how much will it hurt me to take a few years off from my career?

It’s the Thursday “ask the reader” question. A reader writes:

I will preface the question with a warning: I’m currently enormously over-privileged in that we are very financially comfortable and I don’t have to work. I am a well-regarded mid-career specialist; I have always worked in the non-profit/multinational sector and make a decent amount of money by those standards. However, my husband makes at least five times what I do through the business he started, and while my contributions help pay for luxuries (nanny, a cleaner, more savings, etc), we will be absolutely fine without my income. So my question is, in a gist: to work or not to work? Also known as, how hard is it to get back into your professional, technical career after some years off for health and parenting reasons?

My current consulting position is a working mom’s dream: it’s completely remote, average of 20 hours a week (varying depending on the demand – some weeks are more like 40 hours, and some closer to 10), with a lovely consulting contact (i.e. “boss”) who is a mom herself and is based in Europe, and encourages a healthy work-life balance. The job itself is meaningful, interesting, and prestigious. It’s in a large multi-national organization, so it is rife with politics and can be enormously frustrating with conflicting expectations, glacial slowness of approvals, and all that jazz, but I can normally let that roll off my back. I worked my behind off for over a decade earlier in my career to have exactly this position at this point in my life, and I am so lucky to have it. And yet…

I am so, so exhausted and defeated. I am struggling almost every week to concentrate or produce anything in the hours I work, and I am absolutely not bringing my best to work. I think largely due to the aforementioned politics and the consulting structure, and partly due to the “not bringing my best,” I’m feeling under-utilized, untrusted as an expert, and isolated. I also have three chronic health conditions, two of which flare up unexpectedly and one that just adds general background misery, in addition to anxiety and depression (somewhat well-controlled with meds right now), and I have gotten to sleep through the night only a handful of times since our toddler was born because of his many sleep and allergy issues. There are some other income-generating things I do on the side that also take up a bunch of time out of the blue, but I’m well into the plan to wrap those up right now, since they’re a lot of stress and very little return. Overall, between the caretaking, the mental and daily load of the household (which is 90% on me because my husband is so busy with the business), health issues, and just generalized burnout, I am really struggling to work and dream daily of quitting. We are going to start trying for another kid shortly, and the thought of working through a high-risk pregnancy on top of everything else makes me want to cry.

So, I guess my question is: how badly would I be shooting myself in the foot in terms of my career if I take two to three more years off? My work history in the past three years is already very spotty – I got laid off with a third of my coworkers during covid, and only worked seven months total through consultancies over two and a half years because of a high-risk pregnancy, a bad flare up of one of the health conditions that required several surgeries, and just wanting to be a stay-at-home parent for a bit. I’m worried that if I add another couple of years of no work to that, I will look (and be!) out of touch. The vast majority of people in my field work full-time and only take the allotted maternity leave, so almost no one else has any gaps in their resume. I am not so well entrenched within my current organization that I can count on coming back here, and do not feel like I can count on getting a position easily through previous contacts after so many years. It’s a big priority to me to not damage my career in the long-run; I generally love the work and do well with it.

I also hate the thought of relying on my husband financially for the rest of my life or not having substantial savings to fall back on. My mom had to go back to work after 14 years as a stay-at-home mom when we became refugees and came to the U.S. (years of taking on credit card debt to pay for basics, some food stamps, and all that fun stuff), was not able to get back into her previous field, and both my parents are still working well into their retirement years at very tough, unpleasant jobs. I never want to be in that position. I am also not cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, so I’d be asking my husband to shell out for childcare costs or paying for them from my savings, and would struggle to feel like I was contributing anything to the family. I think my husband also finds it stressful to be the only breadwinner, even if my financial contributions are tokenistic at best.

I’d love to hear from those who took some years out of their career or decided against it, and how it worked out, both professionally and personally. Would be great to hear from hiring managers too with honest takes on how big gaps in a woman’s resume affect her hiring chances.

Let’s hear specifically from the groups the writer mentions: people who took time out of their career or decided against it, or hiring managers with honest takes on many-years-long gaps in employment.

{ 396 comments… read them below }

  1. Ex-prof*

    Well, it seems like your question isn’t quite the question. If you’re feeling exhausted and defeated, and your health is suffering, and you have the option to stop working and won’t suffer financially from doing so, then you should probably stop and focus on your health regardless.

    Careerwise I can tell you this: you will lose contacts and references. I quit the day job 15 years ago and find myself in that position now when I think of going back. All my references are retired or dead. All my certifications have expired.

    1. Zweisatz*

      Yeah I think maybe you can cut the question into two parts: 1) Should you allow yourself to take time off right now? In my opinion yes. You sound exhausted and like your life is challenging on a physical level. Why not take care of yourself when you have the chance?

      2) Should you extend the time off beyond [enter timeframe]? That’s a question for the readers who have experience from either side of hiring.

      I would like to raise a secret third question though 3) Should your current organization be your forever organization? To me it sounds like while your boss and your tasks might be right, the general environment of this org is not and that is contributing to a relevant extent to your current exhaustion. So a secret third option might be to look into a different gig when you have recuperated physically/want to come back after having your kid.

        1. AVP*

          Just seconding this — I’ve worked for orgs like that on a contract position (through my consulting agency) and found it impossible and demoralizing, even though the contacts were nice and the project was lovely. I cannot make myself do a task if I know it’s going to be another six months before someone six times removed from me signs off on it and I can then move forward with sending out a months-old email. And the part time nature makes it worse, not better, because you can just slack off and demotivate without any repercussions.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yes, the pay, flexibility and any perks are essentially combat pay to put up with a hectic/inefficient/problem-riddled workplace.
        There was a letter and an update from someone working in a place that had three people and was down to OP. Great pay, and promises of hiring more people. But it was just not sustainable and OP left.
        To this OP, there’s no talk of finding a different job. Is that definitely off the table? Do you just think that you won’t find the perks you have now? You might. And you might see that you aren’t stuck between this job and no job.
        It’s just good to know your options. And I believe you will find you have some.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        This was my thought.

        None of us knows the future. The what-ifs are infinite and can paralyze most people into doing nothing. Who’s to say the organization you’re working for now will even be there in 5 years, even if you stayed?

        You should do what’s right for you and your family now. And then keep doing that. Set up a banking account for yourself as a cushion so you won’t feel so reliant on your husband. Make sure that funds go into it monthly or quarterly. Take a mental health break and consider another child, if that’s what you want. Once you’re stable, reassess.

        You may rediscover your love for your current work! You may have to work your way back up to where you are now, but if you do love it, just do it! Or, you may find that the winds have shifted in that career and those jobs aren’t available. It’s not the end of the world. You can research other kinds of jobs that will give you the satisfaction you want in life. It probably won’t be perfect because nothing is, but that’s okay too. Reassess, then reassess again.

        But I think the important part is to get healthy, physically and mentally right now. Then tackle tomorrow tomorrow.

    2. Two cents*

      I agree, if you’re sick, you’re sick. Being miserable at work is absolutely having an effect on your overall health. And your family.

      Can you take some sort of leave for a while (two months?) without quitting and just breathe for a second? And THEN have the important conversations with yourself and your spouse? Because being in the weeds of work, toddler, stress, household, extra other work and everything sure makes these things seem dire and impossible. That time off will give you a moment to catch your breath and also a lot of information about your finances, your real monthly budget needs and what it looks and feels like to actually stay home. Maybe you’ll hate it! Maybe you’ll love it! Maybe somewhere in the middle. But that’s really good information to have going into these discussions with yourself and with your spouse.

      1. MissesPookie*

        I love the idea of a ‘leave’ if they can. Its like a trial run of not being employed.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          I’m about to do this myself (for two months) using FMLA and short term disability for precisely the reasons Two cents mentioned. I’m at a breaking point and don’t want to do something rash, so this is me taking a beat to catch my breath (love this), deal with various medical issues, and put together an actual plan for escape (because I need to leave my company, that’s not a question, but I need to do so in a way that won’t leave me vulnerable since I have no safety net outside of my savings).

          1. Tio*

            I say if they are eligible for FMLA leave, take the job-protected leave. I believe in some cases you can get up to 3 months, see if you can get that. It sounds like they have enough health issues to justify it, so the main question would be on employee size of the org and hours OP has worked there in the last 12 months.

            Once you take your leave, and are nearing the end of it, you have some choices to make. To be honest, if you applied to me and had a very spotty employment history like it sounds you do, I would probably pass. It would depend on the market and what other candidates looked like. If you have special certifications, maybe it will be easier, but absent that it will probably be a bit rough to get back to where you were, especially depending on how long you’re off. You can try to mitigate that by maintaining some particularly close contacts while you’re off – who can you invite out for coffee while you’re recovering? Dinner? Keep as many contacts as you can close and use them when you’re on the job search again, whether that be while you go back to your current job or search for a new one after you quit.

            Best of luck

      2. Joielle*

        Yeah, that’s a great idea. My spouse was burned out at work a few years ago and it was exacerbating some chronic health issues, and he ended up taking a 3-month leave to decide what to do. After a month of not having the job stress, his health was so much better that it was very clear he had to quit.

    3. Amy*

      This is a good point. The original letter writer is having health issues and – circumstances permitting – is wise to consider pausing their career.

      With that said, I took several years off to be a stay-at-home-parent, and I can certainly attest to how difficult it can be to get back into the workforce. I had to account for the gap in my resume and I lost count of the number of questions I faced about it once I acknowledged it was because I had kids. I got questions like, “Can you be a mom and be successful in this role?” and “Who will watch your children?” I then changed my response to, “I took time off to care for family.” Suddenly, I didn’t get those questions.

      If the letter writer wants to take a break, I do suggest a few additional things you didn’t mention.

      – If you decide to return, how will you address the gap?
      – Will your knowledge become outdated by a departure from your field? I’ve noticed peers in healthcare, tech, etc. have to be constantly working just to stay current.
      – Is there some small volunteer role or could you do freelance work on a limited basis so you still can recoup but also keep one foot in the corporate world?
      – Will you be able to continue to invest in your own finances, which are kept separate from your partner?

      I know my last point may come across as unnecessary. But the reality is that we’re all one traumatic head injury away from being a very different person. It’s smart to think of what to do should the unthinkable occur.

    4. Manager1*

      It’s a big difference to step away for like 5-10 years as opposed to 1 year. Why don’t you step away from this job (which you hate and is harming your health) and focus on your health/maybe pregnancy for like 6 months to a year and see how you feel? You don’t seem to be in the same position as your parents, an obvious fear but maybe unfounded? Like others have said, you can be a consultant somewhere else, probably easily. I know the good things like good boss, remote work, etc., seem hard to come by but every place has trade offs and it sounds like your health is one right now! A huge one! As far as long term, I’m a hiring manager and yeah just to be blunt I wouldn’t think as favorably on someone that’s been out of the field for many years as someone who has kept up. Tech and work culture just move too fast. Not that I would never hire anyone who had a big break in employment but up against other candidates who presumably aren’t in that situation, there would be a clear disadvantage.

      1. Whomst*

        If she’s in the US, good luck getting another job while pregnant. Even if you are lucky enough to get hired, you’ll be lucky to get 6 weeks of maternity leave. I think if she does step away for a couple months and ends up pregnant during that time, it’s gonna be a longer break than just a year. Which is fine! But I think 2-3 years is pretty realistic for a break if she and her husband are really serious about another baby soon.

    5. learnedthehardway*

      I would suggest that the OP do what I (effectively) did. Now, I live in Canada and we had 1 year of maternity/parental leave at the time, with some government benefits during that time. But similar to taking a leave of absence, and I think that is what the OP should do.

      I didn’t initially plan on starting a business, but it became evident that this was a good idea (it was 2007/8, and the economy was clearly going to tank, but going back to work early wasn’t an option for various reasons). So, I started freelancing in my field – did some projects after the gov’t benefits ended, found I had a viable business, and kept going. Turned out to be a very good thing, as my job was changed at the company I worked for and my daycare plans feel through. By that time, I was more than confident I was on the right track with my own business, and despite the severe recession, it worked (I made more in my first year doing part time freelance work than I had in my regular job. No benefits, of course, but still – the cash was important at that point.)

      I think that the OP is in a good position to do something similar, if she has a skill set that could be parlayed into a freelance role. This would allow her to maintain her skills, have income, manage her schedule/workload better, work with people she wants to work with (that’s one of the best things about freelancing is NOT working with people you can’t stand), and maintain some independence. She can make decisions about whether to go back in-house in future.

      I would caution that the OP WILL need childcare if she goes beyond occasional projects to really build her own business (that was certainly the case for me) – but that was my biggest more-or-less-fixed cost for what I do.

      If I were to go back inhouse – I would likely have to go back at the level of role that I left, because there are trade-offs – but I am current in my profession/the technologies/regulations/industry knowledge/network/etc. etc., and I do training as needed to keep up to date on my skills. So I wouldn’t be starting over again, if you know what I mean.

    6. MakeAPlan*

      This is actually why OP benefits from working in a non-profit sector – those usually have lots of volunteering opportunities.

      OP might be able to take time off from working, but still take a lower pressure part time volunteering gig within their sector so they’re still maintaining some connection to their industry and won’t come back with a blank spot on the resume and it’s easy to frame this as a positive thing.

      That said, LW doesn’t mention speaking to their partner about this and if they haven’t I think they really need to. I haven’t taken a career sabbatical, but my partner did and I was totally supportive but if I could go back in time I would have had a deeper conversation with them about timelines/how they were planning to use the time/contingencies etc. at the start because we ended up having very different ideas about how to approach “taking time off”. My partner completely underestimated how hard it would be for them to get back into their industry and didn’t use any of their time off in a “productive” way. They got stuck in a slump that turned into a paralyzing shame spiral and was too embarrassed to admit it and I wanted to be respectful of their time off and trust that they had it handled like they were saying (and we’re lucky enough that financials weren’t a significant issue) so I waited too long to have the “I can tell this is hard for you but it’s time to make a plan” conversation.

      It added a lot of stress on our relationship.

      1. Not that Jane*

        Yeah, I want to second the importance of having your partner be a true partner in thinking this stuff through. I have been working part time since our first kid was born 8.5 years ago, and my partner has been supportive of my not going back to full time work yet. We are in a similar financial position (he makes ~10x what I do, so we could definitely survive on just his income). Similarly, last year he was going through some health stuff and applied for a 3 month FMLA leave without talking to me first, which felt … not great on my end, like, yes, you need to deal with your physical and mental health, and yes, as a grownup you get to decide how to do that, but as the spouse, I felt really weird that the first I heard of it was “my medical leave got approved today.”

        However, that did lead to a series of really productive conversations in which we gamed out which of us might quit our job / reduce our hours / increase our hours / start something new, etc, based on family needs and priorities. It felt good to feel like we had a TEAM professional plan, not just two individual plans.

      2. North American Legume Fancier*

        We had a similar issue–we moved, and partner needed to do a fair amount of work to move their state-specific licensure to our new state. We also couldn’t get the baby into the daycare at the same place our older child was doing preschool for 6 months and so we agreed they would put their job search on pause to be a SAHP till we had child care. Well, the daycare started, but spouse just…never got a job. They have now been home for years (the baby who needed daycare is entering middle school) and have developed a couple of chronic illnesses and I’m pretty sure the window for a meaningful second career that won’t ruin their health has closed. I also think the shame spiral has set in and so trying to have any kind of conversation about it is a Big Deal.

        We are OK for money, but I am starting to want to cut back on work a bit and so I really wish we had had some detailed conversations about what their time at home was going to look like, when to revisit it, criteria for rejoining the workforce, and so on, so that bringing it up didn’t automatically mean that they are hearing Get a Job, You Freeloader.

    7. SJ Coffee Adict*

      Yes, came here to say that. If you take off the time I would recommend keeping up whatever licenses or certifications you have, and make sure you attend a presentation/ networking event in your field a few times a year so that people remember who you are. I would love to tell you that you can take a few years off with no consequences, but studies show, especially for women, that their lifetime earnings take a huge hit if they take time off in the middle (or even early in) their careers.

      1. Jellyfish Catcher*

        PROs: Yes, keep up licenses, and take courses/ continuing ed as needed.
        I took off 3 years, with 2 kids, working 1 day a week. I have a subniche area of knowledge, not common, so part time work was possible. I later worked up to 4 days/week.
        Is your area of expertise able to allow you keep work limited at 20 hours, with clear “office hours” ?
        I found that having a predictable schedule kept at least that part of life predictable – but also my partner worked four tens and was off that 5th day.

        CONs: You’ll need a babysitter/nanny if you still work, even from home.
        I was healthy; my MIL helped, partner helped ,a part-time babysitter helped.

        Your health is something that you don’t want to damage! I would put that right at the top of your needs. A second child is not twice as much work – it’s more like 3 times one child – for years.
        One baby is exhausting. With another, you have the night interruptions of the baby along with a very busy small person getting up early, raring to go and needing close supervision.
        At least that’s what I vaguely remember…..Wishing the best to you, and for you.

      2. Reader*

        This is exactly the approach I would suggest. Do what it takes to keep some of your friendships alive in the field. You might invite people in town to lunch, or pick a couple of conferences a year, and at least 1 hour a month of volunteering or attending a group meeting, or education.
        As a note, it’s very common for professional parents to do another degree when they need a break from their old job. This can cover a gap of 1-4 years. Many adult learning programs are specifically designed for people who can only manage an hour a day or two nights a week.

  2. S*

    Idea: run a scenario analysis. Your husband’s business folds tomorrow: what will you do? Anyone in your family (including him and you) has a major health crisis: what will you do?
    My perspective is as a mom who had to step up to be breadwinner due to a health curve-ball. It wasn’t what I’d initially envisioned, but it’s been an awesome ride. My other perspective: my mom stayed at home, and was blind-sided when my dad asked for a divorce. She was stressed out financially for the rest of her life.
    I’m not trying to lead you one direction or another – I just want to emphasize that life is long and complex, and change is the only guarantee!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      My other perspective: my mom stayed at home, and was blind-sided when my dad asked for a divorce.

      This. I’m not married and have no children, so this is always a hypothetical for me, but after seeing so many women end up financially wrecked after being SAHMs and their retirement plan hinged on not getting divorced, the only way I think I’d be ok with being a SAHM would be if my partner would 1. pay me a salary and 2. fund my retirement plan.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Just from my personal perspective: my mom is in her 70s and still works, mainly because she loves her job, but while they’re still married, my father is blowing through all his savings and retirement streams because he’s supporting his affair partner and her children and grandchildren and her various extended family members who constantly have their hands out. At the rate he’s going, he either won’t be able to retire at all or will end up totally tapped out.

        Thank God my mom has her own income. If the plan was to rely on my dad, she’d be screwed. I’m sure she did not foresee her 40+ year marriage ending up like this.

        1. samwise*

          Your mom needs to meet with a lawyer and a financial planner to ensure that she is going to be able to use her income just for herself, because if your dad blows through *his* retirement funding, she’s gonna to be supporting him. I’m not saying she should divorce him (but really, sounds like her “share” of his retirement income is getting spent on another woman and her family, so maybe yes divorce so that she can get her share), but she needs to know where she stands legally with respect to her income, savings, and retirement funds if any; and his retirement funds, savings, other income, obligations to any children his affair produced, debts.

          And she should pay for these professionals with HIS money, not hers. They need wills, powers of attorney, medical powers of attorney. Although tbh if I were your mom I would not give your dad any sort of power over my affairs. If you are willing and able, she should give those powers to you.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            I completely agree, and have been having this conversation with her for a while. But it’s actually really, really hard to get another adult to do anything. If I ever end up in control of their affairs or with power of attorney, I will absolutely go scorched earth on my father. But she doesn’t want to get divorced, and I can’t make her do it. Fortunately he doesn’t have any children with his affair partner, these are all her adult kids from her various marriages and her grandchildren that he’s supporting because her kids can’t stop getting pregnant with partners that then vanish.

            My mom was a SAHM for many years while we got dragged around the world following dad (military) and went back to work when we finally ended up somewhere stable. It took her a really long time to find a career. Most of the time she was working low-paying hourly jobs until she ended up in a kind of niche career unique to our area that she really loves and can continue doing for the foreseeable future.

            My dad was a jerk about her going back to work, but if she hadn’t, she’d be totally screwed. She at least has a pretty solid retirement and a lot in savings because they’ve always lived really frugally.

            This is a really long-winded way of saying that I’m sure all the women who ended up having to go back to work in their 50s, 60s, or older because their husbands ditched them also thought that wouldn’t happen. You actually don’t have any control over what someone else does, so if you’re entire plan hinges on someone else, you may want to rethink it.

            1. S*

              *But it’s actually really, really hard to get another adult to do anything.*

              100% Been there. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I’d spent my energy earning extra $$ and setting it aside for her, because all the efforts I put towards trying to get her to think about money the way I do failed completely!

              Hugs (if you want them.)

              1. CommanderBanana*

                I appreciate the hugs. That’s where I am right now – I think she’ll be ok financially, but I’m planning on the worst. I don’t have kids and I’m assuming that I’ll be taking care of her at some point.

                AFAIC Dad can go pound sand.

            2. double joe*

              I completely agree, and have been having this conversation with her for a while. But it’s actually really, really hard to get another adult to do anything.

              Endless sympathy and empathy from me. Been there.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            God, I wish. Whenever she starts complaining about him I just text her links to divorce lawyers. I mean, this has been going on for years. Now I’m just hoping she outlives him so she can have some peace.

            1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

              Yep — same with my family. After a while it’s like “you are fully aware you’re in a burning house — leave it, or stop complaining to me as I attempt to heal my own lungs.”

              1. CommanderBanana*

                Yup, that’s where we are. I gray rock her whenever she starts complaining about him, which basically means we don’t talk, because that’s all she talks about. But it’s been years of this, and at this point I’m like, you have the means and the support if you ever want out of this situation, so until that happens, leave me out of it.

                1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

                  Sending you a hug — congratulations on your inner strength, I know it was hard won.

            2. GenXer*

              CommanderBanana – You should also make sure your mom knows what would happen if he had to go into a nursing home. I’ve heard of happily married couples getting divorced so that they don’t use up all of one spouse’s money to pay for nursing care before Medicare/Medicaid kick in.

      2. wondermint*

        Interesting! #2 I totally get and am on board with. Wouldn’t #1 be addressed with spouse alimony?

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I don’t know – divorce laws are really complex. There are also all sorts of ways to get around that stuff if you’re a big enough scumbag. My aunt was married to a very, very wealthy man and was a SAHM. They got divorced. He basically never worked again, but was living off of family wealth so “had no income.” The divorce settlement was crappy and he never lifted a finger to help support their kids, pay for college, nothing. My aunt had never really had a career because she got married young and had never worked.

          One of them is now a divorce attorney and I sincerely hope she spends her time taking guys like her dad to the cleaners.

        2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          Alimony is pretty rare these days and even then generally only for a short period to allow the previously-supported spouse to get their feet under them. I know only one person in my age group (Xennial) who got it, and even then with everything lined up in her favor it was only for a few months. (Large income differential, higher-earning spouse had requested the divorce, he kept the house, amicable situation so he didn’t fight the settlement.) Sort of like severance pay when someone gets laid off.

          1. JustaTech*

            I have a friend who’s an elder millennial/Gen X and he paid his ex-wife (no kids) alimony for a set number of years. Insisted on writing a physical check, too, and not doing direct debit, so “if I die she doesn’t get an extra payment”.
            A bit bitter, but otherwise a nice guy, and he let the bitterness go when he finished paying (so, maybe 10 years?).

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            My daughter’s ex got spousal support for several years, but the ex played “helpless me” to the judge and weaponized incompetence during the mandatory job training. It ends this year, yay!

        3. Maggie*

          Really depends on what a judge who maybe hasn’t even been elected yet has to say about and laws that have been changing and are subject to change further and the ability of the wife to even pay a retainer for a lawyer. It certainly isn’t something I’d count on

          1. CommanderBanana*

            ^^ This. Saying something like “well if that happens I’ll get alimony” is really short-sighted. Marriage and divorce laws aren’t even the same from state to state. And you absolutely cannot count on anything until you’ve got the cash in hand.

      3. Abundant Shrimp*

        I have a similar story that I heard many years ago from someone I’d met in my then-church.
        CW: loss of spouse.

        The woman I talked to in my church at the time (Greek Orthodox) was visiting from out of town and was in her 50s or 60s. She told me that she’d had a fairytale marriage. Her husband met her on his visit back to Greece when she was 18, married her, brought her to the US, and told her not to worry about anything and to just stay home and raise the kids, he’d take care of all of them. And he did. Until in his mid-50s, when the three kids were in middle school, he one day dropped dead of a heart attack. He had no life insurance and I don’t know how much he had in savings, but not a lot as my new friend said she needed to find a job and start working right away. She couldn’t speak English, couldn’t drive, she’d never even shopped for groceries without him and didn’t know how that was done. Her first job was at a bakery that was the only place she could walk to that was willing to hire her. She said it was really tough. She wrapped up her story by telling me she’d made sure that all her three daughters had college degrees, and instilled in them the importance of having good careers. Sharing here because her story really stuck with me. Obviously not LW’s situation and highly unlikely to happen to LW! My biggest concern would’ve been the business folding. Businesses fail all the time and we live in a very volatile time politically and economically.

        1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

          I am glad the newest generation of women have heard horror stories like that one — it’s not nice to say, but you cannot allow yourself to be stuck in such a precarious situation with a high failure rate due to a naive, consciously made choice.

            1. MPerera*

              My mother was traditional in many ways. But one thing she told me was, “Always have your own job, your own bank account, and your own car. Never depend on a man for those.”

              1. Jan Levinson Gould*

                My parents had an unhappy marriage and though my mom worked, she didn’t feel she made enough to live comfortably on her own. She pushed higher education on me (her daughter) much harder than she did on my brother. She always stressed the importance of supporting myself. Even though I married my college sweetheart and we have a happy, solid marriage, I have never been at his mercy financially. He recently quit his job to be a stay at home dad :)

                My husband had a good example with his parents – his dad gave up his career for a few years to raise the four kids while my MIL went to medical school in her 30’s. My FIL went back to work afterwards, but despite having an MBA, he never got far in his career. The sacrifice paid off and my MIL is still a part time practicing physician in her 70’s because she loves it.

                As for CommanderBannana, I certainly hope your mother outlives your father. It would be frustrating to see your mother’s savings go to your father’s mistress and her mooch family. You’ve probably already presented that scenario to your mother. Good luck trying to convince her. What if your dad falls ill and needs round-the-clock care – it would be painful to watch your mother care for him.

              2. learnedthehardway*

                Same with my mother – she was a SAHM who never worked outside the home after she was married, but she insisted that us kids get our education, our own jobs, our own bank accounts and be independent. When we pointed out the irony, she said that she was the luckiest woman in the world to have our father as her husband, and that he was the exception, not the rule. She was quite correct on that score, and Dad entirely deserved her trust. She didn’t trust men in general, though, and she was quite right about that, too.

            2. goddessoftransitory*

              I hate that crap with the fire of a thousand suns. Even if the guy turns out to be decent and honorable, heart attacks, car accidents and cancer don’t go oh, let’s skip over this one, he’s a good father/husband.

              And unless one or both spouses has access to multi-millionaire tier family money, there isn’t enough insurance/pension savings in the world to ensure the surviving spouse can live and send any kids to school without working themselves.

            3. Project Maniac-ger*

              The real kicker is the Tradwife influencers have an income and career – in social media. They’ll be fine if they get divorced. It’s saying one thing and doing another.

              1. SpaceySteph*

                I do wonder if their income stream would dry up if they got divorced. No longer peddling that perfect family. (I’m sure they could turn being widowed into big bucks though)

                1. Zweisatz*

                  Honestly they’ll just pivot. Pyramid scheme essential oils, flat tummy tea, momfluencer – they’ll find something.

                2. MigraineMonth*

                  I’m betting they would lose a lot of their original followers but reinvent themselves as a different type of influencer. Now they’re #girlbosses using their story of how they were used and abused to teach the importance of financial literacy! Or they’re #feminists who talk about how they were sucked into the Tradwife movement and how they broke free.

                  Society has an appetite for reinvention and “inside scoops”; I’m betting they’ll find their feet again.

                3. Zephy*

                  Oh, they’ll absolutely just pivot to a new angle. A divorce would be several MONTHS of content.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Yup. My neighbor woke up after 22 years of marriage to her husband asking for a divorce. Within weeks of the divorce being finalized he was married to his affair partner. She had no idea.

            He was completely unwilling to help get the youngest kid through college and she was hoping he’d change his mind so didn’t fight him on the divorce settlement, so now she’s in a ton of debt for her kid’s college education, plus their house, etc., etc. If she hadn’t gone back to work she’d be totally screwed. Also, it’s not like the college tuition and mortgage bills could wait until they got their divorce ironed out.

            Also, don’t assume that if you get divorced, you’re going to get money from your ex. Or that they will behave reasonably. Or that they will care enough about their kids to contribute. Or that they won’t remarry someone who will begrudge every dollar that goes to their kids/ex.

            1. Alternative Person*

              My aunt was hoping for reconciliation whilst her now-ex waited out the clock on the legal separation period and thus didn’t get that much in her divorce.

              She was luckier than many since she had always worked but she definitely felt the pinch by not being proactive in going after a proper settlement, especially once it became apparent he was moving on.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Yup. he’d take care of all of them is a great sentiment but it doesn’t actually pay any bills.

          My great-grandfather was killed in a railroad accident when my great-grandmother was pregnant with their youngest. She was a fairly recent immigrant, no English, had never worked, fourth kid was on the way. She was able to move in with her in-laws but it was horrible. She got a pittance of a settlement from the railroad company and they were poor for the rest of her life.

          1. Lauren19*

            This is crazy – my great grandfather was killed in a railroad accident while my great grandmother was pregnant with my grandma. If my grandma hadn’t been an only child I would have asked if we were related.

