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. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. panterosa,

    Having been part time mother and part time worker, I found that each one wanted more time from me and that equalled more than 100%, more like 110%. On top of that any me time to stay sane was erased. I was warned that full time work and full time motherhood brought many perils of regret each of them, so I felt trying to do both would be better for me.Opting back in is unnecessarily hard these days, and that to me is the sorest point. Many new mothers are more efficient than their childless former selves and we should be eager to hire them, and have them work flex time because they are the newly minted time managers who are practiced in making shrewd timing decisions.Do you think there will be a shift to this sometime soon?

    1. Gotham Gal

      I hope there is a shift soon

  2. Sherry Lombardi

    Here here. We need more options for women (and men) who are raising families. Most are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for flexibility – so there are clearly ways to do this and make it a win-win for both the company and the parent employee. Given the level of education & experience of those ‘opting out’ – our workforce and economy would be better for it.

  3. Best Mom Products

    I have worked part-time and stayed home full-time and now venturing to build something w 2 young children. I hope and believe that more conversations like this and the increase in technology advances will allow women to do both more easily.

  4. Lisa Abeyta

    I “opted out” three months before my first child was born. I’d already faced several miscarriages, and I ran towards being a stay-at-home mom with no reservation. I embraced the choice, as did my husband. It made both of our lives easier, because he was the only one with a schedule, and I could be the supportive spouse who took the professional back seat while he started another company. I eventually became the uber-PTA Mom and didn’t think I’d ever want to hold a conventional job again. But after a particularly difficult pregnancy and caring for a very ill newborn, life got very dark for me. It was my husband who suggested that it was time to expand my borders with something that challenged me intellectually. I started a writing business from home that grew over the next decade until I finally decided it was time to opt back into the professional world full-time and launch my first startup. I don’t regret a single day I stayed home full time, but I am also thriving in this new chapter of my life and loving the professional, intellectual and personal growth that have been a part of it.In my mind, opting out wasn’t quitting, and it wasn’t a less-than choice. I saw it as a gift for myself and my family. But for many of my friends, they did express the sentiment of feeling like they were withering on the vine, losing out on a career that was passing them by.As women, we need to support what makes sense for each other, even when what makes complete sense for one seems like missing out to another. I don’t accept the premise that opting out means we lose out, but I also have no delusions that what worked for me should work for anyone else. Having the choice – that is what is paramount.

    1. Gotham Gal

      totally agree. it is ALL about options.

  5. pointsnfigures

    My wife tried to work with our first and couldn’t. She couldn’t bear to be away. She was a top salesperson in her company. She chose to stay at home. I am glad that we had the ability to make that choice. It worked out well for us.What I hate is women that didn’t make that choice that look down at her.Life is about choices. To me what is really unfortunate is that it is highly difficult for women that make the choice to leave to re-enter. Would love society to get better at figuring out ways for women to re-integrate themselves. My gut tells me the only way is through entrepreneurship unless they have a pro degree like law, medicine or architecture.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Entrepreneurship is definitely one major route

    2. ShanaC

      that option isn’t just about women – it is also about men

      1. Gotham Gal


  6. ag

    I can’t imagine ever opting out. As the product of divorce, the idea of not having income or holding my own professionally would terrify me. I don’t judge women who opt out for choosing to be with their children (that, I think is highly commendable), but I often think all women should be able to support themselves on their own (either through savings, prenup, family money, etc.) before they make the choice.