With the economy in the doldrums, many people are examining their resumes and gaining new qualifications to prepare for the next upswing. As a mother, you may decide it's a good time to take a complete break from your career, but could be anxious about the consequences once it's time to reenter the work place. Or, you may decide to enjoy time at home with your children without adding intensive online study to an already challenging job. The question is: Can you even compare an MBA to the MOM route? Let's examine the options.
The convenience of online courses makes it easier than ever to combine motherhood and studies. Undergraduate and graduate (especially MBA) Internet courses are expanding rapidly. Tens of thousands of students have obtained MBA degrees in the last decade using Internet courses. They offer a mother the advantage of being home with her children while viewing lectures, completing assignments and taking part in online discussion when and where it is convenient. The University Alliance claims, "If you can open an email, you can take an online course. All you need is a Pentium-class computer, a standard web browser and an Internet service provider." The whole concept opens up the glorious idea of taking a class in the park, while your little ones plays happily in the sand box (if only…).
Advocates of online degrees cite the example of Morgan Hezlep, a 31-year-old from San Diego who earned her bachelor's degree in two years while flying back and forth to Boston every week. Courses run by schools such as Phoenix University and Regis University attract those who are too committed to give up work for two full years. Though courses are convenient, they don't come cheap: fees run from $17,000 (Norwich University) to over $100,000 (Duke University) for a two-year MBA. Lectures arrive via streaming video and most provide chat room formats for discussions. Some schools, such as Duke, hold classroom sessions every eight weeks.
Still, the idea of burning the midnight oil on classwork while you have a newborn or three rambunctious kids underfoot can be daunting. If it all sounds like too much, the other alternative is to focus on the kids while they are young and make the most of the skills you learn at home.
It's all too easy to dismiss your time at home as an uncomfortable gap in your career. But recently a friend of mine made me think that perhaps this MOM job merits more respect. Maybe with the right attitude, a course of MOM can be just as beneficial as an MBA to prepare you for reentering the business world.
My friend, who is taking some time away from the career track to stay home with her kids, told me about a call from an ex-colleague. He had a technical question and wondered if she could help. She replied with a snort of laughter, "How would I know? I've been watching Sesame Street for the last nine months."
This self-deprecating quip is funny indeed, but part of me rebels against the notion that this smart woman who once made a six-figure salary is selling herself short, now that she wears sweatpants to work. Many would have you believe that being home closes the door to the business world faster than you can say "Elmo's World."
By contrast, I read in the Wall Street Journal about the attributes of working mothers. A dentist wrote in response to a feature to describe how the working mothers run circles around his single staff. He enthused about their loyalty, efficiency, and incredible ability to multi-task. This fresh perspective on mothering inspired me to take a closer look at the skills that being a mother can bring to your resume.
Motherhood can teach you to be an expert negotiator, strong public speaker, skilled crisis manager, and encourages your creative abilities. Properly marketed and suitably recognized, the skills learned from your kids can benefit you when you choose to go back into paid employment. Suspend your disbelief! Some even say a pair of rambunctious kids at home may improve your personal skills better than an MBA teacher can.
Negotiation skills are key in any job, and parenthood prepares you for almost any eventuality. Kids can be the cleverest and most intuitive negotiators you may ever encounter. If little Jimmy doesn't want to do something, he can offer a complex series of reasons, and if the straight talk doesn't work, he knows how to wheedle, cajole and whine. He'll even recruit back up from siblings or friends. This training in multi-faceted oral warfare may be what teaches you to stand your ground and become a strong leader. Take your new skills to the boardroom and make people listen up.
Whether you take three or thirty months at home with kids, staying cool in adversity will be a cinch back at the office. Tirades from disgruntled clients and ugly bosses will hardly ruffle your feathers. Nothing at the office can come near the humiliation and provocation of two preschoolers having a meltdown in the store, demanding candy before they get up from their splayed octopus position (legs and arms waving frantically) on the floor. Episodes like this do wonders to establish your composure skills and sense of humor.
Voice projection goes through rigorous training during parenthood. The ability to make yourself heard over your kids' and their friends' ballyhoo is constantly tested. Parenthood also teaches you to speak with authority and conviction even though it may be feigned. Both excellent personal skills in the office.
We all know that kids are strong on creativity. Just watching them stick gobs of construction paper on a box or listening to their burning questions on life can have profound consequences on your own creativity. Kids' stimuli may open vaults of imagination that have been locked for decades. The ability to think "out of the box," or to "push the envelope," etc., is (or at least was) heavily rewarded in the business world.
Finally, the intensity of the MOM course should be recognized. There's nothing slow paced about it. The term 24/7 has real meaning for MOM. Being "on call" 24 hours a day, seven days a week can make even a grueling 80-hour workweek seem light.
Motherhood in the business world is all in the marketing. I suggested that my friend tell her ex-colleagues that she may have been raising her kids with Sesame Street for a few months, but she's also been on an intensive course of study, sharpening her skills for the business world. We both know of course that it will be a long road to full accreditation for her travails.
As the economy limps along and golden egg opportunities become distant memory, enrolling now for the MOM course might just be perfect timing. And unlike getting into MBA courses, the entry qualifications for MOM can be a whole lot more fun!