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Why a Working Parent is Good for Work

A stay-at-home mom with two children

Not that long ago, it was common for only one parent – typically the father – to work, supporting a family of three to four children and a stay-at-home mom. But, of course, times changed and women entered the working world in droves. Currently, they make up more than half of the North American workforce, and this cultural and socioeconomic shift has presented women with many choices and challenges: Forego a family for corporate success? Sideline career goals to raise kids? Or somehow juggle both? And with time, these questions have become even more daunting as work-life balance becomes more out of whack and the cost of living, including child care expenses, continues to increase despite more than 20 years of virtually stagnant income growth. In fact, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada’s highest earning two-working-parent families spend 18% of their net income on child care expenses – the fifth highest out of 30 industrialized countries that were studied. Considering this statistic, it’s no wonder that over two-thirds of Canadian women with children under the age of five are in fact working. Conversely, in some regions, a woman may choose to be a stay-at-home mom simply because the cost of daycare outweighs what she would make going back to work. But what happens when that stay-at-home mom decides to go back to work?

Unfortunately, stay-at-home moms struggle when trying to re-enter the workforce. In fact, for low- to medium-skilled individuals, this choice can be particularly detrimental with nine months out of work equating to four years of lost experience according to a recent study conducted by Swedish economists. Furthermore, if data from the United States is any indication, any Canadian stay-at-home mom looking to re-enter the workforce, regardless of her skill level, has reason to be concerned. According to a survey conducted by New York-based think tank, The Center for Work-Life Policy, 73% of women who voluntarily leave the workforce have trouble finding a job when they try to return. More than half of those who do find a job, according to a study conducted by The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, end up at companies smaller than the ones they left, and Cornell University found that a woman with children, even if she wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, is half as likely to get called back about a job application as a non-mother with similar experience – and a stay-at-home mom who is considered for a job is considered at a lower salary than both non-mothers and men.

Why hire a returning stay-at-home mom?

The Cornell study is particularly disturbing because it exposes a double standard that employers apply to male versus female parents: fathers are generally thought to be more responsible workers than non-fathers while mothers are generally believed to be less dedicated to their jobs than non-mothers. (On an ironic side note, a stay-at-home dad is even more stigmatized by employers than a stay-at-home mom, according to US government data.) This double standard isn’t just morally reprehensible; it’s bad for the economy, which means it’s ultimately bad for employers. As reported in The Globe and Mail this past fall, 61% of post-secondary graduates in Canada are women, and with a million job vacancies on the horizon due to the imminent retirement of aging Baby Boomers, the country will need those skilled labourers to help ensure the economy’s stability. Continuing to discriminate against those who choose to take a break to raise their children – or to overlook mothers altogether – could spell disaster. This forecast has even sparked calls for more public funding across Canada to alleviate child care expenses; a step that the UK government has already taken in recognition of how much a stay-at-home mom contributes to their economy by returning to work.

Of course, one of the major concerns employers cite when it comes to hiring a stay-at-home mom is that mom’s so-called “career break”; they worry that their skills have become rusty if not utterly obsolete. While that may be true in some fields more than others, employers shouldn’t be so quick to assume as much, just as they shouldn’t assume a mother will be less dedicated to her job than a non-mother. Employers should consider investments in training if necessary and take seriously the transferable skills that a stay-at-home mom can accumulate during her time outside of the workforce, such as organizational, time management, and budgeting skills; skills that aren’t only demonstrated by her child rearing, but by the volunteer or part-time work that many stay-at-home moms choose to take on — and often excel at.

What a stay-at-home mom, or any stay-at-home parent, can do to return to work

Of course, the onus isn’t just on employers to ensure that stay-at-home parents find decent work when they choose to re-enter the workforce. There are many things a stay-at-home mom or dad can do to increase their chances of finding a good job.

  • Stay on top of industry developments

    Considering how much employers worry that stay-at-home parents’ skills dwindle during their years outside of the workforce, it’s important for every stay-at-home mom and dad to remain well-informed about the developments in their chosen fields and that that knowledge be reflected in their resumes.

  • Maintain a professional network

    Each stay-at-home mom and dad should maintain relationships with former colleagues and supervisors because they’re the people who know firsthand what they can accomplish. Such people can also be potential ins when the time comes to return to work. To help maintain this network, one should maintain a fleshed out LinkedIn profile, which is one of the most efficient ways to keep in touch with former coworkers.

  • Practice interviewing

    Sometimes, a stay-at-home parent will lose out on a job simply because their interview skills are rusty. That’s why she or he should regularly practice their interviewing skills with their spouse or a friend.

  • Volunteer or work part-time or on contract

    As touched on above, volunteering is a great way for a stay-at-home mom or dad to maintain their current skills or even learn new ones. However, many argue that volunteering may not be enough. That’s why many stay-at-home parents choose instead to take on part-time work or hire themselves out as freelancers while raising their children.

Obviously, the options above are more readily available to some than to others. That’s why each stay-at-home parent must assess their own unique situation. Perhaps there really isn’t enough time to take on part-time work, or perhaps, when the time comes, returning to school to pursue an alternate career path is the best way to go before attempting to re-enter the workforce. Whatever the situation, there is no doubt that Canada needs stay-at-home moms and dads to re-enter the workforce and do the jobs that they’re truly capable of doing. The last thing the economy needs is archaic prejudices plugging a wellspring of potential.

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