Returning to work after being a stay-at-home parent and the impact of education

June 7, 2024

Returning to work after being a stay-at-home parent and the impact of education

Returning to work after being a stay-at-home parent can feel overwhelming and intimidating, especially if you were out of the workforce for several years. Education and upskilling can be incredibly beneficial for not only your confidence but also your career opportunities.

Read about my journey from full-time work to full-time parenting and the educational path I took to start a new career I love (and one that gives me the flexibility to prioritize my family).

My past career path

After graduating from MacEwan University with a diploma in Human Resources, I started working for the Faculty of Business, Executive Education at the University of Alberta. Initially, I was hired as a Program Administrator and assisted with the setting up and running of professional development programs.

From there, I moved into a Program Advisor role, where I took on more of the program development and client relationship elements of the portfolio. I continued to work in Executive Education for a total of nine years—until I had my first daughter.

Why I decided to become a stay-at-home mom

When I initially became pregnant with our first daughter, I thought I would return to work part-time. We were the type of office that operated very lean; we had a dream team of people that came together, worked hard, and did amazing work together.

But the nature of our business required full-time staff dedicated to the hours that we served our clients, so I quickly realized that the part-time option may not be realistic for me. Fast forward to when I gave birth and those early days and weeks of having a newborn, and I just knew that returning to the job I loved for so many years would not work with how we wanted to do family life.

Here are a few factors my husband and I had to consider while weighing our options for childcare and potentially returning to work:

Unable to rely on family

Unfortunately, we were not in a situation where we could rely on childcare from family. One set of grandparents was limited by age, while the other grandparents lived five hours away.

At that point, we started looking into daycare options and faced another hurdle.

Expenses of childcare

At the time, daycare and day homes weren’t subsidized as they are now. When looking at our options, and if I were able to return to work in a part-time capacity, the wage I would receive would go directly to covering the cost of childcare.

Security and stability of my husband’s career

Recognizing that family or external childcare weren’t feasible options for us, my husband and I started having many conversations about what we had to adjust and what life would look like if I decided to stay at home full time.

We were very fortunate that my husband had been in a job with the same company for several years at that point, which offered the security and stability that ultimately led us to decide that having me being a stay-at-home mom was the best decision for us.

“Becoming a full-time, stay-at-home parent brought my career to a pause rather than an abrupt stop.”

How being a stay-at-home mom affected my career

Becoming a full-time, stay-at-home parent brought my career to a pause rather than an abrupt stop. I think it can be easy to think of it as a definite end, and in some ways, it is the end of a chapter. However, it presented an opportunity for me to think creatively about how I could incorporate a bit of work in this new chapter of my life, in a different way.

Once I had some time to adjust and figure out my new normal, now with a baby, and how I needed to manage my time differently, I looked for ways to take on some work.

Contributing to local blogs

In my previous job, I developed strong administrative support skills and also had experience with writing composition. This led me to start responding to calls from bloggers looking for contributors.

Volunteering and flexible work

I also looked for local events to volunteer at and help with in various capacities, which even led to working with a former colleague in more of an administrative capacity for about eight months.

While some elements of this work were similar to my job prior to starting a family, there were some differences, such as the pace I could work at and the amount of work I could realistically commit to. But the change was well worth it, as it allowed me to keep that part of my brain engaged and active while still maintaining a hands-on role at home.

Understandably, I had to step away from this once I had my second daughter, but I am forever grateful for those opportunities to work, volunteer, and get involved wherever I could. I look at them as experiences that contributed to the greater picture of my career. The differences in the type of work during this time were a blessing because I learned so much that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Factors I considered before returning to work

I always knew that I wanted to return to the workforce once my daughters were older and in school full time, so it wasn’t a hard decision for me. I enjoy the working world and I knew that when the time came, I would embrace the opportunity.

For me, the challenge was figuring out what exactly that would look like. We considered several things, like: would I return to the same job? (as it turned out, my former office closed right around the time of the pandemic, so that was not an option). If I were to alter my career path, what type of job would I do? Did I have the skills to apply to another type of job? If not, how could I address that?

I recognized that by this point, I had spent almost eight years out of the workforce, and I felt that my skills and general knowledge of the workforce were out of date. Another decision I had to make was what type of work I wanted to get into. Returning to my former place of work was no longer an option, so I had to ask myself – did I want to continue down a similar career path or did I want to shift gears?

Thankfully, my husband has always been very supportive and encouraging in what I want to pursue, so I shifted gears.

Entering a new(ish) industry

Many, many years prior (like 20+ years!), I had the opportunity to take on a summer job straight out of high school covering a medical receptionist position in the cardiology department at the University of Alberta Hospital. This was an incredible opportunity; one I am so grateful for, as it was pivotal for me (something I didn’t realize until a few years later).

The medical administration environment stuck with me ever since, and I knew that this was something I would like to return to one day. So, having decided what kind of work I wanted to get into, and acknowledging that I needed to update my skills, I began to research medical administration certificate programs. I wanted to set myself up as best as I could to rejoin the workforce equipped with current knowledge in the field of medical administration.

The Medical Office Assistant (MOA) Certificate Program at NorQuest College became the clear, best choice for many reasons – flexibility, accessibility, credibility, and affordability, and it just felt like the right fit for me. In September of 2020, I began the program and worked through my studies as an online student (alongside my daughters, who were also completing that year of school online!).

