Opting Out for the Kids

chairbetterI wrote about the thesis Emily was working on this past Mothers Day.  I honestly can not count how many conversations I have had with women on this topic.  It is one that I have grappled with the last 23 years.  My hope is that the future is a place where there is equality when it comes to opting out for the kids.  Men and women both choose to opt out for a time.  Of course the most difficult thing is returning.

An interesting statistic I heard the other day was that in 5 years 40% of the American workforce will be freelancers.  People stay at jobs for a few years at most not for their full career as they did decades ago.  This says to me that flexibility in regards to our careers is the optimal word here.  Our personal lives have become integrated into our career lives.  Through technology our lives have become one.

Obviously Emily saw first hand that my desire to use my brain,  education and competitive drive was a push/pull when it came to my number one priority which was raising our kids, being present in their lives, having family dinners every night and being a support system at every turn which includes coaching soccer, being home when the kids were sick, being at all the sporting events or plays, etc.  After all there are only 24 hours in the day.  I loved those days when the kids were young.  Picking strawberries, baking cookies, going to Stu Leonard’s to grocery shop, rainy afternoon projects, driving to play dates or cabbing.  I could go on and on.

My career trajectory is one I have written about often.  It was the Internet that truly allowed me to use my working brain and marry it to my Mom brain.  Regardless I am so glad that I opted out for the years that I opted out.

Emily has built an online site for women who write about their experiences from opting out to trying to get back in.  There are a few posts written on the site already.  Really worth reading.  I love the comment about defying labels when it comes to Mom-dom.  To be able to have a variety of careers, wear a variety of hats and shift at each time of your life is an amazing thing.  Those dots always connect.  Sharing those stories help other women learn from their peers about many of the same issues that are bouncing around in their own heads.  It confirms for all of us Moms how it is never easy and those decisions are so hard but how it can work and how you can return.

Please post your stories, send this to your friends, the more people who post the better.  It is the stories that are meaningful to everyone.  It is the data that around these stories that will help us change the ratio when it comes to opting out in the future.

Here is the landing page which begins the conversation:

Before this day is done, a highly educated, full-time professional woman will shut the lights and close the door to her office, turn in her ID and walks away from a promising career.  It is a bitter-sweet departure but an exciting new opportunity awaits—the chance to be managing partner of the ultimate start-up venture, motherhood.

All the exit signs are clearly marked on the path from office to nursery.  Less obvious is the way back.

There are very little options to re-enter the work force once you have left it. Some women try to achieve a kind of work-life balance (part-time work, shared childcare responsibilities), but what does it mean when you are trying to have it all, but not all at once? This in part about women who’ve invested massively in their careers but who walk away from that in order to raise their children. Why make this choice? What will be your future? How are you thinking about your future, career-wise? We’ve created this space for moms and moms-to-be who are opting out of the workforce to care for their children in order to discuss their thought processes regarding this decision and the future of their careers.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Susan Rubinsky

    WOW! WOW! WOW! I got goose bumps up my arms reading this. That 40% number is unsurprising to me as more and more of us decide we want careers but on our own terms.

    1. Gotham Gal

      On our own terms. Exactly

      1. jonathanc

        We see many of our friend’s kid caught in the “perma-lance” trap. Companies don’t (or can’t) want to invest in their employees and push everything to a variable cost that they can turn on and off. This creates so many issues. Ever changing, unpredictable work schedules (especially one that is not work at home) makes it much more difficult manage a social life, much less a family. The uncertain cash flows means it is harder to rent housing, get a mortgage or credit cards. Without a steady pay check, you need to hold a lot more in cash reserves to get past slow periods. Being a free lancer requires managing your own health care, retirement/pension plans and other benefits that don’t come with the work so there are those expenses & complications. But it isn’t just kids entering the workforce that this impacts. I am in the same situation (not by my choosing) and see how it impacts all things social and economic. For those who have some sort of safety net, including anyone re-entering the work force after a break, free lance work can be great. But without a net (or worse, those with student loans or other debt to service) it can be very scary.