            1. CommanderBanana*


              He was a lineman, which is a really dangerous job. I think she got something like $50K from the railroad, which at the time was actually a lot of money, EXCEPT the money went into a trust and she actually had no access to it and had to beg the trust officials for money to pay for the kids’ expenses any time they needed anything, and they could approve or deny it as they saw fit. According to my grandma, they made it really hard for her to actually get the money, and I’m sure her not speaking English and being barely literate in her native language helped them screw her over.

              And they took hefty fees for “administering” the trust, so by the time the kids were older, the trust had barely any money in it. I think my grandfather got maybe $100 when he turned 18.

          2. Quill*

            Of the tales I know of my relatives who raised kids when a single salary per family was the norm (so… 50’s, 60’s…) I know of at least three who were widowed, one who was walked out on (the catholic side of the family did not believe in divorce: it’s materially worse to have the husband up and disappear instead…) and many whose family health problems or other unexpected expenses meant that someone whose entire job had been raising a gaggle of baby boomer kids had to start making the money, usually much less if she didn’t have a good education or prior work experience.

            People who idolize a 50’s style dad works 9-5, mom stays at home lifestyle don’t realize that 1) the majority of middle class women not working was a weird economic blip, historically 2) it did not work out long term for a large proportion of people 3) it was only seen as an okay setup because of systematic barriers to women having their own money / making enough money to support themselves, and mimicking the lifestyles of the rich, where women often had money tied to them legally, even if they didn’t get to make many decisions about it, without working for it.

            (Sidenote: did all these Mad Men era dudes only work 7 hours with that “lunch hour” paid, to get to 9-5?)

          1. ABC*

            Oh no, she actually went with the “running my household makes me a great fit for an operations position” line. Between that and the refusals to work in retail or trades (because they’re filled with criminals, according to her), she was already starting in the hole and just kept digging.

            1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

              I’m still amazed that she never once thought to check whether or not she lived in a state with common-law marriage. She was a willing, foolish participant in everything that happened to her.

          2. Orange Line Avenger*

            Oof. I worked in pension benefits for a year or so right out of college, and I saw this kind of thing happen a few times. There are SO many women out there who aren’t legally married to their husbands, trusted him with all the finances, and trusted that they’d be taken care of when he died, only to find out that they are entitled to nothing because their marriage was never legal.

            It’s heart-breaking. That Reddit OP seems like an unpleasant person, but OOF.

          3. Need more electrolytes*

            I knew what thread it would be as soon as I saw the BORU link. I agree, so many avoidable mistakes.

          4. MigraineMonth*

            “I did everything the way you were supposed to!” she says. Oh sweet summer child. Not even close.

            I’m pretty sure she’s never actually listened to advice, so I’m not sure why she asked a million internet strangers for it.

        3. jasmine*

          I do want to point out though, there are different shades to this. Going to work after being an SAHM is going to be different levels of hard depending on your fluency in English, education, and past experience. Someone who’s had a career and someone who’s never been to college are not in the same boat.

      4. Lea*

        Yeah, her current job setup already sounds like a great deal! And if she has a toddler now, she’s very close to being out of the toughest time.

        If I were this person, baring serious health implications, I would keep this lovely part time gig and ditch whatever other stuff she was working on. And then reevaluate when the kid is in school and things have settled.

        Either way I would want to make sure I had a financial back up plan if things went south with the husband or his business

        1. Testing*

          She has a toddler now, but they want to have another kid. Which I understand, but which will not make any of this easier (except maybe the socia acceptance of her staying home for a few years).

        2. Venus*

          I agree with reevaluating after the high-stress side-gigs are wrapped up, but not for years! See if things improve after a couple months, and if not then I agree with others who suggest that part of the problem might be that specific job.

        3. Hedgehog O'Brien*

          I would actually push back on being close to being out of the toughest time. I’m not sure if you have kids or not, but my experience is that as our two kids get older, things are just differently hard. They don’t need us to watch them 24/7 to make sure they don’t die, but now they have soccer practice, swimming lessons, t-ball, dance, swimming, birthday parties, school spirit days/weeks, homework, and their emotional needs become more complex. Our kids are in Pre-K & first grade, and I’m seriously contemplating taking some time off or at least trying to cut back to part-time because the logistics of our life are getting so complicated.

          Our sanity is worth a lot, and there are tradeoffs both ways. Yes, something might happen to your husband, or you may end up getting a divorce and then having a hard time getting back into the workforce.

          The other side of the coin, and the one I’ve been thinking about the most is – what if I keep plowing forward, and then everything turns out fine and I regret not cutting back when I had the opportunity. You never get this phase of life back, and what if I look back and regret that I went through it as a stressed out, barely present maniac when I didn’t have to.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            +1 to this. There is little as unrelenting as caring for a toddler! It’s so hard! But you more or less control the schedule. With my school-age kids, I’ve had a string of “have to leave a little early because my kids have to eat an early dinner and get back to school for the chorus concert” type things that have hit my work day in the past few weeks. Our evenings and weekends are busy (often with delightful things! but busy!) so I end up with less energy for work and less ability to make up work at odd hours the way I used to. It’s different hard.

          2. Jan Levinson Gould*

            “what if I keep plowing forward, and then everything turns out fine and I regret not cutting back when I had the opportunity. You never get this phase of life back, and what if I look back and regret that I went through it as a stressed out, barely present maniac when I didn’t have to.”

            That resonates with me, and I usually think in worst-case scenarios.

            My husband just quit his job for the sake of our sanity so he can be the primary parent and home manager. Our little one isn’t even a toddler yet, but I’ve heard from friends that time is even tighter once kids are in school. We’re Type B personalities and not high energy – I’ve been more relaxed and focused at my job since he quit. Plus we have more time for things we enjoy.

            My husband’s job in tech was a now highly-coveted fully remote position which made us think twice if he should give it up and the health insurance was far superior to what my employer offers. However, he was bored, frustrated and had enough of his micromanaging boss. We ran the numbers past our financial advisor and she gave us the thumbs up to do it. Life insurance is also key to peace of mind. It’s only been a few months, but so far ZERO regrets from either of us about the decision. There’s more to life than money. We’re not into frequently getting new cars or exotic vacations and we’ll have to continue to keep our tastes simple, but that’s a-ok with us.

      5. Spero*

        There are ways to mitigate this other than by continuing to work, though. Ex: have full transparency on assets and be clear what they are so if it moves to divorce it’s not ‘surprise, everything is in the name of the business so there is no marital property to split.’ Ex: make sure you have a spousal IRA that’s fully funded each year or other accounts in your name that your spouse could not suddenly revoke access to. Ex: being listed as an employee of/working for spouse business with equity in the business, not just the marital property. It is complex to make sure the assets are structured equitably between partners so often the ‘easy answer’ has been just put it all the name of the working spouse, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to have a different arrangement.

        1. JustaTech*

          Or be a co-owner of the business. That can make some things easier and some things harder (and if there are legal issues related to the business it can potentially get deep into your personal finances), but it is worth considering.

        2. Two cents*

          Exactly! I am a SAHM and my spouse and I had EXTENSIVE conversations about how things would work if the worst happens (death, disability, divorce) and made lots of joint decisions accordingly. And consulted experts to make sure it was all viable. To me, this is the most loving and logical thing we can both do for each other. The most important part is communication and openness. It was hard and long, and of course still ongoing, but it is so so important. Neither of us will be screwed without the other. My future does not depend on my husband being alive, able bodied or married and in love with me.

      6. Whoa there*

        There’s a lot of financial advice flying around here that I fear is not rooted in law. It depends on your state, so I suggest talking to a lawyer or at least a financial planner. But in many (most?) places just having an account in your name doesn’t make that “yours” in the event of a divorce. It’s why the recent trend for financial separation in married couples seems silly to me.

        1. Spero*

          Having an account in your name doesn’t keep it from being a marital asset in a divorce, but it does keep your partner from removing you from the account the minute you separate so you have no access to it, it does keep partner from draining the account without your knowledge, keep your partner from withholding it from you until your first court date/final settlement to try to pressure you into signing an agreement that is unfair to you and you wouldn’t sign if you had enough to live on in the meantime…making sure the SAHM has an account in their name is about not losing their assets in a separation, not just in the divorce.
          For context, in my state a 1 year separation is mandatory. I cannot even say the number of women I know who were forced into a horrible financial arrangement or had their credit completely destroyed in that year even IF the assets were eventually ruled marital and turned over when the divorce was finalized. I even know someone who could not afford to feed her kids on a part time minimum wage with no child support, so ‘let the dad take the kids’ temporarily then lost custody of them PERMANENTLY because she ‘abandoned them’ – but it all started because husband withdrew their access to the accounts during the separation. She may have gotten the money eventually, but she didn’t get her custody back.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Yes. Here’s the thing – I don’t care how ‘amicable’ a separation you are having. The moment you separate, especially if there are kids involved, you have to remember that your ex is not your friend, they’re not your partner, and the fastest way to screw yourself is to think that they are. The stakes are just too high. Do you really want to gamble with losing custody of your children? With finding out you’re broke and unemployable in your 50s? And for what – because you were worried about making someone angry who was already leaving you?

            I mean, the LW can do whatever she wants, but I have no intention of putting myself in a position like that.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          Having a bank account and credit card in your own name helps if your husband dies – you don’t have to worry about access to the money while working through the logistics of the death, and you have a credit history from the card.

          When my parents married, she had to give up her in her own name credit card (literally – she went to change her name for the card, and the company cancelled it, because she was now married). After 40 years of a joint credit card, and being the one managing the finances, my dad died suddenly, and she found she had no credit history, and no credit card. Fortunately, they had a really good financial manager who was able to expedite things.

      7. Knittercubed*

        I’m in nursing and throughout my career saw many many 60+ year olds re-enter the profession (after a refresher course) due to divorce or widowhood. None of them were happy. Many had left retirement planning to their spouse and got screwed later in life.

    2. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

      I was the child in a situation like this — SAHM who suddenly had nothing. Do everything you can to avoid this scenario playing out, because the fallout lasts generations.

    3. AVP*

      Definitely agree that you need to really think about it from this angle — from someone who has been there. I kept working as a mid-career mom even though financially, we could have gone either way. (We’re not as comfy as the OP but day care is really expensive here and no family help so it’s almost a toss-up).

      My husband was laid-off from his incredibly stable job of 19(!) years when our kid was a year old, and I switched into being the higher-salary worker with health insurance. He’s a better parent tbh and started a more flexible but lower-paid position. Not only would this have been out of the question if I wasn’t working, but we would have been up the world’s largest creek when he got laid off. Owning your own business is *tough* and if it were me, I’d be panicking about one bad year sneaking in. But it depends on where your tolerance for stress and anxiety go!

    4. Jen*

      I’m on the other “side” of this equation: my husband closed his part-time business and just maintained his part-time job so he could parent. We haven’t divorced; we’re happy empty-nesters, and the transition has been smooth. I think our marriage is healthier because we both have “skin in the game” of all parts of running a household: the income and money management, the housekeeping, and the parenting. I’m very glad we couldn’t completely opt him out of earning. The marriages I’ve known that took on the “breadwinner/ housekeeper” model (or worse yet, the “breadwinner/ income earner AND housekeeper” model) have looked stressful from the outside.

      Could there be another tack you could take? Even if you can afford lots of household help, being the only person who manages that staff and picks up all of the little household extras could be part of the source of your exhaustion and resentment maybe? What does his ten percent of household stuff look like? Is it possible to sit down and talk about whether you really need to hold all of the house?

      1. Anon for this*

        Yes, this whole thread reflects my first thought — I myself would be incapable of shifting to a model where the other person in my partnership is the only breadwinner, even if I 1000% trusted them. Too many things can go wrong. I am watching my business partner navigate this with his husband and I saw my aunt try to scratch out a living at the age of 50 after not working for 25 years when my uncle became disabled and lost his business. I’m having a hard enough time even contemplating semi-retirement even though I know I technically have enough money.

        For this LW, I would vote to divest the extra stuff right away and maybe navigate a leave of a month or so to assess what you really need for your health — and maybe think about how to find a gig that is steadily in the lower end of the workload. But I would be very wary of leaving altogether for a big gap. I work in a consulting field and shifts in our client environment are frequent and subtle and hard to jump back into.

    5. TechWorker*

      My mum took about 10 years off and when she went back she was overqualified, underpaid and as far as I could tell overworked (definitely long hours). My parents split up & then divorced about a year after she went back (so maybe she knew it was coming!). Luckily she did well out of a final salary pension from the well paid job she had for 7 years before having children – so even though before she retired she earnt about a quarter of what my dad does, that plus generally being lower spending means she’s very well set up for retirement. Keep paying those pensions folks…

    6. Starbuck*

      Yeah. This concerned me:
      “I also hate the thought of relying on my husband financially for the rest of my life or not having substantial savings to fall back on. ”

      If your husband makes what it sounds like is high six figures, or anything close to that, you should have your own separate account that some of that money gets paid into. You should have savings. That would be a key condition for me to step back from work and take on more household/childcare duties (even if it’s not all of them, as LW says). Contributions should be going into a retirement account that you own also. Financial comfort is not something to take for granted, you never know when the stream might stop flowing and you should always be saving with that in mind, if you can. I’ve seen it happen.

    7. Joielle*

      My mom worked aside from a 2-year break when my brother and I were both young, even though my dad made plenty of money and she didn’t really have to. Thank god she did, because my dad had a cardiac arrest on a work trip in 2005. He survived but had significant brain damage and couldn’t work after that – he had to retire in his mid 40s, and then my mom was the main breadwinner. That experience has made me SO leery of leaving the workforce for any significant amount of time – even if you have a wonderful marriage, a health issue can sideline anyone at any time and it feels so dangerous to me to rely on one person’s income.

  3. Taylor, no not THAT one*

    While I am not the target group, I do believe there are ways to both provide for yourself and your future (retirement) through a few avenues these days, using your husband’s income (which is rightfully both of yours!)—quite a bit more than even ten years ago. Maybe others can speak to this?

    1. Beth*

      To some extent, it depends on what state they live in, and how their finances are currently set up.

      LW, my first step would be to a financial planner. Whether you take off a day, a month, half a decade, or not at all, you need to review how your finances are set up. You taking time out from your career isn’t the only scenario that can be reviewed and planned for.

      1. double joe*

        I agree on the financial planner, although I don’t have any advice on how to get a good one. Anyone know how to do that? But I agree that the finances here would benefit from an expert to make sure everyone is protected.

        1. Kay*

          Pick the most fiscally responsible, stable and successful people you know – and start asking for recommendations. Don’t pick your flashy friend to ask first, but the one with the nice house/nice car/plan for retirement/serves as a treasurer on a nonprofit board, etc. From there you start making calls and pick the one that most aligns with your values.

    2. Two cents*

      I am currently a SAHM–never expected to be, but it turned out to be exactly the right choice for my family as a whole and it is working well for me. Part of that decision was an extensive cost-benefit analysis with lots of financials and what-if-everything-goes-wrong scenarios (death, job loss, debilitating sickness or injury of any of us, divorce, etc.) It ABSOLUTELY included plans and concrete actions preparing for my retirement as a separate thing from my husband’s stuff. We did speak with several experts (lawyer, financial planner, etc.) because we wanted to make sure it was actually functional and that we didn’t forget anything.

      Will I never work again? No idea. It is not a guaranteed track to a life of no work. (Or at least no employment: part of our arrangement is that I do LOTS of stuff to keep us running as a unit, childcare, household, etc.) And in the moment, it is expensive: we have friends who think we are quite a bit poorer than we are since so much goes in to those future pots. But my future doesn’t require my husband to be living, able-bodied or still married and in love with me. We BOTH saw that as a requirement to making this choice for our family.

      It is hard, and expensive, but it can be done. At least for us: I am fully aware of how privileged we are.

    3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      OP lists “extra savings” as a non-necessary thing provided through her work, so I really hope they sit down and look at what their retirement savings will look like 5, 10, 20 years from now with and without her income.

  4. Audrey*

    I work from home and have my child with me, and run a side business on top of that. It’s two full time jobs and one part time job every day. It’s hard!
    From this letter, it sounds like the real issue is you’re doing a lot right now and overwhelmed and need some help. This is something I went through and I really credit my husband with helping me get help for PPD and just overwhelm.
    It’s ok to need some help OP! It might be time to ask for it. Being a mom is hard work and I think that’s the real source of stress here.

  5. Name (Required)*

    I would consider wrapping up the “other income-generating” things first and then reevaluate how you feel since you said those alone add a lot of stress for little return. That might be enough to make the rest of it easier.

    1. Side*

      I agree with this one, having a side gig (or multiple, as it sounds like) is an additional stressor and it sounds like it’s unneeded with your current job combined with your husband’s. Definitely wrap those up as soon as possible and see how much having time to relax and take care of yourself helps. I also have side-hustles in addition to my day job and am well-aware of how much time they take up and how much additional stress I sign myself up for.

    2. Lea*

      This is also my advice in addition to waiting until the toddler is at school and seeing if that together frees up enough time and space for her

    3. Beth*

      Agreed. If you end up really needing to take time off work for your health and wellbeing, then that will still be an option. But since you know those are a major source of stress, it’s worth seeing if dropping them fixes the problem!

      I didn’t take time off in the classic sense of not doing anything professional, but I did make a several-years detour into seeing if I could make a dream career work before ultimately returning to my original field. Even though I was working throughout and had prior experience in the field, I feel like I started over when I returned. My credentials were out of date, people assumed I had forgotten a lot (which was true), and the field had changed over the years–all of which added up to a rough hunt for my first job back. I don’t regret it per se; I’m glad I gave the dream career a chance. But I do think anyone choosing to take time away from their field should expect it to be an uphill battle coming back.

    4. Ally McBeal*

      This was my first thought as well. Maybe LW could request a short sabbatical (a month?) from her consulting gig after those side jobs wrap up, just to catch her breath and sleep a bit, and see how she feels from there.

    5. Jules the 3rd*

      I’d go a little further: you say you rarely get to sleep through the night. You really need to get more full nights of sleep. Some ideas to think about:
      * Can you do a 1 – 3 month sabbatical, still with the nanny?
      * I see that your husband is busy, but can he take over two nights / mornings a week? Yes, his income is important, but would 4x your income still cover the bills and allow him more free time to help you and share the load?
      * Is there anything else that could be outsourced or automated? Good job to you for the nanny and cleaner, that’s the first place to start with load reduction. I bet the cleaner doesn’t do laundry, so consider finding a way to pay someone else to do that and/or give yourself permission to lower your standards – I had to take a deep breath when I let my 12yo son take over ‘folding’ his clothes. (I ended up giving him extra drawer space and look away from the wrinkles. At 16, he folds pants and puts socks together, but the shirts are still a jumble…)

      Unfortunately, you sound burnt out, and it takes real rest time to recover from that (late 40s). It took me about six months, and a year later I was still dealing with some burn-out related anxiety.

      Good luck, balancing the risks, responsibilities, and rewards is a huge challenge.

    6. Professional Cat Lady*

      Agree with this 1000%. I was burned out, but didn’t want to quit my side gig bc “we need the money”. We’ve made it work, and the reduction in stress was absolutely worth it.

    7. Goose*

      Agreed–and maybe take time off from the job (1-2 months) to wrap up the other work so you can return refreshed and witha. lighter plate. OR to use that time to apply to other jobs that might be a better fit.

  6. Ruby Tuesday*

    I took about 2.5 years off to get my masters after I was laid off in 2011 (1 year spent trying to find a job, 2 semesters taking pre-reqs, 1 year accelerated masters). I finished school in 2014. It absolutely hurt me, career-wise! When I was laid off, I was making about $85k with 7 years of work experience. I didn’t hit that salary again until 2021. I had to claw my way back to where I was 10 years earlier; it was basically like starting over.
    I would advise against it, but then again, if your health is an issue, but finances aren’t, that’s a pretty compelling case for taking time off.

    1. ampersand*

      Agreed. I’m kind of in the same position as LW: husband makes enough to sustain us for now, I took time off from work to deal with family and health issues, and I’m concerned that it’s going to be hard to get back to work when the time comes. I was at such a breaking point that the right decision (quit my job) was obvious, and I don’t want to think about how I’d be doing now if I hadn’t done so. It was a decision that I’m grateful I was able to make and I recognize my relative position of privilege—when possible, health and wellbeing should come first. Society just isn’t set up for that, unfortunately.

  7. Eldritch Office Worker*

    As a hiring manager, this kind of gap wouldn’t even make me blink. I might, at some point around the final interview or offer, want to have a conversation about whether you’ve kept up with changes in the field if that’s relevant to the position. Otherwise…eh.

    COVID threw a LOT of people’s lives into chaos, and almost everyone handled it in a different way. Trying to discern trends in the impact of job gaps is basically a moot point. And people need breaks from work. I’d love a break from work, if it were financially viable, but I’d come back eventually.

    I think we’ve learned over the past few years that there’s no one-size-fits-all definition of careers and professionalism like there once was reported to be (and even then it was questionable). One thing I’d like to see is whether you’ve kept up any skills or knowledge during your time off. So can you…follow blogs? Keep an ear to the ground? Go to a very occasional webinar, even virtually? Great, those are all things that will help you transition back in. But if you can’t, that’s okay too.

    As we discuss diversity and inclusion in the workplace, I think we need to be realistic about that including different life situations. Menopause is a hot topic right now (no pun intended), I wouldn’t be shocked if return-from-fulltime-parenting is right behind it.

    1. CM*

      Same here, we recently hired someone with a much larger (over a decade) work gap and 2-3 years is not a big deal to me. It’s a short enough period that I would expect your skills and knowledge are still fairly up to date. When hiring someone with a gap, I want to see how they have ramped back up before returning to the workforce. I think it would be smart to make a transition plan now — sounds like you’ve pretty much already decided to take a break, so think about an on-ramp that will get you back when you’re ready. Also, I’d suggest making it known in your organization and among your professional contacts that you plan to take a break and then return a few years later, so you’re not perceived as making a lifelong choice to leave the workforce.

      1. ThrowawayFun*

        A transition plan back to work is key. For various reasons, I’m looking at this problem for myself. Here’s some ideas I’ve had, for activities that require sporadic commitment :

        – guest lecturing in my discipline at the local Community College
        – (this is software specific) contributing to existing, or starting my own opensource project
        – using my skills in a local hobby or nonprofit group
        – event based volunteering for profession organizations
        – invite your network contacts to lunch once in a while

    2. Educator*

      Seconding this! As a hiring manager in a field where the pandemic through us all into chaos, MOST of the resumes that cross my desk include significant gaps, and it does not register as an issue at all. I do want to know that candidates are current on both industry trends and technology, but there are a lot of ways to show that. Maybe your plan could include a phased reentry with some volunteer work or more part-time work.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      Do you think the current hype around AI will make a difference in a technical field?

      My concern would be coming back to find that everything has changed as AI gets integrated, the way it did with Excel, but it could be overblown, I can’t tell.

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        In tech there’s always something that makes a difference. (I don’t think AI will, other than at the very junior level where the “copilot” aids make more of a difference or for people who are actually working with LLMs). A gap of as little as six months will give some employers pause – are you still current, are you unmotivated, are you unhireable. For tech people I’d make sure to keep an active personal Github repository during any gap (voluntary or involuntary) so you can show you’re keeping up on things.

      2. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

        I am an assistant who assumes AI will replace my whole profession as soon as it’s able.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        It depends, a lot, on what exactly the role in the tech field is. Will AI work its way into most jobs? Almost certainly, but not at a steady rate and there will be a learning curve, so I don’t expect it would completely throw off the trajectory for someone who takes a few years off. But for every problem AI can fix you’ll still need five testers on the back end to check, analyze, interpret, debug, etc – I think we’re a ways away from full integration.

        And people still manage lucrative careers with mediocre to poor excel skills, even in industries where excel is big, I promise. I deal with them all the time.

    4. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

      ++ I have several people on my team now who had 3+ year gaps, including folks in roles requiring deep expertise in fast-changing tech. I honestly don’t even notice it on resumes unless it’s a significantly longer gap, and/or the person calls attention to it in their cover letter. We do a brief skills test for all strong applicants, and I haven’t seen a pattern of folks who took career breaks failing at higher rates than those who have not taken time off. (Context: mid-sized nonprofit in the U.S.)

      At this point probably 80% of the resumes I see are from folks whose career paths have been less-than-perfectly-linear.

    5. Malarkey01*

      I’ll also add as a hiring manager your current part time gig isn’t adding that much extra from my perspective (and I went PT with a young kid so I don’t mean that disrespectfully). I wouldn’t blink at this kind of a gap but I also wouldn’t give your PT work as much weight as FT so I don’t think the risk here is as high. So if you’re already PT I wouldn’t worry as much about the gap.

      And while I 100% get the concern with a curve ball and needing to support yourself again, I would also say that a lot of your parents’ struggles came from being refugees which sadly has a much bigger impact on earning potential and hiring.

    6. RedinSC*

      My only question really would be how “technical” is this work? Because technology moves fast and 3 years out of it might actually be the deal breaker.

      But in this LW’s case, it sounds more like, say international development work where the tech isn’t changing daily, and keeping up with trends and the state of the work wouldn’t be a deal breaker.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        If anything, if it is highly technical I’d recommend a summer class to catch up I still wouldn’t think it will a career-ending deal breaker.

        1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          Honestly, in my technical field, we expect to have to teach someone the technologies we use — very few of our hires have current skills in everything we do.

          What I HAVE been dubious about is candidates who seem rusty — people who can’t remember the day-to-day jargon, can’t tell good stories about problems they solved and projects they worked on, etc. Will that person get up to speed in a month and be fine? Maybe! But it’s also possible they won’t, and if there are other good candidates I’d rather take a pass on someone who might or might not be able to get to the level we need. Which is to say that I agree with various folks’ advice to make sure you have a way to ramp up again, so you don’t feel totally disconnected from your field, even if you haven’t been working full-time for a few years.

    7. Springtime*

      I’m also a hiring manager, in a different field than the OP. When I’ve gotten applications from (self-identified) stay-at-home parents returning to work, the gap itself doesn’t bother me. I think they could probably get back up to speed quickly on what we do, and we’re all supposed to be updating constantly anyway. But so far I’ve not granted one of those of handful of applicants an interview because I’m looking at a lot of applicants with a lot of very similar qualifications, and the recent work experience just puts others ahead.

      One thing I’ve noticed is that most of my applicant pools–those who provide addresses–come from a radius within approximately a 45-minute drive (easy to estimate around here based on the town). But the stay-at-home parents have all come from within a 10-minute radius. Nothing wrong with a good commute. But I’m guessing that their calculations of what to apply for–compared to continuing in their current situation–are different, and I wonder whether that hurts their long-term chances because they’re not applying to as much. And then they’re not getting that recent experience that would help them make a lateral move for a better situation. And maybe they’re OK with that. But someone else mentioned a good transition plan, and I think that that would be a good idea.

      1. CowWhisperer*

        I was a SAHM for 18 months then worked at a retail store PT – but often near FT – hours for 4 years.

        I got back into education by finding a job opening 35 minutes away that I was a really competitive for and got the job. Yup, there were openings closer – but I have an unusual language competency that the job I landed really needed.

        18 months later and I not only have the job I applied for but great reference thank to taking over a difficult teaching post when a teacher quit mid-year.

      2. Banana Pyjamas*

        “ But so far I’ve not granted one of those of handful of applicants an interview because I’m looking at a lot of applicants with a lot of very similar qualifications, and the recent work experience just puts others ahead.”

        That’s a problematic view/practice. It exacerbates chronic unemployment/underemployment even for people who are initially unemployed through no fault of their own.

  8. Part time lab tech*

    Personally I’ve found it difficult to return to my own preferred area which is different to yours, mostly because I cannot be very flexible and it’s an in-person job. Part time work is generally given to known people only.
    I am finally likely to get a permanent part time position in admin, mostly doing data entry. The people are good and generally supportive but the work itself is boring.

    1. Part time lab tech*

      Also, is there anyway your husband can take over some of the toddler night shifts so you can get 5 hrs at once 3-4 nights a week? or pay a nanny? This will probably make the biggest difference to how you feel.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, I was wondering whether to keep working and invest that money in extra childcare/household help (even if it’s all of it!) might actually help as well? Doing nights mostly alone as well as 90% of the household is so rough, I’m not surprised you’re burned out…

    2. Person Person*

      Yeah, this is my concern more than a two year gap. The specific flexibility the LW has now is going to be hard to find again.

  9. Emily*

    I’ve taken two parental leaves, each 4-5 months long. I would have loved to take a year with each, but it wasn’t financially feasible. I also hated working through pregnancy and think it’s kind of wild that we expect people to do that. We would like another child but the logistics / finances of time off are really challenging.

    If you can take the break, I’d say take it. You sound conscientious enough about your career that you will be able to get yourself back into the workforce, even if it takes time. Maybe you can make it a priority during your leave to stay in touch with contacts.

  10. Area Woman*

    The time while you are raising little kids is just… terrible. I have a very supportive partner, but we both have demanding jobs. I have a 2.5 and almost 6 yo. This messy time you are just not your best. You can kind of stagnate at your job a bit when you have little kids, I have been there. I had a very high-risk to my and my-baby’s-health pregnancy the first time around. I missed a lot of work, and was generally exhausted. I thought about quitting several times but I just figured being a slacker was better than leaving. I just didn’t care, and set low expectations. If you have a supportive boss, I honestly recommend hanging on. For me, once I got out of the baby fog about a year ago, my productivity skyrocketed, and I was at least still in the loop on everything. I was transparent about why, and I didn’t lose much time. I think framing it as being just “ok” for a little bit when things are going on is totally fine.

    That said, if you want to take a break, it sounds like your industry would take you right back. I would ask some folks how that would look from their perspective before you took a couple years off. For me, working is so important to me, I could not do the SAHM thing. I think if you feel like that would be rewarding it changes the calculus. If you love to work, but are just exhausted, I would hesitate because SAHM is also exhausting. If you can keep the nanny…. and take time off… that would actually help your health. Good luck, mama!

