In this episode of 3,2,1 iRelaunch, Carol Fishman Cohen talks with Michelle Friedman, Founder of Advancing Women's Careers and Special Advisor to iRelaunch about how best to approach your relaunch plans with your family. Carol and Michelle explore both conceptual and practical ways to deal with some of the most common issues in returning to work for family life including household management, your partner's career goals, and dealing with the loss of time at home and with children.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch, the industry leader in career reentry resources. In each episode of 3,2,1 iRelaunch, we'll be speaking with guest experts in the career reentry space to help make your transition back to work smooth and successful.
Today, we are going to be talking about the best ways to involve your family in your relaunch. We're very excited to be speaking with Michelle Friedman about this topic. Michelle is founder of Advancing Women's Careers, a coaching and consulting firm based outside of New York City. She's a certified executive coach and organizational consultant, a facilitator and speaker.
Her expertise is in women's career paths. Michelle is a special advisor to iRelaunch and collaborates with iRelaunch on a range of initiatives.
Hi Michelle, thank you for being with us today.
Michelle Friedman: Carol, hi, so nice to see you and talk to you.
Carol Fishman Cohen: So Michelle, you and I have spoken widely about this topic, how to channel support from your family when you're considering a return to work.
I want to engage in this topic because sometimes these conversations go smoothly and sometimes they don't. And we want to talk about probably more of those situations where the conversations are difficult. So just to start off, what kinds of steps or conversations do you think you should be having with your family along the way when you are relaunching?
Michelle Friedman: Well, this is a great topic to be talking about because we know how important having support is during a relaunch and particularly from the people who you live with and spend a lot of time with, your spouse and family members. And the truth is, that not only is this a transition for the person who's returning to work, but there's really a transition also happening for everybody in the household, and your being home has likely been very helpful, extremely convenient to the people that you live with.
And they probably have become, really accustomed to having unlimited accessibility to the person who's been home. So, you know, Carol naturally, I think that they're wondering, “What does this mean for me when the primary parent or caregiver is going back to work?” So, what I like to encourage clients to think about is the full effects of this kind of change.
Not just what's going to be the challenge, but also, what's going to be a benefit, or what's an opportunity, or what could be fun about this for everyone in the family. And so sort of look at it holistically with an open mind and be flexible in thinking about it, and make this sort of an exercise for the whole family to talk about together.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I love the concept. I'm really interested in the implementation. So can you give an example of what would be a conversation starter that would illustrate this whole idea.
Michelle Friedman: Well, I think starting with your spouse is probably the place to begin, or your partner, spouse, the other grownups in the household,
and sharing with them why this is important to you. And maybe you've already started to have these kinds of conversations because we know a relaunch is not just an overnight thing. It's a process that takes place over time. And we're hoping that there's going to be lots of conversations happening over this transition process.
So sharing with them initially, or continuing to talk about why this is important to you. And things that you and I often hear are a desire for personal and professional growth for the person who's relaunching, to feel like they're learning and being challenged, and of course, contributing to the family income.
That's a biggie, right?
What I also hear a lot that comes up quite a bit, is this idea of role modeling. So what kind of role models do the grownups in the house want to set for the kids, and this is not just for daughters, but also for sons. I personally have three teenage sons and it's really important for me that they grow up seeing what men and women can do, and how this is going to affect how they think about their own possibilities and their own families. And so when you talk about why this is important to you, be looking for what are the intersections between that and how this is important for your spouse, and you'll probably find many things in common with that.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I like that. And, and do you have different advice for people at different stages in this process? And is there a way to set the stage maybe initially that leads the later conversations to be better and smoother for everyone?
Michelle Friedman: I think getting some of this stuff out upfront is really helpful.
So we just talked about something positive, what your hopes are, what your goals are, but I think also sharing your concerns here, “I would love to be doing this, but actually this is the piece of it that worries me. What do you think about that?”
Sort of getting all of that out on the table early on means that you can be in this ongoing collaborative conversation and you can be talking about those things and working on them because, that way, until you really know what your goals are and what you think your assumed challenges are, it's really hard to have follow-up conversations. I do think that that sets the stage.
