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I have a dilemma facing me regarding disclosing personal information on a cover letter.  First I need to explain my situation.

For 20 years, I worked in the biotech field as a scientist.  Two and a half years ago, I lost my wife to cancer, leaving me to raise three young children.  While I tried to continue in my chosen field, it became very difficult if not impossible to work in a research lab in an effective and productive manner while dealing with raising kids as a single parent.  For instance, several day's worth of a study would have to be scrapped if I had to go pick up a sick child from day care.  Needing to leave precisely at 5:00 pm to pick up children made it impossible to perform experiments that extended past that time (as laboratory research work will often require).

In a nutshell, I needed to find a career that allowed me to have a more reliable 9 to 5 type schedule that could withstand the rigors of my need to leave work on behalf of my children at times, without loss of productivity.  A career where I could put down my work for the day at any time and return to it the next day, a scenario that was difficult at best in my scientific career.

I was able to very satisfying work in the quality assurance area of my company, fulfilling my criteria.  I had to take a significant cut in pay, however, but through other means I've been able to maintain the same kind of household income we had before my wife passed away.  Unfortunately, after 2 years now, there is a distinct possibility of a lay-off in the coming months at my company. 

I would like to continue in my new career should I have to look for a new job, but I don't know exactly how to go about selling myself.  If I choose to omit any information regarding my personal situation, then I'd be concerned that potential employers would look at my 20 years of prior scientific experience as a detriment because they may fear that I could easily (and more lucratively) return to that field, and therefore they may not want to take a chance on someone who is working on a new career.  On the other hand, too much personal information may be inappropriate and may be looked upon negatively as well. 

Is there a tactful and appropriate way that I can convey my need to change careers so that prospective employers will understand my situation and know that I am sincere in my desire to continue in my new career?  If there is a better way without disclosing the personal information, than when (if ever) would it be appropriate--perhaps 1st interview, or 2nd?

Thanks in advance for your responses,

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