    1. C*

      This is where I am. I’ve gotten way more comfortable than i ever imagined I would be with work being an absolute second priority to family (4yo with major health condition & 3yo). I do what I can, dont’ have time or energy to go above and beyond, and have trained myself to totally disconnect when i’m not working. I am not pushing for promotions or growth and have some feelings about it, but ultimately, having a decent income/benefits/something to do outside of home has been better for me in long run. I have taken so much time off the last few years (mat leave, sick leave, FMLA to care for a very sick kid many times, etc).

      OP, my advice would be to cut out your side stuff first, give yourself a couple months to adjust to that being off your plate with your current job and begin to work hard at disconnecting yourself from the political/hierarchical BS. Easier said than done, i know, but those few things could generate a huge mindset shift for you. Also, are you eligible for FMLA or any kind of sick leave? Maybe an extended leave of some sort that has job protection would help get you on the right track and almost act as a “trial” for if being away from work is something you want to jump into full time.

      1. a fever you can't sweat out*

        as a prior “high performer” (put in quotes because my boss thinks i’m not anymore) with two kids and the one who is often the default parent holy cow do i feel you.

        i’m in the same situation – a job that has gone sideways, one that wants me but isn’t perfect, and a milestone birthday this year that has me questioning everything. i fought and i clawed and i cried and did all i could to get my college degree (the only person in my family) and do i want to put it aside for something much less? as the mother of daughters, I want them to realize they can do and be anything.

        anyway. thanks for coming to my ted talk about why i am teh sad.

      2. ferrina*

        are you eligible for FMLA or any kind of sick leave?

        Seconding this. I would start with FMLA so you can get some breathing room and figure out next steps.
        You can also apply for other jobs on FMLA. It sounds like LW is generally unhappy with their job (as well as the other things going on), so you could try looking around and seeing what other options you have.

      3. Person from the Resume*

        It does sound like the LW is a contracted consultant so not actually employed by her organization and may not be eligible for FMLA. I’m not entirely sure. Her boss is in Europe so she’d have better options if she were employed by a European organization and they followed European PTO laws, but I don’t think that’s the case.

  11. Chairman of the Bored*

    I am a hiring manager and don’t have any issue with gaps in work history; and just see them as a straight subtraction from a person’s “total years of experience”. I don’t even care why they weren’t working, why would I?

    The only objection I have is when people start counting their total experience from their first job and don’t stop that clock when they aren’t working.

    If a candidate worked 5 years, took 5 years off, and then worked 3 more years they have 8 years of experience, not 13.

    I have run into this type of misleading count several times, and it’s always a big negative in my eyes.

    So if I’m the hiring manager my answer to LW’s question is “the time off will only ‘hurt’ you in terms reducing the years of experience you would otherwise have”.

    It’s a pause button, not a reset. Just be honest and upfront about what you were doing and when.

    1. Educator*

      In jobs with pay bands, those counts really matter, so we actually include instructions for how to count (what to do with gaps, volunteer work, part time work, etc.) in our application materials. We made that move because we found that a lot of candidates were just confused, not trying to be deceptive. But we are in a field where it matters a lot.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      How do you feel about part-time? Some people get weird about counting say five years at 0.8FTE as four years.

      And I definitely get your point about 5(+5)+3=8, but there are some big picture things where those thirteen years are worth more than eight consecutive years, eg if you’re in a field where there is a lot of change and it’s useful to have someone who was around twelve years ago.

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        Speaking just for myself I’m fine with people counting any part-time job that’s 20+ hours per week as full experience with no derating required.

        IMO it’s more about what you were doing and what you were responsible for rather than how many hours you were sitting in a particular chair.

  12. GoldenHandcuffs*

    I have considered quitting several times in the last few years for various reasons. I ultimately decided to stay working in large part because of the uncertainty of what would happen if my husband lost his job and my discomfort with the idea of being solely reliant on my husband for money. I have never not worked or had my own money and the idea of losing that and of not actively contributing to a retirement savings account makes me super, super uncomfortable. I am also absolutely NOT cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. I would be absolutely miserable.

    Maybe you don’t have to quit. Maybe a job change would be more manageable. Perhaps start thinking of jobs where you could retain some of the things you like (the work or the hours or the flexibility) and start targeting those areas to look for a new job and don’t be afraid to look outside your current industry. Another option would be to talk with your boss about how you are feeling, if you feel comfortable doing that. She may be a good resource for you or may be able to lighten your load a little bit to make things more manageable.

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It’s a super hard place to be stuck in.

    1. Working Class Lady*

      I had a job interviewer tell me once that they did, in fact, care about gaps in work because they wanted to know if I was “sitting in jail” or something like that (their words).
      Ftr I have never been to jail, but thought that was interesting.

      1. Getting Out*

        This reminds me of an old joke–
        Interviewer: And I see you have a four year gap on your resume here, could you tell me more about that?
        Candidate: Oh yes, that’s when I went to Yale.
        Interviewer: Wow, that’s very impressive! That’s really all I need to hear–you’re hired!
        Candidate: Wonderful! When do I start the yob?

  13. A Teacher*

    my mom was in this position after about 10 years of working. She was cut from her position as a teacher because they cut art. My dad made a decent living and they lived in a fairly small house and were good about their budgeting. My mom to this day says it was something she would never want to go through again because you get used to whatever income that you live on, and it absolutely did impact her career. She had to buyback time in order to retire on time as a teacher with her pension.

  14. Scarlett*

    I think you should take a break – dont make any big decisions now. But since you’re completely burned out, this isn’t sustainable.

    I took 2 breaks – once when I was 8 months pregnant and was informed I would have to be at the office 3 weeks after birth (shitty US FMLA doesn’t cover small employers). I made my own unpaid leave and it was absolutely the right call. I started looking for jobs after about 3 months and was happy with where I landed.

    I also quit a different job a few months in during COVID. I hated my job, was burned out and tired, and couldn’t IMAGINE looking for new work. So I just quit and spent about 6 months not worrying about it. then I started dipping my toes into job searches, felt out what I was looking for – what did I value in work not what do I think i should be doing, and ended up in a role that’s a perfect fit 3 years later.

    Continuing to push yourself to work is definitely not the right answer, do give yourself some grace to figure it out – maybe that means a few years. maybe not.

    1. Managing While Female*

      Wow — do you think that they basically pushed you out because you were pregnant? Only informing you when you’re 8 months pregnant that you aren’t going to get any kind of maternity leave is super sh*tty.

  15. Annon*

    What if you don’t take the time off? How do you see your career progressing if you carry on for another year, two years, five years? How is your health likely to progress in that time?

    If you choose to continue, are you risking mental and physical burnout or are you honestly able to push through for a while and turn the burnout train around?

    If you choose to take a sabbatical now, yes, you will likely have a setback in your career. If you have to take time off later due to health concerns or a high risk pregnancy, you will still likely have a setback in your career. Sometimes you are going to end up taking a hit because life sucks and it’s a matter of minimising the impact instead of avoiding it, and from here it looks like that’s what’s going on for you.

    1. AMS*

      I think this is a great perspective – if your career will take a hit inevitably due to health/burnout, there’s a lot to be said for choosing to do it now while you are younger/healthier/more likely to recover better than being forced to do it when it is more inconvenient and you are older/less able to rebound.

    2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Yes, I think this is an important flipside to consider. “If you don’t take time for maintenance, it will take it for you” applies to both machines and bodies.

  16. OhNoYouDidn't*

    I put my education and career on hold to stay home. At first, we were quite poor when I did this; we even qualified for WIC if we had chosen to utilize that. I went back and finished my degree when my kids got older and now I work fulltime as a social worker and my husband’s income grew so that we are comfortable with one income. It was financially hard at first, but well worth it, to me. Now, I’m working, and I’m a leader in my chosen field, even though I was definitely “behind” others in the field for a while. My income can go towards retirement, which almost all of it does. I don’t regret it at all. But, that’s me. I have friends who would have gone crazy staying home, so it’s really personality dependent. You may try it for a while, and decide to go back; maybe you just need a short time off to take care of yourself and re-calibrate. Just know that nothing you decide has to be permanent. You can always change your mind.

  17. MW*

    I used to hire for and manage a bunch of customer service-type roles and a years-long gap wouldn’t necessarily hurt anyone’s chances as long as they could demonstrate how they met the skillset and experience for the role and could provide references, same as any other applicant. These were fairly entry-level generalist roles though, so may well be different to the work you do – but we used to have a lot of success with applicants looking to e.g. pivot in their careers or return to the workforce after having kids.

    1. office hobbit*

      I agree with this, and I hire into technical roles that require a lot of on-the-job training. If you have the base skills we look for and are a detailed hard worker, gaps don’t matter at all.

  18. LaFramboise, academic librarian*

    Took two years off when my second child was born. Went back to work part time when second child was 2, first child was 4. Changed my professional trajectory somewhat (full disclosure, was a public librarian and became an academic librarian). Had a third kid, went back to full time when third was almost 3, so a five-year period of less work than full time. My husband is also a high earner and it’s tough to have kids and work full time AND now that third is 16, I don’t regret having gone through the fire in order to have a fulfilling life after 50.

    So I would say, if you can strategize what you want to do when your kids are out of the house, and you trust your husband and your marriage, then saving your sanity NOW and planning for the future is ok. It requires communication and strategy and some luck, but change can be very beneficial even if it looks scary.


  19. NYC Man*

    is there a way to compromise? I mean, take a leave of absence from the one job and reconsider in six months while making a committment to yourself to do check ins with clients/colleagues/contacts while you rest/recuperate so as not to jeapordize your career? That may take a little time management effort on your part but you’d be setting yourself up for the future right from the start. I have been a temp for people who have been on health leaves and maternity leaves, so I know that this is done in the real world although the company you work for may be so complicated as to not want to work with you to schedule that.
    I hear the concern about not wanting to rely on your husband’s income forever, but I don’t think it has to be all one or the other. Good luck!!

    1. The Real Fran Fine*

      Totally agree with this approach, though I don’t know how OP’s contracting company will feel about extended leave. Still, I think it doesn’t hurt to ask and then, like you said, make a plan and stay connected to a network during the absence/recovery period.

  20. Antilles*

    From a hiring manager perspective in a technical industry, the primary concern is about how fast you can pick it back up. Especially if the “two to three years” turns into 5-6, there’ll be a lot of concerns about what you’ve done to keep up your skills in the meantime, keep up to date with changes in the field, etc.
    Is there any way that if you left, you could be involved in some other way? Does your industry have any trade groups or conferences you can stay involved with? This could also help you build up contacts within the industry for your eventual return.

    1. ferrina*

      Yeah, 2-3 years in my industry (corporate consulting) would have a significant impact. Unless you were a rock star before you left, it would be assumed that your knowledge had atrophied. And there have definitely been significant industry changes.

      That said, this will vary wildly based on industry.

    2. Techie Boss*

      Another hiring manager here. A few years away definitely wouldn’t keep me from moving forward with an otherwise good candidate. In my industry (technology), though, a 5-6 year gap would start putting a candidates technical skills in the “dated” category. For someone with that large of a gap, I’d be looking for other things that wouldn’t depreciate as fast, like relationship-building with colleagues, written and verbal communication, etc. that would be the basis for getting back into an office job. If I were in your shoes, I’d consider whether this kind of dynamic would be a barrier, and if so, if you’d be comfortable jumping back in at a more junior position 5 years from now to start rebuilding those technical skills. Or if your industry is basically the same as it was 10 years ago, this may not even be an issue and you can jump right back in where you left off. I’m sure others can speak to the experience of being the candidate with a resume gap, but there will at least be some hiring managers out there who are willing to hire you after some time away.

  21. Overit*

    My experience is not recent, but for me…taking time off to raise my daughter 100% killed my career. I was well known in the profession with publications and talks at the annual natiknal conference and my profession is 85% women. So I fookishly thought I could stay current and come back.
    But I got massive pushback for taking time off both when I did and when I tried to return. The most common feedback I got when I tried to stay current and when I tried to return was, “You failed to show commitment to the profession.” The people who were the worst gatekeepers were other women.
    (I ended up having to go into retail and then had to completely switch fields. Now that my husband and I are retired, I can see just how much it cost me financially as my retirement fund is 50% less than my husband’s.)

    My advice is to 1. clearly assess your field and your allies and 2. stay active in your field by making plans and contacts before you quit your current job.
    Good luck!

    1. The Real Fran Fine*

      Great advice, especially the part about clearly assessing allies. We don’t always know who really has our backs in the workplace until moments like this. Some people will smile in your face and then stab you in the back.

      1. Annie*

        But just how DO you assess allies while things are going well to minimize the risk of back-stabbling? Is there a list of questions somewhere that aid in this? Is it a matter of how long you’ve known the person (with no guarantees)?

        1. Mid*

          I think the best indication is how they’ve treated others in similar situations. Have they advocated for people who took leave? Do they support good parental leave policies? Have they taken leave themselves? Do they vocally and practically support people returning after a break? Otherwise, it’s all just a best guess.

  22. online millenial*

    I think another important question to ask is how much of your unhappiness is a result of the specific place you’re working? It sounds like you enjoy the work you do, but your current employer isn’t utilizing your skills and knowledge in an effective way. Maybe you can find freelance or short-term contract work for the next few years while you manage your health (mental and physical) and your kid(s). That way you can stay connected to your field, keep doing some work, without the obligation of a regular job.

  23. woops*

    i really dislike that the reader (and so many others) need to open with what amounts to an apology for being successful enough to take the time off. Be happy for yourself that you’re in that position, don’t feel like you need to justify it. so your grandpa is rich and left you money, or your mom invented post it notes, or whatever happened to put you in this position is not something you need to justify or explain or apologize for. do y’all remember when being successful was something to be proud of?

    1. M*

      That didn’t read like an apology to me at all. For many people the decision to work or not is entirely based on their financial situation; for letter writer, the financial aspect is moot. That’s all that says.

      I also can’t help but point out that your grandpa leaving you money or your mom inventing post its isn’t “being successful,” it’s just being privileged.

    2. Managing While Female*

      “your mom invented post it notes”

      Did you mean to make a Romy and Michelle reference with this? If so, I loved it!

      This stood out to me too. There are a ton of people who are obviously underprivileged, inequality is rampant, and some problems are more ‘nice to have’ than others. That said, people also shouldn’t necessarily need to apologize for having higher-paying careers or the ability to afford things that others can’t (in the form of time, money, familial help, etc. etc.). Privilege is something to be aware of – absolutely – and we should all be fighting for greater opportunities and equality, but I think what the LW is concerned about is people jumping on her just for having more. I also think that as women we tend to apologize for our success more than men, who more often just ‘own it.’

      1. Katherine*

        Inheriting wealth does not make one successful. And I’d argue that there’s something really problematic about saying that marrying someone wealthy makes one successful.

        1. Managing While Female*

          Where did I say that inheriting wealth makes someone successful? The OP here IS successful in her own right. She worked for what she has. Her parents were refugees who had nothing. Her husband makes more, but she has her own career and IS successful.

          1. Katherine*

            I’m sorry! I read your post in combination with the one you replied to (which explicitly does equate inheriting wealth with success) and then jumped to some conclusions! I agree with everything you said here :)

            1. Managing While Female*

              No worries – thanks for explaining :-) I agree with you that inheriting wealth definitely isn’t “success”.

        2. Starbuck*

          Word to that. I don’t see an apology in the LW’s post, just an acknowledgement that their situation is one that a lot of working people can’t relate to (the financial comfort, not the being burned out by health issues and childcare).

  24. Clock*

    I took 5 years off due to my husband’s job relocation to an area with no jobs for me. Once we moved back, I had a job lined up before we arrived and no one brought up the gap in my other interviews.

  25. Yup*

    I quit advertising agencies after I had my daughter, and took up very PT freelance 18 months later. Has it hurt me? Of course. Women are always penalized work-wise for motherhood, and the industry moves on without you AND without many of the accommodations needed to be a successful worker and parent.

    I think the better question may be: Does it matter? My husband also makes good money and supports us. My supplemental income pays for extras and allows me to have savings and retirement savings. Our life has enabled me to be there for our daughter, participate in her school life, volunteer, and run errands/do chores so that our weekends are spent as a family and not running around. It means someone was available for a sick kid at home or for appointments as I could be flexible in my freelance work.

    In later years, it has meant I could go back to school, join many grad committees/activities, change my career path, and engage with the community I want to be working in. My husband still bears much of the financial burden, of course, but as a society we place so much emphasis on this and not enough on all the unpaid time given that makes family life possible. Not going back to work has penalized me in the advertising industry, but given me so much more out of my life, allowed me to pursue bigger ambitions, and more time, energy, and, togetherness as a family. I think on balance it’s been way more of a blessing than a hindrance.

  26. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I have a 4-5 year gap in my CV due to mental health reasons. I did return to the field I left (IT) eventually but with much stronger notions of what I will and will not put up with.

    Did it hurt my career? Quite likely. Was it a struggle at times? Oh yes.

    Do I regret it? No.

    I explained it to employers as a medical issue that’s now resolved. They don’t need to know about the mountain of medications needed to keep me functional. Nor do they need to know it was my brain that broke, not my body.

    So I’d say take the time off. Because I’ve had a nervous breakdown and lemme tell you – those take a LONG time to recover from, leave scars and definitely strained my marriage (we’re fine now). Take care of your mind, it’s the only one you’ve got.

  27. M*

    I’m not exactly the target audience because my career gap was only about a year, but I had to take time off to deal with a chronic health condition that I developed in 2018/2019. I don’t know what health struggles you’re dealing with exactly, but I do know that most chronic conditions flare up under stress. It sounds like you are rapidly approaching burn out! It’s a long road to recovery, especially when you can’t put down the stress of your health conditions or the stress of parenting. I wish I had taken time off before I got to the point that I was so burnt out I could barely function. I had to take a year off work and my master’s program, and I dropped a lot of balls before that and didn’t do any favors to my reputation trying to hold it together. If I could go back and do it again, I would have taken a break sooner and that’s my biggest piece of advice for you. You mentioned your work quality slipping, and I think that’s a sign you’ve got to respect.

    I wish I could say more to your question about a multiple years long employment gap, but I really don’t think it will make it impossible for you to go back to work when you’re ready. Harder, maybe, but not impossible. You have really understandable reasons – you were managing a health issue and taking care of your kid(s).

    I hope that you figure this all out and that you start feeling better. You’re not alone!

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I’ve done something similar, but was too risk-adverse to peace out of the workforce altogether, so what I did was resign and put out a shingle for XYZ consulting services. When you’re self-employed and starting without an existing client base, even with an extensive network in your field, it generally takes at least a year to build up enough business to keep you going full time.

      So my work at the beginning was very, VERY part-time and I could pick and choose projects based on what I wanted to put up with. In the meantime I also set up meetings with various contacts I wanted to stay in touch with, the vast majority of whom were happy to meet with me and wanted to know exactly what kind of work I wanted to be doing and kept me in mind if someone was looking for XYZ support. I followed people on social media, etc. and was absolutely able to stay connected to my field.

      Self-employment isn’t the best fit for me when I’m well, so I eventually started applying for employee roles again when I had the capacity, and came back in at the same mid-level I departed. If I’d hustled harder, I could probably have gone up to the senior management level but burnout took that kind of ambition out of me.

      If you did want to take this track but “level up” you could make it work by doing the thought leader thing — post articles, submit op-eds, propose sessions at conferences, teach workshops etc. That takes a certain kind of personality but seriously the most visible people in any field aren’t actually the best-of-the-best. They’re simply the most vocal. (The best are too busy actually doing the work to post their takes.) You likely have a perspective and expertise to share… just a thought.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        And this period on my resume is just

        “Date — Date: XYZ Consulting (Owner)
        Provided XYZ services to not-for-profit and social-good clients including [list of prominent client names], specializing in [specific kinds of xyz]. [List of particular accomplishments on behalf of clients.]”

        No one needs to know how many hours I spent on these projects during that time.

  28. BubbleTea*

    I recently hired someone who hasn’t worked since 2016. Her reasons for not working made sense (caretaking for a family member), the role doesn’t require up to the minute technical knowledge, and she was a good fit. So it certainly can be done to return after years out!

    I had a very spotty work history for about eight years due to my health, and it doesn’t seem to have stopped me getting into a decent career afterwards (I wasn’t established already when I got ill). And a former colleague returned as a senior manager after having been in the C suite before leaving to take care of family.

  29. Blicious*

    OP, you sound understandably exhausted right now, which makes complete sense. The early years of parenting are incredibly tough. The lack of sleep/frequent sleep disturbances alone make it difficult to “do life”. And being the primary parent (even with childcare support in the form of a nanny) and person who manages home life (since your husband is busy with his business) means you have a lot on your plate right now aside from your job. That, with your chronic illnesses, means it makes a ton of sense that you are exhausted and feeling overwhelmed. So please be very gentle with yourself. I was in your shoes a few years ago when my own children were young. I decided not leave my wonderful job and amazingly supportive boss, and in the years since then I have counted my lucky stars many times that I didn’t! My husband’s income has fluctuated far more than we could have expected over the past 5 years, and the security of being a dual income family has been tremendously helpful to us financially as well as personally. You just never know what is going to happen in life, nor with your marriage. I encourage you to think about what you need to do to feel more supported and less overwhelmed with the incredible workload you are currently managing in your life and take steps to address these without taking an extended break from work. I have come to think of maintaining my professional relationships and career trajectory as being a really important part of my long-term self-care. Best wishes to you!

  30. CutenessCentral*

    About 12 years ago I took a two year break from working the typical 9-5 job with all the headaches and stress. I had saved enough money that I could go a couple years without a formal job. This freed me to explore one of my passions to see if I have what it takes (I did and look forward to the time when I’ve reached a couple financial goals to do so). When it was time to rejoin the workforce I had no trouble at all finding a job a step up from where I had parked my career. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I came out of my sabbatical refreshed and with a clear mind. If you are in a position to step away, do not hesitate to do so. You will not regret it.

  31. FromCanada*

    First question – can you take a short (unpaid) leave to get your health under control? That’s what I would recommend.

    I have 3 kids and I’m also not cut out to be home full time. My husband travelled extensively for years for work and my parents often pressured me to just quite and find something part time (nice idea, highly unlikely to happen in a way that would actually have been beneficial). I have chosen a job that honestly is very much a “mommy track” job but it keeps my credentials valid and it gives me a lot of satisfaction professionally – especially at times where I felt I was in over my head as a parent (at least I was good at something).

    I have interviewed people with gaps and I have interviewed people looking to take a step back (career wise) and I would say its hard to compete against someone with current experience. It’s not impossible, but it is hard. There is more scrutiny.

    Personally, I would not be willing to risk leaving and hoping to get back into the workforce in a similar role in a few years. Part of my view is also shaped by the fact that I switched careers after about 7 years of work experience and it was really challenging. I think this would be just as challenging, if not more.

  32. Managing While Female*

    Is there a possibility of an in-between? A few months leave or something like that?

  33. Olive*

    “I am also not cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, so I’d be asking my husband to shell out for childcare costs or paying for them from my savings”

    So they have a nanny, she averages 20 hours of remote work per week, and she isn’t cut out to be a SAHP. I mean, it’s fair that she’s exhausted despite that, burnout can happen to anyone and she also has health concerns, but I’m wondering whether they’re really in such a financially secure position that she can quit work, keep the nanny, and still be on track with emergency funds and retirement. If having a cleaner is a luxury that her work provides but they wouldn’t have otherwise, his income might not actually sustain her not working *and* not taking on the responsibilities of a SAHP.

    I think she should investigate if there’s any way she can take a two straight weeks off from work while employing a night nurse during that time or whatever it takes for her to be able to sleep through the night for two weeks. Getting as much of a true break with minimal responsibilities as much as possible for over a week, and then reevaluating her time management with her job.

    1. Olive*

      Clarification: I’m not doubting her account that they’re financially comfortable enough that she doesn’t have to work if she doesn’t want to. It’s just not clear to me that her not working also means they could keep the nanny and cleaner and still be on track with their financial goals, so that she wouldn’t have to take on SAHP responsibilities.

    2. Accounting Gal*

      I was considering this as well. 20 hours of part time remote work, not doing childcare, not taking care of home cleaning, and still feeling this burned out… doesn’t make it sound like it’s job related burnout to me (I say that as someone with chronic health conditions, working full time, young child etc etc). She already has a significantly lower work/life load than most people and with the addition of her husband apparently not being super keen on being the sole provider… I don’t think quitting sounds like the right call here.

      I also think, LW, that you may decide to take the time off work even knowing that it will have career limiting repercussions. That’s okay! But the reality in most fields in the US at least is this kind of pause for 2-3 years most likely will have some long-lasting negative effects.

      Also another addition… make sure you feel really strong in your trust of your husband and marriage. You’re putting a lot of your current and future financial well-being in his hands.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        That was my takeaway, too. I don’t think it’s the 20 hours of work that’s the cause of the burnout. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t consider it or not quit her job, or do whatever she wants to do, but this sounds like more than career-related burnout. At the very least, I’d try to get a full mental and physical health work-up.

        When I was younger, I had severe, chronic, undiagnosed and untreated depression. It didn’t manifest itself the way depression “traditionally” does, especially in women, so it honestly never occurred to me that I had it.

        I hopped around jobs because I thought that was the cause of how I was feeling. Turned out that while some of them surely didn’t help, I didn’t start feeling better until I was diagnosed and my depression was treated. I’d spend so much time thinking a certain thing was the problem, and if I could just find the right job, I’d feel better.

        1. ferrina*

          My depression manifested primarily as exhaustion. I’d get to 2pm, and it would feel like I’d been working for 20 hours straight. I didn’t have any physical health conditions or chronic sleep deprivation, so at first I thought I was just “lazy”. Luckily I caught it after about 6 months of complete exhaustion, and the medication my doctor and I chose helped so much. It wasn’t a silver bullet, but it gave me the energy to get through the day, get through a tough time in my life, and make the changes I needed to make. I got lucky that the first medication we tried was the right one for me.

        2. ArtsNerd*

          Yes to the workup! I was on the other side: quitting my bad jobs suddenly cleared up the most debilitating symptoms of my depression and anxiety… I’m not cured but I’m certainly far more functional! It’s important to consider both can be at play in various measures.

      2. HannahS*

        I don’t think she’s saying she’s burnt out specifically from her work, just that she doesn’t find it that satisfying. It seems clear to me that she’s burnt out from all the other stuff, but she can’t absent herself from having health conditions or parenting. If work is the only modifiable thing, it makes sense to think about cutting that out.

        1. Accounting Gal*

          I can see what you’re saying. In that case I second what everyone else says and maybe leaving the workforce is not the answer but rather finding a different job.

    3. biobotb*

      Yeah, I have to admit that her calculus confused me. I work in nonprofits and it sounds like her job is probably higher up than mine, but if I ran similar numbers on my salary (if my spouse made 5x what I make), we could easily have a nanny, a cleaner and substantial savings even without my salary.

      I just don’t see how her salary can be enough to fund a nanny and a cleaner, but only 1/6 of their total income, but somehow without it they couldn’t have substantial savings?

      Her worry about savings made me wonder if they keep their finances separate and she has to fund her savings/retirement from her own salary so that wouldn’t happen if she takes time off? (I hope I’m misinterpreting that, because that would be an awful set up. The idea that the nanny’s salary is her responsibility and not a joint expense is already making me cranky.)

  34. Pyanfar*

    While I don’t hire in your field, I’ve hired a lot of people over the past 10 years, and do interview (and hire) people with gaps in employment. I usually ask what they’ve been doing during that time, just in a general sense. I’m more interested in how they deal with the question (show confidence in their choices, made the best of a crappy situation) than the specifics. Then if the gap has been big, or they are pivoting to a new industry/role, I ask how they’ve been preparing for this change. Again, I’m looking to see if they are getting caught up on the industry/software, doing volunteer/freelance work to make connections and get up to speed, and are actually ready to make the commitment to a back to full-time role. YMMV, but this is me.

  35. Anon-mama*

    I feel like this is industry-dependent. It might be possible to opt out for awhile, but I would recommend the following:
    – eliminate or reduce some expenses
    – save excess business income specifically for you in a retirement account and emergencies
    – make sure you have life insurance on both of you
    – if you can in your industry, volunteer with an adjacent agency to keep contacts fresh or choose just one project to consult on every so often.
    -Take personal development or attend symposia connected to your field. I know some where as long as you keep your certifications/licenses up to date, you could jump in again after a few years, especially with a great cover letter and interview prep. But some you can’t, and the longer you’re out the harder it is.

    When I stepped back from a library role for a couple years, I did a few hours a quarter as a backup. Now as an educator, if I were to leave, I might do tutoring or Fiverr assignments connected to my skills.

  36. What_the_What*

    I hate the “it depends” answer, but… it depends. I think time off hurts more in certain fields. When I quit working as a Teacher, I went into Tech. Those 3 years off going to school, getting an MS, obtaining professional certs didn’t even cause a blink of an eye. BUT, if I did the same NOW, and took 3 years off, there would definitely be some side eye around whether or not I’m still current in my tech knowledge, have kept up with professional continuing education reqs, etc… My DIL quit her ER Nursing gig for a year to stay home with her baby. Now, as she’s trying to go back, she’s getting offers but they’re lower, AND they are ALL requiring that she go through a 12 week training program to refresh her skills. If your consultancy is in an area where it’s more about soft skills, then I’d think it’ll be easier to go back in a year or 3, but if you’re in a specialized knowledge area, it’ll be harder unless you can show that you’ve maintained currency in your knowledge base.

  37. DVM*

    90% of the household labor and 20+ hours of work a week is actually an insane amount of work for anyone, health issues aside. This all sounds unmanageable, my heart goes out to you. I think if you actually take the time you need away from your jobs, you will have a better perspective and be able to work toward balance in your careers and family goals. You will be able to think and plan without living in the extreme stress you are going through at this very moment. Things might seem more doable, and you will have a better idea of what you are up against!

    1. Sharon*

      You’re not wrong, but consider there are many people who live alone, work 50 hours a week and take care of all the household/life responsibilities by themselves.

      1. Not Totally Subclinical*

        True, and it can be really stressful when there’s no one else who can wait for the plumber, no backup to fix meals and run the laundry when you’re sick, etc.

