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Making the Shift From Stay-at-Home Mom to Working Outside of the Home

When the battle between work and family gets to be too much, many moms decide to take a break from their careers. But what happens when you want to go back to work?

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If Natalie Gasiorowski of Lake Orion could have foreseen how difficult it would be to find a nursing job just two years after taking time off to be a stay-at-home mom, she would have considered her decision more carefully. Now actively looking for part-time nursing work, Gasiorowski has found that despite eight years of previous on-the-job experience, she may have to accept an entry level position – and all that comes with it.

"For the positions I'm finding, I'd have to work nights and every other weekend and every other holiday," says the mom of three. "It's hard. It's like my slate has been wiped clean."

Still, Gasiorowski is intent on finding a job – and one that will work for her and her family.

"I'm ready to fulfill the other half of who I am," she says.

Gasiorowski's experience is far from isolated. A study titled Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Revisited, in 2009, revealed that 73 percent of women trying to return to the workforce after a voluntary timeout for child care or other reasons have trouble finding a job. And only 40 percent of the 3,420 professional women surveyed who wanted to go back to work were able to find full-time, mainstream jobs.

Tara Gonsalves, a research associate at the Center for Work-Life Policy, says that the women surveyed also had to take a pay cut when they on-ramped back into the paid workforce.

"On average, women took a 14 percent pay gap if they took one or two years off – and 46 percent less pay if they took three or more years off," she notes. "Many were also demoted. Twenty-two percent had a lower job title upon return. Twenty-four percent had a decrease in overall job responsibilities, and 26 percent had a decrease in management responsibilities."

Add to this the demanding hours required of many jobs – coupled with the lion's share of household and child care responsibilities falling to women – and the prospect of a return to work outside of the home can be a daunting one.

Looking for the right fit

Sarah Edwards of Bloomfield Hills worked as a manager for a large consulting firm before starting a family in late 2007. Her experience in the business world was that work always came first.

"If you had plans to attend a friend's wedding on the weekend but something came up and your program had to go live on that weekend, you were expected to drop your plans and make the program happen," she says. "I can't operate that way now as a mom of four. If I were to return to that type of work, I could never give them what I gave them before."

Still, Edwards, who has been a stay-at-home mom for the past six years, isn't ready to turn in her employee ID badge forever. When it comes to returning to work outside of the home, she says she's in the "thinking about it" category.

"Ideally, I want a job that is flexible," Edwards says. "I still want to be able to volunteer at my kids' school and be the person who drops them off and picks them up."

When it comes to pay and status, Edwards says she has been there, done that.

"The driver for my return to work wouldn't be money; it'd be to get out and do something fulfilling," she says.

Edwards' career desires are echoed in the survey findings of the Center for Work-Life Policy, which revealed that women tend to be motivated by non-monetary rewards, including flexible work arrangements, working on collaborative teams and the ability to give back to society.

Gonsalves of the center indicates that many women who held high power jobs before starting a family aren't looking to return to that same type of situation.

"We found that only 9 percent of highly qualified 'on-ramping' women wanted to return to the company they used to work for," she says. "Along the same lines, 69 percent of women would not have left their companies if they had had work-life balance options that were specifically tailored to them."

For her part, Gasiorowski is standing her ground on what she wants from a job.

"For us, thankfully we are not in a position where I have to go back right now," she says. "I am firm in what I want to do, and I have experience in areas others do not. To leave my kids with someone else, it has to be a really good opportunity that works for us."

Gasiorowski is holding out for a flexible position where she can work during the day and be home at night with her young children.

"Hospital schedules are always a challenge," she says. "I'd like to find a doctor's office where I can work a few days a week."

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