I’ve helped a few moms write their first resume when they’re ready to return to work after raising kids. Figuring out how to address the gap is a challenge for both moms and dads who have taken time away from work to raise kids. There’s a lot of advice out there, so if you find yourself in this situation, definitely do some research about good ways to handle the gap on your resume.
One thing you can do early on, though, is avoid the gap in the first place.
The most obvious way to do this is to keep a foot in the door by working part-time. I’m a huge advocate of this for many reasons (read my article here). But here’s a short list of why this is a good idea:
- It will make it easier to get a job later
- You’ll make money to contribute to your household (providing both money and validation!)
- It’s the best way to avoid the longer-term wage gap that besets all women when they take time off to raise kids
- It’s good for your mental health to have something that’s yours outside of your role as parent
- It’s good for your kids to see you working and earning money
- It will help make sure the whole family (kids and spouse!) pitch in at home instead of relying on you to do all the “woman’s work”
- Whatever you do outside the home will add one more woman’s voice to the broader world. Whatever business you work for will be more diverse and will make decisions that better represent women if more women are participating in this work.
Most of the moms I know who have stayed home with their kids have been active volunteers at their kids’ schools, and often elsewhere in the community too. You should absolutely list your volunteer jobs in the “Experience” section of your resume to address part of the gap.
I recommend taking it one step further, too. When you embark on your plan to stay home with the kids, be proactive instead of reactive about the volunteer work that you do. If you were working before you had kids, you probably have skills that you can bring to your volunteer jobs – so focus your energy on doing the volunteer jobs that match your skills to help you stay fresh, and improve your resume in ways that future employees will care about.
I know a mom who worked in finance before having kids, so she became the treasurer of the PTA which basically meant she was the CFO for a non-profit with an $80,000/year budget. Another mom who was a graphic designer made a new logo for the school, designed posters, helped with the new website design, and had ample opportunities to add to her portfolio during her years away from paid graphic design work. I worked at Microsoft before stepping away to take care of kids, so I used my technical background to take on volunteer jobs like completely revamping the school website and moving the PTA to electronic signups – something I can absolutely include on any future resumes.
Volunteering at school doesn’t have to be throw-away time, and you can do it consciously in a way that helps you keep and grow professional skills that are important to you and future employers.
Another great way to keep your foot in the door when you step away from your career to raise kids is with continuing education. One mom I know wanted to return to her accounting career after a long gap to stay home with her kids, so she signed up for some online accounting classes that refreshed her skills and also helped her become acquainted with newer software that would help her be up to date (a lot less of the industry was electronic when she left it!). Another mom I know was a therapist before taking time away to be with the kids, but she used some of her time away to do online training to become a life coach and could list the supplementary training on her resume. A friend of mine with a special needs child delved deep into the legal options available for kids with 504 plans and IEPs. She ended up taking classes part-time to become a paralegal and was hired by a local law firm that was familiar with her because of her work at her son’s school. For all of these women, they can include this training on their resumes to show their dedication and focus on increasing their skills at the same time they were staying home with their kids.
Bring Your Professional Skills to Your Parenting
Depending on what your job was before having kids this may or may not work for you, but I know a number of moms who used their professional skills to help them raise their own kids. One mom who was a teacher and had a special needs daughter used her teacher training to help create visual supports for her daughter as well as others in the special needs program at her daughter’s school. A mom who was an event planner at local tech companies became a go-to parent for planning school and kid events, keeping her skills fresh and raising her visibility around town as an excellent event planner. I worked in software before I had kids, and ended up using my technical skills to create The Trip Clip. At first I was just trying to use my computer skills to address my son’s crazy behavior at the grocery store, but what I created originally just for him has since grown into an online business I run out of my home. For all three of us, we can show how we’ve continued to work in our preferred fields while raising our kids.
And Last – There Is No Gap!
Seriously. No gap. A gap would mean that you were sitting around doing nothing, not ‘working’, when in reality you were doing the very demanding and important job of taking care of your kids and your household. This may not be ‘traditional’ work experience, but it’s not like you weren’t working. If you had spent the time doing traditional unskilled work (for example as a farm laborer, a cashier, or a janitor) you would absolutely list that on your resume and talk about the details about what you did day to day at that job. Being a stay at home parent is no different, except you don’t have a boss and you don’t get paid. But that doesn’t mean you weren’t working.
We all need to stop thinking of this as a gap. Unskilled labor, sure. But not a gap. You should put this time on your resume – proudly. Include the years and the work you did while raising kids. List your primary responsibilities – you can use this chart of all the jobs required in order to run a household and raise kids to give you ideas.
You can say that you were responsible for childcare, safety, and early education, schedule management, budgeting, event planning, and nutrition. Choose the tasks that map best to your skills and the job you’re applying for. You can also (or alternatively) include a list of the skills you’ve used (and gained!) during this time: computer and internet skills, written and verbal communication, organizational skills, negotiating, collaborating, multi-tasking, time management skills, ability to work under pressure, decision making, self-motivation.
This is also where you should call out your volunteer work, any continuing education you’ve done, and ways you used your unique professional skills during this time.
Someday, I hope that we get to the point where an employer who sees “stay at home mom” on a resume truly understands the depth and breadth of all that means – they will immediately recognize the executive functioning, coordination, communication, management, patience, and hard, exhausting labor that is required to be a stay at home parent.
Until that happens, I encourage anyone stepping backing from work to raise kids to think about how best to spend these years so that they can make a great case later that there is no gap. And then when it comes time to write that resume, never forget that you were working that entire time. Celebrate those years, and all the wisdom and experience you gained during them. Then go sell yourself!