How to Handle Your Resume's Parenting "Gap"
Yes, "gap" belongs in sarcastic quotes because you've been working hard
Perhaps the time has come. You’re ready to get a paying job after spending months or years caring for your children. I will not insult you by calling you a stay-at-home parent any more than I would call the HR executive who’s working from the spare bedroom in his house a stay-at-home hiring manager. Regardless, that dude might call you one, and you need to be ready with your comeback.
It’s unfortunate that we feel the need to make excuses for our parenting “gap.” It feels so belittling, like we’ve somehow misbehaved and are being scolded and told to explain ourselves. We’re not expected to explain away other jobs in our work history; those are boons while it seems some think that the time you spent full-time parenting puts you at a disadvantage.
Now, the reason I’m miffed by being called a stay-at-home parent is because it implies (or really, explicitly states) that I’ve been staying at home, and doing what? Home is where we relax. Home is where we take our pants off. Home is where we watch Netflix. Home is the opposite of work. The idea of staying at home attempts to render you inactive, immobilized, subjugated to the mundane. If anyone thinks I’m chilling at home instead of running around town catering to the needs of my child and my household, they’re sorely mistaken. Deciding to be a full-time parent is also usually deciding to be the family’s designated doer of everything: childcare, chores, errands, budgeting. I’m guessing you haven’t been on your couch staring at your interior white walls throughout this endeavor either.
Don’t disparage the full-time job you’ve been doing. You’ve been doing meaningful, impressive work; don’t detract from it by downplaying it. Being the parent of an infant is hard, when keeping a helpless creature alive is all you can think about. Being the parent of a toddler is hard, when tantrums in Trader Joe’s lead to your hair loss and early aging. Being the parent of a little kid is hard, when school calls to tell you she swallowed a LEGO or that she’s inciting unruliness in the classroom. Being the parent of a teenager is hard, when you have to survive the horrific tempest of hormones. Parenting has been the most physically, mentally and emotionally demanding role I’ve ever been in.
All this to say, parenting is a job, so treat it as such. It has a right to have a section on your resume that you should be proud of. There’s plenty to be ashamed of in this society, like, for example, shady business practices and corrupt corporate cultures, but being the primary caregiver of your children is not one of those things. You can go into as much or as little detail as you’re comfortable with. Whatever reason you chose to be a full-time parent (cultural expectations, circumstantial necessity, because you damn well wanted to) is nobody’s business but yours. You can go serious or silly, add a half dozen bullet points or contain it to a single line. Again, you’re not including this to explain it away, you’re including it because it deserves to be included. Here’s mine, for example:
Primary caregiver, 2013-Present
-Labored for 33 hours with no pain medication; have handled worse
-Taught a small impressive human nearly everything she knows
-Managed household including budgeting, maintenance, damage control
I might posit that this ownership of your parenting role has the potential to make you stand out even more. You’re clearly honest, capable and tough. Be certain, you’re not attempting to re-enter the workforce, but to continue in it in another position. Don’t come at it with the mindset that you’re on the outside trying to break in, but have confidence that the job you’ve been doing is just as important as any other and more important than most. This hasn’t been a vacation and you’re not getting “back to work.”
Don’t sell yourself short. Just because you may not have a traditional career path does not mean that you come at a discount. Apply to what you want, ask for what you want, and accept nothing less.
In describing your parental responsibilities, consider the aspects that would be beneficial to the job at hand. What job isn’t done better by someone with exceptional time-management skills, or organizational abilities, or extensive experience resolving interpersonal conflict, or proven ability to withstand stress? Align the jobs so that it becomes clear that your career path didn’t take quite as significant of a turn as they might have assumed and that your most recent experience is indeed invaluable to them. If they fail to see that the positions relate to each other after that, I’m telling you that company employs bozos and you won’t want to work there anyway.
Beyond the myriad talents it takes to parent, if you’ve participated in other activities related to your desired field, add those too, like volunteering at your child’s school or helping to run a social group. If you’ve had professional projects or gigs, regardless of how seldom, flesh out some of your timeline with freelancing.
Search the internet for how to deal with a parenting gap and it’s treated like a problem needing to be solved, like a fault that needs correcting. It’s not that. Don’t let it be that. You don’t need to be embarrassed, make excuses, or expect any less than your peers. Will it add to the challenge? Probably, but you’ve handled worse.