The Comeback [after] Kids

Emma Gilbey Keller was a leading journalist until she had children. In her new book The Comeback she interviews seven women about their journey back from being at home with the kids to work.

How easy is it to return to work after years off for looking after children? That’s what writer Emma Gilbey Keller, who had herself taken time off from journalism to have children, wanted to investigate. She interviewed seven different women for her book “The Comeback”, published last month. Most, like Gilbey Keller, are US-based, but one is a South African lawyer based in the UK. Gilbey Keller lives in New York and has two children. Working Mums asked her about the book:
 
What struck you the most from the interviews?

What struck me the most was the similarity in rhythm of the women’s lives. Although there were a number of different reasons for stopping work – different numbers of children, different circumstances in terms of careers and finances – the ebb and flow of directed energy all followed the same kind of pattern. At some point they all WANTED to be at home and so went there. Being at home made them all very happy for a period of time. And when it no longer felt like enough, they all left again.

You mention lack of confidence as a major pattern across all the interviewees. What, from all your interviews, did you find was the most useful in helping people regain their confidence? In many cases it seemed like it returned gradually from actually securing a job.

Actually I think their confidence returned immediately on securing a job! There’s nothing like that kind of professional affirmation to make you feel good about yourself. But I’d like to make the point that securing work has the same effect. A paid project, or even pro bono work can do an enormous amount to bolster a woman’s sense of self worth.

Do you think women can have serial comebacks and progress in their career?
 
I’m not sure what you mean by ‘progress’. If you mean get to the top of the company, I’d say that a woman who is inclined to stage serial comebacks is perhaps not inclined to want to run a company. I’d rather make the point that women can have serial comebacks and continue to have careers that they find enormously satisfying.

How do you balance your work and family life?

 
Me? I’m a writer who is fortunate enough to be able to work from anywhere (and I have) and manage her own hours. I work when my children are at school and stop when they get out. My older one leaves on a school bus just after 7, and my husband often takes my younger one which means I can be at my desk at 8.

What advice would you give to women who have been out of the workforce for a while and want to get back in? In several cases in the book it seemed that luck and contacts played a big part, but others needed retraining.

One of the reasons I liked these stories is that I think luck and contacts play a part in
all of our lives. If you have already had a career you will have the same type of
contacts as these women. And luck is luck. Retraining – or taking a course or two – can be a great way back in, particularly if you want to try something new after your time at home (which many women do). But also many women want to work for themselves. Some want to start their own businesses, but some just want to work on a freelance or consultancy basis. These days that kind of control is becoming easier due to technology and the desire for employers to do away with benefits. You can negotiate flexibility in return for giving up insurance, for example. My advice is pretty basic. Trust your instincts. If something feels right, you’ll know it, but don’t push yourself to do something you think you ought to. It won’t work out.

Whose story inspired you the most?

I was inspired by bits of all of them, which is why they are collected together. I hoped
that other women would identify with a scene here or an experience there and feel a sense of connection – or even inspiration!

Do you think it is possible for men and women to be equal in their parenting roles, particularly when children are very small, or do you think the main focus of the family will generally be the mother?

It depends on the family.

What is your next project?

It’s another book about women at a specific stage of their lives. I’d love to be more
specific, but you’ll have to wait!

 

Emma Gilbey Keller talks to bookclubs all over the world by ichat or skype – for more information visit www.thecomebackbook.com. The Comeback is published by Bloomsbury USA.

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