can you frame time off to care for a baby as a “sabbatical”?

A reader writes:

This is kind of a pedantic question, so I hope you have time to indulge it: What would your reaction be to a job applicant who referred to a period of unemployment (a sort of de facto maternity leave) as a sabbatical?

This doesn’t apply to me, but I came across someone in my professional field who recently had a child and was unable to take much if any maternity leave. Their current job conditions are very difficult, and they want to quit their job, take off six months to spend with their child, and then look for another position with the same kind of employer. Their plan would be to describe the time off as a sabbatical. Some other people in my field thought that the term sabbatical doesn’t really fit this circumstance and would come across badly to prospective employers.

On the one hand, I can see wanting to use the term sabbatical to try to avoid some of the prejudice against parents (particularly moms) by calling the time off something other than leave or parental leave, and to make clear you chose this time off rather than that you got fired or just haven’t been able to find work earlier.

On the other hand, those facts don’t quite fit my expectations when I hear sabbatical, primarily that I expect a sabbatical to involve some kind of professional development, and for someone to take a sabbatical from a job and to return to that job, rather than then start job hunting. Some felt it was maybe trying to spin the time off a little too hard, kind of in the vein of a stay-at-home mom wanting to list household management duties on a resume for a job with an employer.

On the third, non-existent, hand, I and the people I was discussing this with could all be WAY overthinking the impact of this kind of language, which would be pretty typical of the nitpicky and generally conservative nature of our field, so I would also be happy to hear if we’re all being way too overscrupulous about this.

Mostly, I want to be supportive of someone trying to negotiate parenthood and career advancement, and am trying to figure out how someone would best talk about this kind of a break in their career. (I’m also not sure six months is long enough to pose a problem, but I don’t have kids myself so have never had to weigh these things personally.)

Yeah, that’s not a sabbatical. A sabbatical, as you point out, is generally time when you are still employed by an organization that you will be returning to.

I wouldn’t encourage people to use the term to refer to a period of unemployment or child-rearing. A lot of interviewers will ask about that sabbatical time and when it becomes clear that it was something else entirely, there’s a good chance that it will look like it was a deliberate attempt to mislead.

I do think enough people know that “sabbatical” is sometimes used more loosely that it won’t necessarily get you rejected if you’re otherwise a strong candidate … but it’s likely enough to leave a negative impression that it’s not worth taking the risk.

It’s also worth considering that the reason people might want to use it is because they know at some level that it is misleading — its appeal is that it implies something different than what they were actually doing.

We do need to shift our norms around the acceptability of taking time out of a career for all sorts of reasons — parenthood, health, care-giving, even just quality of life. So would I be happy to see the expansion of the word to cover those things, or the emergence of another word that would do that? Yes, definitely. Do I think interviewers should cut people some slack when they try to frame life things this way to avoid unfair prejudice? Absolutely.

But right now, when we’re not there yet, I wouldn’t advise job seekers to call this stuff a sabbatical, because there’s too much chance it’ll be seen as misleading by interviewers.

(I also agree with you that a six-month gap, especially right now or especially when framed as parental leave, is not terribly remarkable.)

{ 200 comments… read them below }

  1. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I understand wanting to avoid the prejudice against parents, but this reminds me of the many letters AAM has received over the years about whether or not you can put being a stay-at-home-parent on your resume and list yourself as “CEO” or “project manager” of your home. The attempt to avoid the prejudice is most likely to backfire and make people more prejudiced against your application, not less, than if you were just honest about what you were doing with your time.

    1. I'm just here for the cats.*

      See I don’t think it’s at that level at all. The person doing this just doesn’t want to be penalized for taking time off for caring for their child and is grappling for a word.

      1. Artemesia*

        I think it is exactly that. Maybe it is because I come from a world where people get sabbaticals to write books or do international research etc. but to use a term like that to cover child care leave will make you look like you are not trustworthy and make them wonder what other puffery and nonsense there is in your resume. There is nothing wrong with taking a parental leave or a leave to care for family members, or to attend to one’s own health or even to travel the world but don’t give it a fancy name that doesn’t apply. It feels exactly like someone claiming to be CEO of their household or that their years in college are ‘job experience’ because they had to manage their schedule and turn in their assignments.

        1. Anonys*

          I wouldn’t call time off to care for a chid a sabbatical but in my field and where I work (Europe) a sabbatical doesn’t imply doing anything in the realm of professional development (at least outside of academia). Sabbaticals of 3 to 6 months are a fairly commly negotiated “one-off” for long term employees at my company and are usually used to travel. I see it more like a smaller scale adult gap year.

          1. Sasha*

            Yep I would say “travelling the world” is exactly what I would expect somebody to do during a sabbatical. Doing an MBA or working overseas is just that, not really a sabbatical in my book.

            Parental leave is totally normal where I am though, so much so that you wouldn’t actually put it on your CV unless you had changed jobs and had a break in employment. Mine says “XX post at So-and-so Hospital, 2015-19”. One year of that was maternity leave.

      2. Nesprin*

        I would not penalize someone for time off to care for their kid.

        I would penalize completely someone who characterized their maternity leave as a “sabbatical”.

        1. Rach*

          People at my work receive a 4 week sabbatical every 4 years (or they can wait and take 8 weeks at 7 years). And many people family plan around their sabbatical, so, some parental leave may actually be a sabbatical so perhaps don’t judge too quickly.

          1. Cj*

            But in that case, the employees at your company are still returning to their job after their leave, no matter what it is called.

            They didn’t quit their job, they are unemployed for a time, and are calling the months they were unemployed a sabbatical. Which is what is happening in the OPs example.

            Those are not the same things.

            1. Hannah Lee*


              Employment that offers a planned sabbatical, with employees having a chance to take extended often paid leave to pursue whatever they find fulfilling and returning to their jobs recharged or with new perspectives, commitments is fine. A good thing actually, if the employer embraces the many varied ways that can be expressed in employees’ lives and offers them solid opportunities on their return. A gap in employment to care for a child is something different.

              My one experience with working someplace that offered sabbaticals was one of the few circumstances where workplace bias and my own early career stage “good-girl-itis” paid off.

              The year I reached eligibility for an 8-week sabbatical at the tech start up I worked at, a man in my small department was also eligible, I had 6 months seniority on him, submitted my sabbatical request ahead of him and figured of course I’d be approved for the sabbatical in summertime I’d put in for. But Bill, with less seniority, wanted to take HIS sabbatical that summer too and our manager backed his request because of ‘reasons’ (aka sexism)

              I was young and a bit of a pushover/people pleaser and said okay … I’ll just take my sabbatical as soon as I’m eligible (I was a young female people pleaser, not an idiot … I knew the sabbatical benefit wasn’t going to last forever) so off I went for my 8 week paid leave in late March. I traveled, painted, took some night classes. Recharged, refocused etc.

              7 weeks later when I was chilling out in the mountains, and came down into town for lunch, a message came through from a co-worker/friend: ‘you know how you were wondering how you could come back to work after such great time off? May not be an issue after all lucky lady … call when you can.’

              Turns out, company was shutting down. My first scheduled day back was the day all employees were to show up to collect their last paychecks. I swooped in on Monday, packed up my office, collected my final check + severance (a quirk of my seniority a threshold neither sexist-boss nor dudebro-Bill had hit, plus my accrued vacation payout (which sabbatical hadn’t drained … because it was paid) said quick goodbyes, made plans to meet on Friday (Final Poets aka ‘piss on everything tomorrow’s Saturday ‘ drinks night ) then straight to the drawing bank to cash my final check … as advised by another coworker “you want to have the cash in hand, not be a creditor when the cash runs out this week”

              And Bill? Unfortunately for him, the company shut down before his summer sabbatical.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                Ooh, forgot to mention, I also got “I guess the company really *couldn’t* survive without me” bragging rights … in perpetuity… after that.

          2. doreen*

            I’m not really clear what the difference is between that and a deal my father had at a union job in the seventies , where he got 8 weeks of bonus vacation every ten years. But what I’m pretty sure they have in common is that in both your situation and my father’s you were employed at the same job and before your time off, so the break would no more appear on a resume or application than a two -week vacation would.

        2. Loredena*

          At my last company we received two week sabbaticals every five years. It just meant we got a three week vacation while only using a week of our normal PTO. I don’t assume sabbatical means much of anything outside academia

        3. Snuck*


          To call it a sabbatical (which to me personally implies a work related break – in Australia it’s commonly used for someone to go and do private research or further professional studies/experience – to go off presenting papers at conferences and finishing your PhD), is to try to hide what it is.

