Two years ago, I planned to return to work after a nine-year stint as a stay-at-home mom. With my youngest heading to kindergarten, I no longer needed to be home all day.
My husband urged me to find a job. He’s been waiting over a decade to build a waterfront house and wanted another hefty salary to plump up our reserves before building. Despite my best efforts, side hustling over the last decade couldn’t produce a fraction of my former software-engineer income.
In 2020, I planned to return to work, but instead, a worldwide pandemic pivoted my plans. In 2021, my dad’s cancer diagnosis altered my goals once again. Work would wait for another time, as taking care of my dad without the stress of employment was a blessing and a privilege.
After my dad died, I sent out resumes, interviewed, and waited for callbacks, but my heart wasn’t in the job search. After ten months of watching my dad decline, I couldn’t imagine returning to a line of work that I didn’t love.
But returning to work in a software-related field would help us build a house, so I trudged on.
Searching for Meaningful Work
I faced a good deal of ageism while searching. How do I know? When my resume included my work history, I didn’t get a single call back. When I chopped off nearly a decade of time, the calls started coming.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the right fit. Employment letters for highly paid positions didn’t roll in, which wasn’t all that surprising. My resume didn’t show a ten-year gap. I had plenty of side hustles and paid work to fill in the timeline, but I needed more focus in one area. It didn’t help that I was looking for a job in tech that wasn’t in software engineering.
I was searching for a job so we could build a house, but I kept thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if I found a more meaningful position? As I searched, I began substitute teaching at a local school and remembered how much I love working with children.
In the spring, I accepted a part-time position with the most troubled school in my area and reported for my first official day of work in July.
Do I make enough to pay for a house? Ha, ha, ha. No way. My hourly rate is a third of what I used to earn, but it’s fun anyway.
A Second Career
I now work roughly seventeen hours a week, and I genuinely enjoy it. In fact, I like it so much I’m considering returning to school to get a degree in library science.
“Do you really want to earn another degree?” my husband asked the other day.
“I think I do,” I answered. “Not so long from now, the kids will be grown and out of the house. I’m not burned out from work because I took a break to raise the kids. I can see myself starting a second career in the school system.”
The Perks of Part-Time Work
Working a part-time job has its perks. I’m the type of person who lets time get away from them. If I have an entire day to do whatever I want, I often ignore the ticking clock behind me.
I can spend hours writing, tinkering, or creating products for my Etsy store. As a software engineer who worked from home, I allowed work to take over my life. I would wake up early and not shower or eat breakfast. Instead, I would get straight to work.
My work ethic helped me move up the corporate ladder and padded my bank accounts, but I needed to move my body more throughout the day. I allowed my focus on coding to distract me from many other essential aspects of my life, like eating and exercising.
As a stay-at-home mom, time flutters from one moment to the next. I didn’t schedule my children’s naps or meals, which led to spontaneous moments and lots of fun but also a timeline of chaos. I failed to make dinner when nighttime came and often went to bed too late as I let the kids stay up to read too many bedtime stories.
This part-time job is perfect for me. I don’t have to think about work before or after I arrive. I complete my tasks and then go home, but the structure of going to work forces me to plan my day.
Scheduling My Day
Every morning, I wake up and help the kids get ready for school. I put on gym clothes, walk my youngest to the bus stop, and work out for an hour after I wave goodbye.
When I get home, I have enough time to cook a healthy breakfast, pack a few healthy snacks at work, and chat with my husband.
My schedule is variable, so a few days of the week, when I get home from work, I can see both kids step off the bus. Then, I ask them about their day, take a walk, play a round of pickleball, and get ready for dinner.
I’m at work just over three hours a day, but those few hours help me take better control of my time and schedule.
Could I create a rigid schedule without going to work? Of course, I could, but I never did.
I’ve met a lot of older employees at school who returned to work after retirement. They tell me it helps them get out of the house. At work, they can chat with other people and make a difference to kids who need extra help in math and reading.
I enjoy having random conversations with other employees in the teacher’s lounge or chatting with the kids who I see every day. They say one of the keys to longevity is experiencing these small interactions with others.
I see the value of continuing to work after my kids leave the house a few years from now.
I didn’t intend to leave my career when I walked away from work to become a stay-at-home mom, but that’s precisely what happened. I’ve been calling my new position a semi-retirement job and enjoying the perks that come with it.
In many ways, not including my health, I lucked out in the lottery of life. Working as a software engineer allowed me to save early in life. Marrying a talented engineer more than doubled our earning potential. The magic of compound interest further padded our bank accounts.
In my younger years, I often thought money was the end goal and that once I reached a certain level of wealth, there would be no reason to return to work.
Decades later, I see the world through a different lens. Working has its perks, and I’m now contemplating a second career.