Breaking Up With Your Job

I’ve always hated to say good-bye – to boyfriends, summer vacations, apartments, worn-out jeans, dead flowers.   Lila Leff, the founder of a Chicago-based nonprofit youth organization called Umoja, puts goodbyes in better perspective in her Mommy Wars essay: "I see [fill in the blank] as one of the greatest chapters in my life. But all chapters lead to the next chapter, and there is nothing worse than hanging around in a chapter after it has already ended."


For me, one of life’s biggest challenges is leaving a job at the right time.  I still regret leaving, at 24, my first fulltime job as an editor at Seventeen Magazine in New York.  In my 30s, I wrapped up 10 years at Johnson & Johnson – one of the most understanding, family-friendly employers on the planet -- to plunge into a dream job running The Washington Post Magazine. It was a thoroughly enthralling challenge; the only downside was that I saw my three kids for roughly 30 seconds a day.  Five years later, I left the Post to write Mommy Wars. And last Friday, I stopped writing On Balance, after two years writing daily for about work and family issues.  The time had come to focus on my memoir about surviving domestic violence, Crazy Love, which comes out from St. Martin's Press early next year.


Transitions are always hard, whether you’re starting a new job, moving to a new city, or ending a relationship. But for working moms, quitting or changing jobs is fraught with anxiety all its own.  The stakes have become far higher.


If you’re a working mom, leaving a job to try staying home with your kids, the questions are “Will I still be myself without my work?” and “What about my economic future?”  and “Will I be able to return to work when I want to or need to?” 


If you’re contemplating leaving a job for another job, the inner monologue includes: “Will my next employer let me leave when my kid is sick?”  and “Do they really mean the company is family-friendly?  Or are their policies mere lip service?” and “Should I give up my seniority here for a challenge there?”


If you’ve been staying at home with children and are planning a return to paid work, the doubts hit hard.  Can your children handle more time away from you?  Will employers value your skills?  Will recruiters return your calls?  Will your partner adjust to handling more responsibility at home?


As we all know, the work/family juggling act is our own personal house of cards.  Make a change – in childcare, a new baby, a longer commute, a lesser salary – and the deck could collapse.  Stability is incredibly important for a mom juggling kids’ needs, career needs and our own needs (remember those?) at the same time.





I recently considered a move to a different firm, and ultimately (after actually accepting the job and tendering my resignation) decided to stay put. In the final analysis, I felt more confident that I could get (force?) what I needed out of my current firm than I was confident that what the new place was telling me was the real deal. Don't get me wrong, they talked the talk, but it didn't ring 100% true, and there was that nagging feeling that moving, while perhaps "better" in terms of my career, was not "better" for me or my family.
Part of what made it so difficult was that my husband and father looked at the potential move almost purely from a business perspective, while my mother took almost purely a family-based approach. None of them ever really seemed to get that it was about work AND family, and trying to strike the right balance.
So far it seems like the right decision, but only time will tell.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Hi Cheryl from On Balance's Sex and the City review! I went on to see it three times in one week. I need a break now but will definitely go again.

I agree that (some) men who are the primary breadwinners are more willing to take on risk to improve their breadwinning. More power to them! It IS a lot of pressure. But I argue that the need to balance their responsibility with other, non-financial needs of their families and their marriages, in the short and long run.

Carol Fishman Cohen

When I returned to work after eleven years out of the full time workforce, I forgot to do one important thing - assess my career options. I didn't do a rigorous analysis of how my interests had changed, or had not changed, during the time I had been home. I thought that since I came from a finance career, I should just naturally return to finance! So that's what I did.

It wasn't until I was well into my "relaunch" job that I realized I didn't want to do financial analysis anymore. This was a problem, because my job required it. It was hard to come to terms with this realization, because the truth was, I forced myself to get good at financial analysis when I was in business school - it wasn't my natural talent or even what I enjoyed the most. Back in the mid-80's when I graduated, the companies I was interested in wanted numbers jocks.

