It's somewhat ironic to refer to the process of reincorporating one's self to a job after time off spent parenting and raising a family, since in reality this is a job in and of itself. Any parent knows that raising children is a full-time job, whether you have a formal job or not. The only thing is, being a parent doesn't pay (and in fact, it's quite costly), and so after a time away from the workplace for parenting purposes most mothers and fathers will be inclined to go back to work. For some parents, this process of returning to work is sometimes a very simple ordeal, entirely prearranged and predictable. For others, it is anything but easy and implies practically starting a whole new job search with all the concomitant efforts and chores.
Some parents will have only taken a few weeks or months off of work, in which case their leave of absence will not have had much affect on their ability to function on the job, whereas parents that have taken a more significant reprieve will find themselves in need of reorientation and instruction – often in the shape of career counseling. Hence, sprucing up one's professional image is always a crucial aspect of this process for any parent looking to go back to work, whether it be within the same position and company as before or within a completely new setting.
1) Finding Childcare Services That Match Your Needs
The biggest concern of any parent about to return to work is how they are going to ensure their kids are being properly looked after. This matter will be framed differently depending on where you live, as certain cities/counties offer childcare programs (and some states have programs as well), whereas in other areas there is practically no official support in this regard whatsoever. Consult with the Social Services office (in some jurisdictions known as the Human Services office) of your local government as well as with your state government and inquire about any programs they may be running on the matter.
Though finding such official programs for childcare help is a major home run for any parent trying to return to work, in reality only very few of the total applicants will qualify for these programs. Most of the time, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the individual, and being creative, flexible, and having good time management skills will be of the essence as a result. There will inevitably be a cost involved "unless you are lucky enough to find a relative happy to take on the responsibility, free of charge" and you will need to negotiate and bargain in order to get the best deal: if you are going to hire a nanny to be in your home for the hours when no other adult supervisor is present, try to find ways to reduce their price by adding tangible benefits. For example, in exchange for the nanny lowering their rate, offer them free meals while they are keeping an eye on the kids, or offer a room and bed (when applicable). Also, see if your employer is willing to help with childcare costs (which, if forthcoming, might hinge upon a salary cut, a necessary sacrifice).
2) Renew Your Knowledge Base
Many parents that want to return to the labor force will be doing so after a long spell of not having had any work. These persons, therefore, are urged to spruce up their professional image as much as possible before presenting themselves to any job interviews or even dropping off copies of their CV. There's nothing worse on a CV than many years without a new entry, a new qualification/certification, etc. Even for those parents that are returning to the exact same job that they had before their leave of absence, the need for renewing knowledge and know-how is pressing. Technology is, undoubtedly, the most salient case in point: whether it's been only a few months or whether it's been a few years, updating one's IT skills is going to be imperative. Strongly consider going to a course intended for working adults that will renew your IT skills. At the same time, courses and seminars aimed at other "more theoretical" aspects of professional competency is a good idea. If you have a trade license that expired over your leave of absence, get it renewed; if a newer form of certification emerged during your absence, try becoming certified. Whatever you do, do not emerge from your parenting spell without injecting new vigor into your CV.
Here's a good article on how to write your cover letter and resume: Cover Letter and Resume Tips for Stay-at-Home Parents
3) Don't Play it Solo; Use the Available Resources
One of the biggest mistakes committed by parents returning to the labor force is trying to go it alone - frequently, a way of protecting their ego by reaffirming that they can accomplish things, professionally speaking, on their own. This is a suicide strategy, and will certainly not benefit any parent looking to return to work. Anybody poking around the job market - parent or not - is encouraged to call upon the services of the different career coaches and counselors in their community. For people that went to college, going directly to the institution's Career Office and signing up for some career coaching is the best way to proceed. Not only will such counselors be able to indicate which avenues you should be pursuing, but these people have been trained to help individuals identify their abilities and fortes and narrow down a career path or two that best take advantage of them. One problem many parents encounter in their efforts to re-assimilate to the workforce is that they don't know exactly what they can bring to the table; these professionals help folks surmount that obstacle and move beyond it.
4) Be Bold
Parenting is really a job of its own, and when you reincorporate yourself into the "real" working world you will want to harness the skills you honed as a parent. Furthermore, some parents simply are not willing to renounce many of the things that they grew accustomed to while being at home taking care of their family, such as the proximity with their children and the ability to help them with their school work, etc. Subsequently, many parents make the bold decision to branch out into a new career path that will give them more space for the family, or directly choose to begin working from home - which is a dream come true for many working parents. The opportunities for working from home are growing by the day, and parents looking for an income would be wise to give a look in this direction (as well as others - remember to keep all your bases covered).
Whatever choice you make in the end, remember that it is important for parents to get back to work at one point or another.
Peter Appleby is a professional career consultant, helping those at a career crossroad.