Working Mom photo from ShuttestockMost parents would agree that while having children is great, it’s also the most demanding job of all. Even healthy children require a tremendous amount of time and energy to raise, and caring for children requires constant sacrifices. This isn’t an argument for or against having children but rather a reality check for what goes into managing life once children are in the picture.

Bringing up baby to adult translates to countless hours devoted to caring, loving, encouraging, nursing, supporting, educating and disciplining ones kids. Raising kids involve many sleepless nights, may it be with teething or colicky babies or teenagers who are out late with friends on a Saturday night. And then there’s dealing with the flu season, ear aches, runny noses and squelching tantrums from rebellious toddlers that also requires parents’ ongoing attention; as does breaking up squabbles among siblings and luring finicky eaters to try new foods in order to balance their diets.

Creating fun and memorable experiences for ones kids also requires time and energy; helping with homework, insuring enrollment and participation in after school activities and camps, planning birthday parties and family outings, attending teachers conferences, packing for camp, labeling cloths (as well as doing the laundry after a month away at camp); these are just some of the wonderful duties parents assume while raising their children. And then many parents at some point must deal with rowdy teenagers (either yours or someone else’s), teaching your kids how to fight back against bullying and then… driving school. All of these experiences merely scratch the surface for what parents do for their kids and this doesn’t include all the worrying that goes into each stage of their development.

Parental responsibilities are the most ongoing and time consuming during the first eighteen years of a child’s life when the role of a parent is 24/7 and then some. That being said, the time left for developing a new career is a huge challenge for even the most disciplined, motivated workers; and if one isn’t already set in his/her career, s/he might be a tad overwhelmed by trying to tackle raising a family with forging a new career. For those fortunate few who have a tremendous support system to help with childcare, their task of forging a new career is much easier. But even these parents often struggle with the lingering question,

What am I missing when I’m not at home and am I sacrificing something important in life that I’ll regret later if I work full time? i.e. being with my kids for their first x or their first y?

Though many parents succeed working full time while raising kids, no one I’ve ever met does it without admitting the pressures are enormous (even with a great support system) and that there are constant trade offs. The reality is, you can’t be there for your kids all the time and be there for your boss or your business all the time. Something has to give. It’s a personal decision one needs to make and it’s often wrought with emotions about what’s the right choice… and truthfully that’s different for every family. One should realize that it’s not an all or nothing choice. That is, don’t assume because you haven’t worked full-time before or because you worked for someone else while you raised your kids that your career trajectory is fixed. There is always room for change and growth in ones career and for many that might be easier once the kids have left the nest!

It’s my opinion (based on having worked part-time while raising my children and now having more freedom to work full-time) that one of the best times to launch a new career (if you want it to be free of guilt and apprehension about what you might be missing) is when you become an empty nester. That’s right folks. We’re expected to live longer so the AARP segment, Life reimagined picked up on this and spotlights mid lifers starting over. It’s not only because the economy tanked that people are seeking employment into their 50′s, 60′s and even 70′s! It’s because people are living longer and want to do something meaningful with their lives. Empty nesters have the time, the wisdom and the energy to devote to their work like never before in their lives. They’re typically not as anxious to find a spouse (as they were in their twenties and thirties) and they have a new appreciation for life after having so much time devoted to their family.

Of course not everyone has the luxury to decide when they’ll launch a new career. For many in today’s challenging economy, there is no option of staying home even with flextime. Full time employment is a necessity for lots of people in order to pay the bills. But for those who have opted to work part-time, flex-time or stay home with their kids and hope to return someday to the workforce, you might look forward to your forties and fifties to actualize your career goals. Launching a career later in life comes with it’s own trials and challenges: You’ll be competing with a young, technologically savvy workforce who are high energy and highly ambitious. You might need to retrain, and it could take time to refresh your skills.

For those of you who have taken time off from your career or project you’ll be in this situation someday, don’t make the mistake of completely disconnecting from the working world! Keep your network by staying involved with associations and philanthropy. Find ways to volunteer so you maintain your skills or take classes so you acquire new skills that could be transferrable to a job later; and start brainstorming about what you could do to make a contribution at work as early as possible, say when your youngest enters the eighth grade. If you plan to return to your profession be sure to stay on top of the credit hours you’ll need to maintain your professional license. Stay active on your social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn by posting content that showcases (and shares) your expertise. Your activity in social media lets your contacts know what you’re doing professionally so when it comes time to reach out for a job, you’re at the starting gate ready to launch!

So for those employers who wonder whether or not you should consider hiring an empty nester… don’t wonder anymore. If they’re a respectable, healthy person with skills and a good reputation… seize the opportunity. They could be your next top talent!