How to Change Careers When You
Have a Family

By

Whether you’ve had a gap in your resume or are fed up with your current job, a career change with a family can be daunting. Why? It’s not only you that you have to consider. 

A career change for a parent means an adjustment for the entire family. You may need to reshuffle your family’s schedule, childcare, and household responsibilities to transition into a new job, plus adjustments for any training you need along the way.  

Many career changers don’t make a career pivot despite having kids, they do it because of their kids. You might want a more flexible schedule, more time off, or a pay bump to support your growing family. Remember: watching you burn out in a toxic job isn’t the kind of example you want to set. 

The career path that worked for you in your twenties may not work for you anymore, and that’s okay. Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. That’s why we asked a real-life career changer for tips to help you reinvent your future.. 

Overcoming obstacles: a journey to find purpose and passion

When Noemi Romero — a single mom with two kids — lost her job as a nanny, she did what she has always done: solved the problem. 

“What motivated me to make a change was that I always wanted to enroll in college — I had to drop out of high school when I became a teen mom,” said Romero. “Being a new mom in high school, my priority was to take care of my daughter, so I became a nanny to provide for her. But I always had the dream of finding a career for me.”

Fast forward several years, and Romero’s a customer quality engineer at Chicago-based startup 4Degrees. In her journey to find security for her family and a new, fulfilling career, she had to face a number of obstacles. 

As she explored her career options, she found a fit in General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive program and earned a scholarship to help fund her transition. First, she needed to complete the program. 

“It was definitely not easy. I felt like I was not spending any time with my kids,” said Romero, reflecting on her transition time. “They did get overwhelmed at times, but they saw me staying up at night, sleeping very little, running here and there. I guess they saw how much I wanted it, so they helped me by stepping up and becoming a little more independent. I also had a friend who helped me make lunches and pick them up from school.

Once she completed the program, she was prepared to start the job she’s in today. She credits the supportive instructors and her support network at home with helping her make the transition. 

“There was a lot of support from everyone at GA — inside and outside the classroom. They helped me keep going even when I felt like I was never going to get it. It was a combination of support from my kids, friends, GA staff, and fellow students, and my dream for a better future that kept me going.”

Advice for getting started

Because your career shift will affect more than just you, it’s important to make a plan before you make a big change like quitting your job or taking a course. 

Find your long-term vision

It’s really difficult to weigh career decisions with short-term thinking. For example, I can’t start looking for jobs because I don’t have childcare or I could never go back to school because my family needs my income. To push past tunnel vision, pull out a journal or note on your phone to answer these questions: 

  1. Do you need a job change or a career change? Learn the difference. 
  2. What factors with your current situation are causing you to want a change? For example, pay, fulfillment in your work, or flexibility.
  3. If nothing changes with your work situation in the next three years, what will the impact on your family be? 
  4. What’s your ideal job in three years? Write out any non-negotiable factors like pay, company culture, time off, remote vs. in-person, etc.
  5. What do you need to get there? 
  6. What are the short-term obstacles blocking you from reaching your goal, and how will you work through them? 

If you don’t have an answer yet for #3 through #5, don’t worry—this next section is for you. 

Research career paths and re-skilling programs

You probably already have a few ideas of what career you want to pivot into. Before you start applying or invest in training, research them to make sure they will meet your expectations and get you where you want to go. The field might have changed if you’ve spent some time away from it, or requirements may have changed for fast-changing tech jobs.  

First, find out which career path might be a good fit for you. Here are a few ways to explore: 

  • If you don’t know already, take a free career aptitude test such as O*Net Interests Profiler to learn your strengths and which careers are best suited to them. 
  • Work with a career coach for more personalized recommendations 
  • Talk to people in careers you’re interested in to find out if the day-to-day realities fit your perceptions. If you don’t know anyone personally in that field, reach out through local groups or on LinkedIn for an informational interview. 
  • Glassdoor is a good resource for researching salaries by specific jobs and location. 
  • Visit GA’s resources on careers in coding, UX, and data analytics

Zoe M., career coach at GA, recommends that career changers gather as much information as they can before making a decision. You should be able to explain what a job is beyond a one- or two-sentence explainer. 