          Someone lies to me on their resume (or in their interview questions)? I’m going to dig deeper and trust less. I’d rather people were just upfront with me.

          1. Snuck*

            (I say this, because Australia has a paid “long service leave” expectation – the vast majority of people in Australia become eligible for paid leave after 7-10 years of service (depending on your employer and work type), and then every 5 years after this. It’s about six months for 10years if I recall correctly. It’s not a ‘sabbatical’ – that’s “long service leave” and yes, a lot of people if they are able to hold off taking it and attach it to other kinds of leave. You can ‘bank it’ for an extended period of time if your employer agrees (but not take it ‘early’), and it’s payable on you leaving an employer, and can be cashed out too. )

      3. Gumby*

        While saying “sabbatical” may not be misleading about the job tasks you perform the way that “CEO of my household” is (well, isn’t because it is transparent), it is still an odd and, given current definitions, inaccurate phrasing of what is happening. It will draw attention in a way that being more straightforward would not.

        If I am interviewing someone and they say “I took a 6-month sabbatical” I am going to say “Oh, how did you use that? What did you learn? Did you go anywhere?” Basically, it will interest me from a work standpoint. If someone says, “I took 6 months welcome a child into my family” my response will be more like “Congratulations! So, in your previous job at Wakeen’s Chocolate Teapots and Llama Grooming, how did you handle…” Because I know from your framing that it isn’t work-relevant.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          ” It will draw attention in a way that being more straightforward would not.”


      4. allathian*

        Yeah, this. But it also depends on where you are. In my area, if you say you’re on parental leave, the expectation is definitely there that you’re going back to the same employer, as with a sabbatical. If you’re out of the workforce for a longer period of time, you’d put SAHP or “out of the workforce for personal reasons” on your resume. But the time periods are different, because standard parental leave is already much longer than in the US, and the parental leave allowance is paid by social services rather than your employer (maternity allowance, paid to the birthing parent, is sometimes paid for by the employer, I got 3 months’ salary).

      5. allathian*

        Yeah, this. But it also depends on where you are. In my area, if you say you’re on parental leave, the expectation is definitely there that you’re going back to the same employer, as with a sabbatical. If you’re out of the workforce for a longer period of time, you’d put SAHP or “out of the workforce for personal reasons” on your resume. But the time periods are different, because standard parental leave is already much longer than in the US, and the parental leave allowance is paid by social services rather than your employer (maternity allowance, paid to the birthing parent, is sometimes paid for by the employer, I got 3 months’ salary).

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      I think it’s tough all around. I see a lot of people list “freelancing” as their job while unemployed. This kind of sucks for me because I literally did quit my job in order to pursue a business plan of freelancing (mixed success, but that is how I’ve supported myself for the last two years) and now it looks like I just couldn’t get hired during that time. But I can’t blame anyone for not listing “unemployed” when there’s tons of evidence it is going to get you pushed out of the selection pool. I think sabbatical is misleading for the reasons Alison suggested but let’s not pretend putting “unemployed” is better.

      1. 15 Pieces of Flair*

        Putting freelancing on a resume without having any actual projects is the equivalent of making up a job. The gray area is when the applicant did a few projects while mainly looking for work. I would advise anyone who’s working to consider listing that work rather than leaving a gap.

        I freelanced out of necessity for 3 years. The first year I was actively looking for a full time job, but after a series of unfortunate events (ghosted multiple times, contract for a FTE role fell through…), I eventually gave up to focus more on the freelance work. During those 3 years I worked on several projects sometimes averaging full time hours and other times working very part time. I did little paid work for the last 3 months of the period I list as self-employment because I was job searching again (successfully that time).

        I’m a few years, two employers, and a few promotions past that freelancing period now. While I prefer not to talk about being underemployed, I can’t imagine omitting the freelancing section and leaving a 3 year gap. I describe the work very generally on my resume and hope that the next time I’m job hunting enough time will have passed that it won’t merit much attention.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, I did some freelancing to make ends meet between jobs. That and “survival jobs” are not worth mentioning on a professional resume. I lump it all under “freelancing”, because a temp job as a seasonal greeter plus some pick up web work are not anything to write home about. I had a nearly 2 year gap of no permanent employment, but I picked up a little work here and there. It has since dropped off of my resume. But seriously, I feel bad putting one to three week freelance gigs on my resume as anything but “freelancing”.

          I actually hate it when people ask what I did during my time of unemployment. I tend to look at them oddly, since the only realistic answer is “look for work” and “take time to reset my head”. Mind you,
          I also have a small hobby business that I do more of when I’m out of work, so if people get snotty, I can mention that.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I wonder if a possible backfire is that people may interpret ‘sabbatical’ to mean that she’s taking advantage of a benefit offered by her current employer, and then job-searching during that time.

      1. Rach*

        My job offers every employee a 4 week sabbatical every 4 years and it is 100% ok to job search during that sabbatical. During my onboarding, it was even encouraged to use that time to evaluate your life and choose to part ways if you were unhappy and they admitted it happens (it was a weird onboarding and is a fairly toxic place).

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          That’s really awesome that your job does that! However, I’m not sure how common that situation is, and I’d really love to hear from others if they’ve experienced this. In my experience…. it very much is not.

          Can I ask what type of job this is for? I have never worked at a place that has offered sabbaticals.

          1. Rach*

            Yeah, 99% of companies do not use that term that way and I agree with Alison! I’m in tech and you have definitely heard of my huge, global company. (Google the policy and it’ll pop up)

          2. AcademiaNut*

            That sounds like a fantastic perk, and a great idea, but I don’t really consider that a sabbatical. In academics, where it started, a sabbatical is a period when you’re released from teaching and administrative responsibilities for a period (typically a year) to pursue research opportunities full time. It’s common to spend an extended time visiting another institute for collaboration, or working on writing a book – something substantial you would have trouble doing while teaching a couple of classes and sitting on committees. Things like supervising a grad student or postdoc, however, continue through the sabbatical – my supervisor was on sabbatical in another country the last year of my PhD.

            1. Gingerbread Gnome*

              Yeah, this is what I think of as a sabbatical. It is a time to do work-related projects without your day-to-day duties sucking up your time. Four weeks of bonus vacation as a longevity perk is something different.

    4. Ellena*

      Exactly. It’s really sad that parents feel the need to frame some of the most normal parts of life to fit into business norms. Why? Aren’t we allowed to be human beings anymore (or even beings like all who are parents) only working tools… And yes the more we try to turn parenthood into some sort of business setup I think the more shady it looks. Just calling it as it is would take care of the subject most quickly with any kind of decent employer.

  2. Rolly*

    If someone was in a job that was very-self-directed, and quit to both raise a child AND do professional development or special work in their field, it could almost fit. Say an academic who wants to stop teaching to be able to spare that time raising the child, while continuing to do research/write/publish it could almost fit. Not quite, but close. And in any case, they’d have to be continuing work other than parenting/homemaking, even if they quit an organization, for the term to fit.

    1. Homebody*

      FWIW, I know a professor who did just that. He planned a sabbatical for around the time his first child was born, and then did research and grant writing only while he was out. It worked really well for him, but yeah, it’s definitely a veeeeeeery specific situation that isn’t going to work for most people.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        University sabbaticals are a different thing from being unemployed though. Sabbatical is a specific type of leave granted to faculty of Universities. They are still technically employees of the University when they do this. A period of unemployment, is by definition, a time when you are not an employee. Additionally, being granted sabbatical status from a Uni generally means you are otherwise a good employee and considered desirable to retain. There’s a connotation there I think it missing if you apply this concept to anytime someone left the workforce for any reason, even if they were working during that time doing other things like professional development or publishing.

        1. Rolly*

          ” A period of unemployment, is by definition, a time when you are not an employee. ”

          If you are working for yourself – writing, producing research, or something else in your profession – are you unemployed if you don’t have an employer?

          “anytime someone left the workforce for any reason, even if they were working ”

          Hmmm, if someone is working have they left the workforce?

          1. Artemesia*

            I think we all know that someone in business for themselves is not ‘unemployed’. A freelancer who is actually getting and doing work; a consultant who has clients — neither is ‘unemployed.’

          2. Yorick*

            If you are an academic who is conducting research and publishing while not employed with a university or company or something, you are unemployed. This is not the same as “self-employed.”