And when I say assumed challenges, I'm sure you've seen this quite a bit, is oftentimes the things that feel like the biggest fears can be a little bit overblown or in truth are easily solved with a little bit of planning. So getting that stuff out on the table early on, I think can be very helpful and then continuing to check in.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. And I also think that depending where your spouse or partner is in their careers is a factor, a big factor. Have they been in their role for a long time and are relatively secure in it? Do they have a lot of control over their schedule or on the flip side, did they just change jobs? Are they not secure in their role? Can you comment on that give and take when the spouse or partner themselves has either great job security or not such great service job security, or maybe they love what they're doing or they don't love what they do.
Michelle Friedman: Well, It's a great point because this isn't all about you and the person who's relaunching. And to be sensitive to the fact that other people are going through whatever they're going through in their own lives. So, we had talked earlier about this idea of doing a little bit of visioning, sitting down saying, and maybe this is over a glass of wine, or just at a time where you're just really relaxed and talking and saying, “If you were to close your eyes and I relaunched and it's a year from now, what do you think the best case scenario could look like for me, but especially for you? What do you have going on in your career over the next year? And is it a time where you feel like you're going to be able to pull back and be more involved at home? Is it a time that you're going to need even more support at home?” Having that kind of a conversation creates room for the other person, and then you compare the two paths and the two chapters that you're in and then you figure out, how do we make this work together?
Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that. I think that is just such a great construct to think about how the relaunch is going to affect everyone, and I love that it acknowledges the issues that the spouse or partner is facing as well. Let's move on to other members of the household, namely children. So there are some listeners who don't have children and don't plan to, and there are listeners where children are like a key part of the conversation as a person's relaunching,
so let's focus on that particular piece of it.
Do you have special recommendations on how relaunchers should be speaking to their kids or with their kids, and maybe talking about kids of different ages and how you might change your strategy or just, it doesn't have to be a strategy, but how you change your conversations depending on how old the kids are.
Michelle Friedman: Certainly the age of the kids and their developmental maturity and all that is a big piece of it. And you want to take that into account, but I think that there's an overarching philosophy that I have which is, involve them in it and involve them in it to whatever extent they are able to be involved
like I said, based on their age. So, certainly this looks very different for a five year old than a fifteen year old. But there's, I think a way to, again, be in conversation with them so that together you can agree on what are the key things that they really want to try to stay the same as much as possible.
How can you brainstorm maybe on some new traditions that could be put in place that maybe don't exist now? I think people are often really surprised that little things can be very powerful. So if you've been someone who's been home, really super accessible all the time, we start to think it's about the quantity of time that we're available to our kids. And then when you go back to work, you realize, well, maybe it's really just not the quantity of the time. It sounds like a cliche, it's the quality, but really what I mean, it's the meaning of the time. And I'll give you an example,being there for your kids means different things to different people.
I have a 15 year old son who when I can take him to school in the morning, I like doing that. I like being with him. Truly he's half asleep during that ride to school.. We can't even have a conversation. He just kind of nods and our best time is later in the day then before he goes to sleep. So, if I had to give up that drive, since there's many times I need to because of work commitments, I'm okay doing that. It's not the quantity of the time that I spend with him. I know the better time is later in the day and he might say the same thing actually. And a little kid may say, “Oh, well, you're not going to take me to school, but are you still going to be reading my book with me every night?” Finding out from them, what do they really want to stay the same as much as possible?
And like I said, there are new things you can add in like, “Well, I won't be able to do this with you, but what about every Saturday morning as much as we can, you and I are going to do this together?” And that new tradition may end up outweighing some of the things that you think are going to be lost along the way, that maybe will not be that big of an issue.
Carol Fishman Cohen: You know, it's reminding me this conversation is reminding me of an interview that we had when Vivian Steir Rabin and I wrote Back on The Career Track, and I remember interviewing a rabbi who had returned to work after a long career break, she also has three boys. And she said, she realized that once she was relaunched, when she came home, she had a need to ask her kids to recap the day, but they didn't want to do that. Her youngest son really just wanted to throw a ball around in the backyard with her and was much happier doing that than having this “let's talk about our day” kind of conversation. So this understanding about what that most important thing from your child's perspective and not yours is so important. I'm glad you mentioned that.