“Look at free tutorials, talk to people, or do whatever you can do to get as much information as you can,” she recommends. “If you take the right steps and do the research and talk to the people, you’ll know if it’s right for you.” 

Make a Plan for Your Career Change

Once you know what career path you want, explore what you need to get there. Many mid-level career changes find that they need some kind of re-skilling—though not a full degree—to make their change. 

  • Make a timeline. Map out how long you think the transition will take, and any key milestones. 
  • Plan for re-skilling. If you need additional training, look for a bootcamp or course to fit your needs. Look for a flexible schedule and format that suits your family needs. For example, a part-time or evening may work best for those watching young kids during the day. 
  • Save money and examine your budget. Your career pivot might require a gap in income while you get training and look for a job or extra costs for education or childcare. Make sure you know how much you will need to cover and plan ahead to save or apply for scholarships. Look at your budget to see any areas of surplus spending you can cut. Don’t get too overwhelmed here—remember the future salary information you mapped out earlier. 

Tap Into Your Support System

The most important thing that you can do in making a big career change like this is to ask for help, both moral support and practical help. First, share your dreams with your mentors and close friends and family to ask them for encouragement. 

Second, don’t be afraid to ask for help with practical things, like Romero’s friend who helped her make lunches and do school pickups. Your support system will be happy to participate in your success by watching your kids while you do a job interview.

If you have a spouse or a significant other, that person’s support will be key to the success of your transition. Consider this wisdom from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg: “If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”

How to Talk About Your Career Transition With Your Kids

Changes in schedules can cause uncertainty for kids, but they may not have the maturity or the language to process it. Include them in the conversation to give them permission to process the changes and help them understand the end goal and how this will benefit the family. 

Before starting her GA bootcamp, Romero sat down with her two kids to talk about the transition. “I had a conversation with them when I learned I had received the scholarship. I explained that it was going to be hard for everyone but that we all deserved a chance at a better future — and that this is what I wanted to do. They were very supportive.”

Here are a few tips for age-appropriate ways to prepare your kids for a parental career change:

  • Young kids. Start to get your kids comfortable with being away from you and adjusting to different caregiving situations. Express love and affection to help your kids feel secure and loved even with the uncertainty of transition. 
  • Elementary and middle-school kids. Talk to your kids about why these changes are taking place and why it’s important for your family. If you’re working or studying from home, set expectations about when you will or won’t be able to engage with them. Make sure to carve out dedicated time at least once a week with each child. 
  • Teenagers and beyond. Though teenagers may not need much hand-holding, they’ll also need an open dialogue about the changes taking place. Discuss with your teens or young adults how they can step up to take more ownership of household chores or help with younger siblings. Your oldest kids will learn from your example as they get closer to exploring their own careers—and they can become your best cheerleaders. 

Wrapping Up

When you have a family at home, the tangled web of logistical challenges can discourage you from even getting started with a career change. It’s easy to let fear take over and tell you lies

Go back to your journal and look at the opportunity cost of staying in your current career situation: what will you regret in a few years if you don’t make a change? 

Romero offered this advice about changing careers with kids: “There will never be a perfect time if that is what we wait for. We have to fight for our dreams, and we all deserve the chance at a better future. It is better to struggle temporarily in the pursuit of a better life than to struggle for the rest of our lives because of temporary obstacles.

“It is very hard to make a career change, but you are worth the hard work. In those moments when you feel like quitting, remember why you are doing it.”

You deserve to find a job that works for you and your family. With the right reskilling program, a strong support system, and the motivation to make a better life for you and your family, you can change your trajectory. 

Check out our career path quiz to help identify a new path that fits your passion and your personality.