About 11 million parents are staying at home right now, taking care of the children. Usually, that's a temporary stop on a career path, and mom (usually) or dad (becoming more common) will return to work, whether it's after the kids start school, or stop nursing, or whenever financial necessity becomes a reality. Going back isn't always that easy. Here's why.
Finding a job can be hard
Even in today's booming economy finding a job when you're unemployed can be extremely difficult. Recently the Brookings Institute published a study that emphasized just how difficult that can be: "The longer a worker is unemployed, the less likely they are to get a job in a given month. The short-term unemployed (less than five weeks) are more than three times as likely to find a job in a given month as people who have been unemployed for a year or more."
While there is a difference between voluntarily unemployed to stay home with the children and laid off (or fired), it doesn't change the fact that it's hard to find a job when you've been out of the workforce.
No one should be ashamed of staying home with the kids, and recruiters and hiring managers that reject you for doing that may be justifiably concerned about stale skills, but stale doesn't mean dead, and you can often find amazing people who have been out of the workforce for a while.
Having a boss can be difficult
One advantage of being the stay at home parent is that you don't have a boss (unless you count the tiny dictators that you created yourself). You decide "today I'll do X, and tomorrow I'll do Y," and no one says, "you need to change your priorities!" It can be a real shock to the system to have someone tell you what you need to do, how to do it, and when it needs to be finished. These things aren't bad--just a shock to the system.
Sure, change can be exciting and good, but it's complicated. Changing jobs is often one of the most stressful things that we do, but switching from SAHM or SAHM dad to employee brings even more changes. It's not just your day that changes; the entire family's day changes.
Pre-schoolers are now in daycare or have a nanny, and that can be a difficult transition. It can be a great thing in the long run but don't think that it will be easy-peasy for the first weeks. If this is your child's first time in childcare of school, please understand that they will be sick, all the time. This means you will be sick all the time. This happens whether you put your kids in daycare at three months or kindergarten at 5. Washing hands won't protect you.
Your older kids may be used to a school schedule, but they are also used to mom bringing a forgotten lunch or planning the class party. Mom has always been around to drive the kids to play dates, soccer practice, or whatever. This changes, and it's hard.
Imposter syndrome attacks
Imposter syndrome isn't limited to people who have been out of the workforce for years, but it certainly doesn't help on the return to work. You may think that everyone knows how to find a job, how to juggle family and work, and how to do the actual work, but the reality is everyone struggles with this. People who have been continuously employed for the past 30 years still struggle to put a resume together and networking for a job. People who have always worked outside the home after having kids still struggle to balance everything. Everyone has questions.
This is not meant to discourage you--just to let you know you're not alone. It's okay to ask for help! It's okay to ask questions. It's okay to say "this is hard." Everyone thinks that and it doesn't make you a worse employee, a worse parent, or a worse person just because you struggle.
Going backward is difficult
If you take six months off, you'll probably land a new job at a similar pay rate and level as your last job. If you take ten years off, you probably won't. It can be tough to say, "well, I used to be a director, and now I'm an analyst." But as you get into the swing of things, you can often find yourself climbing the ladder rapidly. You may have to swallow a bit of pride having a younger boss, or taking a step backward, but it's not insurmountable.
Overall, you can do it! It's a bit scary, but you can come back, no matter how long you've been out.