Jumping to a Motherhood-Compatible Career Liz Wisniewski had a high-powered corporate job, a big salary and an expense account. Now she's a schoolteacher who spends her spare time with her own kids. Senior Correspondent Ketzel Levine tells the story of Wisniewski's decision to give up an impressive career and make time to be a mom.

Jumping to a Motherhood-Compatible Career

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On Wednesdays, the business news focuses on the workplace.

(Soundbite of children laughing and talking)

Unidentified Child #1: What are you doing? That's disgusting!

INSKEEP: At Salisbury Elementary, where Liz Wisniewski(ph) works, things can get pretty rowdy.

Unidentified Child #2: Hold on, Jimmy.

Mrs. LIZ WISNIEWSKI (Teacher): Guys, you are not calm and quiet.

(Soundbite of children's voices)

Unidentified Child #3: I wouldn't do that.

INSKEEP: A year ago, Mrs. Wisniewski was negotiating multimillion-dollar deals for a billion-dollar energy company. This morning, this is reinventing herself through her work. Here's the latest installment of our series from NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine.

KETZEL LEVINE reporting:

After listening to our Take Two series about people changing careers, Liz Wisniewski sent us an e-mail.

Mrs. WISNIEWSKI: I wrote you because I thought that the corporate mom moving down was a story of our times that probably should be included.

LEVINE: And so we're including her story about a wife, mother and energy industry director living in Massachusetts who spent a lot of time around conference tables negotiating the price of power.

Mrs. WISNIEWSKI: It was impressive. I was an economist. There were a lot of perks.

LEVINE: In addition to an expense account, travel and summer retreats on Cape Cod, Liz Wisniewski was making $120,000 a year. Hers had always been an impressive career.

Mrs. WISNIEWSKI: Being a child of the '70s whose parents divorced, and my mother was kind of left destitute after not having worked for 20 years, I definitely had the `I will take care of myself and always be able to support my children, and I'm going out into that man's world and I'm going to make it.' And that was a big part of my psyche.

LEVINE: Supporting her children, particularly combined with her husband's salary, was not a problem. Being there for them was something else.

Mrs. WISNIEWSKI: Around the time I turned 40 and I had the third child, I realized I needed something that worked better with being a mother.

LEVINE: Something that would help keep a family of five on an even keel. Teaching had always appealed to her. Certainly it was compatible with the rhythm of her children's lives, so she got her second master's while working full-time, and this summer landed a job in nearby Salisbury, Massachusetts, teaching fourth grade.

(Soundbite of children's voices)

Unidentified Child #4: Is everyone watching?

Children: Yes!

Unidentified Child #5: ...(Unintelligible) it.

Mrs. WISNIEWSKI: Don't hit it yet. Don't hit it yet.

LEVINE: Teaching does work very well with having children.

Mrs. WISNIEWSKI: I used to find when I would go out and I'd be negotiating a deal, I would come home so tense. I remember my mother, who helped me raise my children, said to me, `You're getting hard.' And when you're teaching, you're using the same sort of cooperative, caring, nurturing qualities that you need to bring home. The segue is smoother.

LEVINE: The money, however, is a societal slap in the face to Liz Wisniewski's way of thinking. A woman whose talents once fetched $245 an hour for her company is now making about $17 an hour. Still, she's privileged and she knows it. She's made a leap untold thousands of parents might envy. Good financial planning and her husband's current salary have enabled her to bail on a career that did not support parenting. It wasn't simply the long hours, but the lack of collegial support as she rose in her company.

Mrs. WISNIEWSKI: I found it very difficult. I found it a little bit lonely, too.

LEVINE: Three months into her new job, she's reveling in the company of like-minded colleagues, most of them mothers, as it turns out, all of whom get what it takes to teach.

Mrs. WISNIEWSKI: The first day went very well, but at the end I must have had the new teacher look on my face, because when I came in the next morning, my mentor came up to me and said, `You came back!'

LEVINE: This week's lesson plan includes the Industrial Revolution, and with it, an introduction to economics, in which the confusing story of a corporate mom who traded money for quality of life will not be told.

Ketzel Levine, NPR News.

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