            1. allathian*

              Interesting take. I guess it’s a matter of semantics more than anything else. In my area, unemployed is short for “not currently employed, but legally obligated to look and be available for work to receive an unemployment allowance.” You can be out of the workforce for other reasons, the most common ones include retirement and caring for young, old, or otherwise vulnerable family members, or simply being a homemaker. I prefer homemaker to SAHM, SAHD, SAHP, or housewife, because it’s neither gendered nor implies parenthood.

              Both of my parents were scientists. For most of his career, my father was certainly tied to a university, but not paid by it, unless he was actually teaching (he has a Ph.D. and was a docent). His research was paid for by various grants, but he wasn’t “unemployed” when he wasn’t teaching. My mother worked as his assistant for much of her career, and they coauthored a lot of papers. She has a Master’s degree. But once my sister and I had grown up and moved out, she started working for a government agency as a researcher, and continued to do so for about 20 years until she retired.

        2. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

          Just to add more context to what you’re saying AnotherLibrarian, I have several friends who are tenured professors at one of the local colleges, and the whole thing is very prescribed, at least at this particular school. Every few years you take a sabbatical, you have to be chair of the department for two years, rinse, lather, repeat. And even while on sabbatical, they still are on campus somewhat regularly if they have lab students they need to supervise or something else along those lines.

          1. Artemesia*

            My favorite colleague sabbatical was the guy who took a sabbatical to work at a French university — took his family — and never came back. Finished his career and retired there and still lives there. Didn’t even speak French when he left.

            1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              A friend’s father wrote a textbook that was used internationally, and every time he had a sabbatical he’d use it to teach overseas as a visiting professor at a school that used his textbook. Made me want to go to grad school in his field, although actual grad school in that field quickly convinced me that it was not worth it.

          2. Esmeralda*

            Right, it’s going to depend on the rules at that particular institution. Sometimes you can get paid while on sabbatical. But the expectation in academia is generally that you are working in a professionally-related mode, though even more independently than profs usually work. For example, research and writing for a book, residence at another university or some other institution (might be another college or univ, might be an institute or center, etc).

            That’s academia. Some corporate employers offer them too (Apple for example) — again, they’re going to have rules about the employee’s purpose for taking the sabbatical, how they can use the time, do they get paid,, etc.

            TLDR, OP, your friend should not call this a sabbatical.

        3. Panhandlerann*

          Almost always, faculty on sabbatical MUST agree to return for at least a year.

      2. aunt beast*

        That also makes me think that professor probably didn’t have access to any other kind of parental leave–generally, you want to save your sabbatical for going all-in on grants and research while you’re off the hook from teaching and administration. The people I know who try to time pregnancies with sabbatical leave are all at institutions that offer zero parental leave. (Yes, zero.)
        On the flip side, some universities have very strict policies about what you can do while out on parental leave–you need to be *parenting* primarily, not conducting research and writing grants.

        1. Artemesia*

          I timed my second child to be born in late April to coincide with summer break. She was born April 8 — a bit early. In order to not have to pay for class coverage out of my own pocket I had to get colleagues to volunteer. I had lined up someone for my undergrad classes ahead of time and he covered my final classes and final exams (which I graded). I had her on Sunday and taught a grad seminar for 3 hours on Wednesday. My health insurance also did not cover maternity care so I essentially went to the welfare clinic at the teaching hospital and paid their sliding scale out of pocket. The laws have changed on this, but then companies could exclude maternity coverage and did. There was certainly no paid parental leave.

        2. Yorick*

          Unfortunately, men often do pair their parental leave with professional stuff like they would do during a sabbatical, and then the tenure committee doesn’t understand why women didn’t do any publishing or whatever during theirs.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            I’ve seen that research – men squeeze in some research and writing during parental leave, while women are, for some odd reason, totally occupied with childcare and recovery from childbirth.

            When I’ve seen two academic couples both take leave, the mother usually takes the bit right after birth, when she’s recovering from the physical aspects, and the baby needs to fed every 3 hours 24 hours a day, so she’s exhausted, sore and hormonal. When the dad takes over, he does the care during the day, but the mother is still doing the breastfeeding during the night.

            At least most places now stop the tenure clock during maternity leave, instead of formally expecting full research productivity during maternity leave.

      3. Evelyn Carnahan*

        I know a professor who took a long sabbatical to stay with her family, but it was also because she had to return to her native country and then couldn’t come back to the US because of Covid restrictions. I don’t know the ins and outs with HR but I believe it was the only way to keep her employed until she could come back to the US. I believe she did use the time to work on research, as well as spend time with her family.

    2. BubbleTea*

      This is almost what I’ve done during my maternity leave (I remain employed by my main job and I’m returning this month). I’ve spent the last few months setting up and launching a side business which is related to my career, while also caring for my baby. I still don’t think I’d call it a sabbatical.

    3. Overeducated*

      This is what I came here today. It is common and necessary for academic parents who need to keep publishing even while they’re in between positions or recently graduated in the abysmal academic job market, but there’s no term to recognize or legitimize this on your resume. I know a LOT of people who kept up their research and writing unpaid in between teaching jobs, and sometimes with new babies. It’s really tough and I think referring to it just as “unemployment” or “parental leave” erases that work. When research is required for career advancement, but it’s not something you get paid for, either because you’re unemployed, home with your kid, or in an adjuncting or other teaching-only position, it’s straight up unfair to insist that that work doesn’t count and shouldn’t be labeled.

      Whew – apparently I have strong feelings about this! I made a conscious decision to stop trying to publish without pay and leave academia partway through just such an unpaid “maternity leave” because I don’t believe in doing work without pay, but I have a lot of respect for people who keep it up with infants, it’s a huge effort and investment for their future. This may not be the traditional meaning of sabbatical, but this situation falls through the cracks of all the traditional terms.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    That’s not a sabbatical, and trying to call it one will look like you’re either being misleading or you’re exceptionally naive.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      . . . and won’t help diminish discrimination against mothers. This feels to me a bit like joining an MLM and calling yourself an “entrepreneur”. I would go with “family leave”, which covers it but doesn’t sound like you have an inflated estimation of the term.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      This is where I’m at. It’s not a sabbatical. So the person is lying. Does anyone want to hire a liar?

      I have sympathy for parents and mothers but the person trying to spin and twist maternity/parental leave is deliberately trying to mislead. So they are lying in order to mislead the interviewer.

      An interview is usually the hiring company’s only impression of you. You shouldn’t start by lying.

      Plus it’s an opportunity for an interesting question. What did you do during your sabbatical? Making it an easy lie to catch.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        If I were interviewing her, I wouldn’t assume she was necessarily lying, but the best case scenario would be that she doesn’t understand what a sabbatical is, and that itself can be problematic if it means she’s going to be naive about other work-related topics.

        1. Loulou*

          Yes, that would be my thought too. I might not think she was intentionally misusing the word, but it would definitely signal a lack of sophistication that may or may not be a real problem depending on the role.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        Using “lying” multiple times to disagree with someone’s word choice seems extreme. And I can’t agree that the new mom is obligated to give people the information that they’d need to discriminate against her. She can say she wanted to look for new opportunities and decided to take a break and pursue some personal interests before initiating her job search.

        1. Loulou*

          It’s not just disagreeing with word choice! If you know what a sabbatical is and describe your maternity leave as a “sabbatical” then you are, in fact, lying. For sympathetic reasons, sure, but it’s literally a lie. I agree with your suggested language instead.

        2. A*

          I agree that your last sentence would be totally fine, I wouldn’t bat an eye at it a hiring manager. However hard disagree on the rest of your comment. It is lying, and can call into question the validity of the rest of the information that has been shared. We all finagle language on occasion when it comes to applications and resumes, but that is not the same as misrepresenting like in OP’s example. Granted, I would stop short of saying “I think that candidate is a LIAR” since it’s possible they truly don’t understand the definition of the term, but that in and of itself would be a red flag so either way it’s risky (and had a broader impact outside of the individual as the more frequently certain titles are used in a misleading manner, the more mistrustful hiring manager will be when they see it – like with freelancer/independent consultant).

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I think my first thought would be that she was clueless rather than outright lying, but failure to make sure you’re using a word correctly is still not a great look.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yeah, I think I would intrepret the person as having heard the term ‘sabbatical’ a few times and then used it without really knowing its meaning because it sounds fancier.

      1. quill*

        Same. Playing wordle has taught me that the general public knows and can approximately define far fewer (five letter) words than I had previously assumed.

        1. Purple Cat*

          Apparently today’s word especially! I was shocked at how many people had “never heard” of the word.