        On the other hand, by definition, the people living alone are handling the household responsibilities for one person, not three, one of whom is an agent of chaos.

      2. Helewise*

        I’ve done both and there’s no question that living alone and working well over 50 hours a week was way easier than 20-ish hours with a young family.

    2. NoRecoveryInPast*

      I know this was a long time ago, but my mother (Ph.D. from and Ivy League school) took ~4 years off when my youngest sister was born (late 70s and early 80s) and never returned to stable, full time work in her field again because no one would hire her except for leave replacement, part time jobs, or other temporary/not what she wanted jobs that paid badly and were well below her ability level.

      Things are supposedly better now, but it left enough of an impression on me that I’d be leery of any optional breaks in employment.

  38. Time for Tea*

    Outsource more of your home life, you sound like there is money available for at least part time and at least short to medium term help. Hire a housekeeper. Get a night time nanny to let you sleep. Catch up to being human again, and then assess whether you want to work or would rather do the home stuff. Making big decisions when you’re exhausted and underwater is an awful position to be in and you will not have clarity of thinking for long term goals while you are in surviving the present mode.

    Also, I’ve been out of my original field for 15 years because of ill health, so no references, field has changed beyond comprehension, if I wanted to try and get back in to it I think I would have to look for an entry level role whereas I was able to pick and choose work before.

    1. I just really can’t think of a name*

      This! It sounds like she’s doing all of the overnights with a child who doesn’t sleep well, plus probably also mornings and evenings when the nanny isn’t there. Plus managing the household. Plus working. Plus dealing with her own chronic conditions. But she kind of likes her job. So instead of giving it up, it makes more sense to try to outsource some of that other stuff. (A night nurse alone will likely make a huge difference.)

  39. Consultant #5*

    I was in a similar position as you – privileged, in consulting but feeling generally underutilized and burned out, while also caring for a small family. I took 10 months off and found it helpful. I only returned because it was part-time and a great opportunity to do something I was passionate about and would not have the drawbacks of my previous profession. I was very worried about how it would be perceived by potential hiring managers before this opportunity fell in my lap.

    The biggest thing for me was how much my skills decayed in that time. I was able to get my technical skills back under me pretty fast, but it has taken longer to catch up on subject matter expertise and people skills (e.g., delegating, feedback). Overall would do it again in a heartbeat, though,

    1. Kiki Is The Most*

      Much of the same except without a family. Fried on work and with health issues. I didn’t set out to take a set amount of time off beyond a year, as I wanted to see what happened in my initial year off.
      It. Was. Glorious.
      And definitely a good decision. Being able to focus on the physical health issues improved my mental perspective. An amazing “short contract” opportunity fell into my lap after 8 months, and I took it. After it was completed, I took more time off, and then took on another short term contract. So after 2+ years of doing what I want on my time and focusing on my happiness, I’m headed back to working FT in July and to a job I am looking forward to doing. This year I gave a bit of time to dusting off the skills and know-how but I didn’t feel pressured so it was actually enjoyable.
      So much good can happen when you open yourself up to it and it sounds like you’re in the best position to do it now. Good luck!

  40. SometimesMaybe*

    I took almost five years off to have kids, and switched industries when I did return. There was a little struggle because it was at a time when there was huge technology jumps (everywhere), but overall it did not hurt my career so much. That being said I had kids later in life, so my work history and references were very solid. I am now in upper management and I will say my company at least does not really consider this type of work gap for family reasons any issue, especially with women (because whether or not its sexiest, it is the majority of candidates with family related gaps)

  41. Ultimate Facepalm*

    I can tell you that a couple of years off to care for my son’s medical needs didn’t faze anybody.

  42. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    As a refugee myself, I GET IT. It colors your experience of the world because you know just how bad things can get, how everything you thought you could rely on can get totally randomly upended.

    In addition to considering the good advice you’re getting here, I would strongly recommend looking into support for generational trauma. Lots and lots of good options here. One book I like is called Ancestral Medicine by Daniel somebody. There’s also Thomas Hübl who I like, especially his joint work with Richard Schwartz.

    I’ve taken leaves of absence for burnout before. So I would also consider…if you’re this burned out, how much is that helping your career? What if you could take the time to focus on taking the best possible care of you and your kiddo (already a full time job) and recovering for several years. Then you can bring your full self to whatever position.

    You might be in the position I was, trying to get to a certain point of recovery before taking the time off, so that you can put that on your resume or reach that level of rapport/approval/performance with your organization or clients. My advice to my former self would be DONT DO IT. Take care of yourself, prioritize yourself. You can’t recover from the way you feel by continuing to work. The proof is in the fact that even 10 hour workweeks are too much. That’s not a sign that you’re weak – it’s a sign that it really is this bad! And you really do need all you can get.

    Take the time off. Set a 5 year timer. Throw yourself into whatever seems ridiculously wonderful. For me that would be morning yoga or some other mindful physical movement, followed by coffee and bird watching on the front porch with my beloved. Then a walk in the woods. Then some bodywork like a massage. Then an interesting book. Then a hike somewhere cool. Journaling. Interesting therapy with a provide I really jive with. A class by someone interesting. An opportunity to play just for the pleasure of it.

    Can you make a similar list for whatever makes your own soul sing? What do you really WANT? Do that.

    1. Agent Diane*

      I was coming here to suggest a five year plan too, because in five years both the current toddler and the planned new baby will be in school, which changes the rhythm of daily life again.

      We switched who the SAHP is this year, and it’s very hard to adjust to not being the main earner because my identity has been bound up in my work.

      Ask yourself what your day would look like if you left this 20hr/week job? And what would it look like once the kids were in school? Would you be the main person doing the school run?

      And ask your husband what he could do to support more. Could he employ someone to do some of what he’s doing so that he gets to spend time doing family stuff? As it seems like he gets to claim to be too busy to support you now, when you both have a toddler.

      Ultimately, you know how your industry treats women who take a career break or sabbatical. What you want to do is look at is how you want your life to look in five years when your children are both in school.

  43. Lisa*

    Yes, it will hurt your career some to take time off, but people do it all the time and it sounds like it would be worth it for you. It will hurt less if you can stay current on your industry/tools/certifications/etc.

    If the side-gig things are relevant to your main career, have you considered dropping the main job but keeping those? It would keep you involved and with something to put on your resume while freeing up most of your time.

    1. Nicosloanica*

      Good point, you could frame this as “this may hurt your career, but it will also hurt your career to stay in your current role while burned out and unproductive.”

  44. Typing All The Time*

    I think it’s about making sure you can stay current in skillsets, certifications and contacts. Can you go part-time for a while? Also, while I’m single, I do believe that women should make sure to have some sort of separate income.

  45. AMS*

    I think this question is very very industry/job specific. I took two years off when my daughter was born (moved at 7.5 months pregnant – not worth looking for a job at that point, and then my dad was sick so I was caring for him for a year, then wrapping up his estate). I was able to find a part time job that was vaguely in my field when six months pregnant with my second (I’m an accountant, I took a bookkeeping job at a small local business that was more of a bookkeeping/invoicing/general office admin/odd jobs around the shop type of gig), and did that two years, before going back to proper accounting full time. But accounting doesnt change a whole lot day to day or year to year, and is always in demand. So that certainly made things quite easy for me.

    What about looking for something else part-time? Even if its not in your industry, just not having the big gap can be helpful, and if you have a part-time, or even just less stressful full time job, that might be more beneficial to your health than the current situation. A boring job that is less prestigious but more steady hours and less political nonsense might not sound *fun* exactly, but it might help alleviate a lot of stress? I know going from a job where I was only part time but constantly thinking about work and stressed about what was happening the next day to a full time job that was fairly mindless but allowed me to leave work and not think about it again til the next day did TONS to improve my overall mental health.

  46. Nicosloanica*

    If you truly don’t need to work financially, I wouldn’t – I’d just put aside a healthy chunk of savings for myself if you’re truly that well off, for disasters (plus life insurance on your husband, maybe revisit any prenump – would an investment in your name make you feel more comfortable?). I don’t have the level of financial security the writer does, but I did take a break about ten-fifteen years into my nonprofit career. As she says, I just didn’t feel like I was bringing my best self to work anymore; I was burned out (and I don’t even have kids). In my case, I transitioned from a fulltime job/career track into consulting for about 2 years, but that consulting wasn’t at all equal 40 hours a week. I think this was the best of both worlds because there’s not as bad a resume gap and I ramped back up pretty successfully when I needed to for financial reasons. Can you just pick a piece of consulting work that feels most fun and fulfilling to you, even if it’s just a few hours for a week right now and doesn’t pay well? Writing a blog or podcast, or supporting interns/young people, or doing charitable giving work?

  47. Elsa*

    I didn’t take significant time off when my kids were little, but I just have a general comment as a working parent. Typically if your kids are healthy and don’t have special needs, the intense parenting years are not that many years. By the time your youngest child is five or six years old, it’s really a whole different ballgame, and by the time they are nine or ten years old it’s another huge step up. (My youngest is ten, and my kids are great company to have around but make few demands of my time and energy.) So if you take time off to be with your kids when they are young, you will still have decades to devote to your career once they are older. And once they are older it will also be easier for you to work a full time job, which may give you more options.

    I will also note though that many of my friends who took significant time off to be with kids ended up going into a different line of work when they returned to the work force. I’m not sure if that was because their qualifications were less relevant years later, or just because the years out of the work force gave them a fresh perspective and desire to try something else.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      This is true in some ways but not others. School-age kids are absolutely a different ball game than babies and toddlers, no question.

      However, I have 10-year-old twins and this past spring was pretty hard on my feelings of work-life balance. Somehow the schedule around their activities, wanting to do things with their friends, etc. was just A Lot, and I think for many kids that continues until they’re old enough to be pretty independent in terms of transportation. It depends on the norms where you live, how easily they can get around, etc.

      Maybe it’s just year-end burnout and this particular burst of piano recital, school chorus concert, six different end-of-year wrap-up celebrations for various things, a couple of sleepovers, field trips, 4 birthday parties to attend in three weeks, little league makeup games etc. etc. will pass. Life is certainly easier in many ways than when my kids were toddlers! But the logistics around family life ebb and flow and don’t necessarily just ease up. Thank goodness neither of my kids is athletic enough to want to play on a travel sports team!

  48. Ellen*

    Coming to this from two of the perspectives you cited — a hiring manager, and also a person who had a child (now an older toddler) and opted to take a fairly minimal amount of leave before going back to work full-time.

    I actually think the two or three years off you might take is less of an issue than the “spotty” work history you describe before that. Yes, lots of people were affected by COVID! But if you look three years down the road, you’d be applying for jobs with a resume that shows your last long-term, full-time job… what, six years prior? If yours is a competitive industry and most other candidates for the roles you’re interested in have more recent-full time experience, I think there’s a good chance you would struggle to be competitive with them.

    But what strikes me about your question is that although you describe your job as “a working mom’s dream,” it doesn’t actually seem to be a dream for you. Your health and sleep issues are definitely a factor, but you describe yourself as feeling “under-utilized, untrusted as an expert, and isolated” at your job! Looking for another job NOW is a third option that I think is worth considering. You’re probably in a better position now than you will be three years down the road with a resume gap, so the kind of response you get to your job search now will be informative. And if you end up in a job with a supportive boss where you ALSO feel appreciated, maybe you’ll feel less burnt-out and more prepared to keep working while pregnant and raising a small child.

    At the same time, if your husband’s job keeps you financially secure enough that you could pay for childcare even if you didn’t have an income, can you look into hiring additional help for the 90% of the daily load you describe yourself as handling? Can you get a babysitter who can occasionally stay overnight so that you can get a full night of sleep? (Or negotiate with your husband so that he has nighttime duty at least one night a week?) Or at least a babysitter some evenings to support you? Can you outsource laundry, cooking, something else?

    I’m sure you will eventually be able to get back into the workforce if you take a few years off. But I also suspect doing so will make finding another “dream” job harder. If you can alleviate the burnout (both work and home) that’s afflicting you right now, you might have a clearer view on what’s more important to you, taking some time off or sticking with your job. (Either of which is a totally valid choice! But it sounds right now like you’re reluctant to do either.)

  49. MTW*

    So I’m coming at this from a similar place. My husband makes enough to support us, but I currently make almost as much as he does. We have a toddler. I was hit with a health curveball last year that has turned chronic and had some really debilitating effects (like, I can no longer drive a car, maybe ever again), but apart from an FMLA leave, I have remained in the workforce and plan to do so as long as I can drag myself here. I require the normalcy of my career while my health and future is in chaos.

    Here are a couple of observations: you said you have or have had a nanny and a cleaner. So why then is 90% of the household load on you? If it actually is, can you outsource more? Can you ask your cleaner or nanny to increase their hours? The ONLY viable solution to burnout in a two-working-parent income is outsourcing as much as possible. If you can afford to, you should do it.

    You don’t seem to like your job. That is not a good reason to leave the workforce. Dust off your resume and do some job searching and interviewing. I know it’s not fun, but if you are feeling so dejected in your job that you are considering fleeing the workforce, when you otherwise might be able to stay in it for a job you enjoy, this is an option worth exploring. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get an offer, or you get an offer you turn down.

    Finally, if you do exit the workforce, as a hiring manager, I would assume based on your resume that you were taking a break to take care of your family. I wouldn’t bristle at a 2-3 year gap in your resume, but there is a certain length of time that WILL have people questioning whether you have adequately retained your skills and sharpness. Where that threshold lies really just depends on your field. From other stay-at-home parents I know, it’s really easy to let a 2 year break turn into 5 or 10 years. So you just would have to check in with yourself regularly to see if your priorities and future plans have changed. It’s totally fine if they do and you never re-enter the workforce. Maybe you will want to take a job doing something totally different where a gap won’t matter.

    Good luck to you and your health! I know how discouraging and exhausting chronic conditions can be.

    1. AVP*

      Outsourcing and getting more lax on expectations where you can (you actually don’t need to participate in Crazy Sock Week at school, there’s no law about those!). But also it sounds like maybe her husband is working way more than the usual number of hours per week, which is hard but maybe worthwhile to the overall picture.

      So I would also break out your family work-week-hours (paid, unpaid, outsourced) as a whole and see if something else can be rejiggered there. Sometimes there’s an expectation that if one spouse is working 50 hours per week at a paid job, the other 100+ hours will be handled by nonworking spouse, and those numbers don’t math. If Spouse1 is doing 50 hours of paid work, Spouse2 does 20 hours of paid work + 30 hours of unpaid, and then the rest needs to be redivided equally.

  50. Kristin*

    What if you just took, like, a month off? Not two years, but take a short leave of absence, give yourself permission to take that 20-ish hours/week for yourself, and see how you feel after that? You don’t have to make a big leap all at once, you can just wade in a bit and see how taking the time feels.

  51. What’s In A Name*

    This is a very hard situation to be in, OP, and I think it’s very understandable if you’re feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. My first step would be to make sure you have an emergency fund in place. It sounds like your husband’s business is doing very well, but things can change quickly. If something happened and no income was coming in, could you continue to meet expenses for at least 8 months, or however long it would reasonably take to find a new job? If no, establishing this fund needs to be a priority. If the answer is yes, I think at the very least, you could take a pause for a few months and catch your breath. Being a parent is challenging, and your health is a major priority, especially if you plan to have another child.
    I personally wouldn’t blink if I saw a gap of a few years on a resume due to caregiving or health reasons, but I know that can fluctuate by industry. If your industry evolves quickly (and it sounds like it does), it may be worth taking a few months to regroup, and then making an effort to attend trainings or otherwise stay in the loop, even if you’re not currently working. It is a risk, and there’s no way to know for sure how easy it will be to re-enter the workforce when you’re ready, but your health and wellbeing need to come first.
    I also want to mention how much of the burden of home tasks and childcare seem to fall to you. I’ve seen many people, often women, who seem to undervalue this when they stay at home and their partner works for income. Please know that keeping a home and family running is a massive challenge, and should never be considered “less than” working for income. Even if you have some help with childcare, your efforts are essential to the family’s wellbeing. Don’t fall into a trap of feeling like your contribution is less if it’s not monetary – it’s just not true.

  52. Apples and Oranges*

    How much a gap in your resume matters depends a lot on the industry—and even on how much that particular hiring manager cares about it. If you’re in an industry where things move fast and you’d fall behind in skills and knowledge then a gap matters more.

    For me personally as a hiring manager, I don’t care as much about a gap if the person is otherwise qualified and has a decent explanation for the gap (“took time off to focus on my family” versus “no one would hire me”). If it came down to two candidates who were equally awesome and one had a gap and one didn’t I guess I’d go with the one who didn’t—but rarely are two people equally awesome.

    You can also mitigate some of this by keeping your skills up and maybe doing some minor side gigs or consulting jobs during your time off.

    All that said, you also need to calculate the cost of NOT taking time off. If you completely burn out and tank at your current job—we’ll that’s not good for your career either.

    Finally, on a personal note, if I were financially able to take a few years off to focus on my family I’d do it in a heartbeat, career advancement be damned

  53. New Senior Mgr*

    I took 3 years off while my children were ending 5th grade and going into Jr. High. I was also exhausted despite being at the top of my game at work. I leaped and never looked back. Going back into the work world wasn’t as easy as it was in my 20’s, but thanks to my reputation, references, and networks, I found something within 6 months. Not a month goes by that I don’t think, what a gift it was that I was able to spend more time with the children, pay the bills (savings, blogging, eBay), and recover. I never regret leaving the work world for that time period.

  54. Underemployed Erin*

    I took 8 years off. My child was allergic to 4 of the top eight food allergens.

    It was nice to have that time with him when he was little. When you leave a spouse to be the sole provider, there is extra stress on them for that, and the position makes you susceptible to financial abuse.

    I am in tech, and there are not a lot of good paths back. Technology changes and moves on without you.

    It sounds like you are in a career path that might be easier to return to?

    I think it took me two to three years to get back in.

  55. Tulips*

    I’m in my mid 40s and took 8 months off after accepting a voluntary separation package from a company I was at for many years. I had full salary for a year, so I thought it would be nice to take some time to myself. I applied for a few jobs early on and made it to the final round of interviews, but no offers and I was feeling positive. After six months I ramped up my job search, and got no interviews. It was like six months out of work was clearly too much for employers. I finally landed a job at a small company, making a little less than before with almost no benefits. It’s not great and I don’t want to stay here longer than I have to, but I feel like my hands are tied. I still apply to interesting jobs, but never get a bite.

    While I’d love to say you can take time off and jump back in, my experience was that it wasn’t true, at least not for me.

  56. TracyXP*

    Could you take an extended break first? Maybe a month or 2 if possible?

    At the end of that time, do some self evaluation and decide if you feel up to returning to work or not. Does the thought of it bring you joy or dread?

    I can’t speak for your situation, I don’t have it in me to be a SAHM. I got to try short stints of it when I was furloughed due to work slow downs, and I enjoyed it, but in part because I knew it was a short time I would be doing it (4 months was the longest). I was also earning the same as my husband and we couldn’t afford to half our income in the long term.

    1. ferrina*

      I’m another person that could never be a SAHM. It would be so bad for my mental health. My husband suggested it when I was pregnant with the first kid, and that was a non-starter for me (though I offered the option that he could be a SAHD, and he looked a bit offended). This decision ended up being more important than I could imagine- we later divorced, and my income/earning potential was more important than ever. I went through a low-key phase at my job- after years of high stress (both at work and life situations), I was burned out.

      I think it’s really important that LW think about childcare when weighing her decision. Especially if she’s having 2 kids- daycare is so, so expensive in the U.S. Don’t burn through your individual savings for childcare- that should be a joint expense. I agree about keeping your savings for financial security- for some of us, it is an important key to piece of mind and allows us to come to a relationship as an equal partner. And if necessary, it allows someone to walk away from a bad relationship (hopefully never necessary! but unfortunately ended up being necessary for me)

      That said, I had a friend that chose to become a SAHM. She was in an in-demand field but was really unhappy at her job. Her kid was a lot more work than my kids (kids come with varying degrees of difficulty). Her husband made enough that she could put her kids in daycare even without her paycheck. She isn’t exactly happy, but she’s much less stressed than she would have been. She knows that she likely won’t be able to ever get into her original field again. She’s not sure what is coming next for her, though she’d like to return to work.

  57. Hiring manager and burnt out mom*

    I’m a hiring manager in a very similar space to where the OP works. I’m also a very burnt out mom. I’m completely open to hiring people that took a few years off and I think it’s not as uncommon in the multinational/non-profit workspace as it some others. I know plenty of people that took time off due to international relocations, visa issues, and family reasons. But, not all of my colleagues are willing to consider people with gaps on their resumes because this can be a competitive field. Additionally, depending on the particular area you work in, things can change very quickly and I’ve seen people struggle coming back to work after 5+ years because there have been major shifts in policy, regulations, and technology. Keep up with contacts in the industry, keep up with high level changes, and take the time you need.

  58. Former SAHM*

    I stopped working in 2004 when my second child was born, and went back to work in 2015. I work in health care and had to re-certify and re-license, but had no trouble getting a job. Was it the best job? No, but I liked a lot of things about it and the pay was standard for my line of work. And if I wanted to, I could work my way up to higher level positions.
    A friend who worked in finance stayed home with her kids from about 2001-2010. Her first job on return to work was terrible, but after a year she was back into her previous line of work and making a good salary again, and now does extremely well.
    So from my experience, you can take time off and get another job if you want/need one. There is no guarantee that you can continue moving up to better salary and responsibilities, but that is also true if you keep your job, or get laid off.
    If your husband is stressed by the idea of being the sole provider, it can be helpful to decrease your expenses so you can handle changes in income, and have a large emergency fund.

  59. PBJ*

    As someone who went through a really long stretch of broken sleep with my child, let’s not underestimate the impact that lack of sleep is having on the situation. It’s like the “do you hate your life, or is just after 9pm” saying…

    1. ferrina*

      Lack of sleep is brutal. I had one friend that flat-out could not do the midnight wake-ups for more than one night in a row without getting extremely angry (he’s a really nice and self-aware person). He and his wife had to figure out a different way to do things- she got all the midnight wake-ups, but he took care of the kid all morning and did the lion’s share of weekend work so his wife got to get proper sleep.

      OP, can you take a few days away? Maybe a relative can come watch the kid for a few nights so you can go to a B&B for a few nights and get some sleep.

  60. Kristen K*

    I think the gist of this is: how much are you willing to give up? By that I mean, in the future are you willing to say “I have worked 10 years in this field” instead of 15 years (or whatever) In the future are you willing to go back to a position that isn’t as prestigious. Or flexible. Or just plain awesome.
    Or maybe not be in the same field.

    Because it sounds like the “right now” is that you should take time off. You are in the privileged position to be able to put your family first, of that’s what you choose. Your kids will be better off with a mother who is not stressed all the time, not exhausted, more able to focus on what matters.

    It boils down to you need to do is weigh future vs. present to see what matters more.

  61. Chronically Awesome Mom of 2*

    I think for once I may be the target to reply.

    My career is nonprofit fundraising. I have some chronic conditions that are disabling but mostly “invisible” to those not living with me.

    I’m turning 40 in August – married 14 years.

    In 2017, I was at the height of my career. I had made it to the C Suite at a nonprofit who’s mission I was connected to.
    First week of my new role, I am throwing up in the shared bathroom.

    Guess what?! Unexpected high risk pregnancy. My boss was amazing and gave me all the time off I needed for medical appointments and when the baby was born, took me on as a consultant.
    I was terrified that whole pregnancy that I would lose my child – but my low birth weight girl is 6 years old and thriving in Kindergarten.

    I took an intentionally long time (2 years) to be strategic about where I landed next. It seemed great on paper – part time doing the same type work and a 5 minute walk from my home. COVID hit and eventually the nonprofit eliminated the position.

    Back on unemployment and pissed in 2021 when that job ended, but trying to take what life throws at us.

    Another intentional search that luckily was only 8 months this time around.

    Stayed at the 2021 position for 2 years but they eliminated my position 2 weeks after I returned from maternity leave. (Yes, super illegal, especially with the state I live in having stronger laws on this than federal. I have filed with the state commission against discrimination and EEOC.)

    Now, I have a 14 month old son & have been applying for new jobs since August 2023. I decided with my therapist to take the summer off from job searching – but just got an email to schedule a final/third interview for a nonprofit fundraising role.

    All this is to say, I have short work stints of 2 years or less at most of my roles.
    That with the breaks can make it tough.

    I got a professional certification in June of 2021 to make myself more appealing for future roles and that seems to have helped my resume get noticed – and it was cheaper than a masters degree.

    It seems people hiring aren’t as phased as they used to be by gaps in work.

    When asked in interviews about the gaps I either say I took time off for childcare or “a health issue that has since resolved”. (The second one is straight from Alison’s advice.)

    Then I make sure to find a way to work in what about the specific position makes me excited to return.

    If it were me in your shoes, I would take time off to help get the chronic illnesses as controlled as they can be and find yourself post burn out.
    Not being financially able to do that is what stopped me.

    Important to note, if you go this route, please don’t jump into being a “stay at home mom”. You need a real break and paying for childcare will help.

    Good luck!!!!

  62. Rootsandbranches*

    I’m still in the gap of taking time off so I can’t speak to how easy or hard it is to join the workforce, but the last part of your letter about relying on your husband spoke to me.

    One thing that helped me with that was agreeing with my husband that I was working, and I needed to have money that was MY money to spend or save as I chose, that he does not have access to. So his paycheck mostly goes into a joint account for all household expenses, and a smaller amount is direct deposited into each of our private accounts for our own personal money. Some of my friends definitely find it weird, but psychologically it has helped me feel like I’m not beholden to him for all my spending money and I know I have my own emergency savings.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      +1 for this idea, from an exSAHM now working pt and earning a fraction of spouse’s income. It helps hugely with autonomy and dignity.

    2. ferrina*

      I love this practice! It really is important to have your own finances for personal spending, but the reality is that this can be hard to balance. I really love this system that you and your husband have!

      When I was first starting my career, my then-husband and I had major financial discrepancies. He was able to quickly get a high-paying job in his field, while I was barely over minimum wage (3+year job search in a terrible economy). The result was that he had plenty of discretionary money, while I barely had any. It sucked- he could casually spend money on whatever he liked while I was constantly in budget mode. His discretionary money was at least 15x what mine was. We carried these mindsets through the rest of our marriage- when our financial situation changed, it was a huge problem. He would agree to a budget plan then spend on whatever he wanted (regardless of budget) and would argue that he was entitled to luxuries (in one memorable argument, he said that he had been buying his lunch at fast-casual restaurants for so many years that it would be unreasonable to ask him to bring lunch now, but since I had been bringing my lunch to work for years, it was fine to expect me to keep doing that. So I was supposed to subsidize him eating lunch at casual restaurants every day). That in itself wasn’t the marriage-ender, but it exposed his double standards.

      1. biobotb*

        Yeah, I consider this kind of discrepancy (and the attitude that fuels it) to be really toxic. I think that it’s fine for both partners in a marriage to have accounts and money that are completely separate and inaccessible to the other.

        But if one partner is happy to have a luxurious lifestyle while their spouse scrimps to get by, and doesn’t feel called make things equitable, that’s poisonous long term.

  63. kalli*

    I lost a white collar professional job due to bullying and health issues. It took COVID for me to get a new job, as an admin to white collar professionals younger than me, and it’s taken four years in that job to get anything more than data entry tasks.

    I couldn’t have stayed in that job even if I wanted to; for context, I was granted workers’ comp because they couldn’t show that the bullying fell into ‘reasonable administrative action’ exemption which was very rare at the time, so getting comp meant that the situation was seriously untenable (the laws have changed since so it’s a lot easier to get comp before PTSD-level trauma). But when I was interviewing to get out of the job, every interviewer told me it was best for my career to stay, and they couldn’t offer me nearly as much in the way of training and opportunities. Once I didn’t have the job, I stopped getting interviews after about six months – part of that was absolutely that my boss had a lot of friends and that coincided with her constructive dismissal, but a lot of it was there were younger and more recently graduated people going for the same positions, and I didn’t have the right mix of experience to overcome that because I hadn’t completed my supervised hours and needed to start over.

    If I had to do it again I would go back to high school and qualify interstate, or go back and pick the other job I was in testing for before I was offered that one. If I could only go back to that one, I would work a lot harder at getting hired elsewhere before all the wheels came off – the damage to my career and the effect that working through the early stages of my chronic illness had on my work capacity will never ever be able to be fixed, to the point that I’ve been working for 18 years and I have $10k in superannuation while the average for people my age is $156k. (super = mandatory retirement investment accounts, with minimum contributions of 11%/yr paid by employer.)

    Now, the choice I had to make was between my physical and mental health, and working in an environment where I ran the department for two months on my own and then my boss came back and started telling me how to take a phone message, print an email, and would undo my work so she could say I did it wrongly and have me redo it, then use my first version as ‘see I fixed it’, and not ‘my job has internal politics I can totally ignore but is also stressing me to the point of exacerbating my illness’ however counterintuitive those things are when you put them together. It wasn’t really a choice when my doctor started giving me sick certificates and I had multiple organs taken out within a year.

    If you think you will want to go back to your career, I would suggest job hunting or freelancing, and not leaving until you can replace the experience. At the very least, maintain professional memberships, insurance and required training and certificates (security checks, first aid, compliance etc.) so you can show you are up to date when you start looking again.

    Also, not having any work and nothing to do that society sees as contributing can get really old really fast, even if money is not an issue. Volunteering with a respected charity, business mentoring, being MORE involved with your kids (not less) are all things that people respect as at least not backsliding – ‘stay at home parent’ is a misnomer when you have kids in school, you do not stay at home, it’s just that your kids and their activities and Parents and Friends and school governance are your full-time job (and most PnFs would kill for professional soft skills, possibly literally). My mum stayed home. (I do have to wonder what you intend to do, put the kids in child care and ??? You really need to fill in that blank before you can decide what SAH means to you.)

