One of the biggest hurdles you may face as a relauncher is…yourself. You’re not alone if the mere thought of re-entering the work force makes you anxious, apprehensive, guilt-ridden, and doubtful of your abilities. For years, you’ve nurtured helpless beings, juggled complex schedules, and managed a busy household and complex budget. But the thought of going head-to-head with a 20-something skinny-jeans-Ugg-wearing-Tweeting-Digging-YouTubing whiz leaves you locked in the bathroom muttering to yourself.
Smith says many of her clients are both excited and ambivalent about re-entering the work force. Women, she says, are socialized to put value on the role of “mother,” and returning to work can feel like a socially unacceptable rejection of that role.
“A lot of women don’t think about the next phase of their life,” Smith says. ”They have so passionately identified with the role they have been playing. That was my greatest role in life, and now what? It takes a while for women to see themselves in a new field.”
Smith’s clients are fairly evenly divided between women who are voluntarily re-entering the work force, usually because they are facing an empty nest or their children need them less than they used to, and women who are forced back to work, usually because of divorce. Either way, the transition causes a great deal of anxiety. And that anxiety is directly related to how long a woman has been out of the work force.
“People blow it up in their minds about how hard it’s going to be,” says Smith, “and the longer they wait, the bigger it’s going to be. My clients who’ve done the best are the ones who just go do it. The anxiety is less with those folks. My suggestion would be to swallow hard and go ahead and take the first step. It will reduce the anxiety.”
For many women, however, there’s a dual anxiety — how returning to work will impact the family.
“It’s not like when you leave a job and you never see it any more,” says Smith. ”You still see this one. And you see what’s not getting done.”
Smith says family dynamics in a returning to work situation often follow systems theory. According to that theory, when one component of a system changes, the system will put pressure on that component to return to its original state.
“Even though the family wants this person to make the change,” says Smith, “sometimes they inadvertently put pressure on the woman to go back to what she was. ’I liked when mom made my lunches. I liked when my wife did the laundry.’ The system will say things with hidden messaging, and women are susceptible to that because of the socializing we get about motherhood. It’s hard.”
On the plus side, Smith says many women are energized by their new independence, earning an income, and the intellectual stimulation they get from their co-workers. That, says Smith, is all very positive.