      2. Smithy*

        While I primarily agree with this take – I do think there will be people who are going to see this as lying. So it is worthwhile context when thinking of hiring managers.

        But I think that the interpretation of not knowing what sabbatical means – at best gives the impression of being naïve and less mature professionally. Which, to me, gives the impression of trying so hard to avoid parental discrimination that you set yourself up to judged in other areas. And potentially quite harshly.

    4. wittyrepartee*

      I’ve heard sabbatical used this way outside of academia. For instance “Bill Watterson took two sabbaticals from writing Calvin and Hobbes: the first from May 6th, 1991 to February 1st, 1992, and the second from April 4th through December 31, 1994. At the end of the first sabbatical, Watterson changed the rearrangeable Sunday strip format to the unbreakable 1/2 page design.” Like, in this context, Bill Watterson was really just taking time off from publishing.
      However, it’s not a great way to describe the time taken off in this case.

  4. CatCat*

    If the goal is to frame it something other than new baby parental leave (which I totally get, especially for women), is there some more neutral terminology that could be employed?

    Took a break to handle an urgent family situation that has since resolved?

    That could be a lot of things that don’t automatically corner one into the “mom” category and the prejudices around that.

    1. LTR,FTP*

      I’m usually brief and matter of fact when I discuss the five year gap on my resume in interviews. “I left company X and took some time off to have kids. When I came off the bench, I started at Company Y doing Z…”

      It’s normal and no big deal to me, and when I treat it that way hiring managers see it that way too. Or, if they’re like “hold up! that’s a huge terrible gap!” I can already tell that they’re not going to be the kind of boss I want to work for.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I did a bit of freelancing (and some of the time it was honestly not much) to cover the gap/worked part-time. Had I not had those things to reference, I would have said I took parental leave. Especially given the pandemic and problems people have with reliable child care for infants I think most people will understand. Just be upfront and professional.

        1. A*

          Exactly. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about a six month gap at the best of times, but especially during the pandemic – and especially if it was in relation to childcare. No further information needed. Say no more, understood, not a problem.

    2. Pop*

      Most places where you work will end up finding out a bit about your personal life, so somewhere you got hired would know that you had a six month old. Hearing that you had an “urgent family situation that since resolved” that was at the exact same time that other folks would take maternity leave would definitely feel a little weird to me. Especially because framing having a child as something that has been “resolved” is just so outside of how people normally talk about things.

      1. I'm just here for the cats.*

        But it could be resolved. The Family situation was she wanted to take some time off with the child and now the child is older and she has them in daycare/with family. The situation has been resolved. and would someone remember the exact words she used in an interview when they find out about her kid (which presumably would be way after the interview, when she is working).

      2. CatCat*

        Well, at that point, she’s been hired and past the biases that could prevent her from getting the job in the first place.

        I mean, so what if it is subsequently perceived as a little odd? In a hiring system that can be stacked against moms (not just overt bias, but unconscious bias as well), so what?

      3. Colette*

        I’d assume the child was critically ill if she used those words.

        Just say you were on parental leave. It’s really common, and trying to be evasive will just seem evasive.

        If you’re honest, you might lose out on jobs with people who discriminate against parents.

        If you’re evasive, you might lose out on jobs with people who don’t.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      She wanted to look for new career opportunities and decided it would be a good time to take a break to pursue some personal interests and consider next steps prior to initiating her job search.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Yep. Have a colleague right now who used phrases very similar to this during her interview.

        Sure, they will find out about your child if they hire you. We did with my colleague and I am sure I am not the only person who figured out she was raising an infant during that time, after we hired her.

        And so what? I thought it was pretty savvy. I mean, I was pregnant when I was up for a promotion and you better believe I told NO ONE about it. Once I got the promotion, THEN I discussed the need for maternity leave. Same thing here. The applicant’s status as a parent or a pregnant person is immaterial to the job. Judge the applicant on work-related skills and experience. If she doesn’t say anything about it, then she can be more sure that she’s being judged about who she is as an employee, without any biasses, however small or subtle, about the fact that she has an infant.

    4. Dasein9*

      “Requiescence,” perhaps? It’s got connotations of relaxation that might not work for new parents or people caring for a sick parent, but is also rare enough that we could shape it for business use.

    5. kicking_k*

      I did what this woman is proposing – quit my job and took some time before looking for a new one. When I returned, I simply called it a career break. I did do some continuing professional development during that time, and I was pivoting to a different role in my sector, which is what the CPD was in aid of, so I put the emphasis on that, not that I’d just had a baby. It seems to have worked. I got another job and successfully transitioned into the role I wanted, even though I live in the UK where taking this sort of break is an unusual thing to do (as opposed to taking our fairly decent maternity leave).

      1. LisTF*

        Same. I purposely saved enough money to be able to take 6 months off after having my baby and I knew I didn’t want to go back to the same type of job in my field so I used the time to brush up the resume and apply to positions that were more in line with what I was looking for. When interviewers asked what I was currently doing I explained that I fortunate enough to purposefully take a 6-month break after having a child so that I would not have to put him in daycare at such a young age. Everyone seemed totally fine with this very practical explanation.

  5. Ann O'Nemity*

    Um, I don’t think the term means what she thinks it means! When I hear “sabbatical,” I assume someone is taking a temporary leave from their employer to study or travel. I could see someone using the term to cover study or travel in between jobs, but not as a way to describe a maternity leave.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Now if the new mom also picked up a new skill set or certificate during the time, I think calling it a sabbatical would be more acceptable.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        No. I don’t think so. Sabbatical suggests, strongly, that you are on an approved leave from your employer. A period of unemployment, is by definition, a time when you are not an employee and don’t have an employer. You can pick up all the new skills you want, but you’re not employed and shouldn’t use a term that suggests you are.

      2. Asenath*

        A sabbatical has to be approved leave from an employer. The actual requirements for the worker may vary a bit from place to place, but there’s usually some work required during this period. Doing work during your maternity leave does not make it a sabbatical. Not having maternity leave, or even an employer to provide leave, as in the letter, is most definitely not a sabbatical whatever you do during the time, and using that terminology will make the employee sound at the very least ill-informed, and possibly deceptive. She should say that she resigned from Employer A to have and care for her baby and is now re-entering the work force.

    2. dresscode*

      Yeah this is very workplace dependent. My stepmom works at a place (you’d all know the name) and they offer 4 week sabbaticals for everyone every 5 years of employment. You can use it to do whatever you want. If she worked in a place like that, you could probably swing it.

      1. A*

        My guess is that your stepmom’s employer requires her to return to them for a certain period of time after. Perhaps not, but every similar arrangement I’ve seen has had some form of requirement along those lines.

      2. Data Analyst*

        Yeah, that employer is the main context in which I’ve heard sabbatical! I would have thought nothing of using it to mean “anything other than working.” Although I guess in that case the person is still returning to their employer after the sabbatical. But I still thought of it in much less formal terms than LW and most of the commenters because of this employer.

        1. Louisa*

          Yes, I did not think people got hung up on there being a specific sabbatical definition outside academia. I’ve known non-academics who took “sabbaticals” to travel, do a big home renovation, hike the AT, etc.

  6. The Crowening*

    In lieu of mentioning her child, could she say she took X months off for family leave? That could be for self, spouse, parent, child… and right now with so much medical and professional upheaval, it certainly doesn’t sound unusual or misleading.

    1. Asenath*

      But she didn’t have family leave; she resigned. She took time off to care for her family, sure, but it wasn’t any kind of leave. Implying she was still employed when she wasn’t could sound worse than simply saying that she took 6 months off to have a baby/care for her family.

  7. Nora*

    If someone looking at your resume assumed it was a true sabbatical, an extended period of leave without pay, then your resume would look like you took a true sabbatical from Job 1 and then left Job 1 for Job 2 as soon as you returned, which would be a rude thing to do! Way worse than just outright stating that you left your job to start a family. I wouldn’t even call it “parental leave” in this case, because that implies that you were still with Job 1 and then left for Job 2 as soon as you got back from leave.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes that’s my thought as well. “You negotiated a sabbatical and aren’t returning to that job” would be my automatic interpretation and it would raise all kinds of red flags. Well, at least yellow flags. I really think this could end up biting her.

    2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Exactly. In Canada where 12-18 mat leave is the norm, there would be a lot of red flags that would pop up if you tried to pass off that period of time as one where you weren’t attached to a job. Same goes for other types of leaves, even those without pay.