  64. Slinky*

    As a hiring manager, I’m seeing the norms start to shift on this, but we’re not all the way there yet. There’s a lot more understanding now that taking a few years off isn’t a sign of a problem and that people need time off for all sorts of reasons (personal health, caregiving, etc.). However, I still see people have some resistance to this idea and basically want to write off a candidate due to a gap of a few years on their resume. I wish this wasn’t the case but can’t pretend that it isn’t.

  65. STW*

    I specifically look to hire women with resume gaps if I possibly can. Not as pity hires, I can’t afford that, but people with skills who can hit the ground running.

    First I look at the timeline. Two years off starting from the birth of a baby is not a red flag for me, that seems like something a civilized country would be doing in the first place, so I don’t even need an explanation of the gap beyond “I had a baby on X date.”

    Longer gaps…well, I’m a mom myself, right in the weeds of kid activities and volunteering and yadda yadda, so I have zero patience with the “home executive” cutesy garbage. I don’t care about you being a cook/nurse/housekeeper/financial manager all in one, because I do all that and I hold down a demanding job as well. Also, I’m in software and I’m not hiring a nurse/cook/chauffeur even if you are a “girlboss.” (Ugh.) I’m looking for relevant, transferable, workplace skills, and some sense that you engaged with the wider world outside your house and your book club.

    For the roles I hire, if you were in a leadership role in Scouting, that counts. PTA officer, yeah. Coached youth sports, ran the parent volunteer group for the dance studio, acted as the dojo’s tournament travel planner, all solid indicators that you’re dependable, detail oriented, and can get along with difficult people. Probably good at thinking on your feet and adapting to change.

    Good luck. Parenting in the USA sucks but we can help each other.

    1. Pam*

      I coach youth sports, and that never factors into a resume for me. It’s a hobby, not a job-related skill. There’s plenty of youth coaches that are terrible at what they do. Pretty much anyone that can pass a criminal record check can be a coach. Where I am they never had enough coaches so standards are pretty low.

  66. Clementine*

    To the LW, I am hearing a lot of heavy, difficult things in your post. Re-establishing yourself after coming as a refugee might seem like it’s far in the past, but I’m sure there’s still some element of trauma there. I’d look at the ways you can streamline your life (I know you’ve listed some ideas), and consider therapy/coaching/introspection to figure out your next moves. I’m not sure quitting work is the best choice, but I can also see how it could work well. My perspective is that my work provides a lot of engagement, validation, and structure that is not easily obtained elsewhere. Perhaps you want a career change, and additional education is the best choice. But you deserve to make these decisions while not in a fog.

  67. E*

    You may be absolutely fine without your income today, but what if something happens to your husband or his business? My mom stayed at home and my dad had a successful business for several years but then suddenly it wasn’t which caused a serious life change for the whole family. My mom had a very hard time finding something after being out for 10 years. People she knew before had moved/retired/died and so she had no current business contacts. I would suggest at the very least finding a freelance thing (if that works with what you do) to keep current with networking and the market in general.

  68. Ophelia*

    OP, I’m in the same industry, and while I haven’t taken years off, I DEFINITELY considered it when my kids were little. I think my question would be:
    – At the end of 3-5 years, do you want to come back?
    If no, then I think it’s fine to just say, “I need to step out” and stay nominally in touch with contacts you value.

    If yes, then I might suggest a middle path – which would be to step back from what you’re doing now, and instead take on 1-3 targeted (interesting?) consulting assignments per year that would let you keep one ear on what’s happening, but wouldn’t demand your time the way your current role does. It also might let you focus specifically on some technical areas that are of interest, and give you some relevant things to fill your CV when you do decide to come back.

    1. Agent Diane*

      I was coming here to suggest a five year plan too, because in five years both the current toddler and the planned new baby will be in school, which changes the rhythm of daily life again.

      We switched who the SAHP is this year, and it’s very hard to adjust to not being the main earner because my identity has been bound up in my work.

      Ask yourself what your day would look like if you left this 20hr/week job? And what would it look like once the kids were in school? Would you be the main person doing the school run?

      And ask your husband what he could do to support more. Could he employ someone to do some of what he’s doing so that he gets to spend time doing family stuff? As it seems like he gets to claim to be too busy to support you now, when you both have a toddler.

      Ultimately, you know how your industry treats women who take a career break or sabbatical. What you want to do is look at is how you want your life to look in five years when your children are both in school.

  69. SparrowGirl*

    I was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years, and am now disabled, so I have two thoughts:

    1. Being a stay-at-home mom has impacted my career for sure. when I went back to work I took a part-time, 11$-an- hour job for 3 1/2 years just for resume fodder, then moved to an internship (at age 44), then got an entry level job. Toddlers are hard, but I’d try not to stay out of the workforce for more than a few years. Even one day a week keeps your skills up and your resume alive.
    2. I have long covid. In my case that means I can’t go to an office, and have an accommodation to work from home. I can say that without my job, I would be losing my mind. It gives me people to talk to and things to fill up my time and feel productive about. disability (and SAHM-hood) are so isolating, and can make a person feel frustrated and useless, and for me, work is a good way to help with that.

    It sounds like you’re exhausted and I’m not trying to diminish that. Health problems are exhausting and toddlers are exhausting and I can’t imagine the strength and energy it takes to get through your day. Just please don’t cut yourself off from the world in the name of rest.

    Would it be possible to take a break for a few months or a year to rest, and then find a very part-time volunteer opportunity? That seems like it could help with the isolation, give you more on your resume than just a blank space, and be less demanding. No money, of course, but it might be worth looking into if your family can absorb the lower income.

    tl;dr: maybe look into light volunteering for resume padding and socializing purposes.

  70. Diet Coke Mom*

    I took an 8 year break from my career to be a stay at home mom. Was it hard? Yes. Was I able to get my chronic health issue under control? Also yes. LW says she has side gigs that also bring in income. At this point, I think taking a break from work and getting your health (mental and physical) back to where you need them is the best thing you can do. It sounds like you have a lot of marketable skills you will be able to leverage later. Take the break, set a date to reevaluate, and then focus on getting better since you can. I loved going back to work because I was in a place where I had gotten to a good place mentally, physically, and with my children. Good luck!

  71. Lionheart26*

    I stopped working a year ago. I’m not a SAHM but I was burned out and wanted a break and the time and energy to start my own business.

    3 days before leaving, a client called me to ask me to work for them. I explained that I needed a break and didn’t want another job, but in the end we settled on a consulting agreement where I can work as many (or as few) hours as I want.

    I know I was incredibly fortunate, but I say incredible things can only happen when we ask for what we want.

  72. Covert Copier Whisperer*

    I’m a hiring manager in the public sector who mostly hires mid-career professionals with decent technical expertise. A job gap of several years does not worry me– and my last hire had been in a role in a different field for four years and was now coming back. Amazing hire.

    As others have said, my bigger concern is how fast can you pick something back up and have you stayed current. I use technical assessments as a tool. I also look for whether you’re in any industry associations or have done volunteer work or other spot work (my field has opportunities for project-length consultancies) to keep your hand in a bit. Updating licensures or taking CEs when you’re looking to get back in would also work.

    That said, it may be worthwhile to think creatively about your situation that would accommodate your career goals. If you need a break now, take it! Further down the road, is it possible for your husband to hire help for his company that allows him to be more present? You’ve had a nanny, if they had more hours would that help? Would a different
    company with hopefully less politics work? Is your field a graying profession, such that more positions will be vacant as people retire, or would being out make it hard to get back in and if so are there adjacent roles you’ve been interested in?

  73. sometimeswhy*

    Hiring manager here –

    My field relies on the sort of technical skills that can’t really be done avocationally and they expire pretty quickly but I wouldn’t think twice about bringing someone with prior, 3+years ago experience in at an entry or journey level but they would need a current, active skill set for a senior role.

    It doesn’t sound like that’s the case for you so 2-3 years taking time off, especially if you spend some of that time keeping current or refining your skills/reminding yourself of what you love about it or even pivoting to a different application of those skills wouldn’t raise an eyebrow for me.

  74. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*


    1) I spent 4 months unemployed at one point after resigning from one job without another lined up. I’m beyond lucky that it was only that small of a gap, and halfway through it I had gone stir crazy. If you want to commit to a 3-6 month stint away from work and see how you feel after 12-13 weeks, that would sound like a more viable plan that committing to 24-36+ months up front. You truly never know how far away that next role is going to be.

    2) I agree with others who have said it’s industry-dependent. I spent 3 years in Finance/Accounting trying to break into Programming (my degree was in both) and by the end, that gap had effectively become a permanent deal-breaker to employers. By the time I did actually get past it, I found it was closer to the significance employers were giving it than the lack of importance I had assigned it. I ended up having to take a niche role in an undesirable location and industry to start building my résumé. 15 years later, I’m still not where my collegiate peers who didn’t take on that gap are.

    3) Given what you’ve written, are you open to a role or industry pivot? A new job in 3rd quarter could be part of the solution.

  75. KCD*

    I took 5 years off when my kids were little. When I started looking for work again I considered a broad range of industries that suited my skill set. I wound up in my original field after a rather competitive process. The things that helped me were: clearly conveying what I had to offer, genuine enthusiasm for the work, and having done my research ahead of the interview about the company and what their needs might be. They did ask about the gap of course, but didn’t seem phased by it. Would you go back to your exact job type? Maybe not, but sometimes a position somewhat adjacent to your current job could be a better fit! I have been back at work for 7 years now and feel like I have made up for lost time.

  76. Working Class Lady*

    I’m a married, childless woman who has always worked out of financial necessity.
    I don’t particularly love my job, and I’m looking for a new one, but I’m not sure I’d quit even if it were financially viable.
    I might take the option of working fewer hours or even taking something that paid less if (theoretically) I liked the work more.

    But I am not willing to give up having my own paycheck nor do I want to lose consecutive years of work experience in my field.
    Things can change in an instant; we’ve had a lot of unforseen things happen between last fall and this spring, that have cost a lot of money.
    Is it possible to give up your side gigs first and maybe work fewer hours, or take another less stressful position?
    I would consider those before quitting entirely.

  77. Isla Bonita*

    As a hiring manager, a gap of 2-3 years isn’t usually a serious deterrent to hiring someone – provided they have a strong record of consistent employment prior to that, evidence of accomplishment in those roles, and excellent references from their previous managers. It sounds like the OP may be lacking some of that, however, which may limit their chances more significantly. It’s not that you wouldn’t be able to get another role, OP, but the role you get after this choppy and inconsistent work history may be more junior, lower paid, and may have limited chances for progression etc. A lot depends on what the years before the last few you mentioned specifically looked like. Did you build a solid reputation and history of achievement pre-Covid? If so, it will probably be somewhat easier to find a path.

    However, the question is framed as “keep doing this job that is burning me out” or “quit entirely” and I would encourage you to try to move beyond that black and white mindset. There are other jobs. This one isn’t working for you – but there are better roles out there where you would feel more engaged, valued and trusted. You have several major stressors working against you at present: this role, your health, parenting a young child. If you found a job where you did not face the burnout this role is causing, you could potentially reduce that load and have more time and energy to deal with the other issues. I would strongly suggest job hunting!

  78. Indie*

    Since the letter mentioned the position is “technical” I am assuming it’s some kind of engineering position. The fact with today’s technology is that it moves way too fast to just kind of up and leave for a year or 5. In the span of an year your tools will have changed significantly (recent years so a fast migration to cloud-based tools for example). In the span of 5 years a lot of the current materials and processes will be obsolete. If you are in IT, it takes less than an year to see yet another version of the most common languages and environments. So by all means, take the time that you need but be prepared for an uphill battle for when you come back.

    I myself had to make a similar decision in the middle of my career. I had a very generous (government mandated) parental leave and after two kids (and two non-consecutive years of leave) my career suffered enormously. I found myself being passed over for promotions that were at the negotiation stage before I “left”. Got my mid-manager position yanked under me (not illegal since I was still technically an employee). And going back to my more technical job (that has always been a passion and not a problem in terms of status) was a real challenge because of all the development in tools and processes. I am mostly OK with the choices that I have made but I also have to admit that my career and my finances would have been in a very different state if things turned out differently.

  79. Throwaway Account*

    I took at least 10 years off for childraising (starting because we moved countries and I was not allowed to work there).

    Back in the USA, I went back to school 20 years ago for something else (because I wanted to do that schooling), and I started a whole new career, which morphed into my current career. I’m place-bound, so I’m at the “top” in my current role as I approach retirement, and I could not be happier!

    You won’t be a great mom or partner or employee/contractor if you are miserable trying to balance all the roles at once. My partner is an excellent researcher and professor/teacher. He has research and teaching awards. The last time he was considered for a teaching award (when he was a bit more mature), he was asked how he balances it all, and he said you cannot; you can be a great researcher OR a great teacher but you cannot do both at the same time. He lost the award; it was not what they wanted to hear. We talked about it a lot and learned it is ok to focus on one thing and do it well!

    If you need it, you have permission from this internet stranger to relax, regroup, and refocus on what matters to you right now. Work will be there when you want it; it will just be different. And maybe better!

  80. NMitford*

    I think that you need to focus on your health first and foremost. Take care of yourself and the rest will follow.

    I was out of the workforce for almost three years after being in a serious car accident (I was a pedestrian who was hit by a car that ran a red light) on my first week at a brand new job. They couldn’t hold the job for me and I had no FMLA rights with that little tenure. It was a long recovery and, a year into it, I went to graduate school because I still wasn’t up to working full time but thought I could handle school (what was I thinking?). I finished school during a recession and had to look for more than a year to find a job in my field (while working for a temp agency to have an income). I was working in fund raising at the time, and there was a perception that fund raisers change jobs too often, so a gap was an issue with hiring managers.

    So, yes, it did hurt me. I don’t feel like my fund raising career ever fully recovered from it. The job I lost due to the accident was a dream job at an Ivy League university. After the accident, I couldn’t get back to a job with a major university and ended up in a series of jobs with financially stressed small nonprofits with admirable missions but little stability. It took a career change to working as a proposal manager for government contractors to get me on a better career path.

    So, perhaps during your time off, you could think about other career options apart from what you’re currently doing now.

  81. Anon today*

    Joining others in saying that I’ve done this, and:

    1) it absolutely damaged my career, and
    2) I don’t regret it. I had to, and it was the right decision.

    It sounds like the health stuff may be making this a necessity for you (it was for me). If that’s the case, to minimize career damage, I’d recommend seeing if there’s a way you can “keep a toe in” — work a short contract somewhere every few months, or take a few months off and then work weekends for a while, or do portfolio or nonprofit projects in your field, whatever makes sense for your industry.

    Also, if you can keep up your connections with some part of your network (socially, through volunteer work, etc) that can really, really help.

    Good luck!!

    1. BellaStella*

      Can you share how it did damage to your career, please, if you feel ok to do so?

      1. Anon today*

        Same things others have said — loss of network, knowledge not being up-to-date anymore (both technical knowledge and soft “how things in the industry work now” knowledge), loss of general reputation in no longer being “thought of” which is important in my field, expired certifications. As other commenters have said, I expect the particular effects are likely going to be highly industry-dependent…

  82. Name*

    HR Manager and someone who took some time off work – I would consider part-time or volunteer work in a related field. Nothing that causes you stress or excessive workloads but something to occupy space and explain what you did between your most recent job to the present.
    It took me 3 years to try and get employed again and that was only after volunteering for a few months. After working for a few years, I started to understand that hiring managers are usually told by HR to overlook candidates who don’t have any current or recent experience (within the last 12 months), whether it’s employment or volunteer.

  83. SunnysideUp*

    “I am also not cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, so I’d be asking my husband to shell out for childcare costs or paying for them from my savings”

    I think it’s worth examining this framing. You’re a family. It’s not him paying or your savings. His income is a joint family resource. In addition remember the only reason your family is the way it is (your husband is able to have a business that generates that income, and have a family, and children that have been taken care of and someone (you) who manages almost the entire mental load of that) is because of you and the kind of paid work you’ve taken or not taken.

    In light of that please take care of yourself. I hope your husband is maxing out your retirement and any savings are equal.

    You have been doing a lot. 20 hours plus the mental load of a full time samh! If you decide you want to keep working what services can you as a family pay for to make that happen? A patient advocate to manage all your appts, medication, correspondence with Drs? A PA or house manager role? That 90% of the mental load is a real killer – if that was reduced would work and health be doable?

    I am about to take a career-break. But I am single and have no children. I am prepared to take the possible loss on my career trajectory / momentum because although like you I’m watching my parents still work and struggle, I want the time now. You can make pro/con lists or strategise til the cows come home but ultimately 2-3 years time is an unknown. All you can do is make peace with the decision now, and hold on to the fact that you made the best decision with the information and circumstances you had at the time.

    1. biobotb*

      I absolutely agree. Some of her phrasing makes me worry that their finances are set up such that she would actually be pretty vulnerable financially if she quit working, even if her spouse pays for food/shelter/etc.

      Why would her savings have to go toward childcare, and why wouldn’t she have substantial savings if she quit working? I think the answers to these questions would help decide whether she really can/should quit working (which is only partially answered by the fact that the husband’s salary can pay their bills).

      If only her health is taken into account, it sounds like she definitely should find some way to take time off (and maybe reconsider whether now is really a good time to have that second baby?). But maybe she could explore whether a leave of absence or sabbatical-type set-up could be doable.

  84. Tessa*

    Hi Letter Writer, I took 15 years off full-time work and have successfully reentered the work force. Some caveats, I had to take a very junior position when I re-entered and I am still not where I would have been had I worked the whole time. Most of my colleagues are 10 – 15 years younger than me, and I’ve had a few managers with much less skill and experience who I reported to because they were on the “promotion” track, while I’m not. That said, I have a good job with a decent income and I’m satisfied with my choice. Some things that helped me were keeping up with my education (I took courses while I was a SAHM and continue to do so now) and kept up some contacts though volunteer work. I have really good technical skills (due to the continuing education) and it helps me been seen in a more positive light when younger colleagues come to me for help and training. If I were to do it all over again, I would have looked for a part-time job just to keep something on my resume. That wasn’t possible for me due to high daycare costs, but it might be a possibility for you. Also, your health matters. Maybe take the time you need to get your health on track, and then start looking for a less demanding job (part-time or full-time) once you’re feeling better. Work isn’t all or nothing – you can find a solution that works for you.

    1. EB*

      There absolutely continues to exist stigma against people “taking time off” for health reasons or to raise children. I’m very glad I did it, though. Through volunteer work, part time work and schooling I was able to move into full time work again with a large gap on my resume. I think it was worth it.

      We had to be very careful financially, as my husband was enlisted military, but I had kids with medical and other needs and was the one handling all their appts and therapies. My husband worked positions up to 12-14 hrs a day, which would have made me the primary parent whether I worked outside or inside the home and responsible for their sick days, etc.

      I also struggle with chronic illnesses and knew my limits…a demanding full time career plus all the housework and childcare would have broken me.

      It is hard being treated as if I was “starting over” in some ways. I have had people tell me I took the easy way out or made a mistake, and I’m sure there’s people who have thrown my resume in the trash because of it. Despite a masters degree and years of experience and achievements, there are a few who patronize me. So you just have to be happy with your decision. Though I wish there was better support for parents that would make the choices easier and less of an either/or, I really don’t regret the time I spent with my kids and I was able to find good jobs when I wanted to work outside the home again.

  85. Cyndi*

    I stopped working due to disability in 1995. I always thought it would be temporary, but it wasn’t. I have a home business which is tiny and more or less breaks even, and I’ve done bits of work here and there, but I’d never be able to support myself due to it. I have a well spouse with a decent middle class income, some family money, and social security. Any progression I might have had access to in my just-beginning career is long gone.

    Do I regret it? No. I grieve for the life I felt I was meant to have, but no, I don’t regret my choices. Continuing to work full time (or even half time) as sick as I was was never an option. Even though I was single without savings when I left the workforce, there was no way I could keep working. I would crash and collapse just going to and from my house to go shopping or something.

    You may not be thinking of your issues as disability, but that’s basically what’s going on, even if you don’t want that label. If you use this framing, it may completely change how you look at this.

    I don’t know if you qualify for SSDI (with your primary job run by someone in Europe, you might not have the Social Security credits you need, even if your medical conditions qualify you), but it’s worth applying. No, you don’t need the money now, but it’s a nest egg for you (and unlike with SSI, there are no limits on the assets you can have, your income from non-work sources, or spousal income) and it’s access to Medicare (which you probably don’t need at all but one day you will).

    I’ve walked a lot of people through this process over the years. My profession was a case manager and my volunteer avocation is pretty close. I’ve seen people come back from it and be able to work full-time. I’ve seen people heal and become functional again. And I’ve seen people decline over time. What I’ve never seen is someone who didn’t benefit from the release of obligations on their body and mind.

    I have a marriage and a child and a life. It’s just not one that earns me money. I have gratitude from people I’ve helped and respect for my life’s work that isn’t a career. Most important of all, I have myself. I’ll always be disabled and I’m okay with that. What I have is the ability to care for myself and do much of what I love, even if I can’t do it all.

    1. GTNG*

      This situation reminds me of my husband’s. He left the workforce a few years ago for health reasons, and I have become the main bread winner. We are lucky to be fine financially, and we don’t have kids.
      It was (and, to some extent, still is) hard for him to accept a life that is so different from what he envisaged, and sometimes it stresses me to think about how important it is that I continue to earn well. However, I am so, so glad that he stopped working. The stress he was under affected me a lot, and it was painful to see him hurt so much all the time. I also absolutely do not think about *me* paying for our cleaner or other things – we are a team, and each of us does what we can.
      All this is to say, OP, don’t underestimate how much your stress and pain affect the rest of the family, and how good it may be for them to have a healthier, happier and more relaxed spouse/mother!

  86. Dante's Disco Inferno*

    I have a couple different perspectives on this. I took 3 years off to care for a child with multiple health issues. Before I quit work, we drew up a legal contract addressing splitting assets, any needed reeducation and spousal support. My mom quit numerous jobs and cashed out retirements to support my dad’s career. When they divorced after 31 years, she was left with very few assets and an out-of-date resume. I would have felt perpetually insecure without that legal agreement. The only thing I would have changed is that I was an immunologist and wish I had done a better job/had time to keep up in my field as my reentry was a bit rough.
    As a hiring manager, I really don’t care much about resume gaps for non-technical positions. For the highly technical ones, e.g. health informatics, I look closely to see if they’ve kept up with the field. A couple times I’ve had an otherwise great candidate where we’ve put in a plan to get current in the field. After all, these folks learned it once-no reason to think they’ll struggle to get back up to speed.

  87. ProductManagerReplacedByAI*

    I’m a hiring manager in tech and I don’t hold these sorts of gaps against people. I may ask questions about how candidates are keeping up with changes in their field. This is one of several categories where I look for hidden gems who other employers might undervalue (career changers and people who didn’t go to college but have still managed to succeed in the corporate world are the others).

    My wife worked in a high school for many years and then decided to take some time off when our kids were little. Her three years off would have ended in 2020, but then we had a pandemic, so she just went back to work this year. She was able to move into the non-profit sector with a part-time job that has the potential to expand. Being the only person with a paying job in the household was a little more stressful for me (especially when I was laid off), but we were able to get through it. Having an at-home spouse did a lot of good things for my career in the interim and I still benefit a good bit from her not having a full-time job to juggle.

  88. Kitry*

    I have hired several veterinarians who took an extended amount of time off (up to several years) for various reasons, mostly child-related. I have noticed a really stark contrast between those who stopped working completely, and those who kept their licenses current, kept up with continuing education requirements, and worked even just 1-2 shifts per month somewhere.

    The veterinarians who stopped working completely usually really struggle to transition back to active practice. They have lost surgical skills, medical knowledge, and generally just have less confidence. They need mentorship and time to get up to speed, similar to a newly graduated vet. Which is fine, we can provide them that mentorship and a gradual ramp-up with support as needed, no problem. But even with a lot of mentorship and support to transition back into practice, the majority of vets that completely stopped working for more than a couple years will leave the field again within a year or two. Of course, there are exceptions. I’m speaking in generalities of what I have observed.

    On the flip side, vets who kept their hand in working even 1 or 2 days (or even half days!) a month tend to transition back into practice very smoothly and successfully, with no real loss in skill or salary. 

    Of course as a veterinarian as long as you keep your license active it’s quite easy to hire yourself out as a relief vet and work as much or as little as you would like- finding one shift per month is no problem. I’m not sure if the equivalent is possible in your industry, maybe some type of freelancing would work?

  89. EA*

    I work in the nonprofit/international dev sector, and I think it’s totally normal to see women who took a year or two off for parental leave. I would not be fazed if a woman told me “I took two years off to spent time with my kids.” (Just don’t mention the nanny for the optics of it)

    Another thought – part-time consulting might SEEM like a mom’s dream, but consulting can be way more demanding, bureaucratic, and frustrating than regular steady employment. Also, there are moms who actually prefer in person to remote work because of how hard it can be to focus at home and other factors (yes, we exist!) I also would not blink if someone said “I’d been consulting for several years and wanted to take some time to transition into a different role.”

    To your current employer, I would ask for a leave of absence of 6 months for health reasons. You can always either return refreshed after 6 months if that’s enough time or eventually resign after 6 months.

  90. BellaStella*

    I took March 2017 to March 2019 off. I was laid off and decided to use my savings to go back to school and get an MSc. It was worth it to me, because I learned a TON, made great friends, and got a job in my field, too. Taking a sabbatical for a year or two to regroup is, IMO, a good idea. I can understand your fear of relying on your husband and using savings, can that be worked out to be less of a concern somehow? Good luck in any case!

  91. Office Skeptic*

    A resource about taking on all the unpaid labor as a woman, and what that can mean for your life and career: Liberating Motherhood, a substack by Zawn Villines. It really changed how I approach my relationship and life.

  92. Bibliophile*

    My experience in this, as a hiring manager, is that for the most part you’d be looking at entry level jobs upon return. Which you may be overlooked for, because you will be seen as overqualified, and someone who can afford not to work, and potentially walk away from a less than ideal job. I fully recognize that this isn’t at all fair, but that is the reality in my experience. To be fair, I’m not speaking about 1-3 years out of the workforce, but more so beyond that.

  93. GooglyMooglies*

    Not me personally but my mother. She worked as an anesthesiologist for nearly ten years before she quit to focus on her 3+1 on the way kids, letting my dad be the breadwinner. Ten years after that, she wanted to return to work. She had to get recertified and everything (I remember her listening to medical lectures on cassette tapes while driving), because her medical license had expired, and then she had to do a “mini-residency” for a year at the hospital. One thing that was positive that came out of it was that, because she was re-accessing all of her old medical school records, she found a recommendation from one of her professors that she had forgotten about – in it he suggested that she would do very well in cardiovascular anesthesiology (she had only done general anesthesiology before). That prompted her to follow that path and she was able to specialize and have a fulfilling 15 year career as a cardiovascular anesthesiologist, when she might not have done so if she hadn’t stepped away for 10 years. It also brought her into the company of several people who she is now very good friends with.

  94. Anon41*

    So I have done both.

    I took time off after a child was born because my spouse was traveling a ton and actually was deployed for a mission overseas (not military but with a multi national organization). But the kicker was I didn’t have main childcare. I think if you’re leaving the workforce all together what are you doing with your day if you have kids under 5? Many people do it who can afford it, but what happens if your husbands business has a bad year or another recession happens? All things to think about.

    I got rid of daily child care but joined a gym that gave me 2 free hours of child care a day and had a trusted babysitter for occasions nights. I also had a cleaner come once a month when my spouse was overseas because it was too hard to do deep cleans on my own. We also did not have family close by to help out. Once they came back we got rid of the cleaner.

    Getting back into the workforce was tough because I also worked in non profit/ UN space and I was a bit out of touch. I lost the lingo and was not up to date with things like I had been before. My fluency was off. I went back PT at first and did consultancies.

    If you’re at the UN being a woman will help you. I have heard (allegedly) top people going around hiring managers and choosing women to be hired over men even if the top candidates (on the written and oral interview) are men. This is alleged of course. If this is who you are currently working for you probably won’t have a problem being hired back…if they still have the funds in 2-3 years time.

    I no longer work on the above space. I have hired people with gaps and it’s fine but I do think there may be questions since not only do you have gaps but the last few years have been spotty. Most people will understand if you explain family reasons but not everyone. I would be worried you would jump ship after a few months, so explain in your cover letter so you actually get an interview. Also keep in contact with your network so if you need them you aren’t just reaching out because you need something. When I went back and had a top job everyone came out of the wood work asking for a role. People who I had to spoken to in years suddenly wanted to be friends!

    Could you change your consultancy and only do maybe a couple a year with the same agency? Could you ask for a few months of unpaid leave?

    I also think it might create issues in your marriage. If you aren’t working and bringing in income and you still have to pay for a FT nanny and cleaners then what are you doing all day? Unless you’re multi millionaires this might create resentment toward your spouse. So you need to communicate with your Spouse maybe in counseling to understand where you both stand.

    They might see you get to workout, watch tv, be outside while they are working FT. They might come home and expect you to do bedtime, make meals, and do extras especially if you have FT nanny during the day. How will that make you feel? From my experience and from friends experience this can be a marriage killer. You need to communicate what both your expectations are.

    Also, if your parents are struggling can you help them financially? Can you use your income to help your parents if you both are so well off? My grandmothers mom struggled but my grandparents paid for my great grandmother’s care until she died. They had the means to do it so they did it. Why let your parents struggle? If they are proud and don’t want to take money from you can your mother or father be your nanny if you take time off and you pay her what you pay your nanny? I personally could never stop working if my mom was struggling financially. I would help her first since she did so much for me as a child (I had a single parent too).

    My husband’s parents were in a real bind financially after 2008 (we weren’t married then) so he sold stocks and cashed stuff out, stayed working at his awful private sector job so they wouldn’t loose their house. They have never paid him back for it but he says that’s what you do for family if you are able.

    The other thing is take some time off but do random consultancies at the same organization so it looks like you worked at the same place long term. Look at reliefweb or ask your current company if you can just do one thing a month or something if that is possible.

    Talk to your spouse and decide what is best for your family. Know if you leave and come back it might take longer to get a new role so keep in touch with your network so if you reach out asking for a role or something it won’t be out of the blue.

