You’ve been laid off. Your wife is going back to work. Your at-home children are preparing to press your buttons as they’ve never been pressed before. At a time like this, how can you even think about furthering your career?
You can, and in these tricky times, you’d better.
One thing’s for sure: In this recession, husbands who find themselves in this boat have more company than ever. Since December 2007, four out of five pink slips have gone to men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But that’s cold comfort to men who need to keep their professional act together while devoting countless hours to the care and feeding of young ones. Warm-and-fuzzy self-affirmations are fine, but what these men-between-jobs really need is concrete advice on keeping their careers on track. Here’s a start.
You’re at a Career Crossroads, So Take Time to Think
You’ve stepped out of the 9-to-5 grind, so you’d be wise to take advantage of the opportunity to reassess your career and make course corrections or wholesale changes.
That’s what Jeremy Smith did in 2005. “I was laid off and used that time to reengineer my career,” says Jeremy Smith, author of The Daddy Shift. “I had been an executive at a nonprofit, and I felt my career was incompatible with the kind of dad I wanted to be.” Smith landed a position as a senior editor at Greater Good, a publication of the University of California at Berkeley. In summer 2009, he’s being laid off from that job -- time for another reassessment.
Make Time for Productive Professional Activity
It may seem strange, but your time between jobs should yield some lines on your resume -- and not to highlight your diaper-changing or playdate-arranging skills.
So find a way to work some hours each day or week on a freelance or consulting project. Volunteer if you must, but keep the professional level of your work as high as possible. To make time, barter child care with other stay-at-home parents.
Scott Coscia found a creative way to use his talents between career positions.
“I was laid off in January 2009, and now I stay at home with our 1-year-old,” says Coscia, whose most recent job was in IT training and support. “My wife’s a neurologist, and she’s the breadwinner now.”
Coscia manages his wife’s medical practice; returning from maternity leave, she changed offices. “I work remotely,” says Coscia. “I can work from home with the baby running around. To go out on the job market and just take anything doesn’t make sense; child care is very expensive in New York.”
Work Around the Kids
How can you build your professional muscles while your kids are playing dress-up in your business suits? It’s all about creating a workable schedule and getting buy-in from your family.
“I try to set an expectation with the girls that I need to be on the phone from this time to that time,” says Ron Mattocks, who was laid off from his sales job in residential homebuilding in February 2008. “I give them a certain amount of structure with TV, chores, homework and so on.”
Stealth is another effective tactic. “A lot of my work gets done early, before my wife and son are up,” says Smith.
Make Space for Your Ongoing Professional Life
You can take your laptop anywhere, but your powers of mind are more sensitive to context.
“It’s important to have a place apart from the family space,” says Smith. Part of Smith’s solution is a membership in San Francisco’s storied Mechanics Institute, a library and cultural center.
Network More Than Ever
Yes, you’ve surrendered your ID badge, but you must still connect with colleagues past, present and prospective. Get on the phone, go online, find like-minded parent-professionals at the playground, attend conventions and hang out at coffee shops where client meetings happen.
One way to keep in touch through a period of unemployment or underemployment is to create your own network, as Mattocks has done with his stay-at-home-dad blog, Clark Kent’s Lunchbox. Just remember, anything you say about yourself online can be considered a business communication.
Address All Domestic Issues Up Front
As soon as you file for unemployment benefits, you should have detailed discussions with your spouse about how domestic responsibilities will be divided to serve both of your careers and the kids as well. Will the arrangement continue indefinitely? When you land your next job, will you hire help at home? Will your spouse take up the slack? Consider these issues now, so that you can approach your first day on your next job with high hopes rather than high anxiety.