I can almost guarantee that your future self will always look back and be proud of pushing yourself to pursue those educational goals.

Completing my Medical Office Assistant certificate at NorQuest College

Enrolling in and completing the Medical Office Assistant Program had a much deeper impact than I ever expected. It equipped me with the knowledge, tools, and practices I would need to re-enter the workforce, specifically in the medical field.

But it also provided a learning environment that was welcoming and helpful – something I didn’t necessarily expect to experience as an online student. Despite not being physically on campus, I still felt very connected to my instructors and the classes I was taking. Instructors made themselves available to help and answer questions, as well as provide feedback and resources.

The college also provides students with various opportunities to participate in town halls, or campus-wide virtual events, which I feel helped with building connections to the student population.

The MOA program also has a practicum component at the end that you need to complete to graduate. This was a vital steppingstone to getting back into the workforce. It provided an initial connection to the organization that I was being placed in and the chance to put into practice everything I had learned.

My advice to a stay-at-home parent returning to school and reentering the workforce

  1. Post-secondary is for everyone—regardless of age

    It can feel very daunting to consider going back to school later in life, but work hard to put that thinking aside and just go for it. It sets such a great example for the little ones observing you.

  2. Be resourceful

    Reach out and ask the questions that you have. Look at all the available student resources at the institution you are enrolling in—there are many, and they are so valuable and helpful!

    One example of this is the Career Supports that NorQuest offers. The process of applying to and interviewing for jobs once I completed my program was something I was very nervous about. I hadn’t done an interview for close to ten years, and I hadn’t updated my resume in probably an equal amount of time. I was terrified!

    The Career Supports group as part of the Student Resources is an invaluable service to students. I contacted a member from this team, and we set up a series of one-on-one meetings where we worked through how to write a proper resume and cover letter, conducted a LinkedIn review, and went through interview techniques. This process was so valuable! I felt well-prepared and knowledgeable about how to take that first step and compose a proper resume, and I also had a clear understanding of areas I had to work on as I prepared to apply for jobs.

  3. Network

    Whether you’re in between jobs, or starting somewhat fresh, try and establish or maintain a bit of a network. It’s helpful to have a circle of people you can turn to and ask for professional advice. And, in turn, it’s nice to return the favor when someone from your network needs some advice or guidance. Social media sites, like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. are also useful in these efforts.

  4. Think about your future self

    Whenever you’re in a slump or having moments of doubt, try and shift your thinking towards your future self. I can almost guarantee that your future self will always look back and be proud of pushing yourself to pursue those educational goals. No regrets!

  5. Create boundaries

    The decision to go back to school is a big commitment. If you’re saying yes to school, then it means that you are saying no to something else in your life. Take a serious look at what you are comfortable saying no to for the time being and stick to it. Be honest and realistic with yourself, your family and life responsibilities, and adjust your priorities accordingly.

  6. It’s not ‘no’ forever

    No matter what you are saying no to right now, it doesn’t mean it’s ‘no’ forever. Think of it as putting things away on a shelf temporarily. Eventually, once you complete your studies, you will be able to return to that shelf and take those things off and incorporate them back into your life.

  7. Lean on your wisdom

    If this is your second or third time returning to school, recognize that you are in a better position and so much wiser than your first round of post-secondary education. Let that sink in and give you that confidence boost when you need it the most.

My career today

I currently work for Alberta Health Services as an Administrative Assistant at the Cross Cancer Institute. The position I have is a casual position which means I am called in as relief, rather than being a regular full- or part-time person.

Sometimes, I get called first thing in the morning to cover for someone who has called in sick, or sometimes I have a bit more notice to cover for someone who will be on holiday. And sometimes, I will have a consistent schedule for a stretch of time, which can be rare, but is always welcome!

I chose this career path because it affords the flexibility that I need at this point in my life. As a casual, I can determine how busy I want my schedule to be or not. While I may go several days or weeks with no shifts, I can also ensure I am allowing for enough time to stay on top of family life as well.

I work in a busy department that requires me to always think on my feet and multi-task. There is always something new to learn, which I love. I also love medical administrative work in general, as it is very meaningful work to me. If I can help alleviate confusion or answer questions for a patient, then that makes my day.

Final thoughts

Remember that with age comes wisdom! There are many things you know now that you didn’t know in your younger years. It’s like a superpower that sets you off on the right foot having a bit more experience under your belt. You know yourself better, you have a better understanding of how you learn, or maybe ways of learning that don’t work for you.

I know I said this earlier, but I think it is worth repeating—post-secondary is for everyone, regardless of age! My student experience the second time around meant so much more to me because I chose this path with intention. It was chosen with my family in mind and with the goal of going back and refreshing my knowledge in a field I was genuinely passionate about.

Age is truly just a number when you are pursuing a goal and enriching your education throughout the process.

Learn more about NorQuest’s Medical Office Assistant program

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Medical Office Assistant, visit NorQuest’s program page. If you’re not sure if this is the right program for you, there are other Office Assistant certificates available (including Dental Office Assistant, Veterinary Office Assistant, and Hospital Unit Clerk).

You can also reach out to a student recruiter at to set up a one-on-one meeting and discuss your options.


Are you an alumni of NorQuest College and have a story or advice to share?

Contact Josie Tan, Alumni Relations Office, at with your story idea for a chance to be featured on our blog and social media platforms!