    Good luck to you!

  95. Amber*

    I just returned to work after almost a decade due to health problems and child care needs. It was definitely a challenge, computer capabilities have changed so much in that time that I’ve felt like I’m a bit behind the curve and getting back to a work schedule while juggling family stuff has been hard too. I’m also recovering from a neurological problem and I don’t feel as capable as I once was. I didn’t want to go back to what I had been doing (litigation) either, so that was also hard. I found a government job with excellent benefits, wfh and acceptable salary. it’s several steps down from where I was but I feel like I have had my career already and all I wanted was to supplement our income, save for retirement and have decent medical insurance again. So, it is doable depending on your situation. We had sufficient assets for me to be comfortable taking the risk, I also took odd jobs here and there.

  96. Beth*

    I took 5 years off to be a mom. I put my husband through his phd and the plan was since we would have to move for his new job anyway I would then quit and we’d have kids. Ended up being one kid so when she started kinder I went back to work. It was not financially required but we like our bonus vacations and lack of worries. Plus I didn’t want to worry if anything happened to my husband I’d be screwed.

    I was bored a lot and did several projects with my professional org during that time.

    It actually worked out well for me. The break let me consider a position in private industry rather than public service that had much better hours but initially paid much less than the job I left. After four years I’ve closed that gap and am much happier here than I could be in my old role.

  97. Double A*

    Someone mentioned this above, but I think you need to look into legal protections for yourself if you take time off (which I think you should, personally). Like, you cannot think of your husband’s income as his income that you are dependent on; half of that is your income. Period. If he can’t see it that way, then I would be very cautious about taking time off.

    Go to a lawyer or estate planner and look into trusts or other ironclad assets you can put money into that is your money even if you get divorced or your husband dies. Sorry to be grim, but that is the real risk. If you both live long happy lives married to each other the whole time, then everything will be fine. But what you need to protect yourself from is the worst case scenario in your personal life.

    You are bringing enormous value to your family whether you work or not. Make sure you are compensated for it and protected.

    1. Anon for this*

      My thoughts exactly. I have several friends going through this right now: they stayed home for a decade+, had the children, supported their husbands… and now in their forties the husbands are leaving them for younger women! They are mostly religious and thought it would never happen to them.

      Any expense for childcare and cleaning the house is a joint expense. It sounds to me like the LW has disabling conditions, isn’t getting any rest (compounding the effect of disability), and is completely burnt out and going to add another child in on top of it…. LW, your husband must step up. Have an honest conversation–hopefully more than one–with a marriage counselor where you can both lay out what is going on in your marriage and the responsibilities (one who is not religious and completely neutral, re: gender roles). I would bet good money that, even if the roles were completely reversed, your husband would still expect you to do more house and child work than he is now because “you’re better at it than me”

      Do not quit your job OR have another child before you sort out retirement and private savings money for yourself, paying for childcare, and having a real, honest talk with your husband about all of this that does not just default to “You have to do it because I make the money.”

      Trust me, I’ve lived all of this. I am now disabled, partly due to having my children. My husband resented me while they were babies for staying home because the house “sometimes isn’t clean and you have time to do that” or “you didn’t make the dinner I wanted even though you had all day.” I was also working am average of 20 hours a week with no help most of the time. The children get older, but if your spouse does not see your increased need for support, you may end up trapped, miserable, and unable to leave for a very, very long time. I’m an immigrant (not in the US). If I could do it all over, I would have left him the first time he yelled at me when I told him I was making XYZ dollars more than he was, pre-kids, and he completely melted down and yelled at me that it wasn’t fair because he had a higher degree than I have, and he should be making more money.

      Just think about it, LW: how much can you really, truly financially trust your husband? Be honest with yourself, for your sake.

  98. Local Garbage Committee*

    I hire for a technical specialty within a government agency and a few years’ gap would definitely not be disqualifying. The extent of the impact probably depends on how fast moving your specialty is and how crowded the specialist field is. The pace of change in our area is relatively slow but the hiring pool is large, so a gap might make a candidate less competitive. If your field moves fast and you want to return to it, you might want to think about ways to keep your knowledge up to date.
    This is all NOT a reason to not take time off if you need it though. If you totally burn out and tank your reputation (or your willingness to keep working in that field) that could impact your career long term as well.

  99. Texan In Exile*

    I had a mostly involuntary break of seven years after being laid off in 2005. I tried for two years to find a job (this was Before AAM, so I was doing it wrong) and could not. I had met my husband in that time and he made enough money that I also did not need to work.

    But when I did return to paid work, the only job I could get paid less than half of what I had made before. And I had the same level of responsibility. I found two new jobs after that, but with only small raises. I have never again regained that level of income – but I continued to do that kind of work.

  100. Zona the Great*

    I’m 38 and have started over 3 times. Totally back to square one. Once, I quit and eventually worked as a dishwasher and line cook. Loved it. Another time, I left a director position to start over and get an advanced degree. I started in a new career by taking a poorly paid internship. Loved it. I don’t care about money I may have left on the table, missing years of saving for retirement, or losing years of advancement. I only care about being happy and peaceful. What I’ve gained since has been invaluable.

  101. Hats Are Great*

    I took an unplanned decade off to care for a seriously disabled child. I kept my hand in by volunteering and freelancing (just a little bit) in my field — enough to still have contacts and keep my knowledge current, and to be able to show on my resume that I’d been active in my professional community during my time away. I first attempted to rejoin the working world in 2017 and ended up with half-time employment well below my skill level, and wasn’t very happy with how that went, but it was a job. By coincidence I was doing some new trainings in my field when Covid hit. With those freshly on my resume AND the insane hiring bonanza that was Covid, I got hired into a position about one step above where I left years and years ago … so I’m only like 5 or 8 years where I should be professionally.

    I like my work and I’m grateful I got this job, but I also think I definitely lucked out because of Covid.

  102. Feen*

    OMG girl quit already! Sounds like your health cannot afford for you TO work.
    Please be sure to have adequate protections in place: life insurance, updated will, clear outlines regarding what happens to the business etc., just in case…. you never know.

  103. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I took around two years out after the birth of my child, and now manage part-time work alongside general family stuff that includes a child with special needs.

    I took a standard-for-location maternity leave then returned part-time. It was incredibly demanding and I constantly felt like I was failing at both working and parenting – there was no social life left to fail at.

    When I had two, the logistics and childcare costs made paid work neither attractive nor financially worthwhile in the short term. As a family we decided we would take the hit and try for our final baby earlier to get the “at home” part done sooner. So I resigned. The law and tax code here meant I could be “unemployed” without losing eligibility for future support.

    It was odd to lose that part of my identity. When you have a career that interests you and that you are good at, and then you suddenly don’t have that, it can leave a hole. My self-esteem was in the toilet, and my mental health suffered hugely.

    But when I was pregnant with my last baby, I was approached by someone I had previously worked with, and hired for a part-time WFH role doing all the interesting parts of my old job and hardly any of the boring parts. I knew who I was again, and I’ve built back my reputation and contacts. But what’s more, I have the capacity for my child who needs more of my time, and the flexibility for his extra meetings etc.

    My advice to OP would be to take time out now, as a matter of urgency, but put a fixed time limit on it for now.

  104. el l*

    While I can appreciate how vexing this is, as your situation is complex, here’s how I read your situation:

    You’re burned out, owing to the following factors: (a) Side hustle, (b) Chronic health issues, (c) Toddler who can’t sleep easy, (d) Running a household, and only then (e) Day job. And then you’re soon planning to add (f) New Baby to the mix.

    This is urgent and critical. It honestly doesn’t sound like Day Job (e) is either your biggest or most urgent problem. So in the spirit of triage, here’s what I suggest doing:

    1. Wrap up (a), ASAP. Really ASAP. Today. You truly don’t need this.
    2. Next, push hard and do something new for some help for (d) and if possible (c). Full respect to husband’s job, but 90% of household chores isn’t going to cut it. Definitely not when (f) new kid arrives. If you have to pay for help, sounds like you can afford it, or explore family options, but the current chore setup isn’t working.
    3. Wait on (f) new child until you have addressed both 1 and 2. Take a deep breath and see how the stress level feels.
    4. If it’s not all right, cut back or quit your job (e), because at that point you’ve gotta do what’s right for you and you’ve taken out the easy stuff. If it’s all right, go for (f), take your maternity leave, and…see if you want to extend that or go part time. That’s a relatively easy break to explain.

    1. el l*

      Addendum: Look up “night nanny” as a possible option. A lot that can be said about it, not all great, and would have to be done right. But that said could work well here.

  105. Spicy Tuna*

    I wouldn’t step back. There are no guarantees in life and if your husband dies, divorces you, loses his job/business and you have a hard time getting work again, what are you going to do? It’s even beyond the money… a woman I worked with retired two+ years ago and then her husband died. She’s BORED!!! But as an older person out of the work force for 2 years, she’s getting nowhere finding work.

    Give up the side gigs and use your money to make life easier for yourself. Hire a night nanny to get up with your child during the night so you can get a full night of sleep. Take more vacations / staycations / time off.

    You absolutely cannot rely on anyone else in life other than yourself, so don’t make life even harder on yourself by taking yourself out of the workforce.

  106. Anon for this*

    Two thoughts here— one as a hiring manager and one as a parent who had to navigate decisions about health and job quitting.

    From the hiring manager perspective: in my field, things are INCREDIBLY competitive right now. Remote jobs are hard to come by, and even people with perfect work experience are having a hard time. Consulting is drying up, no one wants to spend money. I wouldn’t necessarily worry about a 2 year resume gap BUT if there were plenty of very qualified people without the gap, I’d consider them first, unless the resume gap person really hustled to stay relevant while they weren’t working (which defeats the purpose of relaxing time off).

    On the other side of things— a cautionary tale. my husband and I both worked well paying jobs, making the same amount of money. I came into a windfall (thanks startup equity!) and we had significant savings. My husband had a life threatening illness (thankfully mostly fine and stable now!) and hated his job. We both struggled with full time work and parenting during covid. We decided one of us should quit and stay at home. I liked my job, so I worked, and my husband quit. We have a really high energy kid so we paid for daycare/ afterschool even though my husband was “stay at home”. He cleans, handles laundry, does the kid doctor visits, takes care of the house, etc. and we have more time together on the weekends. It’s great. BUT:

    I resent him a bit.

    I love him and we agreed on this together. It’s still the best choice. But he sits around playing video games 6 hours a day while I work really hard. (He also does all the other great stuff I mentioned that I benefit from).

    Every day I have to remind myself that this is good for him and good for the family. But it’s hard not to resent his extra free time! I have the additional stress of being the only one financially providing for the family AND I have a lot less leisure time than he does.

    If you’re not working AND not caring for the kid full time AND your husband is nervous about being the sole earner, IT WILL BE HARD ON YOUR MARRIAGE. Make sure you talk about it over and over and make sure he is supportive of you resting and taking time to yourself.

    It could be the best thing for you and your family like it is for my family. But please make sure you talk it through thoroughly first— if your partner isn’t fully on board then expect issues.

    1. Also Anon for This*

      I want to second this. We agreed that my spouse would stay home, and we did end up using daycare as well for a couple years for each kid, and by time our youngest started school Spouse’s qualifications in their field were out of date and Spouse wasn’t interested in going back to that career, so they’ve remained a SAHP.

      And it took (still takes, honestly) active work on my part to not resent them for having that free time alone at home. I crave time to relax alone and uninterrupted at home, and I get maybe a few hours every couple of years; even after finishing the laundry and meal tasks, spouse gets 3-4 hours of that alone time a day before having to get the kids.

      I have to remind myself that I like my job, and I’m happier working than not, and I’m glad I’m not the SAHP, and it’s really great to come home from work to find dinner will be ready as soon as I’ve put away my computer and changed clothes. But yeah, spouse also gets a lot of downtime that I don’t, and that’s been hard on our marriage. And it can be scary having my already modest income be our only income source.

    2. The Real Fran Fine*

      From the hiring manager perspective: in my field, things are INCREDIBLY competitive right now. Remote jobs are hard to come by, and even people with perfect work experience are having a hard time.

      This is very true and is why I haven’t completely thrown in the towel and just up and rage quit my own job right now. I’ve been job searching since February, and it’s been crickets – and I have incredible achievements, a really good resume, good cover letters, and awesome references. It’s demoralizing, frustrating, terrifying (I’m not sure how much longer I can stay where I am..) – that’s why I strongly advocate taking leave instead of just quitting (if that’s an option) to give yourself time. Time to put together a real plan, time to job hunt (which may take a long while), time to really see what else can be done to alleviate or totally eliminate your main stressors (if anything).

  107. RagingADHD*

    I took 5 years off when my kids were little, then 8 years freelancing. I made a career switch into a tangentially related line of work and after a couple of short stints getting the right credits on my resume, I am now in the best job I’ve ever had. It would probably have been a dream job if I knew it existed before they headhunted me. I frequently want to pinch myself to make sure it’s real.

    I also have chronic conditions and the toll of freelance work (irregular hours, constant mental load) was one of my motivations for going back into corporate life.

    The questions you have to ask yourself are not, “how badly would I be shooting myself in the foot in terms of my career if I take two to three more years off,” but “how badly will I shoot myself in the foot if my work quality continues to unravel” and “how much harder will it be to rebuild a career after prolonged hospitalization or permanent disability?”

    You are setting yourself up right now to burn up all your goodwill and crash really, really hard. Take the off ramp while you still have a good one. It kind of sounds like you are so tired and stressed right now that you have tunnel vision and can only see 2 options: more of the same thing you’re doing, or the terrifying unknown. I promise you, when you get some mental space and clarity you will see many other possibilities, and you might want different things. As long as you have your health and are willing to be flexible, you will do just fine when you’re ready to start working again.

  108. Whomst*

    I see a lot of those “you can’t rely on your marriage partner because they might divorce you/die/make stupid life choices as they age” horror stories, and to a point I agree. (My beloved great-grandma always said “A man is NOT a plan”.) But that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your health and your relationships with your family now just because something *might* happen in the future. I like to weigh the what-would-happen-if-my-spouse-got-hit-by-a-bus question against the likelihood of that happening and what I’m sacrificing if I keep trying to work in my current situation. If I were in your situation, I’d definitely take at least a few months off as a trial run, maybe take those 2-3 years, maybe even longer.

    As for how difficult it is to get back into your career after a break, it very much depends on the career. My experience is with tech, and if you can demonstrate good technical skills during the interview, I don’t think 2-3 years would hamper you much. But trying to keep your technical skills sharp in that 2-3 years would be difficult without some sort of external motivation like a contract position or part-time job.

    1. HannahS*

      Yeah, I agree. What is marriage for, if not to support each other in times of need? She’s not talking about being a trad wife. She’s talking about not working for 2 years. If her husband died, she’d get his life insurance (if he has it) retirement savings, etc. If he left, she’d probably be entitled to child support and alimony, and then she’d have to work. None of that precludes taking time off work to get healthy, have an easier pregnancy and a proper mat leave.

      1. Double A*

        Also, just because there are things that could go wrong doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for them. Get life insurance. Make sure you meet with a lawyer and estate planner. Maybe even write up a pre-nup (I don’t know what they’re called when you’re already married, but you can do them I’m pretty sure). I think it’s very important to think about worst case scenarios and then do the things you can to protect yourself if they happen. The answer to “your husband could die” is not necessarily “so never stop working,” it’s “increase his life insurance.”

  109. drawer full of t-shirts*

    I’ve taken time off at several points in my career – to travel the world, to do childrearing, and finally due to layoff (20’s, 30’s, 50’s respectively). It gets harder and harder to find work the older I get. In my 30’s I worked extremely part-time for a couple of years, then that contract ended. It took me two years to find a decent job, once I started looking, and it was a “right place/right time” lucky scenario. My husband took 3 or 4 years off a few years ago (due to burnout). He was able to find work relatively quickly because he is in a high-demand field, and got a job through a contact.

    So, no one can exactly tell your future, but ask yourself this: do you have a unicorn job? If your job dissolved right now, how hard would it be for you to find other work (not necessarily at your same level)? Taking time off is both not unusual and harder to find work afterwards.

  110. I'm just here for the cats!*

    Do you think you have to take so long off? COuld you just do a year and then see what happens. Also are there ways to stay connected in your field even if you are not actively working. Are there conferences or workshops you can attend throughout the year? Networking events?

    I’m wondering if part of the problem might be the place you are working for and the politics that go on there.

    Have you talked with your boss about your issues. If she’s as supportive as you say she is would she back you in taking an extended leave of absence, Like 6 months?

  111. KitCaliKat*

    Two thoughts:

    1.) Leave your job. It sounds like it’s sucking the life out of you and there’s no reason to stay in a situation like that if you can afford to go.

    2.) I had no trouble finding a job after being a stay-at-home mom for several years, but that’s because I was very targeted in my job search. While being at home with my kids, I ended up spending a lot of time (we’re talking 20 to 25 hours a week) fundraising for my kids’ school and running the PTA. I also was very involved in parcel tax and bond measure campaigns, which meant I knew a ton of people in my community. When I was ready to go back to work, I specifically looked for fundraising jobs at schools, and all the skills and connections I’d built while a stay-at-home mom are what made me very attractive to employers. In the last five years, I’ve gone from a back-office fundraising role to executive director of an education nonprofit. None of this is even remotely what I went to graduate school for, but I like the work, the pay is decent, and things are laid back enough that I can support my kid with ADHD when he has difficulties at school.

  112. kristinyc*

    Sounds like the tiem off would be good for you and your family. With burnout – if you don’t take the time yourself, your body will pick a time for you to take it off.

    In terms of career impact – there are a few organizations that specialize in helping people get back into the workforce after taking time off to care for others. Check out Path Forward and The Mom Project.

  113. Tasha*

    20 years ago I took three years off, then worked part time at a job outside my industry for seven. When I returned to FT in my previous industry, I didn’t have to much trouble getting hired even though I was then in my 40s. I started at about the level I’d left, at about the same salary (no inflation adjustment). I think it helped that I finished my MBA during the down time. Really no one that I interviewed with cared much at all about the gap (that may not be true for people who read my resume and didn’t offer me an interview).

    Life is tradeoffs. I’d probably be farther ahead in my career now, on the cusp of retirement, had I worked continuously. OTOH, I’m not super ambitious and I have no regrets.

  114. From the other side*

    I was in the same position as you a year ago and I’d flirted with quitting so many times, each time putting it off because I felt like I had a unicorn position – part-time, well-paid, loads of flexibility, supportive boss, interesting work.
    There aren’t many part-time career-type jobs, and consulting is hard to get off the ground, not least when you don’t really have to do it financially. However, I’m a year into what I’m calling a mini-retirement now, and I’m so glad I did it. I was so burned out post-pandemic. Also, looking back so many things flared up once I’d quit that would have been a nightmare to manage while I was working. However, I will also say that your responsibilities and expectations expand to fill the time available so I’m struggling to find time to devote to getting consulting work or contracts. Everyone (including me) expects you to put more time in with your kids, your elderly parents, your home and other commitments. Also, my husband is taking advantage of my freedom from work to add to his leisure time and activities (which is fine! He deserves it, and we’re both much happier). Bottom line, I’m glad I did it but getting back into work is harder than I thought, and requires just as much of a mindset shift as quitting did.

  115. the cat ears*

    I took 8 months away from working in my field to focus on my health and it was possibly the best decision I’ve ever made.

    I realize that’s a very different scenario than what you’re in. But I think it was good in my case because I had a specific goal – I was experiencing debilitating health problems, had already lost one job because of them, and knew it was likely to happen again if I didn’t get to the bottom of them. It was basically my “job” to go to doctor’s appointments, cook healthy meals, exercise, and generally take care of myself.

    You sound miserable enough that I think you should quit, but do so with some goals in mind and think about the concrete actions you would have to do to achieve them. I don’t think those goals should necessarily be “find another job”, though no reason you can’t apply to things you find interesting; rather it could be something like, every week I will spend 2 hours researching careers I could transition to, go to a therapy appointment, reach out to 1 professional contact about getting coffee and catching up, go to one networking event. Or something – the exact numbers should be adjusted to your scenario. If you have any health or personal issues you feel you’ve been neglecting, schedule some time to work on those.

    If you can work on a portfolio or something that would help with future applications, that would be a good way to spend your time so you’re making some progress but also not subject to the demoralizing experience of waiting for others’ approval (whether through job applications or asking to network or whatever else). Set concrete goals for your own actions, regardless of outcome.

  116. Dorothea Vincy*

    I say this as someone whose career was affected by a resume gap due to illness, rather than childcare or burnout, but who watched friends and family members take time off from the workforce because they had two or more young children: are you sure that you want to have a second child right now? It sounds like even if you quit your job, a lot of the other things, like broken sleep and the housework that you would now need to do because you wouldn’t have the nanny or cleaner, would still be a problem, and the high-risk pregnancy would worsen it. Please forgive me if this sounds presumptuous or like I’m making decisions about your life, but it was multiple young children in a very short time when they were SAHM’s that utterly destroyed a couple of my friends’ mental health and made it far more difficult for them to get back into the workforce than just a gap of five or six years of caring for children by itself. It sounds like it might be worthwhile for you to take time off from your job or quit, but also at least wait a few months before going back into the pregnancy and caring for an infant part, while also caring for your toddler.

    I hope that whatever decisions you make will have you feeling better.

    1. Managing While Female*

      I think this is actually a super legitimate question to ask. I know I was pretty sure I was going to have a second kid, and had even started trying; however, I was COMPLETELY STRESSED ABOUT IT like the entire time. When my husband and I sat down and talked about it, we came to the realization that we didn’t actually WANT another child. We had just been sold the idea of ‘this is what you do.’ We were following a script. When we actually took a step back to question what it was WE really wanted, we were able to take a different path and it was SO liberating.

      OP could have a completely different experience, but it’s definitely worth examining.

      1. Dorothea Vincy*

        Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ve known so many people who followed the script with regards to children or career despite not really wanting to and ended up regretting it. It’s important to remember we can often break free.

        Yeah, maybe there are reasons like OP really wants a second child and is on the upper age limit of having a safe pregnancy, but it seems like quitting the job wouldn’t actually lessen the stress that much if they also have a second child. That child may also lead to years of broken sleep even if past the infant stage if he or she is like the toddler, and increase the stress of chores related to a new baby and kill any benefits of quitting the job.

        Only the OP can make the decision, but it’s at least worth thinking about, since the original post didn’t include any mention of why they wanted to start trying for a second child soon instead of waiting a bit.

  117. The Pyrex Queen*

    It seems like a lot of commenters are taking her question as “should I quit my job forever” with their financial ruin related responses. I disagree with that assessment, absolutely, if you are physically and mentally burned out, you should have a break, and that should be okay. Do it on your own terms, before your body decides to do it for you.
    Before I had kids I was getting burned out at work and decided to quit my job for a career change (building inspector to professional organizer). This was after 5 years of trying to get pregnant with no luck. I stayed on for 9 months with a consultant contract to finish up my outstanding work (I ended up getting pregnant after I resigned). I didn’t go back to full time work for 7 years (had 2 more kids), and was super worried about re-entering the workforce after my husband was laid off when our youngest was 1 and was not able to find a job for awhile. One thing that helped me be “employable with a gap”, was that I had kept somewhat of a connection to my prior company over the years, ghostwriting reports, preparing training materials and doing technical reviews. Nonetheless, I did feel like I was behind when I started working again, because they would only acknowledge 1 of my 7 years at home as actual work, in the years of experience they added to my work profile. This part has been the most demoralizing, so I often refer to the date that I started working in buildings when talking about my years of experience since I didn’t really lose knowledge when I was at home, I just wasn’t using it full time.
    Long story short – if you want to take an extended break, try to keep involved in your industry to a small degree, if possible, to stay relevant and up to date.
    Aside – my husband has now been the stay at home parent for the last 8.5 years, and he is also super concerned about being qualified to find a job in his old career, because the technology used in his industry has shift away from his training and experience.
    I don’t know if that helps, but perhaps it will help with envisioning a new routine/schedule. Honestly, for us, if both of us were working full time, our kids would not be involved in any extracurriculars at school and we would be struggling to manage the household stuff even more than we do now. Good luck finding some balance!!

  118. Eucerin*

    I’d maybe hold off on that second kid at least? Emotionally and physically, it seems like that isn’t a good idea for you right now.

  119. Library Lady*

    I don’t have an answer to this, but I do have perspective as someone whose spouse is in a similar situation, and what that has looked like for us after 5.5 years. (However, we do not have any children.) Anyway, my husband quit his low-paying entry level office job after a few years of employment because the strain on his mental and physical health wasn’t worth the tiny salary he was bringing in. He wanted a break from work in general, so he didn’t have anything lined up when he quit. We were also in an enormously privileged situation, as I had received a large inheritance from my grandparents which paid out quarterly dividends that kept us afloat. If we hadn’t had that, my husband wouldn’t have been able to quit without anything lined up, as my full time job does not pay well. This was about a year before COVID happened, which threw all of our plans off kilter, and in the years since, my husband has been diagnosed with OCD and autism (on top of his already diagnosed depression & anxiety), all of which explain a lot about why he found certain elements of his previous job intolerable. However, he hasn’t gotten any closer to finding some sort of employment in the last 5.5 years, and we’re at a point now where I’ve told him that I can’t keep shouldering all of the economic burden of our family by myself, and if we want to buy a house or start a family, we need to figure out a plan. We are both in individual therapy, and we just started attending couple’s therapy for this reason.

    If you go the route of leaving your job for mental or physical health reasons without having a backup plan in place, I would recommend a couple things: 1) Make sure you’re prioritizing your health and recovery as much as possible. I don’t mean you should push yourself unnecessarily to “get better” on an accelerated time frame, or not allow yourself to rest when you need it – I just mean make sure to schedule appointments with your doctor/therapist as appropriate, and see if you can create some sort of a health guide or plan to keep you on track. Without any kind of a schedule or plan, my husband has had a hard time staying on top of medical or therapy appointments, as well as pulling himself out of his “inertia rut,” which has made things stressful for both of us. 2) Make sure you and your husband communicate honestly and clearly about what your family’s needs are, and what each of your individual needs are. My husband and I love each other very much, but we were afraid to communicate honestly for a long time in the fear that we’d be triggering each other’s mental health issues by doing so, which did not do us any favors. We’re working on that now in therapy, but I think we would have saved ourselves a lot of stress if we had prioritized that early on.

    (On a preemptive note, I ask the commenters to please refrain from passing judgment on my husband’s mental health or our marriage – I’ve heard a lot of comments about how he’s lazy, or I shouldn’t be married to someone who won’t pull their weight. Neither of these statements are true, my husband is a wonderful, loving person, and we’re committed to figuring out a solution that works for us. These are just challenges we’ve had that are relevant to the OP’s situation that I wanted to share.)

  120. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

    I’m a hiring manager but in the public sector so perhaps not the target audience, but still offering my perspective for others in the comments who may be struggling with the same dilemma with less privilege.

    We get a lot of applicants who are re-entering the workforce and that’s usually not an issue at all for entry or mid-level positions. For entry-level positions we’re typically looking more for interest in civic service and a desire to learn & grow than experience, so it doesn’t even matter.

    For mid-level, as long as the pre-gap experience is relevant and strong and that particular role isn’t in an area that’s seen a lot of change during the gap (ie cybersecurity), the gap will not keep you from moving to the interview stage. In the interview, we treat it like any other situation where the job we’re offering will require the candidate to make a big lifestyle transition. From my perspective, a large gap is the same as going from manual labor to office work or no travel to lots of travel or night shift to 9-5. You’re going to have support needs and we both need to be sure you’re thinking about them and that the support we can offer aligns with them.

    Our senior level positions are almost exclusively going to be doing a lot of interfacing with the public, and re-entry candidates are usually a lot less successful applying for those. That relationship between the gov’t and the public, particularly at our local level, has changed really drastically in the last decade so candidates who haven’t been in public service recently, whether because they’ve been out of the workforce or in the private sector, have to have something really promising on their resume (typically activist/volunteer work or strong connections to/influence in the local community) to be moved to an interview. And the interview really needs to knock socks off and will probably probe pretty deep on how you plan to overcome the challenges of re-entry while selling both your team and the public on your leadership.

    This comment is already too long but hope this is useful info for someone.

  121. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    The hardest part in this equation often comes down to reconciling what is best for you and accepting a potential change in pay.

    I stepped out of a reasonably good paying high stress job and stayed out longer than I really wanted to because I realized I did NOT want to return to the high stress job, but everything else paid so so so very much less that it seemed ridiculous.

    I did eventually settle into a job that pays about 1/3 of what I used to make and I am so much better off for it. But it was mentally hard to “value” myself that much less and probably delayed my return by several years.

    It sounds like you need to figure out your physical and mental health and what works for you. Being unmoored can make depression worse.

  122. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

    I’ve only hired for earlier-career roles, so there haven’t been too many people with bigger gaps – but I agree that I would give any 2020-2022 job turmoil a pretty easy pass, and for me (in Canada), parenting isn’t an important gap in my mind.

    I took 16 months off in my early 30s (travel/mental health/career change/I could), and at the end, I chose to aim my job search lower than I naturally would have. When I finally started applying regularly, I got a role fairly easily, that came with 2 promotions in the 7 months I was there, and which kicked me off into a job of the ‘right’ level for me (and a few more promotions). I volunteered a bunch in my community, did a bunch of art and adventure, helped my friends with all sorts of things. It was so needed, and so good.

    I do think LW needs to talk to her husband about the financial worries, both the part about not having enough in the long term, and the idea of his money versus her money. I think both of these things sound like anxiety assumptions more than real life risks, and some serious conversations with a financial advisor, lawyer if needed, and maybe a financial therapist could help you create plans that make taking this time away feel safer. To be clear I’m not saying that all couples need to merge finances, but there are legalities to protect primary parents for a reason. Paying childcare out of LW’s savings seems very unfair, if he’s making 5x, he needs to be open to a discussion about paying for care for *his children*, especially if LW is unwell and likely having a second high risk pregnancy.

