how can I manage an impending gap in my resume due to caring for my kids?

A reader writes:

I recently made the decision to resign from my job in order to stay at home with my children. The cost and the lack of consistency with our child care situation has been a huge stressor on our family for a long time now. We are now in a financial position that allows me to stay home and after extensive consideration and more “pros and cons” lists than you can imagine, I turned in my letter of resignation. This has honestly been the hardest decision I have ever made. My boss, co-workers, and family have been extremely supportive and since I turned in my letter of resignation, they have all been praising me for making such a “responsible” and “selfless” decision. My boss told me that even though she hated seeing me leave, she had to make the same decision years ago and feels it was one of the best decisions she ever made.

Despite all of the support, I’m completely freaking out! Although I know I’m doing what is best for my family, my thoughts have most definitely not been as “selfless” as people seem to think. I am considered one of the best at what I do in my workplace and have worked extremely hard to create an excellent reputation. I feel like I am throwing away all of my hard work. I have 2-3 years before my children are all in school full time. Will I be at all hireable with a gap like that in my resume? Is there anything can do during this time period to keep it from being a career ending disaster, or am I doomed to become a professional soccer mom? (No offense to those who choose this path and love it. It just absolutely isn’t for me.) In college I spent a lot of time doing volunteer work with various organizations in my city. I have thought about choosing one of those organizations and becoming a very involved volunteer during this gap time. Could this make it easier to get a job once the kids are in school? Any and every suggestion you can give me would be greatly appreciated!

You’re actually really well-positioned here because you’re thinking about this now, instead of waiting until you’re ready to go back to work. I get lots of letters from moms who are about to re-enter the workforce and are trying to figure out how to market themselves, and when they haven’t laid the groundwork ahead of time, it can be really hard. But since you’re tackling it proactively from the start, you’re going to be able to set yourself up really well for when you’re ready to go back.

The main goal here is that you don’t want to end up a few years from now with absolutely nothing to put on your resume for this time period, and a faded network with frayed connections. But that’s easy to avoid if you plan for it from the start.

So yes, you should absolutely volunteer!  And don’t just stuff envelopes — volunteer somewhere where you can do substantive work, and try to find something that uses the skills you use professionally.

I don’t know what kind of work you do, but if it’s the sort that lends itself to the occasional part-time consulting project, that might be worth doing too.

You should also make a real point of maintaining (and expanding) your network. Stay in touch with your past colleagues, go out to lunch occasionally, and just generally don’t let those connections lapse. They’re going to be incredibly helpful to you when you’re looking for work again.

Talk to your boss too, since she’s supportive, and ask her what she wishes she’d done differently when she took time off and what advice she has for you now.

And last, you should find ways to stay current in your field — read industry publications and so forth. And if your field has local networking groups, there’s no reason you can’t participate just because you’re not currently working.  (This will also ensure you have things to talk about when you take your past colleagues out to lunch, and you will be impressively in-touch.)

The idea is that you’re not stepping totally off your career track. You’re just scaling back and involving yourself in your field differently than through full-time work. If you think of it that way, rather than as a complete removal, it’ll be easier to reintegrate when you decide you want to.

What other suggestions do people have?

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer*

    Great advice! It would have been even better if I knew all of this prior to leaving my job to stay home with my son three years ago =(

  2. Anonymous*

    Also it’s been such a weak economy, where a gap is pretty normal for a lot of people. I went through a 1 1/2 year gap due to job loss, and had a tough time with some employers, and some employers were understanding. As long as you can answer the “so what were you doing for the past 3 years?” question with something related to your industry, I think you should be ok!

  3. YALM*

    Volunteering and consulting/contracting are both good ideas. Make sure you don’t get sucked in to doing more work than you want to. If you’re as good as your letter indicates, you may be pressed to do so–I’ve seen that happen before. It’s really important to set boundaries if you take this route.

    And yes, definitely ask your boss. She made a successful transition back to the workplace. How?

    Join a professional association so you can attend conferences or seminars on the latest and greatest. These groups often have employment listings for full or part-time work, too, that may provide leads to consulting gigs.

    Look at continuing education classes or professional certification courses if any are offered in your field. Or, even a related or completely new field. Many online schools and local CCs provide these at a reasonable cost.

  4. Dawn*

    Any chance the OP could stay on with the company and work from home maybe two days a week? Volunteering is a good idea, too.

  5. Chuck*

    Dawn’s idea is a good one; I would have suggested that had she not mentioned it first.

    You may also want to consider teaching at a community college as an adjunct instructor. Classes may be evening and that part-time job would keep you skills current and your network could expand.

    Finally, don’t freak out about the gap in employment. Many (most?) employers understand that mothers often take time off for their children.

  6. Kerry*

    I was home for three years. During that time I started a blog and did some content mill writing. The stuff I learned from both helped me not only get a job, but change careers entirely…and there is no gap on my resume.

