Yesterday I was reading a magazine for which my sister is a deputy editor, New York Family. There was a section that focused on working mothers and consisted of interviews of a number of working women. In one of the interviews, an executive director of a hospital opined that she didn't judge women who left work after having a child. But then she added the one comment that strikes fear in the hearts of parents who are considering leaving their current job: "(T)he hard thing is, 'How do you get back in?'"
How do you get back in? And what does that even mean "to get back in"? Is it as hard as many would claim? Is your professional life over if you leave work when your children are young--smack dab in the middle of what some would claim is the most important part of your climb up the ladder to a "successful" career?
My answer--nope, your career is not over. Your legal career with that particular employer is probably over. And, you may have to re-define what "success" means to you. In particular, you'll have to ignore how other lawyers, especially those in law firms, define a "successful" legal career. But, you will be able to re-enter the workforce and have a successful and fulfilling career when you do decide to return to the working world.
I read a study a few years back that suggested that professionals who have left the workforce to care for their children should try to return to the workforce within three years, at least on a part-time basis. The reason given for that recommendation was twofold: employers have a tendency to believe that you've been out of the loop for too long after more than a three year break, and more importantly, you face a psychological barrier after three years that prevents you from believing that you can do it.
So, keep that three year marker in mind. And, don't listen to those who say you can't "get back in." You can. It'll take some creativity. It'll take some ingenuity. You'll have to think outside the box. And, you'll have to network. But you can do it. And, you will. And, you'll succeed--on your own terms, and, most importantly, on your own schedule.