  123. NotHannah*

    Background: we lost my dad, the wage earner, when I was 8 years old and had 5 younger siblings. Mom got us by with food stamps and under-the-table waitressing, in addition to Social Security. As a result, I have always worked and supported myself and have sometimes supported my entire family (went back to work 2 weeks after my second child was born, since my husband had lost his job. He cared for the kids. )
    As a working mom: I worked part-time in my chosen field (journalism) when my kids were young, then back to full-time.
    Taking years off: When I was in my mid-50’s I left my director-level position in fundraising to pursue a MFA in creative writing, full-time, for three years. I did some contract work for a few nonprofits, including my previous employer, and I did some teaching because of my academic program, but essentially I took a three-year break from my career. My husband has his own business with ups and downs in income, but generally makes about twice what I do. Both kids were grown and independent at that time. It was a tough conversation. Luckily my grad program offered excellent family health insurance.
    Once I graduated, I went back to seeking a role in fundraising. It seemed slow at first. Due to my age? My taking three years off? But after several months I found myself being courted by two different nonprofits. I’ve been extremely successful in my current role. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that I felt it challenging to get another job after taking time away.
    For the LW, I will echo much of the good advice already given; it sounds like a health issue that needs to be addressed, with career coming in at a lower priority for now. If you take time off it’s good to keep your skills sharp with consulting, part-time work, volunteering, etc. I don’t think two to three years is a career-killer. Communicate with your spouse! Best of luck.

  124. History Nerd*

    I took time off from my career but not from working in general so my experience may not apply.

    With that said, parenting was a part of my decision. When I graduated with a degree in my field, there were few to no openings in my field. The few that existed would not be compatible with becoming a mom, which I wanted to do. So I found a position in another field that had some similar tasks, had my baby, and was able to remain involved in my field through friends from grad school, side work for my professors and other professionals, and occasional volunteering. I went to a couple of conferences specifically as a volunteer, which helped my field and also allowed me to pick up on all of the gossip and scientific advances during down-times. Eventually, the job prospects improved and a friend from grad school that I’d kept in touch with was able to help me find my way back into the field, into the position I have now. I was able to frame my previous, out-of-field work as relating to this one in my resume and interview through the guidance of the book What Color Is Your Parachute.

    All that said, I can imagine you feeling like everything I was able to do is too much for you right now. I offer it with the idea that maybe you can use some of these techniques in your own life to keep in touch with your career or to find your way back to it later when you have more capacity for it. It sounds like you desperately need some kind of break and are in a good position to take one. However, you could also talk to your boss about the issues you’re having and see if there’s a way to have fewer responsibilities to try to help you recover from the burnout or at least reduce your hours. Good luck and take care of yourself.

  125. KeinName*

    I‘m not the target group asked for but I have chronic illnesses. If you asked me ‚should I get better sleep and have more time for rest and self-care‘ I would say YES. I’m struggling to phrase this as strongly as I need it to be – you absolutely need to sleep and rest, because you might get even more sick than you already are. And then you’ll have an even harder time managing your career or enjoying your family life with the family you are creating.
    It’s okay to be not healthy and well all the time, but we don’t have to make it worse for ourselves if we can avoid it.

  126. Ready Player One*

    I stopped my career as a full-time litigation attorney for almost ten years to be the primary stay-at-home parent. I was unhappy and unfulfilled in my career at that point, we could afford it, and it made sense for our family at the time. I threw myself into being a parent (PTA, home-cooked meals, volunteering, etc) and did some part-time real estate. Two years ago I decided to resume my law career. I was incredibly nervous that no one would want a middle aged guy who hadn’t practiced for 10 years. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was still in demand for mid-level positions. Depending on your profession, experience and maturity are valuable enough assets to overcome a career break, especially if you’re not requiring a top dollar salary.

  127. cyllan*

    I am a hiring manager in a technical field who has hired people with resumes gaps of up to 7 years.

    Most people who I hire with large gaps wind up with fairly substantial slowdowns to their career progression. Some get hired at lower grades than they were at previously; some come in at the same grade, but clearly could have moved up had they focused on work instead of whatever caused them to put their work career to the side. All have been extremely successful and their advancement profiles are generally faster than I typically expect for time-in-role.

    The ones who had the easiest transition have kept some light contact with the industry even while they’ve stepped aside. We’re talking ‘read a few blog posts a quarter’, ‘talked to a friend in the industry once or twice a year’, or ‘took a online class every so often’ levels of engagement.

    There are absolutely hiring managers who will look at a 2-7 year gap and put your resume aside. But there are others who will be happy to have someone with outdated experience but a solid understanding of How Things Work. The more rapidly your technical field changes, the more you will see of the former than the latter, and the more I would recommend trying to stay reasonably current. But it’s not impossible to come back from these kinds of gaps if you get to a point where that’s a goal.

    1. cyllan*

      Also? Assuming you have a good relationship with your manager, you can try speaking with them about sabbaticals, unpaid leave, or other options that give you a better vector for returning to the workforce after a time. Typically these are for shorter “away” times — 6 months to 2 years — but many companies have policies around these leave options that you can take advantage of.

  128. Lobbyist*

    I would be afraid to leave work entirely, because in my field of politics there isn’t a lot of understanding about women who are able to leave work force; they arent taken seriously when they return.

    I was a working mom with an unhelpful husband when my kids were younger and what I did was outsource the household work that I could. I had a nanny and a housecleaner and I saved my time for work and kids sports stuff and evenings. I tried to save my time to hang out with kids and take them places and NOT do work like laundry, cleaning, and cooking (although I did still do a lot of cooking). It may not have been ideal but now that my kids are grown I am grateful I kept my career as I really do love it. However, if you are not getting personal fulfillment from your career, you might end up making a different choice

    I wonder if you can stop the side hustle and up the household help so that you have sufficient time to
    1) do you job
    2) take care of yourself — workout time, personal time, maybe even nap time
    Then you can continue to prioritize your family/ kids but save time by not doing laundry, dinners, other stuff that doesnt matter.

    That said if your work isnt important to your sense of self and happiness and you don’t need the money, then it might be easier to quit. I’d set up a post nup and or life insurance though to make sure you are financially protected in the event of divorce or death.

  129. Matth3w2*

    This isn’t a “career gap” exactly but it may be relevant.

    I felt burned out by my career in an industry I really love and want to commit myself to. So, I took a job in a completely different industry just to shake things up and take a break. I have been trying for five years now to get back to the first industry, and nobody wants to hire me. It has been extremely frustrating. All through my 20s and 30s I was on a path to doing what I really want to do, and the moment I took a step off that path it feels like I am not allowed to get back on it again.

    I think you need to know how your specific industry or sub-industry treats issues like this, because I have definitely noticed broad differences.

  130. Artemesia*

    My former husband took 3 mos off with the promise of his job back as long as conditions then allowed; they didn’t. I think they wanted to fire him and this made it easy. He is an attorney.

    My oldest friends husband took a year’s leave late in his career; he was very successful as a manager in the international shipping business (literally, ships at sea). They expected to be able to take him back but business situation changed and he could not get his job back.

    My son took 6 mos off as a software developer; he had no trouble landing a new good job after that but it was a very hot market and he was very skilled.

  131. Green Tea*

    I’m a working mother to a 10 month old baby, and we could have definitely afforded for me to stay at home – I chose not to. One reason for this is, I don’t think it would actually be less work, it would just be shifting paid work to unpaid domestic labor. If you quitting your job means no nanny and house cleaner, that might also be something to consider. As others have noted, your spouse could lose his job/business, or pass away, or want to divorce you unexpectedly, and all of those factors are outside of your control. That is a big financial risk, and definitely one I wasn’t comfortable taking.

    There are also all of the hidden costs of leaving the workforce, like a loss of retirement savings and the compound interest that would have accrued on that amount, and the cost of lost raises over time. The Center for American Progress has a calculator I’ll link in a comment that allows you to calculate the true cost of leaving the workforce based on your salary, age, retirement contributions, and the amount of time you plan to take off. For me, a 5 year break at my age with those costs compounded over the rest of my career would cost me an estimated $1.1 million.

    If you have the option of taking a six month leave of absence or some other kind of short-term break instead of leaving your job altogether, that would be much safer for your long-term financial health. At the end of the break, after you’ve spent 6 months doing all of the childcare and housework, you might even find you want to go back to paid work just to get a break from the unpaid work.

  132. The Other Evil HR Lady*

    Only to add that I stayed at home and conceived, only to have to return to work at 5 months because hubby lost his job. No FMLA. No significant savings. And a 4-year-old who needed daycare. I was getting paid per week what day care would cost, so hubby had to stay home and watch our kid while I was able to go back to work at my old job. It took 6 months for hubby to find work, and we still ended up declaring bankruptcy. It was so bad, that the judge allowed us to declare Chapter 7 (when they were almost exclusively allowing Chapter 13 – the one you pay back).

    My best friend was a SAHM with 3 kids under 10 years old, the youngest was not even 6 months old. Her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at 36. She was extremely lucky that her old job took her back doing remote work, which was almost unheard of back in 2011-ish, and it was a customer service job – therefore not enough to pay for the bills they had acquired with her husband’s better salary. She defaulted on her mortgage, but was able to work a deal with the bank. It sucked for a long time.

    OP: I’m not trying to detract you from taking time off. You are tired from a variety of things all ganging up on you! I’ve been there too and I get it. My advice would be to work doing something really non-stressful (for you). Can you consult for a different company? Obviously, the one you’re with now is trash. Or, can you take one year off only? It also really depends on your technical skills: is this marketing or IT, where you have to be on top of all the latest and greatest? Or is this writing? Good luck!

  133. Bruce*

    As a guy I can’t claim to really know where you are coming from, but it sounds to me like you NEED to take a break. My late wife worked in a demanding job for 15 years then stepped back when we had our first baby. She had saved a lot for retirement and I funded our lifestyle after that, including baby-sitters and some household help so she had time to do some things for herself… when we discussed if she would go back to working later it was clear she would have to find something new, there was not a path back into her old job. If she had lived longer she might have found something, but bad luck intervened… Anyhow where I’m going with this is that you sound DONE. Consider taking your break… then when you are ready you may be able to re-engage with your old career, or you may find something new, either work or an avocation that excites you. But please take care of yourself!

  134. amanda134*

    “I have gotten to sleep through the night only a handful of times since our toddler was born ”

    Um…that might be your problem! Sleep deprivation is costing you IQ points as well as likely worsening the depression. I’d try to address this problem before making any big decisions. You cannot think clearly without adequate sleep. Can your child’s other parent handle more nighttimes while you sleep in a hotel for a week? Or night nanny?

    Sleep deprivation is a really serious problem, and since you have plenty of money you should absolutely address this with money. Everything will seem clearer once you are rested.

  135. Festively Dressed Earl*

    I’m in the middle of a similar situation myself and really wish I knew how to get back on the horse. When I finished law school, I was in a really dark mental place, and my husband and I agreed that I should take a break to get myself on solid ground before tackling the bar exam. The break was absolutely necessary, but ever since then it’s been one step forward, one step back. I passed the bar easily but ran into a C&F problem caused by a false police report, and that set me back mentally. While I was tackling that, COVID hit. I started work at a state agency but had to quit because of a major health issue. Oh, and I’ve had to take care of 3 different elderly relatives at different times over the last 5 years. Right now I’m volunteering hoping to get some work experience under my belt. I recognize that I needed the time off, but I really wish I knew how to turn this around.

  136. An Australian In London*

    TL;DR – As a hiring manager, I don’t care about gaps in work history when they are irrelevant to competencies or character. Judged on a case by case basis.

    Prison time: could be relevant to character. Not an automatic “do not hire”. I want to hear more.

    Health, family, study, burnout, travel: these are not relevant to character. May be relevant to competencies if in a very fast moving field.

    Even a 12-month gap if I’m hiring in a bleeding edge field like LLM generative AI is probably relevant to competencies as the field is moving so fast. I’d likely feel the same about tax law, which changes faster than most other areas of law combined.

    A five-year gap if I’m hiring for, say, a C++ or Python software developer? Almost certainly not relevant to competencies.

  137. Quinalla*

    I considered briefly staying home for longer than standard maternity leave with my kids, but rejected it for many reasons – the two biggest were financial security for me and how it would hurt/derail my career to be out for that long. I have interviewed women who did it in our field and they were out of touch with the work. I know many women who took a break intending to come back, some didn’t try, but those that did only one actually made it back and her career was significantly setback. Since COVID and all the layoffs because of it and other recent layoffs, there is more leeway on having gaps, but still not leeway for really long gaps – I would say much more than a year is still seen as a potential negative.

    If you have a plan for staying on top of your industry while you are out, you can do better than others who don’t. If you have strong contacts, that can help.

    I do think you sound super burned out. Getting rid of your side gig will help. Can you cut back your hours at your primary gig, even if just temporarily, to be 20 or less every week? Can you outsource more household stuff? I know you husband is busy with work, but can he help – maybe by hiring someone to delegate to? This isn’t like a oh just take a week or two off and you’ll be better, this sounds like serious burnout!

  138. Somewhere in Texas*

    Is there any weight in your field of work to step back, but remain engaged as a “thought leader” who posts semi-regularly on LinkedIn/a personal website (like once a month or so) OR to attend conferences related to the industry to stay current?

    Above all, take your personal health and well-being into account. Just look at which guardrails may benefit you in the long run.

  139. Student*

    My wife has taken two different sets of time away from work. Once for a year, once for about 2 years. Both times, it was because she was very burnt out.

    She got work very quickly later when she wanted to, at jobs that were reasonably comparable or solid steps up from her prior work each time.

    She is in IT, which helps because demand is always very high in her field. It also helped that she’s good at networking and has always made a pretty good impression on her colleagues, and didn’t burn any bridges on her way out the door either time.

    I think it comes down largely to demand in your field. I think it also helps if you can do some hobby-level work that is related to your field to show you’re staying in touch – if not immediately, then maybe starting ~1 year into your break. Keeping up with industry publications/articles/sites, hitting a relevant conference once in a while, any adjacent volunteer work could all be options. I think this is probably easier for IT folks like my wife than some other fields – I’m in a science field, and I’d be hard-pressed to volunteer or do hobby projects for anything related to my work if I took time off, but I could probably attend an occasional relevant conference.

  140. Matt S*

    I’m basically the husband in your scenario. I make 5x my wife’s salary, her job is stressful (RN), and we have kids.

    My wife went from full time to per diem, meaning she works when they call and ask her to come in, and she decides whether she will or won’t. Our kids still go to daycare. I work full time. The freedom to work because she “wants” to is liberating, and she plans to go back to full time when the kids are in school and we’ve built up a nest egg so I can go part time, or contracting.

    She still remains current with her industry and certifications, but she doesn’t have the stress since she can take off weeks at a time if desired. Hopefully this kind of setup can work for you.

  141. Dris*

    I was hit with major burnout in 2020 that snowballed into several health issues and personal losses/grief. I initially told myself I would take 6 months off to recuperate – I ended up unable to work (or really function as a person at all) for close to 3 years. Now I’m just an administrative assistant so this may not be applicable to very specialized jobs that require a lot of networking upkeep to maintain contacts, but I was able to get a job immediately when I was ready to work again, one that actually met my needs in terms of work-life balance and job satisfaction. I have no regrets.

    I genuinely don’t know if I would like the life I have now (or frankly, if I would even still be here) if I hadn’t taken ALL the time I needed to recover. And to be clear: recovery sucks. It was the hardest years of my life despite having so little I was actually required to do, and many times it felt like it dragged on forever and that I’d never be functional again. But now I’m in a job I like that accommodates me and doesn’t stress me out, I’m able to be present to those I love, and I’m hopeful for the future again.

    So OP, consider that this doesn’t have to be career-destroying. It may just feel that way now because everything feels dire when you’re this worn down. Start small, with a 3-6 months break. Once you get a little rest it’s amazing how much easier it becomes to think and prioritize authentically. Good luck to you.

  142. probably not a robot*

    After working the same job for ten years, I took three years off, partly due to burnout and partly due to concerns about getting immunocompromised relatives sick. Absolutely nobody would hire me when I began looking for a job again, despite me being willing to take much lower pay, be in-office every day, take more entry-level jobs, work part-time, work overtime, work weird hours, etc. One interviewer told me to my face that he wasn’t willing to pay me what he’d listed in the ad because I was “probably rusty,” and also spent the whole interview casting aspersions upon people from the area of the city where I live. (Admittedly, googling the company got me his Wikipedia page discussing his political career — where I live this is almost always a red flag because our local government is notoriously corrupt — and subsequent arrest and conviction for one of the stupidest and most poorly-thought-out political crimes I’ve ever heard of. So I was unlikely to take that job. But man, I was desperate.)

    My job search was 13 of the worst months of my life and by the end of it I was at the lowest point I’ve ever been, mental health-wise. Interviewers asked me all kinds of inappropriate questions — one repeatedly demanded to know what I had been doing during my time off (not “why did you take the time off?” but “what did you DO? no, but what did you DO???” about a point in time when I had been too depressed to do anything but sleep and cry), a bunch asked obliquely or openly about my personal finances, and a lot of them wanted a lot of detail about my reasons for taking time off, in addition to the usual (inappropriate) questions about whether I’m married or have kids. (I work in an industry where they absolutely do know better than to ask these things, and yet 50% of the interviews I’ve ever been on have asked.) All the advice I could find about how to explain my time off was “just lie about it!” which I had trouble doing, or the slightly less overt “be really vague, they won’t ask questions,” when they absolutely do ask extremely personal questions.

    Partly, also, family was very unhelpful. I don’t want to go into complaining about that too much, because it doesn’t really relate to the actual work, but my family, while it is enthusiastically financially supportive, is controlling and dysfunctional and emotionally stunted, so I was actively having to fend off their demoralizing offers of “help” and their insistence that I was just being a silly sadsack and probably not looking very hard for work. I feel like most people aren’t related to the Bluths, so you probably won’t be facing the same specific issues, but if you have “supportive” family that is the opposite of that, plan accordingly.

    I’ve since gotten a job and worked here for a few months. It’s a really good fit for me specifically, but it’s clearly a job most people do not want to do, and I get a lot of expressions of sympathy, “I don’t know how you put up with it,” etc. The company seems really grateful that I’m willing to do this work and I’ve received glowing praise I frankly did not expect for work I find fairly easy to do. The pay is a bit less than I was initially asking for in my early, idealistic days of jobsearching, but way better than most places that were forthcoming about what they would pay were offering in their ads.

    To be honest I do slightly regret taking the third year off, but the first two were definitely necessary for my mental health, and possibly also the physical health of my loved ones. (Something really awful did happen in the middle of year 3, which severely affected my mental health and which I’m kind of glad I wasn’t working through it, but then again, maybe it wouldn’t have affected me so severely if I’d had less time to dwell on it.)

    I guess my advice would be:
    1. Make sure you have a good emotional support system in place. If there are people in your life who you want/need to maintain contact with but who tend to drag you down/are wildly out of touch, give some thought to how you’re going to handle them. Figure out where you can vent your frustrations without getting demoralizing responses.
    2. Financially, plan to be looking (and therefore out of work) for at least a year after you’re ready to get back to work — or looking for longer than a year and temping, working low-wage jobs, etc. Be ready for this to be emotionally draining.
    3. Try to do some volunteering that is relevant to the skillset you use for work, both so you can put it on your resume and so you know your skills haven’t evaporated even if interviewers are acting like they have. (I also did some unpaid favors for friends that used my skills and that was really helpful for my confidence, but I couldn’t put that on my resume.)
    4. Get ready for prying questions, sexism, and shockingly rude treatment from interviewers who assume you spent the whole time lying around eating bonbons, or imply that you’re flaky. Maybe this is just my industry and where I live, but I’ve heard similar things from people looking for work in other fields and other places. My industry is relatively male-dominated and so are the others I’ve heard this from, though, so if you work in a more egalitarian or female-dominated industry you may be better off. (Most of the interviews I had where other women were present — even if they mostly just sat in and did not ask the majority of the questions — didn’t involve inappropriate or prying questions, and avoided the weirdly adversarial tone a lot of my male interviewers adopted on their own.)

    There are things I’m really proud of that I did during my time off — I ended up meeting people in my neighborhood who cared about making it a better place, which is important to me; I worked on (and almost finished!) a huge creative project; I picked up a new self-taught crafting hobby; I helped my friends through some difficult stuff, and helped them achieve some of their own personal goals. So I don’t regret the time off, but it was really, really rough elbowing my way back into the workforce.

  143. Kiesa*

    You’re in a hard situation. My second child didn’t sleep through the night until he was 4 and it was brutal. I had an au pair, and sometimes house cleaners, but it was still too much. I was feeling overwhelmed by everything and I needed to make changes but I didn’t have the capacity to do so. I did not stop working because I consistently get depressed if I’m off work for more than a month. However, I did change my job which helped some. After many serious and fraught conversations my husband also started doing more with the children/house. Also, my kids are now older which helps tremendously. I’m in a much better place now. That said, part of me broke during that time period and I don’t know that I’m ever going to fully recover.

    Two thoughts:
    Would it be possible for you to take one week off from everything? Go some place away from your house/family, turn off the phone, sleep, and not be responsible for anything. I understand that it may not be possible. However, I think one thing that might have helped me was the ability to really think about my options after I had several nights of good sleep.

    How open have you been with your husband? Is he hearing what you’re saying? During my hell years my husband was in the dark. I tried to tell him there was a problem but he did not understand how close I was to breaking. We should have gone to therapy years before we finally did.

  144. Dana*

    I am currently well into year 2 of being a stay at home parent to a toddler. I absolutely loved my job and field, but was in a similar financial situation (making way less than my husband, take home pay after childcare would have been negligible). I’m constantly worried about getting back into the field in the future, but am focused on staying present with my kiddo and learning lots of new hobbies and skills!

    My only advice is to try to live in this season and moment, and put your health first. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and boy oh boy do babies and toddlers zap that energy outta ya. Whatever you choose will be what’s best for you & your family— trust those instincts <3

  145. Al*

    I’ve done this!

    Worked full-time for 1 year after my firstborn, then quit and stayed home full-time for 1.5 years. (Also had a second child in that time.) Came back to my same company for 6 months part-time, as a consultant, then back to work full-time.

    There were 3 other women my same level, friends and peers. We all had our first child within a year or two of each other, and all of them stayed working full-time. The 3 of them are now Directors, while I am a Senior Manager, one level below.

    I consider that a significant setback in my career, but I’m also comfortable at my current salary and not sorry that I had that time as a stay-at-home mom. It gave me a lot of perspective about how I want to parent, live, and work.

    FWIW, being a part-time working parent was the worst of the 3 scenarios!

  146. Anonymous for this*

    I’m a working mom who decided not to stay home with my kids. I’m really glad I kept working, because when my husband had an affair (which I never ever would have expected), it gave me options.

    I’ve also hired for positions before, and the resumes that broke my heart were from women who had related experience, but significant employment gaps – I felt for them, but we typically had to go with applicants with more recent experience.

    But if you really can’t keep working due to mental health/physical reasons, you have to take care of yourself! If you’re able to keep *something* (even very minor, like a few hours of volunteer work in your field or with your professional organization), then do that, just to minimize a gap.

    I once left a toxic career for a huge pay cut. It took me 6 or 7 years to get back to my pay level. It was still worth it for me, and I have no regrets!

  147. TexasLisa*

    I wholeheartedly am GLAD that I took a few years off, from 1996-2000, specifically. Today, I am a high-flying deal manager for a large IT company, making in the mid-six-figures. It took a few years to “recover” from being out, but I suspect only because I didn’t have as much of a career foundation in ’96. Also, I went back and got an advanced degree in quantitative finance to balance out a liberal arts undergrad. Looking back, I am glad I had those years with the kids, and they were some of the happiest and most rewarding years of my life.

  148. TheErstwhileLibrarian*

    I’m very much a proponent of “you work to live,” not the other way round (but then again, I don’t have kids, and make pretty much equal salary to my other half). If your job is actively making your miserable/affecting your health/preventing life goals, I think it’s totally reasonable to consider a career hiatus.

    My current manager and a colleague have both done this, and while the transition back into the workforce wasn’t easy and took time, what seemed to help them both is that they both managed to find things to keep building their skill sets, even if they weren’t “working” per se. They both volunteered (as board members and as boots on the ground) with advocacy and nonprofit organizations that supported causes they believed in and were related to the field we worked in now, which helped with the resume gap. There are organizations that would be THRILLED to have a more hands-on volunteer, even if the actual time commitment is far below what a part-time staffer would put in.

  149. Katherine*

    I took a break from work for 6 years due to burnout. My husband was perfectly happy for me to have a break, but he is less stressed now that I am working again, even though like you I am making a relative pittance compared to him. My previous bosses were happy to give me references even after that time. I changed industries so can’t speak to whether your career will suffer.

    It’s *SO* worth it to take a break to recover from burnout. I thought I’d never be able to work again, and yet here I am.

  150. Turingtested*

    As a hiring manager (manufacturing office work, financial and technical) I’m very willing and have hired candidates who’ve been out of work for years. The ones I haven’t moved forward with spent more time talking about their duties elsewhere than at work and only asked questions about work in relation to their other responsibilities. Those cases are rare and I suspect they didn’t truly want to return to work.

  151. Katherine*

    From the perspective of another mom, I really really encourage you to start by dumping anything non- essential off your plate (and I totally get how frustrating this advice is! When you have a newborn people are like “just let the housekeeping go!” And I was like “I mean I’m not out here scrubbing baseboards, but I don’t really have a choice about dealing with the massive heaps of dirty clothes this tiny human somehow creates” and most importantly, take a week or two and make SLEEP a priority! I am sure you know but sleep deprivation affects your physical and mental health and cognition. The good thing is that getting a couple solid nights of sleep can make a huge difference! Maybe you can a short term overnight nanny or family can come help, but I really think a lot of this will be less overwhelming once you’ve caught up on some sleep. A lot of what you wrote reminded me of how I felt when my kids were babies and I promise you that it does get better!

  152. kiki*

    I do hiring in tech. I have absolutely no qualms about hiring folks who have taken time off their work for any reason, especially if it’s < 5 years. When the gap exceeds that though, I do have some concerns about if the candidate has kept up with modern technologies and tools. Those concerns can be addressed with personal projects, volunteer work in the field, continuing education, etc., but the longer you're out the work force, the harder it will be to prove your skills are current.

    I do want to call out that folks who take time away from the professional working world often want to jump in and pick up exactly where they left off and that's not always possible. Like, if you work in a business with a progression like below:
    2 years junior, 2-3 years un-prefixed role, 2-3 years senior, 2-5 years manager, 2-5 years director, etc.

    If you left to take time away from your career after 3 years in a senior role and were about to be promoted to manager, you will probably have to come back into the work force at a senior level and need to pay your dues at that level again before being promoted to manager. The time to pay your dues will likely be faster the second time around, but it's still time that may feel redundant to you. If you've left the workforce for many years (like some folks who step away for a decade or more) you may have to re-enter at a level lower than you left. Again, your ascent will probably be faster the second time around, but it can be demoralizing for some folks to come back at a lower level.

  153. The Ginger Ginger*

    Is it truly a matter of working full time or not at all? If you could cut consulting work down to something like 10 – 20 hours a week would that feel more doable? Especially if it was the only income generating work you were doing (cut back on everything else you’ve got going on)? That would keep some of your experience info on your resume fresh, and maybe that money could go directly into savings/retirement accts for you, so that your personal investments don’t suffer during your time stepping back. Otherwise, I would talk to you husband about what could be contributed to your own retirement accts while you take time off to focus on your health and family.

    I think the biggest concerns I see on social media right now around (especially) women stepping away from the work force, is that all the “family” money is no longer available to them in the event something happens, or the husband asks for a divorce. If you can ensure you’re not left with nothing if the worst happens, that would be way less scary.

  154. Still looking*

    As someone who has been trying to re-enter the workforce for a year, I was completely prepared to take a hit to pay/lifetime earning potential, but I have been blindsided by just how difficult it has been to get a job. I still believe leaving the workforce was the best for my health and wellbeing, but in retrospect, I should have made a re-entry plan earlier. So my advice is to take time off if you need it, but don’t underestimate the impact on your career.

  155. Cedrus Libani*

    I’m in a high-demand tech field, and I took a full year off after my PhD. Wasn’t entirely by choice; I was severely burnt out. Fortunately, I had enough savings to carry on with my ramen-munching student lifestyle for a few years without actually needing to work. It took about 10 months for me to decompress and start to get restless, and then another 2 months of active job hunting. I thought it would be more of a problem than it was, but nobody batted an eye. That said, I don’t know if I’d risk being out for 3+ years; you do get stale eventually.

  156. hhh*

    I am in a similar position but my kids are older and I am older. If I took a break now I would be coming back in my mid-50s and that seems daunting. So I would say take the break now while you’re young.

  157. Jules the First*

    I’m a solo mum with an almost three year old and a six figure career in a niche, technical profession where part time roles are like hens teeth. I got a massive promotion the same week I found out my pregnancy was viable and spent the next eight months scrambling systems into place so I could take six months off with my baby, since covid meant no daycare would take him until he was at least six months old. Part way through this leave, a six figure windfall made it possible to take more time – possibly as much as another year and I spent a good month thinking about it. I also have a chronic illness and am neurospicy. In the end, I went back to work as planned. 2-2.5 years old was the worst – I felt like I was swimming through quicksand constantly, with no energy and no attention span. I threw money at it, hired a nanny/housekeeper for six months to deal with the mental load, ruthlessly prioritised sleep for both of us, and unscheduled everything I could. We are now six months out the other side of it, and I have a new burst of energy, another promotion at work, and starting to feel ready to embark on baby #2.

    My advice is to offload the rest of your life before you take the radical step of walking away from the job that otherwise suits your life. If it’s financially viable to give up your job but keep the nanny, I’m guessing more help around the house is also financially viable. It feels more socially acceptable to have a nanny than a housekeeper, but it is hands down the housekeeper that makes the biggest difference in my life and my mental wellbeing.

