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Comeback Moms Re-enter the Workforce

There is a growing group of women in the American workplace. They are comeback moms, professional women who put their careers on hold to become full-time mothers and raise their children and are now back on the job. Many say the secret to a successful comeback is developing a reentry strategy before departure.

Monica Samuels had been working as an attorney for 12 years and serving as president of the Young Republicans when she had her first child. She was very busy. "I was spending most of my time working on my law practice, and my responsibilities for my national organization," she says. "And my child, unfortunately, was always left out. I had to somehow work in time with him. It would sometimes amount to an hour an evening and I'd even be gone on the weekends."

Samuels was considering an extraordinary job opportunity when she got pregnant with her second child. "I just stopped to think, 'What am I doing here?" she recalls. "I have these two children and if I continue along this path, they are going to be just people that I see occasionally and not people whose lives I'm heavily involved in.' While it was a tough decision, I think it was a right decision to stay home with them."

While staying at home with her children, though, Samuels kept one foot in the professional pool, looking ahead to the day she could dive back in. "I'm an attorney," she says. "I have the option, because I don't work in a firm anymore, to go inactive in my state bar, but I don't do that. Instead I keep my license active. I go to continuing legal education classes. I read up on what's going on in my field because it's changing constantly."

More than 60 percent of professional women who leave their jobs to raise children want to return to the workforce someday. In their book, Comeback Moms, Monica Samuels and her co-author, journalist J.C. Conklin, outline dozens of strategies adopted by women who've done that successfully. "We interviewed over 100 women from around the country," she says. "So we got a broad spectrum of women from different careers and just a variety, and people in public service. We interviewed former Texas governor Ann Richards, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Laura Bush's Chief of Staff Anita McBride. We interviewed Karen Hughes, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, who I believe is the ultimate comeback mom.

Samuels says, in 2002, Karen Hughes left the Bush administration, where she was a top White House advisor, and went back to Texas, where her son was in high school. "She made that decision, but what she did was she stayed involved," she says. "She was interested in issues affecting Afghan women. So she joined the U.S. Afghan Women's Council. She kept up with people interested in that issue. Now, her son has graduated and gone off to college. And she's back to work."

Hughes told Samuels that "when you go to your boss and you're asking for a certain arrangement, for example, you want to work part-time, you owe it to that person to really do the job you promise. Anita McBride said the same thing. If you have a company that's making special arrangements for you or is willing to work with you, you have to be willing to work back with them and do your very best.".

Another mother whose comeback strategy is included in the book is Sara Fox. The computer expert was a stay-at-home mom of three for 10 years. "I've been keeping my skills alive by all the volunteer work I do," she says. "I've been meeting people and networking."

Fox says that kept her up-to-date on job opportunities and needed skills. Six months ago, she and three partners started an on-line consumer service company. Thanks to modern technology, she says, she is now a full-time working mother without even leaving her house. "I get up early," she says. "I can do e-mails in the morning, then drop my children at school or camp, work. I usually work straight through lunch, so I can pick them up at 2 or 3 o'clock, take them to tennis lessons. We have dinner together, and baths. Then I go back to work -- on my computer at home."

Comeback Moms co-author Monica Samuels says for other working women, the time they spend at home with their children offers a chance to reflect and change. "One woman we interviewed was an attorney," she says. "She wasn't really crazy about being an attorney, but she found while she was volunteering at her son's school, helping with math, that she loved tutoring math. She loved working with middle grade students on math projects. So what she has done is she has gone back to the University of Texas. She's getting her degree in math and education, and she wants to be a math teacher."

Whether "Comeback Moms" come back to the jobs they left, or to something completely different, Monica Samuels recommends that they be flexible. Sometimes, she says, we have to take a step back before moving forward. And perhaps even more so than when they were working, networking is important, and so is continuing their education or learning new skills. Samuels also encourages moms who plan to make a comeback to volunteer or take a part-time job, so their resumes reflect continued interest and experience.