If I Could Turn Back Time

Well, hi there, cute little 22-year-old college graduate with your skinny jeans and big dreams! Congratulations on your commencement and hopefully your first jump into corporate America.

Right now, your mind is probably focused on the cute guy in accounting and your after-work happy hour – things like baby formula and screaming toddlers are left to cranky old women like me. But if you one day want to “have it all,” and balance the tricky tightrope of a working mom, it’s important to follow a few simple steps to build a solid foundation today:

Find a mentor now. Get tips from a professional who is at a point in her life at which you want your future self to emulate. Your working mom mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be your boss, but maybe someone in your industry you admire or a business owner you want to reach out to. Honestly, buying a cup of coffee for someone and picking her brain for 15 minutes can be professionally life-changing.

Network, network, network. Even with all the career sites on the web, 70% of jobs are landed through networking. That’s why Glenda Sullentrup, licensed professional counselor and owner of Inspired Life & Work suggested, “Build a good network of people so if you do take time off with your kids, you can stay in touch and meet for lunch to discuss work. Always keep your network list fresh and readily available.”

Starting today, why not join an industry association or professional group, create a LinkedIn account, and follow people you admire on Twitter (besides Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga). When I worked in advertising, I joined the Community Service Public Relations Council just because I liked to volunteer. Once I was ready to make a career switch, I had some colleagues who directed me to some nonprofits which were supportive of working mothers.

Save your funds. As I started out in PR, most of my disposable income was spent on pretty much three things – 1) my Limited credit card bill, 2) lunch and 3) cocktails. While enjoying yourself is fine, make sure you start contributing – even a little – to your retirement fund and savings account because once the babies start coming, they will suckle your savings teat dry.

According to the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies, the average cost for an infant at a full-time daycare center per year is $8,528 while the average cost for a four-year-old is $5,928. Seeing the numbers in black and white makes me want to vomit and kick the 22-year-old me in the neck for drinking all those draft ciders when she should have been building her nest egg.

Volunteer. Volunteering is not only great because you’re helping someone else, but it’s an excellent way to network and build your skill set whether you’re a career newbie, a mom taking a few years off from the corporate world, or someone between jobs. Emily, an acquaintance of mine who has a degree in social work, volunteered at a domestic violence shelter a few hours a month just to get a break from her kids. When she was ready to go back to work, she never had to hunt for a job – the shelter swooped her up.

Never stop learning. Learning can be as immersive as going to graduate school or as laid back as taking a couple of continuing education classes to make yourself more marketable down the road. For instance, an advertising professional might want to take a web design class to expand her skills; a nurse a business class to one day move into administration.

However, according to Sullentrup, simply cracking open a journal or researching on the Internet can be incredibly effective. “Women are so afraid they’ll be starting over when they return to work. That’s why it’s important to stay in touch with industry trends while working, and after you leave, to read trade journals and take classes to stay on top of the latest developments. When you do eventually interview, you can step right back in and won’t sound like you’ve missed a beat.”

Get flexible. Annoyed that you have to cover for a coworker who needs to get to his son’s soccer game? Your kindness will be reciprocated – I promise! Scared about an upcoming layoff? This might be the kick in the pants you need to start on a different career path. Overwhelmed by a mountain of paperwork and avalanche of emails? Ten years from now you’ll be balancing all that plus a baby on your boob and a 2-year-old on your hip.

Learning how to be flexible is the greatest gift you can give the future mom percolating inside of you. Flexibility allows you to perfect your time management skills, prioritize the 50 million things that will flood your head on a daily basis, and take a well-planned business risk if the time comes. Most importantly, it helps you catch your footing when you stumble. And you will stumble. So when you walk into work with spit-up down your back or work on a client brief at 4 in the morning because you fell asleep on the couch at 7 p.m., you’ll have no trouble on the rebound.

Being a mom – whether SAHM and working – is a hard, back-breaking, thankless job, but it will be the best job you will ever have. Getting prepared now can make a huge difference for your future. And I know, 22-year-old college graduate, you will succeed at whatever you put your mind to!

By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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