What happens when stay-at-home moms try to rejoin the workforce? For many, it’s not easy.

See full infographic at HulaFrog
See full infographic at HulaFrog

The New York Times Magazine recently caught up with several women who re-joined the labor force a decade after leaving well-paying professional jobs to care for their children. After the big “having it all” discussion earlier this year, their experiences are a timely reminder that everything in life, like it or not, is a trade-off.

One woman, Sheila O’Donnel, had given up on corporate career that at one point earned her a salary of $500,000 a year.

Now, almost a decade later, she’s divorced with three children, renting a townhouse and in 2011 took on her first post motherhood job, earning a fifth of what she did at her peak.

In retrospect, giving up her career was a major mistake – one she hopes her 12-year-old daughter will not make. She tells her:

“You don’t have to make a million dollars. You don’t have to have a wealthy lifestyle. You just always have to be able to at least earn enough so you can support yourself.”

Other women interviewed for the article said the trade-off of leaving the workforce was worth it, but these were women who were very well off to begin with.

The 22 women I interviewed, for the most part, told me that the perils of leaving the work force were counterbalanced by the pleasures of being able to experience motherhood on their own terms. A certain number of these women — the superelite, you might say, the most well-off, with the highest-value name-brand educational credentials and powerful and well-connected social networks — found jobs easily after extended periods at home. These jobs generally paid less than their previous careers and were less prestigious. But the women found the work more interesting, socially conscious and family-friendly than their old high-powered positions.

But those professionals who were not a member of the ‘superelite’ had a hard time getting back into the work force and paid a bigger price.

Among the women I spoke with, those who didn’t have the highest academic credentials or highest-powered social networks or who hadn’t been sufficiently “strategic” in their volunteering (fund-raising for a Manhattan private school could be a nice segue back into banking; running bake sales for the suburban swim team tended not to be a career-enhancer) or who had divorced, often struggled greatly.

Ultimately, the decision to take a career break for family is a deeply personal one – and it’s certainly hard to make generalizations about people’s personal lives. What is clear, however, is that the ultimate repercussions need to be considered ahead of time, through stories like the ones profiled here.

Read it at The New York Times