Women Opting Out and Opting In

The magazine section of the NYTimes magazine this weekend had an article about women who have opted out of their careers and their reflections about their decision.  New York Magazine chimed in on their thoughts.

This is a topic I have written about and am forever thinking about.  Women, more than men, seem to be the ones who have this desire to opt out and be full time mothers for a time being.  That time being sometimes ends up being eternal.  One of the problems that seem to arise from that decision is a serious shift in the dynamic between partners.  All of a sudden the person who opted out is no longer bringing in cash but focused solely on the kids which includes all duties centered around the household.  Somehow it ends up that the person who brings in the cash rules the roost.  The conversations that used to be centered around challenges in life are now centered around the children and nothing else.  Many opt-outers end up throwing themselves into their children's school system and non-profits in order to make up for that intellectual challenge.

None of this surprises me.  The challenge is how to opt out with not really opting out.  How can women figure out how to balance a work life with an at home life so that both spouses share in the responsiblities at home and continue to walk through the years together vs separate.

I remember opting out for a few years when the girls were 3 and 1, pre-Josh.  There were a variety of reasons why I made that choice then and most of it had to do with leaving one industry without plans for the next.  It made sense for me to take some time to figure out what would be next and stay at home for a little bit.  Yet throughout the entire time I stayed home I kept thinking what's next and when will I figure that out.

The longer I stayed home, I believe the more disconnected and depressed I became.  I kept thinking to myself what happened to you.  You have lost your sense of self.  I wondered if I had let down my young ambitious self?  I had lost my identity.  Yet there is no doubt that my role as a wife and mother have affected all the decisions that I have made over the past 20+ years.  Those choices have bled into my choices as a business woman.  It is not easy.

Each generation can teach the next generation about the decsisions that works and the decisions that didn't.  Women will continue to have children, that will obviously not change.  What I hope will change is the ability for women, in any job, to be able to stayed opted in with the flexibility needed to satisfy their motherly instincts to be available for their children.  That will take a change in the way businesses are run, the availability of childcare and certainly a huge need to put gender issues to rest when it comes to sharing the responsibilities at home.  I believe that spouses are more of a partnership in regards to the children and the household now more than ever which is a very good thing but there will have to be true equality when it comes to anything do to with the home.

Opting out, although I did it for a few short stints, we are finding out is not really a good option in the long run.  I have a few friends who are beginning to opt back in and I am loudly applauding them on the sidelines.