  158. WorkingMama*

    I took time off from my professional, technical career for a few years in my late 20s/early 30s to travel and start a family. It was the best thing I ever did and I truly have zero regrets.

    My career is doing even better than it was before, I have my dream job, and I have had zero issues getting back into my niche field. I work remotely, very flexible hours, and it’s great. I still have plenty of time with my young child and spouse, and I am paid far better than I was before my break, believe it or not! My relationship with my spouse improved during that time, even though I was relying on him financially for many years. But now, I’m the one working and supporting our family while he’s the stay-at-home parent. A partnership is about supporting each other and your family – sometimes it’s both, just one, or a mix over time. It’s ok to lean on someone else sometimes.

    If you have the means to take a break and you want to, go for it! Why not? If you decide it’s not for you, you can always go back. When you look back on your life, are you going to wish you worked more? Or might you wish you’d taken more time for yourself, your loved ones, your own interests, your health? That’s how I think about it. I wish you the best of luck!

  159. Meh*

    Everyone else is saying it, but my 2 cents – nothing wrong with taking a career break of a couple years. BUT – how hard is it to go back when you want/need to ?

    What is the job market like ? Granted that can change, but if your position is rare, it’s gonna be harder to come back. Do you have any licenses/certs that you would need to maintain ? Would you be able to do so on your own ? Would you have to start again entry level, or could you maintain seniority in role (if not tenure). How will you maintain your network ? Would you switch fields ? What would you need to do for that ? (new skills / degree ?).

    Also, some people find that they miss the structure/ socialization aspects of work (even remote) Keep that in mind as a well.

    Taking a break from work isn’t a big deal, but reentry can be a challenge if you are out for a while (source – I was planning to take a 6yr break (2kids + grad school), it ended up being 8+ years (pandemic), and have yet to regain the professional level I left at.

  160. Sybil Writes*

    Lots of good input already; I’ll try not to duplicate.
    I took a few years off from paid work after a layoff to make a career change. I was in my early 40s went back to school for an additional degree in the new field. Took 5 years to do bachelors and masters degrees. Towards the end, life happened which led to a few more years of not working. By the time I re-entered the workforce in the new field, I lived in a new state, none of my old work connections were relevant, but I did get a job that was not ideal but like the OP, I was lucky enough that I did not have to rely on my paycheck alone to get by. After a few years of paying some dues, I’m now in a higher level job with an excellent paycheck in the new field. All that to say: yes, it can be done, especially if you have the privilege of not NEEDing to maximize the paycheck to survive for awhile.
    The other thing I want to suggest is, since you’ve mentioned both health and parenting, I wonder if you qualify for any FMLA (or similar) leave. If you have the option of taking 12 or more weeks (paid or unpaid) to rest and reflect on what you want, I urge you to do that. After a few months, you may have different thoughts on what you want to do. And if you want to go back to the old job with new boundaries you’ll be able to.
    All the best, whatever you choose. Be grateful and don’t let your privilege go to waste. In addition to it being a gift for you to be able to follow an uncommon path, you may find that allows you incredible bandwidth to encourage others to think outside the box and find ways to live a richer life.
    I can’t change my privilege and probably wouldn’t if I could. Much of it I’ve worked darn hard for; some of it has been dumb luck or the lottery of birth. But I value service and choose to use a degree of my privilege to do work that is a service to my community.
    I encourage you to have long talks with your spouse about what you want to achieve as individuals and as a family. If your family situation allows one of you to bring in most of the cash and the other to do other things to move toward your family goals (lifestyle, giving, serving the community, etc.) your perspective might change in terms of feeling “financially dependent”. All the best!

  161. Prof. D*

    I have weighed your question many times. I did not quit and am now a tenured professor. At this point, if I quit, I’m calling it early retirement because I am not (and probably could not) start over. It has definitely hurt my physical and mental health, and I don’t think I can keep going as long as most do in my field. I see it as a “now or never” situation, though can’t speak to whether that’s the case in your field. One other thought: I would not risk my career if my partner and I conceived of out finances separately the way you seem to (as in, you’d be asking him to foot the bill or spending down your savings). The only reason I have seriously considered stopping is because my partner and I conceive of our finances jointly. Best of luck.

    1. boof*

      Yes, academia can be a tough one to go in and out of, unless you call it a sabbatical.
      I also noted that LW says they are doing 90% of the domestic work, but doesn’t seem to think of their husband’s money as “theirs”; I know all arrangements are different, and I don’t know why the LW thinks that way, but I hope LW realizes the value of doing that 90% in keeping the income coming in.
      I am the main earner and my husband doesn’t work, but he allows me to function and build the life we live together and I love. I consider everything “ours” or “half his” (I actually really want to split discretionary funding evenly; I really don’t want him to feel like he has to run every toy he wants past me even if I want an overall budget; so in theory I try to have a “we each have X amount of ‘whatever you want’ money” – except the buckets get to blurred and confused easily anyway so it’s more of a mental ideal than a hard reality). But if I get resentful then it’s a flag I’m burnt out and we have to talk about why and what can be done about taking things off my load / what I’m stressing about; the problem isn’t actually that I’m earning way, way more than him; he’s my life partner I consider it all “ours” and/or halfsies in everything.

  162. all_cc*

    I took about 2.5 years off, and did some light consulting for the first year or so but then none for the last 18mo. I was able to find a Director-level role when I wanted to come back, and really love my job now (I’ve been back at FT work about 18mo now). It helped hugely that I had a strong professional network before leaving the FT workforce, and kept it alive by getting coffee with old work friends and mentors occasionally. YMMV for sure, but it’s possible — and I really needed that time off, personally.

  163. Tammy Gibson*

    I worked my butt off from college to my early thirties and felt I’d achieve a level of success in my career that I was proud of but at 35 wanted a family and my son was born. I continued to work until the dissatisfaction with the pull of the work/life balance was overwhelming. I felt like I was letting my family down and my boss/company were definitely not getting my best. I, like you, was lucky that we could comfortably live off my husband’s salary so I resigned my position. I raised my son for 7 years and eventually took over the directorship of a non-profit food bank. It started at part time but my personality doesn’t do halfway well so I ended up spending 30 to 40 hours a week at the job. Eventually I decided if I was going to work full time, I wanted to be compensated for it. My son by this time was moving into Middle School for I felt like he had gotten a good foundation with me at home. My career was basically back to the beginning and I began almost back to where my original salary was when I started working after college. I’m back up now to making more than I was when I originally resigned but it’s taken 10 years. Would I change anything? No, those were some of the happiest and productive years with my husband and son. Your heart knows what you need to do, just listen to it. Good luck to you!

  164. Emmy*

    If you do decide to take time off of your career, I would make sure your spouse makes enough to still contribute to your personal retirement like a spousal IRA. That would be the deal breaker for me as I would not want to lose out on gains in my retirement.

  165. ZucchiniBikini*

    I am in Australia, but also do consulting work (in my case, now as a freelancer) and I have been in a very similar position to this in the past – exhausted and struggling with parenting (had three elementary aged children at the time), chronic health issues, and other responsibilities while working in an (on the face of it) flexible and “good” job.

    For me, the answer in 2015 was to leave my employment and take 3 months completely off, which gave me breathing space and the opportunity to deal better with some of my health problems, including having a minor surgery. I then slowly started taking on freelance clients in my area of expertise. By the time I was 2 years post leaving my job, I had built up enough freelance clients and projects (all WFH) that I was exceeding what I had been earning in my job, and was, and remain, much less stressed and burned out. I work about the same number of hours now but I have total flexibility and self-direction about when and where I work, and can much better balance my health and other needs.

    I don’t know if freelancing is a viable option for you, but if it is, I would really recommend giving it a try. It completely takes the heat out of the “getting re-employed” question and allows you to flex up and down in rhythm with your own circumstances and energy. Of course, there is greater risk, but for me that has been much more than compensated by the benefits.

  166. Seriously?*

    I was a teacher. Had 1st kid, straight back to work. 4 years later, had 2nd kid. Back to work. But. He got sick. I was bringing home very little money after daycare. So I quit. Spent 4 1/2 years off, became a sub for 2 1/2 years, then back to full time.

    Now, education may be a bit different than other professions. But after 21 years as a teacher, I left, got a new degree, and a new career in my 50s. So you may need to get some new certifications depending on how long you don’t work. And it will affect your pay long term, but it sounds like you may need that time. I look at it all as a season. I worked with no kids, I worked with kids, I was a SAHM, I worked PT, I worked FT, I changed careers. It’s all doable! Make a plan, do your research, and go!

  167. Corporate Bouncer*

    Given that you actually like your job, is there a way you could take a sabbatical? You’ve got a lot going on right now (sounds like you have young child/ren?) and with health issues and the side income stream you mentioned, it does sound like you could very well be burned out.

    I will say that in some fields, it really is important to stay somewhat current. A few months off is one thing; years off is another thing entirely. Even nontechnical work changes/requires new skills over time and you could find yourself really struggling to find something when you do want to go back. Also, networks can be so crucial to helping you land a role, and as someone mentioned above, if you’re out for more than a year or so, your network can grow stale.

    Could you help your husband build his business?

    1. Corporate Bouncer*

      Adding to clarify that a sabbatical of 6-12 months could help you gain clarity and/or get the time you need to recharge and come back focused.

      As someone who thought I’d be married forever only to find that that was not what the Universe had planned for me, I will say that I’m very, very grateful that I kept my career (there were hidden financial issues and all sorts of things that meant that I had to walk away with nothing – but I did have a job).

  168. Victoria*

    I took two years off (one planned, one because it took longer than I’d hoped to find my next job) at what sounds like a similar point in my nonprofit career. I had gone to graduate school and worked in my field for five or so years, and couldn’t see a path forward.

    I was able to frame the time as… if not exactly relevant to my career, then at least coherent in the narrative I told about myself and my work. It did take me much longer to get my next job than I’d expected, but I was able to get some contract work that both gave me some income and helped to fill out the story arc. It didn’t end up affecting my career negatively at all; the job I eventually got was a great role with a 30% increase in salary.

  169. A former SAHM*

    I took about 9 years off. When I returned to the work I was making about a third of what I was when I left. I took about four years to get back to where I was before I left. I love my kids. They are the best thing I will ever be part of. But if I told you anything other than the balancing act of going back to work full time with two young kids was incredibly difficult, I would be lying. I was not cut out to be a stay at home parent. A lot of my identity is wrapped up in my job. In no small part that was the result of watching my mother trying to make it on minimum wage with two young kids after a divorce sent her back to the workforce.

    Bottom line: I don’t think there is a one size fits all. Either way you roll the dice. Either way is tough. Only you can decide what tough makes most sense for you.

  170. Contracts Killer*

    When my child was born, I requested to go to part time for two years. In actuality, it was a full time job compressed into three days. I ended up feeling like I was a bad mom when I was at work and a bad worker when I was at home. It was the worst of both worlds. If I could go back and do it again, I would have taken the time off completely. The kid is 10 now, and I’m not sure I ever fully recovered the exhaustion and resentment of working through a time when I really wanted to be with my family and rest my body and brain. If you can afford it, I’d take the time off. Relying on your partner is what marriage is about (and if it doesn’t work out, that’s what alimony is for). There is so much guilt and feelings of uselessness related to chronic illness, it sucks. Maybe take off for only a year. And keep your toe in the industry. Are there conferences you can attend? Or short term consulting gigs you can take periodically? At minimum, schedule a monthly lunch or coffee date with varying industry contacts to keep abreast of industry gossip and make sure people remember you.

    1. amoeba*

      I’m not sure whether the US system is so much better than the European system, but this:

      “Relying on your partner is what marriage is about (and if it doesn’t work out, that’s what alimony is for).”

      is exactly how so, so many women end up poor in middle age/retirement age in my country (where it’s much more common for women to be SAMs/only work low part time jobs while taking on most/all of the care work for the family). Alimony here is in absolutely no way whatsoever adequate to cover this and 1/3 of marriages end up in divorce.

      Not saying staying at home is not an option! But I’d only ever consider it with bulletproof contracts in place that secure my income and retirement. And not just the money I’d be missing out on during that period, but also promotions/raises/opportunities I’d miss, etc.

      Here, after the kids are, like, 3? 4? the woman is basically expected to work full time again in case of separation, so yes, the ex will pay some money for the children (although sadly, a lot of men don’t…), but no more than this. How you work full time as a single parent in our system, where full-time childcare is rare, nobody knows. Also, if you split close to retirement age after not having worked in your field for 15 years while raising your kids, good luck finding a well-paying job that supports you!
      (And yes, I wrote that in a gendered way on purpose. Of course, in theory, it’s neutral. It isn’t in practice – at all. Women who have raised children are disproportionally affected by old-age poverty for exactly this reason. It’s a big problem here.)

      So – whatever you do, make sure you have sound financial advice. Marriages can and do go wrong. The law without any additional contracts will *not* be enough to protect you in that case. Please do not under any circumstances rely on your partner being fair – that’s not romantic, it’s dangerous. Have everything signed and organised so that you’re financially secure. That’s not being greedy! You’re contributing as much to the family as your spouse is. it’s just that his work is paid work and yours isn’t. You both need to be secure and independent, no matter what happens down the road.

  171. EngineerMom*

    It sounds like there are some deeper issues behind the initial question:

    1. Do you associate much of your personal identity with your ability to earn money? (Do you feel like you are only valuable as a human when you are earning an income? Because you’re ALSO a valuable member of society just for existing in your family! You don’t have to earn an income to earn a place in your family or community.)
    – Second to that, when you describe yourself to strangers, is the first thing that comes to mind the job you do for pay? It took me about 6 months to separate my identity as a person from the career I’d been in before becoming a stay-at-home mom (the first time – I returned to work when my youngest was entering preschool, then quit my job again 2 years ago with teenagers at home). That was hard – I was previously a women in a male-majority field (engineering), and there’s a lot of social prestige that goes along with that. Describing myself as a stay-at-home mom definitely didn’t have the same social power, and I would occasionally get blatantly ignored at social functions. I eventually settled on saying something along the lines of “my educational background is in engineering, but I’m currently a stay-at-home parent”.

    2. Do you feel like you and your husband are truly a team against the world, working through issues together?
    (I’m a little concerned about this statement:
    “I am also not cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, so I’d be asking my husband to shell out for childcare costs or paying for them from my savings, and would struggle to feel like I was contributing anything to the family.” – There are a LOT of options for gaining mental/physical space from your children, and your husband paying for childcare while you are doing other things to support the household INCLUDING caring for your physical/mental health (by getting childcare when needed), is perfectly reasonable!

    Side: When I was a stay-at-home parent, I used to joke that I was “the stay-at-home mom who was never at home” – MOPS, childcare through my church’s bible study program, childcare at the YMCA, childcare swaps with other stay-at-home parents, hiring the occasional babysitter, etc. Being a stay-at-home parent does mean being “on point” for caring for children (finding care, if you’re not the one providing it directly), but it sounds like you’re already doing that, with your comment about being responsible for 90% of the household! And if that’s the case, you ARE contributing a huge amount to your family! Try pricing out having a personal secretary combined with childcare, personal chef, and housekeeper.)

    3. You are not your parents. You are living a different life. There are other ways to ensure you have enough money, including your husband contributing money to private retirement accounts for you (the kind you open at a bank, vs. investment accounts through a job), making sure your husband has sufficient life insurance to provide for you in case of a sudden death, regular family budget meetings, etc.

    4. If you discover in a couple of years that you’d like to return to the field, it’s completely fine to just say “I was a stay-at-home parent for X years, but I’m excited to get back into this field.”
    – As you prepare to transition, you can also start by taking a class, or achieving a professional certification associated with your field. Remaining part of technical societies or professional organizations while you’re a stay-at-home parent, or volunteering in a related capacity can also be helpful. Or, you may end up like me and discover a completely different career path/passion through volunteer work you initially do through your child(ren)’s school or other parent connections!

    1. GeminiDreaming*

      Agree with all of the above and wanted to add – I ended up taking 6 years out of the workforce due to a high risk pregnancy and a child who initially had high medical needs which made it impossible to return to the work I had been doing (clinics are all on different days so even part-time in that role wouldn’t have worked). I did do some casual work in that time, but nothing related to what I had been doing. When I started looking to return part-time I surprised myself by applying for and getting a role which was related to what I had been doing but took me in a new direction which I hadn’t previously considered.
      I was upfront about the gap in my resume, and probably a bit too honest in the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question (“after the last five years I try not to predict anything.”)
      Definitely see the financial planner, and have the conversations – but also look at what made you get into your field and what makes you happy in it, and that may open a broader range of options as well.

  172. Storm in a teacup*

    Hi OP I agree with a lot of the other commentators on wrapping up the side gigs, getting a financial advisor and a nanny to help you feel less burnt out.
    Additionally I wanted to offer a different perspective. If you work in a multinational industry with Europe a lot then actually as a European we would not bat an eyelid to a mother taking a year or more post-partum. It’s the norm for many women to take a year maternity leave so if a lot of your colleagues are international then it may be less of a concern for them than you imagine.
    If I’m completely honest I find it so weird people go back after 3 months in the US. I realise that’s a cultural difference as it would be unheard of in the UK in my industry to see that.

  173. Katie*

    I don’t have experience of taking multiple years off work, but I did take a years maternity leave after having my kid. On a family level it was wonderful, I had time to look after baby and house, take trips to the playground, I even got some me time sandwiched in between everything else. From a work perspective it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. Your skills don’t atrophy as quickly as you think they might (unless you’re in a very fast moving industry) and it’s not difficult to stay abreast of industry changes or news. If you choose to take some time off work what I would tell you to be aware of though is your confidence can wane far more quickly than your skills do. Around 8 months into maternity leave I was convinced I couldn’t do my job anymore (I totally could). It can also be hard to keep yourself stimulated in the right ways so try to make sure you have some goals or hobbies that are totally you focussed and give you something outside of the home.

  174. Skippy*

    I’m a hiring manager in a field that was significantly impacted by Covid. Obviously every field is different but if I eliminated everyone with a choppy resume from consideration I would have very few candidates to choose from, especially now with the unemployment rate being so low. If you structure your interview properly you can discern pretty easily if someone knows what they’re talking about or if it’s clear they’re out of touch. I don’t ask about gaps because frankly, it’s none of my business.

    I should also add that I was laid off from my field of 20+ years just before the pandemic and spent almost two years not working at all because I simply couldn’t get hired. Eventually I got a part-time job in a different field, which led to a full-time job in another different field, which led to a really great full-time job in my actual field. It took me four years but I was able to get back in, even though to some people my long-term unemployment should have made me unhireable.

  175. Godrid the Well Traveled*

    Urgh a refresh ate my comment before I could post. Short and sweet: 15+ years break, still recovering. Don’t regret the break but I regret what I didn’t do while on the break. Let’s assume other commenters have covered that.

    Actively manage retirement accounts in your name. You don’t want to be me and take 15 years to move a cash rollover ira to an invested one. You also don’t want to be dependent on your lawyer and your husband’s “generosity” to be able to comfortably retire if the worst should happen. And you don’t want to worry about that possibly happening.

    So yes, as a family, divert your husband’s earnings away from his retirement funds to yours. If that’s not doable, do what you can to keep adding money to your funds. Use rebate apps and extra money.

    Have your own “mad money” in the budget that you can spend on extras without oversight or comment. Ideally it goes into an account with only your name on it and you manage it from there. Or as cash. And ideally you’ll also have a credit card in your name only.

  176. Fleet Street*

    Perhaps giving your refugee parents some money so they can retire might put some things into perspective.

  177. Jenn Colton*

    I took eight years off. I don’t regret it for a single minute.

    I was in a similar place when I made the decision. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in my field. I didn’t love the work and the hours. with baby on the way, it was a good time to step away.

    I had two kids, joined the Pta and planned play dates.

    And then it was time to go back. I started slow, picked up a consulting job here and there.

    What surprised me is that I fell in love with my career again. As my kids got older and more independent, I took on different jobs and went back to graduate school.

    I’m now on a trajectory I could have never imagined for myself.

    The first few years back were bumpy but not impossible. I had a good support system at home and as I rebuilt my professional network, I found allies ready to help, coach, mentor and cheer me on.

    LW – You only get one life. Leave the job and assess how you’re doing in 3 months, six months, a year, etc etc.

  178. Penguin*

    As a past hiring manager (and caretaker), I understand that people take breaks to have kids and be a SAHM/caretaker and I make an effort to not let that influence my decision. The key part is if the candidate can keep up with ongoing developments and technology in that time. I’ve noticed the job market now can afford to be picky with candidates who know specific software, for example. Staying up to date on any tech is important to be able to jump back into the workforce at all. Even if it’s slightly adjacent tech that you can learn for free online with courses+certification, that shows that you’ve kept skills sharp.

    Perhaps leaning into one or two of those secondary income streams and positioning those as a job on your resume could also help mitigate a gap, too.

  179. Ann Perkins*

    As seen in the other comments, I think it really does depend a lot on your field and work network, and in no small part on luck. I decided to leave my job when my first child was born, though I wasn’t very happy about the decision; I just couldn’t figure out any other way to handle the situation. For me, it worked out very well, because about two months later I got a call from someone who had consulted with my department who was looking for a subcontractor, and I started very slowly easing my way back into my work world in a slightly different role. I ended up setting up my own consulting business and doing that for 10 years before a new opportunity came up with a good employer.

    Would I have been in a better career position if I had never left? Maybe, but also maybe not. I might have made it to a higher-paying management position, but I might also have just stayed where I was (and been more and more frustrated with how the work stress was continuing to affect me over all those years).

    I agree with the others who say that if you feel like you need to leave, you should leave. Life is unpredictable, but this one decision is unlikely to be one that you regret forever.

  180. Outofideasforname*

    Question: what are you doing/the kids doing in that other 20 hours?

    I had 2 kids under 3 and worked 21h/week in a niche technical field. Youngest also did not sleep for the first 2 years.

    I was exhausted and burned out. Sending so much solidarity your way.

    But. I stayed at work. Spent my money on (1) an extra day of nursery for each of them so I got a solo day with them each. (2) later on (post Covid) a nanny. (3) once childcare opened again, I put them in 4 days and only worked 3. I slept on the 4th day.

    Option 3 was by far the best for all concerned. I’d totally recommend it. It’s more challenging if you’ve in home childcare-I borrowed a friend’s house and slept there for nearly a year-that way I couldn’t see the kids or the housework.

    I also reduced down to a minimum other commitments-these are the things that have taken a while to spin back up.

    The key was to be really militant about it being a rest day, and not do other things.

    They’re both in school now. I went back full time when youngest was 3 and it works great (mostly remote). In that time I got enough experience to change jobs to one I love. But more importantly, it helped keep that aspect of my personhood alive, at a time when almost everything else had a tendency to get buried in kids and logistics. That made it worth it, in the end.

    Ps also get a cleaner. Game changer.

  181. Mama llama*

    As a working mom of 2 prescchoolers with a stay at home husband, here’s what I would do:

    1. Start thinking of you and your husband’s health, income, and time as being all in the same bucket. The law considers his money your and vice versa; you should do the same.
    2. Easier said than done, but: Find a different job, with more predictable hours, and negotiate a start date several months out. Having predictable hours goes SO far towards combating the feeling of being always in a reactive state and “not doing anything well.”
    3. Quit your job and take several months off.
    4. Have a serious talk with your husband about how you cannot handle 90% of the homemaking. Have him be the one to handle hiring house help, encourage him to hire an executive assistant, whatever he needs to achieve work-life balance — be ruthless. You said you don’t do well as a SAHM, but you’re currently doing more of that type of work than you can handle. you’ll be able to do even less when you are pregnant and postpartum.
    5. start your new job! settle in and get some good wins, take it day by day, and do not re-absorb 90% of the housework when you take mat leave.

  182. Liina*

    I work in tech in an European country where women can take 1,5 years off full pay (almost) and extend it to 3 years with a guarantee that you still have a job to go back to. Per child.

    I had 2 kids back-to-back. At the 3 year point I was fully over my burnout and so ready and hungry to find a new, better job that aligned better with my career goals. And use my brain again :)

    My skills and knowledge had not dissapeard. I am in a far better place now, 4 years after returning to work, than before. The new job to start with was already an upgrade. I took time and effort to figure out what I actually wanted, work my network (that also did not dissapear) and find a good next step.

    I had some small pet projects during my time off, that highlighted my skills when it came to looking for a job again.

    So in my case, in a different society and expectations, but with similar facts, taking 3 years off, worked out very well.

  183. Ma Mere*

    I stressed myself out with somewhat similar questions – so much so I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
    Taking the step away from a career that required a graduate degree took some courage. Had I not, I would not have had the opportunity to find out that full time parenting was where I was meant to be (for a while). Once in it, so many other opportunities opened up for me that were very fulfilling in addition to parenting – and I never would have even seen them had I not taken the brave step. You can sequence in whatever you want later. Really. The peace of going at your own gentle pace when in the very demanding but rewarding years of childhood (which go in a flash) will let you see what you need at a later date. Key word and my mantra became SEQUENCE. I have no regrets whatsoever. Careers come back and can be re-invented. Childhood cannot.

  184. Lorraine*

    I’m a hiring manager and I helped hire a woman after seven years off. Crucially, she had a great cover letter explaining the gap and why she was interested in returning and in that particular role (and the pool was under 150, so we were reading cover letters).
    That said – she couldn’t hack it. She wasn’t used to the demands of a 35-40 hour work week and she left at the end of her probationary period of six months.

    And not from the hiring manager perspective, but a personal one: it’s so tough. I just decided to take on a more demanding role instead of focusing on my health and I am second guessing that decision every day. My mother took time off to raise kids and was never able to get back into her field or earn the same, nor did she have a safety net when she got divorced. All things I know you’re considering, but all to say, it’s a difficult choice. But I’d also recommend having a fuck off fund before leaving the workforce.

  185. Ollie*

    I chose to go back to work when my maternity leave ended. I was in IT hardware support and things were changing so fast I knew if I took a couple of years off I would be starting at the beginning again. My mother-in -law took care of my baby which made it easy. I had to work late quite often and she would just keep her overnight. Until my daughter went into daycare. That “get the child by 6PM or you pay $15/ minute” was a nightmare. I remember when I was at a site and close to my usual going home time and I heard a thunderstorm come in. I decided to get out of there before hardware went down. I had my hand on the door and a the building got hit with a lightning strike. I turned around and saw that every computer had just stopped. I just kept walking. It was impossible for me to do a good job at work and a good job at parenting. Shortly after that I saw a chance to move into software support. Much more reliable working hours. Then I got a divorce and a new job which allowed me to work regular hours and I ended up with a great job and a high salary. I vote for a new job after a break and get out of the house and work. I worked from home the last seven years of my career and it was very isolating.

  186. Amanda Hugginkiss*

    My husband stepped way back from his high-pressure creative job for about 3 years, but didn’t totally disappear. He took some part-time teaching gigs and such. When our baby was older and we needed money, he was ready to re-enter his previous career path. The contacts he’d made or kept in touch with, as well as the prestige he gained, via the part-time teaching position were invaluable when it was time to find a new full-time position.

    On the other hand, I hired someone for my company whose last office-type job in our field was 10 years ago. Her resume said she’d been freelancing. This is common in our field, but we made a huge mistake by not checking references from those freelance years.

    All this to say there are ways to leave the door open to coming back, so be strategic.

  187. Rachel Leary*

    Can I first offer some light advice for Alison (slash my own personal opinion so maybe not pertinent advice)? Alison, I love your advice, and I am obsessed with the site. I find that I totally connect with letters and am SO excited to hear your answer… only to find it’s a “Lets ask the readers” question. No offense, but the readers are me. I don’t want my answer, I am looking for yours. It’s particularly frustrating when it is almost always these awful parent questions. We know as parents that we’re screwed and there’s not a good answer. I want to hear from HR what they think (you think) and I have to assume the question writer did too. Dear Prudence does an ask the reader segment where she publishes a synopsis of answers and then makes her own declaration, maybe that is a way to go. I just feel short changed when I read a question and am so excited to hear your answer… only to be met with nothing.

    That being said, in this case, as a psychologist myself, I often run through cost benefit analyses for my clients (and personally myself). So here would be mine for you, but please adapt as you see it because it is your process:

    Cost: If you leave your job, there will be an impact to your career. It may be small enough to be a year lag, but it is likely to be much much bigger (not fair, but true). It depends on how quickly things change in your career, how you work to maintain connections while you’re out, how individualized your position is, and how amazing you are in the field. But all things considered, best case scenario, you’re at least behind in a manner equivalent to your time out (and again, likely much much further behind). You may never “catch up.” Take time to map out where you are now and where you want to be in 10-15 years. Then think about where you might be if you stopped now for 5 years and came back 5 years behind and wanted to get to that same end point. What does that look like? How would you do it? Is it possible?

    Benefit: You are focused only on your kids and you don’t miss a moment. You never question if you’re doing the right thing focus wise as a parent because you are 100% there. You control all aspects of their parenting and care, they will never say you missed anything. (I’m being overly positive, but my list would include things like, this also means that I am never an adult in my 9-5… just a kid servant…. but that’s my own personality and spin which is why I made my choices… I also think multiple high quality caregivers are a benefit so that’s a you question if you agree).

    Benefit: You save money on childcare and you’re less stressed for your spouse (see above about overly positive, but might be your perspective).

    Cost: You’re less multi faceted for your spouse, you’re resentful of your kids if full time care exhausts you, you miss the adult life of work

    Cost: You lose notable income, you will likely limit future opportunities, coming back could be astronomically hard, your spouse sees you less as a partner and more as their support

    Some of those may only be mine. You may have way more. For me, writing it out helped me see that I would be resentful if I totally stepped out, but burnt out if I totally stayed in. I run a practice and it works wonders for me. I am financially on top, my career is on fire, my kids are attended to. I am constantly questioning if it’s right, but when I go back to my list it’s a no brainer. While the world should be better for us, it is not, and we need to be real. For real, your kids will be fine and your career will be fine. Both will be impacted by the choices you make. You need to be real clear about those choices, intentional in what you choose, and always know you can go back to your list and change the choice. Good luck!

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