When You’re Leaving Your Job Because of Your Kids

by Daisy Dowling

Quick Takes

  • Lead with the important info and be neutral when you quit
  • Prepare responses for negative reactions
  • Remain open to new roles or career opportunities
  • Coach your colleagues through your departure
  • Take your relationships with you

You’ve decided to leave your organization, and the decision was driven by your needs as a working parent. Maybe you’re taking a new job with fewer hours or less travel so that you can spend more time with the kids; maybe you’re “up-ramping” and taking on a position with more responsibility, pressure, and pay so that you can afford those looming college bills; or maybe you’ve decided to focus on responsibilities at home before looking for a different opportunity.

Regardless of the specific reason why, the question now is how—how to leave in the right way, how to be credible, honest, and transparent while acting in your own best interests, and how to preserve the long-term career capital you’ve worked so hard to create.

Unfortunately for working parents, there’s no offboarding playbook, and when you’ve got your kids and family in mind, the raft of emotions attached to a professional exit can swell to very large proportions. You may feel guilty, excited, conflicted, angry, or relieved, perhaps all at the same time, none of which puts you on your front foot to handle your exit in a way that can enhance your network or career.

But there are strategies that work—specific techniques that can make your transition as effective and nonstressful as possible.

As a longtime HR professional, I watched many employees make career changes, some very effectively and gracefully, and learned their personal techniques and approaches. Now, as an executive coach and adviser to working-parent professionals, I work with many people looking to make career transitions and advise them on incorporating these strategies in their moves. And as a full-time working mother who’s changed jobs twice since my first daughter arrived, I’ve had the chance to use them myself.

Here are seven tactics any working parent should use when transitioning out of a job.

Say it plain—without an edge

“Bill, I’ve decided to leave the organization. I’ve taken a role at Other Company that will give me the flexibility to meet my family responsibilities in the way I need to.” Like a good newspaper article, the most important information should be conveyed up front, factually, and neutrally. Don’t wait five minutes into the conversation to make your announcement, and don’t address any gripes you had about the lifestyle or hours on the job when breaking the news—keep those in the rearview mirror.

Be a class act—regardless of your feelings

Even if your manager screamed at you about missing a weekly update meeting to take your sick child to the pediatrician, it’s time to rise above. Remember: Last impressions are lasting impressions, and yours need to convey your value and style as a professional. Saying “I’ve appreciated the four years I spent here, and the opportunity to be part of a great team” puts you in a much better long-term position than a negative statement will.

Play through the negative reaction

Your manager may be surprised, or even angry. Maybe you were the “work-life poster child” the company wanted to keep, or maybe your departure means the department loses head count. Prepare for negative reactions—pushback, derision, irritation, disbelief—and rehearse the jujitsu moves you can make to neutralize them. Empathize and acknowledge: “I understand this is a surprise.” Make things more personal: “I understand your point of view as a leader of the company, but I’ve made this decision as an individual, and a father.” And praise: “My decision has nothing to do with how I see you as a manager. You’ve been a great advocate for me, and I appreciate it.”

Keep an open mind

Many of my working-parent coachees are shocked, upon resigning, to find out how much their organizations value them—and are suddenly willing to provide new roles, more flexibility, even sabbatical leaves in a desperate bid to keep them. As firm as your intention to leave is, remain open to new options that are offered. You may find an unexpected solution that’s actually better than the one you’ve committed to. At the very least, it’s worth a conversation.

Put on blinders

Inevitably, any working parent leaving their job for anything remotely to do with family reasons will be on the receiving end of editorial comments—lots and lots of them, some clumsy (“Couldn’t take it, huh?”) to well intentioned but disheartening (“Be careful—my law school roommate left after her first was born and she could never find a job again”). The comments have nothing to do with you, so ignore them. Put on blinders, look down the straightaway, and run your own race, with the guardrails and mile markers you’ve set for yourself—not the ones others set for you.

Become a consultant

Once the announcement has been made, go above and beyond to help your colleagues transition into their future without you. Spreadsheet summaries, checklists, flowcharts documenting complex operations, project planning meetings—pretend you’re from McKinsey, and your job is to help the organization manage without you. Stay late a few days to demonstrate how committed you are to supporting colleagues through your departure. You’ll look like the top-flight professional you are—efficient, professional, and graceful to boot.

Take your relationships with you

When you leave a job, don’t leave your professional connections along with it. Take the relationships you’ve had—with managers, colleagues, mentors, mentees, and everyone in between—into your next role, even if your next role is spending time at home. Statements like “While we won’t be working together anymore, I want you to know that I’ve always considered you a mentor, and will continue to” or “I certainly hope we get to be members of the same team again” appeal to and leave lasting positive impressions with the crustiest of colleagues. Think of your professional network as a portfolio, and make sure that no important assets fall out of it as you change roles.

Anyone making a working-parent-related job change will inevitably have some concerns and self-doubt. But by focusing on the mechanics of your exit, you can make the transition resound to your credit and keep doors open for the future.

Adapted from content posted on hbr.org, April 11, 2017 (product # H03LD7).

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