Michelle Friedman: Yeah, it's about not making assumptions, and being in a conversation that allows them to have input, because some of the best solutions come out of their mouths. I think the person who's relaunching spends a lot of thinking time trying to figure this all out. But if you look at it collaboratively together, you guys will all figure it out. And there's a lot of good information from your family, right? I think it puts less pressure on the person that's going back to work and it allows them to also concentrate more on the job search and not maybe worry as much about the impact on the family, because it's not up to them to solve everything themselves.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. I'm actually wondering about a part of the process. I wanted to get your opinion on this. I always thought it's valuable for the kids to see you try and fail as well as try and succeed. So when you're going through your job search, you're likely to go through a period of time where you're applying for jobs, or you even get a certain percent through the process and then you're eliminated as a candidate, and that this is actually a valuable moment. I don't know if you want to call it a teaching moment, a valuable, interactive moment with your child to say, “You know, I really wanted that and I worked really hard and then I didn't get it,” and just to have them be in the role of receiving news like that about you.
Michelle Friedman: Yeah, I agree. And I think it helps them relate your process to things that they're very familiar with in their own lives. And again, I think you can customize this for any age level. It doesn't seem like this job search, or relaunch process is so foreign that they have things in their own life that are quite similar. “Remember that time you joined that team and you didn't know the coach or any of the other players on the team, and it took you a while to get to know people? And you weren't sure if you were going to like it?” I mean, that's a parallel to starting a new job, and you can help them draw the connections and then you can actually turn the tables and ask them for advice and allow them to be in the role of coaching you.
And I've often seen kids get really excited for their parents, “Wow, mom, this is a big day for you. Have you picked out your clothes for your first day at work?” Then you can say to your kid, “Well, can you tell me about a time that you had something like this? What tips do you have for me?” And it really empowers them to feel like they can give something back to you and that they're part of your success in the same ways that they probably have felt you being very supportive as they try challenges.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. I love that advice. It's spot on. Can we shift gears and talk about maybe the practical side?
So, what does life look like when mom or dad, or whoever, is the at-home parent who is now relaunching and suddenly has reduced the amount of time to contribute to the household? Who picks up that slack? What are the conversations and how would that work?
Michelle Friedman: Yeah, well, it's certainly a truth that it takes a lot nowadays to run a household if there are kids in the household, to raise those kids, right? And who knows it better than the person who's been doing it full-time or part-time at home and who's now making that change. So, the way I look at it is that there is a whole list of things on that list that goes into running the household and taking care of kids.
It's a great exercise to just sit down, maybe over another glass of wine. I guess what I'm saying is at times where you're relaxed and sort of open-minded, to get out a piece of paper and just do a brain dump. Maybe you do this with your spouse initially, or your partner. Maybe you involve the whole family. You could put this on a whiteboard, what does it take to keep this household running and just do a brain dump of everything on that list.
I guess I first want to say that I really strongly believe in this concept of co-parenting and sharing responsibilities at home. So, once you get that list out there, you might notice, “Wow, I tend to do a lot of that stuff and some of these patterns have been set in place unconsciously over time,” just because maybe you've been the person who's been more available. But it's a great opportunity to reevaluate, what do you actually enjoy doing? Maybe there are things that other people in the house enjoy doing, or haven't had a chance to do that you've sort of owned over time. And I think everything's up for grabs. When you put it out on a piece of paper and it's a chance for maybe you and your spouse, or if you have your kids involved at this point saying, “You know, from that list, if I wrote down on a piece of paper the things I still really want to be doing, I might really enjoy cooking. I might enjoy other things.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I might enjoy taking out the trash.