      Don’t imply that you’re unemployed when you’re employed (despite not being at work), don’t imply that you’re employed while you’re unemployed.

      1. Valkyrie*

        Fellow Canadian here; I am also moderately certain that our leave is associated with our jobs. So if I am getting EI/mat leave, but decide to quit my job 6 months in, they may cut it off (they being the gov’t). I’m open to being told I wildly misunderstood. More over, if I told people, as someone whose self-employed and doesn’t qualify for EI (I opted not to pay into it) that I took 6 months off (or more) cause I had a baby it wouldn’t bother anyone – granted, I work in health care related field and I’ve heard of sexism being worse in fields like finance, tech, and policing.

        1. Lab rat*

          Yes, fellow Canadian here, if you are using maternity leave, you are still employed and your employer has to hold your position open for you or find a similar position within the company. We have recently had 3 employees that didn’t return from their maternity leaves. In 2 cases, the employee resigned when their leave finished. In the 3rd case, they attempted to return, had difficulty with their childcare arrangements and resigned a full time position and went casual shortly after returning. The employer had to hold those positions open until they knew the employee wasn’t coming back.

          1. Lab rat*

            I meant to include that if you resign before your maternity leave is finished, your maternity benefit (EI) ends.

            1. Minerva*

              That’s not how it works, your parental leave is based on hours, you are still eligible if you decide not to return to the same employer. You can get the hours through short term employee contracts or anything else as long as in the time leading up to your leave you get the minimum number of hours.

              You can resign your job releasing your employer from holding it for you, and still get ei for the term you chose. It only ends if you are employed more than some minimum amount.

    3. Burger Bob*

      That’s how I feel about it too. A sabbatical (or any other type of leave) is a specific type of time off where you still return to that same job once the leave period is up. This sounds like she actually quit the job and then waited six months before applying to totally new jobs. That’s not a sabbatical or any other type of “leave.” That’s just taking time off from the workforce. And people do that all the time, for a huge variety of reasons. I wouldn’t think it was particularly weird for someone to say they had taken time out of work to raise a new child (and frankly, any employer who would automatically not want to hire you for this reason is maybe someone you don’t want to work for anyway). I would definitely think it was weird for someone to try to call that a sabbatical when it simply isn’t one.

  8. 30ish*

    Writing parental leave, especially a fairly short one like 6 months, should be totally fine. But I live in Europe and there might be cultural differences around this.

    1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

      There are definite cultural differences here. I’m planning my parental leave and I can only take a max of 12 weeks, unpaid. Unfortunately leave between 6-12 weeks is what is standard in the US. I’d kill to be able to take six months, but I can neither afford that much time unpaid, nor would my company allow me to take that long. The person in this letter is quitting her job to take the 6 months off specifically because her job didn’t allow her adequate maternity leave. That said, I don’t think that most people would find a break from work for 6 months to care for a child a long gap in employment.

    2. Asenath*

      “Parental leave” implies that you are still employed. She’s resigned her job to give birth and take care of her infant. I don’t think a lot of employers are going to think she’s been out of the workforce for a long time, but she apparently does think so, and is trying to find some way to make it sound like she’s actually employed, but on leave. Or a sabbatical.

      1. Valkyrie*

        Not necessarily – I would potentially appear to not be employed if I was on parental leave because I am self-employed. So I don’t even know if I’d say I was on parental leave cause… no one let me leave? I just stopped working?

    3. Valkyrie*

      Canadian here – we get 12-18 months, much like Europe, but the US is VASTLY different. It seems “generous” if you get 3 months off and beyond amazing to get 6 months off. Things haven’t been that dire in Canada for 30 years.

      1. 30ish*

        I am in Switzerland, which is terrible about parental leave. Mothers get 14 weeks, that‘s it. But there is still a cultural expectation that they take 6 months off. Unpaid of course… so the kind of gap the LW has would be standard here.

        1. Storm in a teacup*

          Is that 14 weeks paid leave but up to 6 months total including unpaid?
          In the UK you can take up to a year parental leave (shared between parents or one parent) but the last 3 months is unpaid and depending on the company some may only be at statutory pay.

          1. 30ish*

            It is 14 weeks paid for the mother (based on salary). Anything longer would have to be negotiated with the employer which is common. But many moms just quit.

        2. valkyrie*

          Wow and here’s me thinking I know what’s what – I thought Europe was overall better than the states and on par with Canada. Maybe it’s just some of the countries. Is the 14 weeks mandated? I think in the US it sort of sounds like it’s easy to wiggle out of even that much.

          1. Kyrielle*

            The US won’t even protect your right to return to your job after 12 weeks, and there’s no requirement that those 12 weeks be paid, and oh yes, businesses with fewer than 50 employees aren’t even required to hold jobs for a 12-week unpaid leave.

  9. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

    I would think calling it a family leave would be better? If the applicant wants to avoid confirming their parental status, “leave to care for family” or “family leave” would reasonably cover all sorts of caretaking responsibilites (aging/sick spouse or parent, child care, personal health care, house collapse – I had a friend go through this, etc.) without specifying it being focused on infant care.

    I have personally wrestled with the suggested language of “leave of absence to deal with a now-resolved health matter” in past job searches. Mostly because while a few health matters did resolve, others haven’t, and it has ableist implications that I don’t love. And it’s always been asked about by interviewers – but the only reason there is any note in the first place is because their application materials require explanations for any gaps in employment.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. But leave as a word would still be a bit problematic, because it implies that you’re still attached to an employer, if not actually working.

  10. une autre Cassandra*

    I’m not totally clear on why a six-month gap would need to be spun on a résumé anyway—that seems like such a brief period that I don’t know it would even be noticed. If it was, and an interviewer asked about it, I think saying “I took some time off for family leave” would be totally normal? I don’t know OP’s field, though. Maybe the expected scrutiny is routine in their world?

    1. mli25*

      I have a 3 month gap on my resume (laid off to starting a new job) and was asked about, as well as other similar gaps, though it was a longer gap. Sometimes recruiters/managers ask, even for short gaps

    2. Chris*

      Agree. I don’t think this needs to be labelled at all. It isn’t even really “leave” if the person quits her job. She quit a job for personal reasons, then 6 months later is looking for another one. This happens for a lot of reasons. If asks, I think anything but honesty will put up red flags.

    3. Michelle*

      I about snorted soda out my nose when I saw 6 months isn’t remarkable.

      I was job hunting recently. A common question was “There is a gap in your resume from March 2020 and August 2020. Why were you unemployed?”

      These employers were in the same state as me, which the governor’s emergency order closed non-essential businesses from March 2020 to June 2020. Essential businesses had so little foot traffic that many workers were let go due to business finances, and many essential businesses had to change how they were allowed to sell, so closing portions of the business, forcing even more lay-offs.

      Personally I think I was fantastically lucky to get a job only two months after the lifting of the emergency order. But I have to justify those 5 months to everyone that contacts me about my resume.

      1. allathian*

        That’s silly. But the answer “I was laid off when the governor’s emergency order closed non-essential businesses” should be enough to shut them up, if they’re at all reasonable.

  11. Clarabow*

    If she specifically wants to name that period of time what about calling it a “career break”.
    She’s likely to be asked about that time whether she names it something or not (I think 6 months is a little too long not to be noticed in most cases) so the important thing is preparing how to talk about it. If she really doesn’t want to mention the new baby, then she could say something like………. she felt she’d grown as much as she could in the previous role and had decided it was the right time to leave. She then decided to take a break before her next role and enjoy some extended time with her family, recharge her batteries, and decide where she wanted her career to go next etc.

    1. Caro*

      Career break is the term used in my non-US (Australian) circles, it’s almost the older version of a ‘gap year’. It can mean ‘took longer parental leave than the norm’, ‘wanted to write a book’, ‘did some extended travel’, ‘followed my spouse to a job on the other side of the country’, ‘took my shot at being an Olympic athlete’, ‘a trial retirement’ or pretty much anything.

      I am about to embark on my own 12 month career break. My employers officially documented policy is that if I give them 3 months’ notice of my career break then they’ll keep me listed as an employee and when I return to the workforce will give me 3 months of temp work while I job search with the status of being an ‘internal candidate’ with them.

      My career break goals are – write a book, volunteer at my kids school, tame my garden and train to be able to run a 10K.