When I finally did my belated career options assessment, I realized I loved business writing and I loved working with people. So I left that job and ended up co-authoring Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, and co-founding career reentry programming and event company But I always felt guilty that I involved a very progressive employer who was willing to hire me after a long career break when I could have avoided the situation entirely if I had just assessed my career options first. Don't make the same mistake I did!


I am VERY thankful I convinced my husband otherwise. He wanted to make the move if he would make enough for me to stay at home, which sounded absolutely wrong for me. My job, and the city I live in, are huge parts of my identity. To be stripped of those simultaneously would have been awful. I totally understand that it took 10 years to recover from it too - I think I would have felt very resentful, even if our new life had turned out well enough.

By the way, I'm Cheryl from your SATC review. :) Take care.


my god -- you read my mind (again!) just going through this now. love my job. it's kind of my dream job. but love it so much, it is becoming my whole life, not a 40- or 50-hour-a week part. I'm not changing jobs, at least not yet, but I'm weighing all options -- at home mom; different field; part time. and the nagging thought in the back of my head is always -- what if it doesn't work; i hate it; new job isn't flexible. (Never felt this way when contemplated a job change as a childless singleton.


I am the breadwinner in my family, and for that reason, I often hesitate to change the status quo, since change does involve some risk. I have held a government job for the last 10 years, although I have not been in the same job throughout. That's the nice thing about government. You can move around a bit and get some change without necessarily having to move away or adapt to an entirely different culture. Since it's a decent job, close to home, and sufficiently family friendly, I have stayed on for the sake of stability. But sometimes, I think it would be neat to make a leap and do something completely different different. Maybe when the kids are older and the husband is working full time. For now, I have deferred my dreams of adventure and something different in the interest of balancing two young kids and a stay-at-home/student husband. But sometimes I think that if I were a man, I wouldn't hesitate as much to rock the boat, if I so desired. Are men more willing to risk, even it it means inconveniencing their families?


I've been at my current job for almost 7 years and am starting to get that itch to try something new. But ... I'm the breadwinner in our family so I feel a huge sense of pressure when it comes to finding a position that is not only solid in pay and benefits, but also offers stability. With a 45-minute commute each way, I'd love to find something closer to home. I also just feel ready for a change - a new industry, a new environment, a new challenge. Hopefully the right opportunity will come around someday - I continue to look and network. But to your point, as a mom, I'm always thinking about that balancing act - I don't want the house of cards to tumble with a change. I admire the changes you've made - it seems like you've had an amazing career, so good luck on your next adventure ... and adjusting to your new change as a mom and career woman.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Wow, Lil Mis Busy. You described my life 10 years ago. I was fairly newly wed (two years), I had a toddler and a newborn, we'd just settled into a two-bedroom rent-stabilized Upper West Side apt and my husband announced we HAD to move to Minneapolis for his dream job. I said yes -- for all the right reasons, mostly because I love him and the job meant so much to him. But I have to say, I think my husband never realized what I gave up for him -- a great job at Johnson & Johnson, New York, our wonderful daycare center, etc. In some ways, it took our marriage a decade to recover from my sacrifices, which he still has trouble seeing in that light. In many, many ways, we would have been better off staying put. For some women it is very difficult to be a "trailing spouse." And moving is hell on kids. But I think it's hard for some men to grasp that it's not all about the job.


Within weeks of my husband and I returning to full-time out-of-the-home jobs after the birth of our second child, my husband got noticed by a very well-known company. It sounded like a great opportunity...but in a city where we knew no one and nothing. He wanted to seriously consider this, and all I could do in response was cry and shout. We had JUST gotten everything in place with the jobs and daycares we have (not to mention a huge home renovation project we'd recently completed), and now he wants to pick up everything and start all over? My husband was shocked that I felt so root-bound, but I was shocked that he didn't seem to think the life we built was worth sticking with. In the end, we decided that it was a great opportunity for him - but not an EXTRAORDINARY one for which we would be willing to make such a drastic change. At this point in my life, I'm not sure I could handle such a destabilizing thing. We've both changed jobs before, and you're right, that alone is enough to handle!