Maternity leave and paternity leave are great. Sometimes it's required, if your employee qualifies for FMLA, and sometimes it's something your company does to help retain great employees. Offering support for nursing mothers is also great. Daycare subsidies or onsite daycare is also a huge perk. But what about parents (usually mothers, but more and more fathers) who return to the workforce? What supports do you have in place to help make your company a great place for people with children (not just babies) to work?

Joanne Lipman, the author of “That’s What She Said: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together” has an article in the Harvard Business Review about the supports parents need when they return to the workforce after taking a few years off to raise the children. She writes:

When it comes to working families, employers and politicians tend to focus on new mothers and fathers. Yet parents who leave the workforce when their kids are young but later want to reenter it might be corporate America’s greatest untapped resource. With unemployment rates near historic lows and companies bemoaning labor shortages, it’s time to tap into this talent pool. 

She's right: family-friendly tends to focus on the newborn to toddler phase, with the understanding that once your little darlings hit kindergarten, you'll be able to devote 80 hours a week to developing your career again. It's unrealistic. Plus, if you took that time off companies don't want to hire you. Your skills are stale. Your network is rusty. 

But, if you were good at your job before parenthood, you'll be good again. Lipman shares some of the ideas she's gleaned from some of the big companies They are:

  • Returnships. These are like internships, but for people who had experience and have taken time off. They can be a great way to get rusty skills refreshed and let the business try out someone with no obligation--just like the internships for your new grads.
  • Hire returnees into permanent positions, with support. This isn't just for returning parents, but for people who are doing any sort of career switch. Navigating the workplace can be difficult even for people with recent experience, but if you have been out of the business culture for a while (or been in a different culture, like the military), a mentor can make a world of difference.
  • Host Returning Talent Workshops. If you want high-quality employees who have taken time off, let them know that you are looking to hire this particular demographic. And then do. Talk with people!
  • Offer more than cash. Flexibility isn't something you only need with toddlers. High Schoolers still need a parent around. Women, especially, love part-time professional jobs. Benefits, are, of course, high on the lists. Great health insurance helps keep everyone working and happy.
  • Work with alumni programs. You can find returning talent by connecting with college alumni groups. And the nice thing is, the more you do this, the more people will be available through this method. If colleges let their alumni know they can come back any time for help finding a new job, it's easier to find people with the right skills.

Every one of these involves supporting and not punishing someone for taking time off to raise the kids. The flexibility aspect helps them to stay in the job once they have it. Being family friendly means being supportive of the entire family experience. This is not to say you should close your nursing rooms (you have to provide them, legally, anyway), and quit paid maternity/paternity leave. You should keep those. But consider expanding your definition of family-friendly to include all 18 years.