Recently a friend of mine plopped down on the couch next to me and asked the question I get asked more than any other these days: "How's it been since you've been back to work?"

Like always, I answered in two parts. First, from the part of me that spent eight years as an at-home mom, the part that has reemerged from under diapers and Sippy cups and found new life: "Good. It's been really good."

And second, from the part of me that has yet to figure out how to successfully manage my job, two elementary-age children, a full-time pastor husband who's also in graduate school, life-giving friendships, and a sanity-keeping exercise routine without having an emotional breakdown over the fact that we haven't had milk in two days or that no one has clean socks—the part that's exhausted and overwhelmed: "But hard. It's been really hard."

The balance between "good" and "hard" is difficult for any woman, and downright daunting for women who have chosen to set aside our careers for a season to focus on our children, but who are now reentering the workforce. We long for the "good"—to use our gifts outside the home in a meaningful way (while contributing financially to the household). But we're terrified of the "hard," wondering if going back to work means forsaking the same family we gladly gave up work for to begin with.

The Center for Work Life Policy estimates that 31 percent of highly qualified women "off ramp"—voluntarily quit their jobs for a period of time—on average for 2.7 years. The study, which resulted in Sylvia Ann Hewitt's bestselling book, Off Ramps and On Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success, hasn't been without controversy. The term "highly qualified" is reserved for women with whom, statistically speaking, ...

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