Michelle Friedman: I mean, there are people who enjoy folding laundry. That's very meditative to them. And if they had to choose from a list that would be something they would really like to hold on to. And there's plenty of things we'd like to not do anymore. So then there's that list of what I do not want to be doing anymore. And then what's negotiable, what's in between, and then from that, at least you're getting some sort of clarity around, “What do I enjoy? What are my strengths,” or “What are the things it just doesn't make sense for me to be doing?” And ask your spouse to do the same thing. Once you kind of have it all out on paper, you can divide things up a little bit. Then look at what are the low value tasks that maybe nobody wants to do or where it's not worth everybody's time to be doing.
Is there an opportunity for outsourcing there like bringing a little bit of help with cleaning, or having kids pick up something, some sort of task. But the reality is there's going to be less hours in the day to be completing what has been happening before. So how are those hours going to get made up? And where do you want to be spending your time when you're at home or with your family?
This is a hard thing for some people. It's hard to let go of the things that they've been doing either because of a control issue or a sense of no one's going to be able to do it as well as I did it. It might even be that question,and maybe we can talk a little bit about this, “Well, if I have to hire childcare and maybe now I have to hire some help with errands or cleaning around the house, does it even make sense for me to go back to work?” And that's another piece of the discussion that we can get into if we have time. ButI think you have to take a realistic look at how much time everybody has in their day, what they want to be doing. What are the things they absolutely don't want to be doing? And are there solutions for that?
Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. I remember another interview, for Back on The Career Track where a mom who was a doctor was going back to work, and she had taken her career break starting when her youngest was five. So she had worked through the early years, then took a career break between when they were five and I think her oldest was twelve. Then she was going back and they had a family meeting and she said, “You know, each person in this household owes this household 30 minutes a day of chores or to something contributing to make it run.” And they had the kids be very involved.
Another mom had one kid be responsible for dinner one night a week. And that included saying what the ingredient list was going to be by Sunday at noon, so the weekly grocery shopping could include the ingredients for that kid's meal. And she said, “Even if it was pasta and water, that kid was responsible for getting the grocery list and making the dinner that evening.” She said she had a seventh grade boy who initially was very unenthusiastic about this, but over time became pretty possessive about his dinner night. So it's interesting to see kids evolve in terms of their responsibility. And there's a lot of good arguments for why it's great for kids to have to take on those responsibilities.
Michelle Friedman: Oh, sure. I mean, I think if you asked them, they'd probably prefer that things are done for them, but the truth is that this is a chance for them to explore their capabilities, and to build confidence and self-efficacy, and there's a lot of talk around, do we overpraise our kids for things that they don't necessarily deserve praise for?
But, I think in this case, men, when they are taking on new responsibilities and doing well, and discovering things about themselves that's also a great teaching moment for them.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Let's talk about timing a little bit, and let's assume we're talking about elementary school age children and up for this piece of it.
How far in advance do you recommend that people put certain parts of coverage or other changes for their kids on day to day routines in place?
Michelle Friedman: Some of this depends on the child, because as we know, there are some kids who, the earlier you tell them about a potential change, the more anxious that can make them.
So I think you have to know who you're working with here. Excuse me, but we also know that looking for a job in a sense is a bit of a job. And that requires time and focus. So while you're in the process of relaunching, it's a nice time to start introducing some of the changes that may be happening in a more systematic or dramatic way once you go back to work. Once you have a sense of, “Is my child ready to hear this, and how much do I want to share at this point,” then, maybe mom or dad is going to be out for a few hours this afternoon having some meetings. So we're going to have a babysitter come over and it does in a way ease them into what the new normal might end up looking like down the road.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Great. It's really interesting. I remember writing about how kids think whatever is their norm, whether both parents or partners are working full-time right from the get-go or one person is home, that's their normal and that's just how the world works to them. It's when you change that one way or the other, it's not whether you're working or not working, but whether you're transitioning that that's the tricky part to manage. So, the idea that you sort of dip your toe in a little bit and have some preliminary situations while you're job searching, where you're not there in the afternoon and someone else is, or maybe at some point you want them to participate in the afterschool program. Maybe even during your job search, you would potentially sign them up for this. They are not attaching the moment you go back to work to the moment that they started in the after-school program, but those are staggered a bit.