  12. Eldritch Office Worker*

    A thought on the premise: Absolutely no doubt that discrimination for mothers is a real concern. However, in this case I wonder if honesty would work more in her favor. She wasn’t able to take maternity leave, she has a small child now – maybe having companies that aren’t family friendly self-select out would actually be good in the long term. Obviously this isn’t true in every field, but on the aggregate it’s an employee-driven job market right now. Given the timing, she can be a little choosy and maybe find a better work-life fit.

    1. bee*

      I had the same thought! Fudging one-offs from your past is one thing (why you left your last job, etc) but you’ll still have the baby when you start at the new place — it seems worth it to me to screen out places that are going to be hostile towards parents before you ever even start there

      1. irene adler*

        Unless the ‘pickins’ of family-friendly companies becomes too sparse for finding a good job.

        1. bee*

          I mean, maybe, but it seems unlikely to me that 100% of the companies in this person’s field would be totally unreasonable about someone being a mom (which is a very normal thing that a lot of people are). It just seems to me to be a weird thing to try to hide — it’s a baby, not a felony

          1. Forrest*

            There are a lot of fields where being a mom isn’t that common! Start with anything that is 80% male at entry level, and see how many women are still their in their thirties and beyond.

  13. INeedANap*

    I have never heard of a sabbatical being used for professional development — only to take a full on break from work to travel or study something else. If I am developing skills that are relevant to my employer, then they can pay me for the time.

    I can see the appeal of calling a mat leave something else. I took an extended unemployment period to raise my kids and finish my master’s, and in interviews I primarily highlighted the use of that time to finish my degree. I think it helped to positively frame the time off so I don’t think I paid a “mommy tax”.

    I like the use of “family leave” or “medical leave” (since it looks like in this case the mother is recovering from giving birth as well).

    1. AnotherSarah*

      At least in academia (and in the one church I know that offers sabbatical), they ARE paid. That’s the whole point. You’re writing a book, doing research, gathering data, or developing your spiritual practice (again, in the church context).

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah, I’m not in academia but we get a fully paid 3 month sabbatical every 7 years – specifically to do whatever we want and theoretically avoid burnout. I’m not familiar with sabbaticals being unpaid leave you have to specially ask for. I’ve always heard that referred to just as unpaid leave. I know colloquially some people use sabbatical as a synonym for a break from something, but it’s weird to me for it to be used in a work context – any work context – as interchangeable with a one-time-specially-approved unpaid leave. I can’t tell from the comments where people are framing it that way if they’ve actually encountered the term used that way in a business setting, or if they’re maybe applying the more casual usage to a business setting.

  14. A professor*

    Based on dictionary definitions (Merriam-Webster and others), “sabbatical” can technically be used to refer to any kind of absence from work. However, the *common* uses of the word, especially in an employment setting, are to refer to leaves for the purpose of professional improvement, for which the employee is (a) paid and (b) expected to return to the job afterward. I work in academia, where sabbaticals are very formally defined. Among other things, they typically require the recipient to sign a contract agreeing to return for at least one year following the conclusion of the leave.

    That the OP was unemployed during the time and took the time off primarily to care for a baby (not for professional improvement) are two facts that would definitely point against the use of “sabbatical”– and any time someone uses a word that has a fairly specific connotation like this for a different purpose, one might infer an intent on the part of LW to deceive about the nature of the time off, which would certainly look worse than just saying they took time off to have a baby.

    1. Coenobita*

      Right – and maybe, over time, the common meaning of “sabbatical” will broaden and we can use it for things like this (maybe like “gap year” but without the student/young person connotation). Right now, though, most employers who hear “sabbatical” are going to assume something pretty specific, that specific thing isn’t what this person is referring to.

  15. No Dumb Blonde*

    A sabbatical implies you remain job-attached. This unnamed person apparently has no intention of remaining attached to her current job. In the world in which I work, a person who takes an approved sabbatical or other type of leave where they aren’t paid but remain job-attached, they can buy back some or all of that time in the public pension system under which they are covered. Leaving with no intention of returning is an entirely different thing, involving no right to buy back the time they missed, even if they later took a different job covered by the same pension system.

  16. I'm just here for the cats.*

    This is so tough. And I think Sabatical is a good, broad term that could be used. We really should have a generic term that people can use for when they have to or choose to take time off for having kids/caring for a family member/ mental health or other health related issues.

    1. rural academic*

      I agree that it would be great if there were a more general term for this sort of thing, but currently “sabbatical” has a pretty specific meaning in a number of fields, and that specific meaning does not encompass family-oriented leave.

    2. kicking_k*

      “Career break” seems to be fairly widely used upthread, and it’s what I used when I did exactly this.

    3. Bagpuss*

      We do.
      ‘Career Break’

      Sabbatical is much more specific and as others have said, risks the LW looking as though she is at worst, deliberately lying, and at best, as though she is unfamiliar with professional terminology, neither of which is likely to be useful to her.

  17. TPS reporter*

    Oh I wish there were another perfect German word for this situation like Rumspringa. What about recess or retreat or reassessment? Or gap period even?

  18. n.m.*

    My inclination would be to just call this “personal leave” and not offer any more details unless they asked.

  19. not in academia but i know some folks*

    A sabbatical wouldn’t come up as a reason for gap in employment or be on your resume as you are still employed. It’s not seperate from whatever job you had when you took it. I think this would be more likely to confuse people and inspire more questions.

  20. Hiring Mgr*

    In some industries (mine at least) sabbatical isn’t any sort of officical term but instead just generally means time taken off for a few months usually in between jobs. I’ve done that before and while I didn’t call it a sabbatical it wouldn’t have been out of line.

    So I’d at least say know your audience..

  21. Michelle*

    I completely empathize with the woman in the question – it’s such a unfair judgment that mothers face for an employment gap that called by another name would be unremarkable. I’m also in the situation when my maternity leave will happen in between jobs, and it’s particularly bad because you can’t just “hide” the maternity leave gap within your years of working at your current job. And, at least for me, there is some of the professional development happening during the leave – more than what happens on a lot of sabbaticals. I don’t know what the solution is but I wish we had a better way not to penalize new mothers.

  22. Jax*

    If the US had parental leave similar to the rest of the developed world, this whole word-play situation wouldn’t be necessary. 6 months off for a maternity leave should be normal, not a shocking choice that could be career ending.

    *Kicks at rocks in anger*

    I feel so strongly about this, and get so enraged that my fellow Americans are seemingly oblivious to it, that I don’t even know what to say any more.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I agree with your general sentiment, though I don’t think it “could be career-ending” in most fields. I took 6 months off between jobs when I had my son, and it didn’t end my career, and that was 20+ years ago.

  23. LRL*

    What a sad state of affairs that people are so concerned about how taking six months off will look to perspective employers that they come up with silly ways to cover it up. The vast majority of us work to pay our bills not because it is our favorite way to spend our time.

    1. Polecat*

      It is unfortunate, but that is the world we live in today. People don’t want to hear that the reason you want the job is because it looks like a job you could be successful at, a job you would enjoy, and most importantly a job that would pay your bills. They want to hear that it’s your lifelong passion to have a job like this. They want to believe that you would do the job even if they didn’t pay you anything, just because you are so damn passionate about it. It’s absolutely ridiculous. If anyone asks this woman about why she left her job and then had a six-month gap, it should be perfectly reasonable and ordinary to answer, I had a baby in July and I took six months off to be her and now I’m ready to reenter the workforce. End of discussion. Unfortunately we just don’t live in that world. I don’t think she should be calling it a sabbatical because that’s gonna come across really strangely to most people. But voluntarily leaving a job and then having a six-month gap? Employers are gonna wanna know what they did in that six months. They don’t like to see people who can exist without working.

      1. Colette*

        It’s not that they don’t like to see people who can exist without working, it’s that they have no way to know whether she took time off to be with her newborn or whether she punched a coworker and was fired/can’t hold a job because she’s habitually beligerent/got fired when she was caught stealing/took time off to do a once-in-a-lifetime trip – and some of those make a big difference to a potential employer.

        1. LRL*

          This is why we do reference checks. Taking time off between positions has nothing to do with the quality of a person’s work or their circumstances of transitioning jobs.

  24. emmers*

    Honestly I can see why its not a good look but as a new US based mom, do whatever works for you that you can get away with. My ‘family friendly’ university chair keeps calling my maternity leave ‘an extended vacation’ to our grant stakeholders and it makes me want to stab him in the eye. I straight up said ‘oh are we calling it that still’ in a meeting and he corrected it to ‘unpaid extended vacation’ and he and HR have brought it up as part of why I’m not moving forward with a manager position ‘yet’ so yeah, everyone can kick rocks.

