Stay At Home VS Working Moms
Tough Choices Made Tougher When Facing Divorce
Stay at home with your kids or stick with your career: it’s a matter of endless debate. But when divorce enters the equation, it’s often a matter of financial survival. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, part-time worker, entrepreneur or full-time career woman, divorce usually creates a need for more income.
“I urge everybody to aim toward self-sufficiency,” says Gaetano Ferro, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “The more self-sufficient she can become, the better off she is.”
The woman who has left the the work force to care for children may face the bigger challenges when returning to work. But divorcing women in every kind of work circumstance can benefit from taking a soul-searching, strategic approach to finding the kind of job that can sustain them and their families, says Carol Fishman Cohen, co-author of “Back on the Career Track: A Guide For Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work.”
“The people who can figure out what they want to be doing now will be happier in those positions and they’ll be doing them for a longer time,” says Cohen who has started a career-finding Web site called iRelaunch.com with her co-author Vivian Steir Rabin.
Ferro says one of the first things divorcing women should do is educate themselves about their family finances. “Stay-at-home moms tend to lack financial sophistication,” says Ferro. “They don’t pay attention to the family finances.”
He suggests they start looking at their tax returns, bank statements, investments, pay stubs and canceled checks. Then he recommends figuring out the family’s budget and taking that to a lawyer who is well-versed in family law. Only when a woman has a good idea about what it costs to live her life, will a lawyer be able to help her determine what kind of work she’ll need, says Ferro.
If divorcing women have been out of the work force for awhile, finding that work can be challenging. In her controversial book “The Feminine Mistake,” author Leslie Bennetts cites a study by Cornell University sociologist Dr. Shelley Correll that found “mothers are 44 percent less likely to be hired than non-mothers who have the same resume, experience and qualifications…”
To help tackle challenges like these, Cohen and her co-author Vivian Steir Rabin offer a seven-step plan to guide women back to work. “We tell people to examine each prior significant and volunteer experience and break each into components,” Cohen says. “Then extract those components you really like and are really good at and build your new career path.”
Cohen, a married mother of four, says she skipped this step when she returned to work in her former career in investment banking. She ended up leaving that job and now works as a consultant and author. “If I had gone through a rigorous analysis, I would have realized I loved business writing and working with people.”
Cohen says to start your job search with the people around you, friends, family and people who you volunteer with. You can practice talking about what you want to do with this nonjudgmental group. When you’re ready for more formal networking, Cohen says to look to former co-workers who are likely to remember you as the star performer you were when you worked with them. People you volunteer with now and their spouses might be able to connect you with job leads. And, if networks like alumni associations don’t exist in your area, Cohen says it makes sense to start one yourself.
Former stay-at-home mom Lesley Spencer Pyle launched her businesses to provide moms with online networking opportunities. Home-based Working Moms.com provides resources for women working from their homes while HireMyMom.com connects women looking for flexible work arrangements with employers that offer them.
She credits her faith with helping her expand her businesses and her income when she was unexpectedly divorced in 2002. “It wasn’t something I saw coming and I was quite shocked by it all,” she wrote in an e-mail. “However, once I got back on my feet again emotionally, my home business flourished. I felt led to stay with my home business and watched as my income grew as I continued to trust and depend on my faith in God and His leading my life.”
Faith also helped Jill Lucas of Newark, Del. on her journey juggling divorce, her daughter and part-time work while studying to become an X-ray technician. “More than anything it’s God who brought us through,” she writes in an e-mail. “I’ve changed and can never be who I was before, but God brought me to the point where I can survive.”
Living without a husband’s income can create serious financial problems for women. The book “The Two-Income Trap” by bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi says that that single mothers are more likely to file for bankruptcy than any other group, including divorced men, minorities or people living in poor neighborhoods. And they are 50 percent more likely than married parents to go bankrupt.
The rising costs of home mortgages in good school districts, health insurance and safe cars has made life on one income much harder to afford, say the book’s authors. Their research found: “the modern mother starts out her postdivorce life with higher fixed costs, more debt, and less money in the bank — a recipe for financial disaster.”
Although she says she’s still living month-to-month hoping she’ll make enough to pay the mortgage on the house she just bought for her and her 7-year-old daughter, Marjorie Stockford of Arlington, Mass. says soul searching helped her decide to stick with the flexible non-profit consulting work she enjoyed rather than finding full-time work after she and her partner of six years split up.
“I was very concerned about money,” says Stockford who left her 19-year career in the corporate and non-profit worlds when she adopted her daughter Kanha in 2002. Her income was the approximately $6,000 a year support her ex paid her, a modest amount of consulting work and income from her book: “The Bellwomen” about the landmark 1973 AT&T sex discrimination case. “I started applying for full-time jobs,” she says.
Then a colleague posed a life changing question: “Have you thought about keeping the consulting work and trying to build on that?” She decided to go for it. “You get off a treadmill, but what you’re trading is financial security, which is huge,” Stockford says. The flexible consulting work helps her spend more time with her daughter, but it isn’t easy.
Cohen says it’s important to prepare children for the changes that mom’s return to work will bring. She suggests talking to them early and often about your job search and bringing them to work with you when you do start so they can see where you go when they are with the babysitter.
“You want to convey to children that your interest in going to work is not a rejection of your life at home with them,” says Cohen. “Focus instead on how it’s about developing a part of yourself that you put on the back burner for awhile.”
But when you land that job interview, Cohen recommends avoiding any discussions about children and flexibility until after you’re confident they want you for the job. She said sometimes a better approach is to work full-time and prove yourself before asking for flexibility. She says you want to head into any interview well-prepared and full of confidence, even if you don’t feel that way inside.
“We told women if they could psyche themselves into a mindset that they didn’t really need the job, they were able to go into the interview with what appeared to be a more confident mindset,” says Cohen. “The more focused you are, the more passionate you come across. The better you come across, the more job offers you’ll get.”
Stacey Tiedge Alatzas of Bel Air, Md., is a freelance journalist, blogger and new media consultant with 12 years of experience writing and editing for daily newspapers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT RETURNING TO WORK:
WHAT WOMEN WANT WHEN RELAUNCHING CAREERS
“Back on the Career Track” Co-Author Carol Fishman Cohen Says Relaunching Women Look for Three Cs: Control, Content and Compensation. For some relaunchers, control of their schedule is most important. “Some people want to be home when the bus gets home, or they want to work full-time but get a month off in the summer,” she says. For others, the content of the job is the most important thing. Who they’ll work with, the prestige of the company or the fact that the company is a non-profit may be the most important factor for them. And for some, their compensation is the biggest issue. “Am I going to be paid what I’m worth or what is fair?” She says some women will trade one C for another. “They intentionally decided to come back at a salary lower than they had when they left,” says Cohen. “They wanted lower stress jobs because their kids had lots of needs. When the kids got older, they recouped the compensation they lost.”