Michelle Friedman: Yeah, and there can be multiple motivations for signing them up for that afterschool program. It could be that the timing in your mind is driven by the fact that you need a little bit more coverage in order to be doing the work of your relaunch, but this could be an interest that they have had for a while that now they're going to get to do a class in that. I think too, to make sure that not everything is directly connected to the reentry, but there's lots of good reasons why this might be happening and lots of benefits.
Carol Fishman Cohen: You touched on this concept before about, does it even make sense for me to go back with all these expenses? Can you just elaborate on that for a minute before we wrap up our conversation?
Michelle Friedman: Sure. Well, I think it's a natural question for people to ask. And certainly if you or someone in your household is a numbers person and is sort of a rational thinker, they may look at the economics of it and that's absolutely something that is worth taking a look at. But I also encourage that evaluation to happen in sort of taking a long view. Careers last a long time. I mean, we worked from our twenties to let's say our sixties or beyond. If we like what we do and it fits in our life, and depending on where you are in that timeframe, you could have a pretty long runway ahead of you in terms of years to be working. And when you're not working or I should say, when you go back to work, what you're regaining is more than just your annual salary.
And that's really something to be thinking about. You're regaining an opportunity to have salary growth that doesn't happen when you're not working. There are other benefits that come with a job and just think about, let's say a 401k match from an employer that is income that you don't have when you're not working, and of course this goes up over time.
The sooner you go back to work, the sooner you can reestablish that salary and start building it and getting it. So it's really not just the salary itself. I think it's all of the upside that accumulates over time that has to be calculated. Maybe you've seen this as well, Carol, that the longer somebody is on a career break, in many cases, the harder it is to return to work. So if you start thinking now is the time, even if the financials don't make sense because you'd need a lot of childcare based on the ages of your children, childcare costs go down over time as the kids get older. And this may only be a situation for a couple of years.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. I completely agree that you're investing in yourself and in your future earnings when you return to work. So even if you experience what you're perceiving as a breakeven proposition for a couple of years, it's as you're saying, those childcare costs will decrease over time. The other way to think about it is when you're evaluating this with a spouse or partner, to look at those expenses against your combined projected income, as opposed to that I'm going to make this incremental amount and that's going to be completely wiped out by the incremental amount of additional expenses.
So you should really be looking at it as your joint projected income and weighing those total expenses against that number. If so, if someone's a numbers person, that's how they should technically be looking at it properly.
Michelle Friedman: Right, if they're a numbers person. I also saw a really interesting online calculator.
Maybe you've seen this from the Center for American Progress. If anyone is out there and likes to look that up, that's AmericanProgress.org, and they released a calculator recently to compute the true cost of a career break. And it's very eye opening when you take in all the factors we talked about today. That gives somebody some analytical information that might help with the decision. And then putting all of that aside, you can't put a dollar value on feeling more fulfilled, being maybe a happier person, if you have a piece of your identity also fulfilled by working. So there's lots of other factors aside from that calculation over the next few years.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. I think that's excellent, excellent advice. Michelle, I just want to ask you a final question that we ask whenever we have a podcast, and that is what is your favorite piece of relaunch advice, even if it's something that you already said during this podcast?
Michelle Friedman: Sure. Well, I think it's getting to know what your own definition of success is in this chapter of your life and your career. It might look really different from the last time you worked and understanding what's going to make this feel successful for you now and for those around you. And we certainly have talked about that on this podcast.
And as you're getting clear on that, be willing to let go and set reasonable expectations for yourself. People tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves and if we let go of perfectionism and we realize that this is a work in progress, it's a transition, before you know it, you'll have it mastered just like other things you've accomplished before, and to celebrate the little accomplishments along the way.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent advice. Great wisdom. Thank you so much, Michelle, for joining us today.
Michelle Friedman: Thanks Carol. It's been a pleasure talking with you.
Carol Fishman Cohen: For more information about Michelle or her firm Advancing Women's Careers, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and for more information about the iRelaunch bootcamps, where we go into detail about assessing career options and the job search tactics that you need to take to relaunch your career, be sure to visit irelaunch.com/bootcamp.