    1. FalsePositive*


      “If only all the crying, feeding, cleaning, crying, crying, crying were going to be vacation-like.”

      Say nothing of the actual healing process after giving birth.

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Wow, how ingenuous of them to openly admit that they’re discriminating against you illegally.

    3. Double A*

      Honestly I’d run that by an employment lawyer. Sounds like sex based discrimination to me.

    4. Esmeralda*

      OMFG. Every time they call it some sort of crap like that, can you just coldly look at them and say, “No, actually, it’s maternity leave.”

      That HR is straight up saying this is why you’re not progressing…have they put that in writing? Please tell me they have. Good lord.

        1. Esmeralda*

          Can you email them after every such encounter, recapping the meeting?

          Talk to a lawyer.

          I know it doesn’t actually help your situation, but, I’m soooooo angry for you!

    5. Sal*

      “Family friendly” as above —> me doing my best Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  25. Emotional Support Care’n*

    I was out of work for 11 months. I did not plan to be out of work that long (I figured I’d be out for 6, maybe 7). Life was not exactly helpful during my funemployment. I knew I’d want to catch up on medical I’d been avoiding. Well, life happened (or, in a few instances, stopped happening).

    Cancer, three deaths, covid, covid afteraffects, dental ran 4 months later than anticipated, and helping settle the estate of my grandmother. I chose to be tactful but honest if any prospective employer chose to be so dense as to ask why I wasn’t “gainfully employed” right now.

  26. Cobol*

    Letter Writer didn’t say that the term sabbatical is necessarily on the resume, just that’s how she described it. That could be describing out loud. I’ve seen a ton of tech people refer to “taking a brief sabbatical” before they decide their next step, i.e. they are taking a planned break in employment

    1. Lady Danbury*

      I’m not a tech person but I’ve used sabbatical in this exact same context. I didn’t put sabbatical on my resume but when I was discussing it with other people I’d say that I left X job intending to take a sabbatical to travel and do some professional development. I’ve always thought of a sabbatical as a broader term that could mean career break (as mentioned above) or the more common definition where you’re still employed with the same company.

    2. Lasslisa*

      Yes, I know several senior people in tech, C-suite or VPs, whose “how I got here” story includes climbing the ladder until they got miserable and “took a sabbatical” (quit for 3-6 months) “to figure out their next steps”. The narrative works fine for finding the next job because it segues cleanly into them realizing they wanted to work in different areas of tech or with different kinds of teams or with companies with particular values, and so the new company has reason to believe they’ll be dedicated to the new job.

      The etymology of sabbatical comes from the academic paid time off but those don’t exist anymore outside of academia so there’s little potential for confusion.

      1. Tech Employee Taking a Sabbatical*

        +1 here – I work in tech and it is very, very common to use the word “sabbatical” to mean “a deliberate break between jobs.” If you’re planning to return to the same company, it’s a “leave.” It’s pretty common in tech for people to leave jobs with nothing else lined up and take a few months (or longer) off to travel/learn a new skill (e.g., a programming language), recover from burnout, explore starting a new company or investing, etc. I was surprised by the responses here!

  27. L.H. Puttgrass*

    Context is everything here.

    Taken alone, the word “sabbatical” has all these connotations that people are bringing up—that it’s paid, that it’s for the purpose of training, etc. But telling a prospective employer, “I left my last job because I wanted to take a short sabbatical to have a child, but I’m looking to get back into the working world now,” has enough context that it’s clear that she wasn’t claiming to have taken a paid sabbatical. Likewise, having a “sabbatical” between two different jobs will also make it clear that it wasn’t a paid sabbatical.

    But the clearer she is about the “sabbatical,” the less using that term is likely to help (and I don’t think it’s likely to help at all, really—for reasons I just mentioned, a gap in employment between two different employers isn’t going to read as “paid sabbatical” to anyone familiar with how they usually work).

    So in practice, “took some time off” may be the best way to describe the…er, time off. That leaves the “so why did you take the time off?” question open—but then, so would a “sabbatical” between employers.

  28. Goldenrod*

    My feeling about this is that the person contemplating doing this is used to being a high-achiever in their career, and so is uncomfortable just telling the truth. Like it will make them seem like a loser or something.

    However, I agree with everyone who is saying that the truth is preferable here! There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I stopped working for 6 months so that I could take care of my newborn.”

    And, as people are pointing out, employers who don’t like this ALSO won’t be supportive of the work-life balance that parents of small children need. So it’s better to weed them out anyway!

  29. Forrest Rhodes*

    Could it be called a hiatus? Being “on hiatus” is a normal thing in some industries.

    1. Burger Bob*

      I like hiatus. That’s a good word for it, if she really feels like it needs a word.

  30. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Weirdly, I had someone from the unemployment office a year or so back tell me to put my 18+ months out of work as a ‘sabbatical’ but I just ignored her.

    It was medical leave (major traffic accident and my depression), and I’ll tell interviewers something like ‘health issues that are now resolved’ or ‘family stuff’ (keeping my marriage together during all that) or if I get a good vibe off the company I’ll just straight up say I survived a lorry smashing into me.

    My coworker here gets my sense of humour and suggested jokingly that I put ‘finding myself’ in my CV gap – it would cover pulling my body and mind back together!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Basically, say as close to the truth as possible while not giving away details. It’s not a sabbatical, a hiatus, a secondment, ‘gardening leave’, ‘zero hour contract’, ‘consulting’ etc. etc. it’s just plain old not working due to kids/health/family/insert other option.

  31. ecnaseener*

    This reminds me of a person I knew in college who took time off a couple years in and called it a “gap year.” They weren’t doing a gap year program or anything (probably because those only accept kids who haven’t started college yet, because that’s what gap year means!) It came across really weirdly, like they were so embarrassed at the truth (probably something totally normal like stress/grades/finances) that they felt the need to push a positive narrative that didn’t fit.

    Sabbatical has a little more grey area than gap year, but I do think this is one of those cases where “took some time off” makes a neutral impression while “I’m calling it a sabbatical so it sounds better” reads as insecure.

    1. Starbuck*

      Giving yourself a gap year during college if you didn’t get the chance to for whatever reason between high school and college seems totally fine. It sucks that they had to feel embarrassed about it but it seems like a pretty apt term for that sort of break.

    2. Lasslisa*

      Gap year doesn’t necessarily imply any sort of program, in my experience. For example someone might take a gap year to gain some work experience before college, or to travel, or to deal with a family responsibility. That sounds like a specific cultural context you may have assumed is more universal than it is.

      1. ecnaseener*

        A program is not universal, but being a gap between two levels of school is pretty much universal. I specified there was no program because that had been my first thought when I saw they were calling it a gap year knowing they were a rising junior.

  32. Generic Name*

    I was almost in this exact situation when my child was a baby. I relocated to a different state shortly after my child was born, and rather than attempt to job search with a nursing newborn, my spouse and I decided to buy a house with just my spouse’s income and I’d go back to work later on. I ended up taking 2 years off, and I mentioned in my cover letter that I took some time off to have a baby and was ready to work again, or something to that effect. For six months off, I feel like that gap will barely be noticed, and to brand it as a “sabbatical” that oh-so-coincidentally coincided with the postpartum and newborn phase will seem disingenuous at best. I think it’s fine to admit you stayed home with a baby and now want to work.

  33. Springtime*

    Two of my past jobs have been faculty-adjacent, and if someone told me they had done a sabbatical, I’d immediately ask what their project had been. And not that keeping an infant alive and thriving isn’t a worthy endeavor, but if that’s your answer, it does defeat the purpose of trying to obfuscate.

    I often hear the term sabbatical used more broadly with a heavy dose of irony–or euphemistically to avoid naming reasons a person had to take extended leave (e.g., mental health reasons or disciplinary reasons). But, that said, if someone said, “I took a six-month sabbatical to care for my child,” I think that wouldn’t create any misunderstanding and at all, and I’d barely notice the use of the word. If there were any misunderstanding, it might be in assuming that the child is older than when parental leave is usually taken.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      My experience with it is also academic. My dad took a sabbatical year and worked for a company in his field, a friend took one and worked at the FDA. If you call it a sabbatical, I’m going to ask what you were working on then. I think she’d be better off just saying she took six months off with her new baby. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at that.

  34. Cj*

    I don’t see how this is even a question. She would not be on a sabbatical, parental leave, medical leave, family leave, or any other kind of leave. She quit her job and would be unemployed.

    1. Lasslisa*

      You’re only “unemployed” if you’re looking.