  7. Anonymous*

    I recently made the same move and I just want to note that being a SAHM is a full time job, not a side gig. I’m sure it wasn’t meant that way and that situations change based on the child/children (mine is very young) but I sure the heck don’t have time to volunteer or work as a consultant! It’s Saturday and I am just now able to go online after two days of nonstop activity. Saying that moms can just go volunteer doesn’t paint an accurate picture of what being a full time parent entails. I worked in a variety of professional positions and none were as hectic as staying home to raise a family.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it depends on your situation. Some people do manage to do stuff on the side, especially if they have family in the area or child-care swaps with friends, or so forth. Sometimes it depends on the nature of the work too; writing, for instance, is something that can be done anytime and on weird schedules (see, for instance, Kerry above… and JK Rowling!).

      1. fposte*

        Sorry, that came out kind of abrupt. What I mean is that “stay at home” is an imperfect term–it doesn’t mean that if you go out for a few hours without your kids you’ve lost a right to the term, or that the kids have then lost overall priority. Sure, it’s not an option every parent has, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for those who *do* have that option to explore it.

    2. Nichole*

      This was my first thought as well. Based on the letter, I figured she wouldn’t have stopped working at all if time wasn’t an issue. Someone above suggested returning to school, an online/distance based university or program might be a good way to stay current, fill her gap, and update skills on her own time, all while being able to say “I took time off to get my underwater basket weaving degree and be a stay at home mom.” This assumes that Dad will be available to care for the kids some of the time as well, and I guess that could be a leap; the statement that finances allow the time off led me to believe there’s a partner. She’s making a sacrifice to do this, so demanding enough assistance with the kids to go back to school is fair, or to volunteer if he works from home or otherwise outside of normal business hours.

    3. J.B.*

      It very much depends on the age of the kids. Volunteering doesn’t necessarily have to be in an office (at least not much of the time.) For older kids, do they go to preschool part time? For younger kids are there things that can be done while they nap or an hour after they go to bed?

      One thing that might help if you can swing it is to get some part time help in the house. A cleaning lady every other week to do the heavy work isn’t necessarily very expensive.

      There may also be moms groups in your area. One I am involved in has an internet presence and one board for working moms including part time and students. So that may also be a good source of advice.

  8. Kevin*

    If your field requires professional licenses and / or continuing education, keep them up to date during the SAHM years. My wife still maintains her professional license and does 20-30 hours of continuing education annually. This sets us back about $600 a year, but it will make the transition back to the full-time workforce much easier as she will not have to reapply for licenses, and her national records will show what education seminars she has attended, to show she’s (reasonably) up-to-date on current issues.

    1. Anonymous*

      True. My own mother stayed home to raise my sister and me (thanks mom!) but maintained her RN license. After us kids were old enough to fend for ourselves, she very easily found a great nursing position. I’m so glad she raised us rather than having to leave us in a daycare, and her actions inspire me. However, I do know that the transition isn’t this easy for all women and that all stay at home parents (stay at home dads exist too) make a lot of sacrifices. As an example, my career has been in finance and there really isn’t a lot of flexibility with that field.

  9. Clobbered*

    I suggest starting a work-related blog and forcing yourself to post a certain amount of times a week. Even if you don’t have AaM gifts for giving advice, you can cover news and publications in your field, books you have read and so on. An example I really like is “taxgirl” – she is a tax lawyer and she covers mainly IRS and tax-in-the-news topicS. I don’t care if she is employed or not, if I ever need a tax lawyer I am calling her!

    Blogging (even if nobody readis it) also has the advantage that you can do it at home at 2am in your pajamas, it will help keep your mind in your field, and you will have a body of work to point to afterwards. The only thing is that you should get a person who can be trusted to give you an honest opinion to tell you if your writing is at par with your professional skills.

    1. Beth Anne*

      I agree with all the people that have mentioned to start a blog. It is a GREAT way to get known as a “subject matter expert” depending on how well your blog does and what you blog about you have the potential to make a part-time income off the blog.

      Also set google alerts for your subject area to know what is out on the internet in your field. Just go to and they will email you when articles with certain words appear on the web. Then you can write blog articles about them :)

  10. Rachel B*

    I would recommend keeping up-to-date with job postings in your field, so that you can work on additional licensing/part-time course work if necessary. I know in my field, technology changes so quickly. I would feel much more comfortable hiring someone if they could show demonstrated, recent success with a current software package or program.

    If you can, schedule kid-free time, so that you can focus on work-related projects and meetings. I know that some start-ups are run during nap time, but that doesn’t happen for every parent. I think there will always be the temptation to put your kids and family in front of more long term projects, like connecting with old coworkers. But 2 years can pass by so quickly, and it can take some time to consulting and volunteer opportunities that are meaningful and help to further your skills.

  11. Natalie*

    This may or may not be relevant to the OP’s specific job, but could be for others: A friend of mine spent about a year and a half mostly unemployed – he was able to pick up some contract and freelance work but nothing significant. During that time he taught himself several different technical aspects of web design, and then designed a couple of websites for friends (for free).

  12. Another Nonymous*

    The six months I decided to stay home with my daughter turned into 11 years. Yes, stay current with your field. Yes, keep up with technology changes. Yes, keep in touch with your former co-workers – and don’t be surprised when you are the one reaching out all the time. Even your best “work friends” will probably not continue to stay in touch unless you do. I volunteered in the evenings at the local ambulance corps and picked up EMT and management training while my husband was home with the kids.

Comments are closed.