree program in a specialized field. I have considered the tech industry — specifically Web design/development.
— Minneapolis Mom

Join a professional group because it looks good on a resume and you might be able to find a mentor who will help you break into the industry. Tory Johnson of Women for Hire, suggests joining Women in Technology International, but also join local groups so you can meet people.

It’s a great thing that you are willing to be back to school and that will play the biggest role in getting you a job in the tech world. A former stay-at-home mom and friend of mine, Sabina Ramsey, designed my Web site. She had no background in technology but did take a six-month course in basic design and Web programming. She reads all the books, magazines and Web sites she can find on Web development, and she’s designed Web sites for a nominal fee or for free just to learn the ropes.

First thing, Ramsey says, "you need to have passion for it and see yourself as a Web designer or whatever you want to be or no one will take you seriously."

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