      Not a smartass comment – unemployment rates count this way, and we don’t generally call students or stay at home parents or retirees unemployed (unless someone is trying to be derisive about the value of their choices).

  35. ResuMAYDAY*

    Professional resume writer here – 99% of the time I see sabbatical on a resume, it isn’t. But I don’t think people are trying to be deceptive, they just don’t have a better, concise, generic word for that time off. If the time is less than a year, it’s possible that it doesn’t need to be mentioned. Most employers only expect to see months on a resume for younger candidates. Removing the months, in this situation, may not look like a gap at all.

  36. Burger Bob*

    I would not refer to this as a sabbatical, or even as “family leave” or “parental leave,” because calling it by any type of leave term like that implies that she was employed during that period but using time off. But if she follows this plan, she will not be employed. She will have quit, been unemployed for six months, and then started looking for employment with a different employer.

    The thing is, I don’t think there’s really any need to spin this. Just be straightforward. Six months is not a particularly long time out of the workforce, and it sounds like maybe she doesn’t love the current job anyway. She could say that she felt that job was no longer a good fit for whatever nice sounding professional reasons (no opportunities for advancement or improving her skills or whatever), so instead of taking maternity leave, she decided to take a more formal career break to reassess her goals and figure out where she could pursue that. Trying to spin it as a sabbatical will just look really odd if she gets found out, like she’s trying to embellish.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, career break sounds reasonable. Just like sabbatical, leave implies that the person is attached to an employer and intends to return to work for them when the leave is over.

    2. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Agree. It is not a sabbatical. There are various types of “leave of absence” including sabbatical, parental leave, medical leave, and any other pre-approved leave, but during these extended absences from work (whether paid or unpaid) a person is still an employee. I would advise against using the word sabbatical, even casually.

  37. Catty Wampus*

    I don’t think using the word sabbatical for this is going to play well, since she completely left the employ of her former job. The way I’m thinking about it is that if my employer told me they were giving me a sabbatical, when they were really laying me off and I wouldn’t have a job to return to at the end of X amount of time, I would think that was pretty crappy. I bet most people would. So if we would think it is lying if an employer used that way, we can’t really give this person a pass and say she’s not lying.
    I apologize if someone has already said this…my phone is being goofy and jumping the screen around to different places so I may not have seen all the posts.

  38. rubble*

    I had no idea sabbatical had such a specific meaning. I thought it just meant taking a lot of time off on purpose instead of because you we fired and can’t find anything new.

    1. ResuMAYDAY*

      This common misperception is why so many people put it on their resumes, and how it became normalized. But usually the user means the time off was voluntary, not because of a termination.

    2. Wisteria*

      The meaning has evolved to mean long term, voluntary leave from the workforce that is not caretaking, school, or something else. I guess it could start by being either fired or laid off, but what differentiates it from being unemployed is that you are not looking on purpose. I’m surprised at all the people who aren’t familiar with this meaning.

    3. Burger Bob*

      It can sometimes look a little different at different jobs, but a true sabbatical is a type of leave from your job, whether paid or unpaid. It’s not a period of unemployment. You are still employed by the job and the plan is for you to return to it once the sabbatical period has ended.

  39. Peter*

    Trigger warning

    If I was interviewing, (in the UK so that might skew my expectations about parental leave), someone who’d fairly recently given birth and seemed to be going out of their way to avoid the obvious explanation for a gap in their employment history, my thought would be that this is a sensitive area and that the baby probably hadn’t survived. Even minus the recently given birth part I’d probably be expecting that obfuscation of this sort had its roots in tragedy.

    I’d then try and be sensitive to anything that might cause further hurt during the interview. The downside of this for the interviewee is that mental effort I’m using to avoid offence is mental effort I’m not using to assess their skills and aptitudes and I’m not a particularly skilled interviewer so I probably wouldn’t give that person as fair an opportunity as they deserve.

    In short, confusing the interviewer could lead to poorer outcomes.

  40. RobareOwl*

    I wanted to comment on this one because I was in a similar circumstance – I was laid off by my large employer when I was seven months pregnant. They gave me six months’ severance because the optics of that might not be good as they are considered one of the better employers for women in our area. Obviously being laid off is a little different from choosing to be out of work for six months, but I had no trouble framing it as “having been laid off, I decided to take a long maternity leave.” And then my first employer after that was very understanding about things like milk pumping because it was understood that I was a new mother. (Double caveat: my boss was a mother herself, and I ended up not needing to pump at work because the twin who was still nursing at that point decided that with teeth coming in he was sticking to the bottle.)

  41. The Lexus Lawyer*

    OP2 – it doesn’t sound like you’re particularly close to this person you say is just a casual professional connection.

    If anything, this reflects poorly on them. Don’t overreact and allow the situation to reflect poorly on you.

    I would honestly just avoid sending references to this person in the future.

  42. Awesome Sauce*

    “I took a career break/hiatus/time between jobs to care for a family member. I’m ready to get back to full-time work now and very interested in this position because…”

    If questioned further, option to make some kind of oblique reference to These Difficult Times, followed immediately by “things are more settled now and I’m looking forward to getting back to my career and having a regular routine.”

    1. Awesome Sauce*

      Replying to myself to add, probably don’t call out the gap on the resume or cover letter. If interviewers ask about it, just have phrases like the above ready to go.

      (I had SEVERAL YEARS of “career break to care for a family member” between school and actually starting my career. I had some part-time jobs and volunteer work in there that I could talk about during interviews, and no-one reacted at all. It turned out fine.)

  43. Canadian Librarian #72*

    This may be dependent on geography, to be honest. In my experience, a sabbatical is primarily a break. People in my field (academic libraries) often use that time to write articles, do research, etc., but there’s not necessarily a required deliverable. In Canada, sabbaticals can be used for independent research, but it can equally be used for taking a damn break from work. It’s rare that the average person gets one; it’s usually offered as a program through your organization as a reward for your service, and often only after a certain number of years at the organization.

    The way people are describing a sabbatical sounds a bit more like a secondment to me, where you’re temporarily moved to another department in your organization, or you go temporarily to do work at another organization, with the expectation of an eventual return to your role after a set period of time (I’ve heard anywhere between 6 months to 2 years), only instead of being at an organization, you’re working independently. That’s not accurate to how people use the term in Canada.

    We would typically call taking time off to care for a baby “parental leave” (or “mat leave” for the mother specifically).

    I do think framing parental leave as a sabbatical or voluntary leave would be misleading. We already have a term for what that type of leave is (parental) and to describe it otherwise would be to obfuscate the actual truth. I don’t know what the solution is for discrimination against parents (really, against mothers), but I don’t think misleading people by using incorrect terminology is the answer.

  44. Skippy*

    I can’t entirely blame anyone for feeling the need to somehow obscure an “employment gap,” no matter what the reason: so many career sites put the fear of God into job seekers that even the smallest, most explicable gap will prevent them from ever getting hired anywhere. However, the simple fact is that people with gaps in their resumes get hired every single day: many hiring managers take a far more holistic view and they are far more concerned with whether you can do the job well. Yes, there are people who will hold any sort of gap against you, but if a manager refuses to hire you because you took six months off to care for an infant, they are the unreasonable ones, not you.

  45. Lorax*

    In my field, sabbatical has a very specific meaning. In means that 1) some learning/product that is happening outside of normal duties 2) there will be some accountability at the end 9f sabbatical to show what was produced/benefit and 3) that person will return to the job (and if not, they owe back salary). Family leave also implies still have a relationship w the employer and an intent to return (vs. leaving a job). In my direct work experience, I know of more than one case that was referred to hr because family leave was referred to as “sabbatical”. It was not and describing caring for an infant as something that normally provides professional enrichment and break from day to day activities is … well… a eeo issue. This is a word that in my field is a big deal. If someone referred to leaving the workplace because they needed to be a caregiver for a while as a sabbatical I would at best think the person was naive and being overzealous in how they portray themselves. At worst, I would think they were trying to scam/pull one over on the potential employer. And my own personal experience of having both been on family leave and sabbatical, I would find the description of caring for an infant as sabbatical (given the context of my own field) upsetting in a way that I may be unable to get past it when considering a candidate.

  46. Marie*

    I feel like the term sabbatical is being used more regularly and popularized for people who take deliberate time off, especially after “burning out” eg in tech sector where oftentimes people have also earned enough money to afford their sabbatical. They then do whatever they want (read books, do yoga, sit in a hammock) before re entering the job force.

Comments are closed.