Why Being a SAHM Isn't Enough Anymore
Yesterday I sort of got roped in to helping a friend of my mom's. My mom thinks I am a genius. This is because I can, on occasion, help her with some minor computer problem, like pulling up her email. It's the postage stamp icon mom. "Oh!" she exclaims, clapping her hands together, "you're so clever! How did you get to be so clever!?" So when a friend of her's mentions that they need some kind of computer assistance, she's like "I KNOW WHO CAN HELP YOU! MY DAUGHTER IS EINSTEIN!" And this is how it starts.
This time she called because a friend of hers was going back into the work force after a long hiatus and didn't have any clue how to work LinkedIn. I also don't really know how to work LinkedIn. But we went to her house anyway. The woman had been married for 15 years when her husband, seemingly out of the blue, served her divorce papers. He had met someone else and wanted to marry her instead. Not to oversimplify, these things are always terribly complicated, but that was the gist of it. What was awful about this, or what was currently awful, was that she had been a stay at home mother for nearly 10 years and in that time had done precious little in the workplace. She'd been a journalist, a PR and marketing exec, and had a binder of newspaper clippings she had written or played a part in, that was the size of an encyclopedia. "Is any of this stuff online?" I asked her. Nope. Things had changed so much in the last 10 years, that she had suddenly found most of her stuff irrelevant and dated. We sat side by side at her computer and I walked her through things as best I could. She had a LinkedIn profile up and had started that. But she had no links to work because of course, when she was working there wasn't as much online. The stuff that had been online was now somewhere buried, or dead, the companies she'd worked for belly up. She showed me a PR campaign she'd worked on that landed the online brokerage she was contracted to, several prestigious awards -beating out E-Trade, Charles Schwab and others. It was a brokerage I'd never heard of. Things had changed so much, that the once award-winning brokerage was now defunct.
She talked a lot. Maybe she was nervous, embarrassed. A friend of her's had told her to die her hair, there was a bit of gray in it. Though I didn't see it. She was scared. She had an interview the next morning. "There's no way I'll get this job," she kept saying. "I should be in a rest home." Every time I managed to do something fairly insignificant on her LinkedIn page, she was thrilled, and like my mom, thought I was a genius. She wanted to pay me. And when I said no to that, she pressed me for my favorite spa so she could get me a gift card. She was so grateful. We found a plug-in or some kind of third party add on that allowed us to scan in her clips from Business Week and Barron's and all the impressive places she'd worked for. She'd bought a new scanner and we both fumbled through setting that up and facing the paper the right way. I told her to publish her LinkedIn profile to her Facebook account. "How come?" she wanted to know. And I explained that her friends on Facebook could see that she was looking for a job and some of them might know of a job for her. If nothing else, they can offer their support. She nodded, all of this was new to her. Eventually we got it, and I figured out how to make a fairly glossy presentation of her work that would appear on LinkedIn. It looked good. It was dated, yes, but it showed she had worked hard and gotten results and ran campaigns that really mattered. Near the end, as we were scanning our last clips, I turned to her and said, "I think it's dangerous to be a stay-at-home mom these days." It was a bold thing to say and I guess she could have taken it poorly, but she nodded. "I know."
I really believe you have to stay current. You can't just be a mom anymore. It's not enough. You have to have at least one foot in the door, any door. Maybe all you're doing is keeping your LinkedIn profile current and occasionally doing some part-time work or a bit of consulting. Maybe you're taking a class here and there - on social media or something else relevant to your former full-time job. Keep those contacts going. Occasionally check in with bosses you liked or co-workers who have moved on to other jobs. I don't think it's safe to just stay at home and do nothing but mother. I realize lots of us will have long happy marriages and perhaps your partner will always be a fantastic provider. But marriages fail. People leave. You may find yourself, as this woman has, alone, in a small rental, with split custody and no job. It's not the end of the world, she'll be alright. But had she kept herself current, she'd be a lot more alright. And it's not always about families splitting up. People have accidents or can't work. Or have long bouts of depression or children who need special care. And suddenly the bottom drops out of your life and now what? What are you going to put on your resume? How are you going to explain the gaps?
I was a stay at home mom for about four years and when my marriage fell apart I got lucky. I looked up someone who I had worked for in the past, who liked me and with whom I had stayed in touch. He gave me something part-time. I muddled through. I was incredibly rusty. He was kind and tolerated me and eventually even gave me something full time. When I remarried, I left the job. My children were having a hard time with lots of things - the custody plan, missing me, other changes. And I was desperate to help them. But here I am again, getting rusty. With an ancient LinkedIn profile. It makes me a bit nervous. Through blogging and twitter and all the various social media outlets, I have managed to feel more current, more like I can jump into something if I had to. I do some freelance writing, I started a website with some friends. It's enough that I don't feel panicked about the what-ifs, but I still need to keep trying. I need to not get complacent and instead learn new skills so that when my mom calls me clever, I can really agree with her.