        1. Gotham Gal

          I totally agree. The issue with freelance is u are also always looking around the corner for the next job.I hope that as more freelancers enter the workforce there will be more safety nets around it

          1. pointsnfigures

            When I was at the GCUC Conference in Kansas City they pegged the figure at 45% of the world wide workforce by 2020. Looking at growth statistics, Big Corps are growing, and so are solopreneurs (1-5 people shops). The mid market firms are not growing.

          2. ShanaC

            what do you think of freelancer’s union?

        2. ShanaC

          i think people need to re-read theory of the firm again – these are drags on the economy and the reason why company exist on some level.

          1. Gotham Gal


          2. pointsnfigures

            I think Coase would embrace the co-work movement. His theory doesn’t pick winners or losers, but simply talks about property rights being clearly defined and efficient frictionless bargaining. That is the core of independent working and collaboration.

  2. Lisa Abeyta

    Added mine and will share with my friends and connections. Really admire this project.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Fantastic. Thank you

  3. pixiedust8

    Interesting about the freelancer stats. I have gone that route, but if I had to give advice to my 22-year-old self (per the blog themes that have been going around), it would be to start a company when I was young and didn’t have a family and I would also build more skills I could use to consult. 9-5 jobs (which we all know aren’t 9-5) just aren’t working for most people.

  4. leigh

    I think businesses totally have missed the boat on this one. In my industry great people are super hard to find so we make it a selling feature to give flexibility to Parents who need it. I find those employees are way dedicated, stay longer and in some ways are more productive than those without kids who are focused on social lives (which is ok too just interesting that most companies don’t see it that way).

    1. Gotham Gal

      Its fascinating. To me it is such a duh. Happy employees happy families

  5. Jessie Arora

    While we have not had a direct conversation about balancing mom brain and career brain I feel like your posts have spoken directly to me as I’ve navigated this transition with young kids. So glad Emily is creating this platform for more women to share their stories and give themselves permission to design their own career paths. I will add my own story and share with my friends. Thanks!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Jessie. Much appreciated

  6. pointsnfigures

    Sent this to my wife. She opted out for our kids. We have two girls. She works with a group of women here in Chicago trying to find their way back. I think when it really gets hard for women is when the kids move out. All these tremendously talented people with no real options other than volunteering or minimum wage jobs. (not that there is anything wrong with that for those that want that) Good for Emily. Love this project-totally a pain point and totally worthwhile.

  7. ShanaC

    What happens to men that opt out?

    1. Gotham Gal

      They can come back too. When its fair game there will be less conversation but just standard stuff.

      1. awaldstein

        It’s actually tough.Two of my best women friends, serious professional superstars had partners who raised the families.In both cases, they took on careers in the wellness/fitness world where part time work could be phased in over time.

  8. ShanaC

    That statistic is basically what’s holding me back from having kids. (among a couple of other things)I don’t want to opt out – and I feel forced to be in a very economically super-stable position before kids because of the opt out factor.I don’t like it. While personally I want a small family – it would be nice to be able to have a large family for someone out there without the opt-out factor over their heads.

  9. awaldstein

    Thought–The biggest change would be to make it easy to find and support these individual with work.Ex–every startup that I work with need financial/booking/forecasting work. All part time. All remote. Impossible to find.Every one needs someone with social chops, with design chops, with contract chops.I can make a difference by bringing opportunity. Finding people is hard.Anyone working to fix this?

    1. Gotham Gal

      Seeing a few companies out there attempting to fix this. We will see.

    2. leigh

      Funny you should say that, I have a friend who used to be the head of HR at Blast Radius — she is starting a company that is going to be doing some amazing things for Freelancers (including group benefits). I’ll have to ping her and find out where she is at on the project (although i’m in Toronto so won’t be US focused for now)

      1. awaldstein

        Very small business has so many part time specialty needs.To be able to use talented remote people to get them done would be a pleasure. It is seriously a nightmare to locate great people as you know.

      2. Gotham Gal

        great article in the NYX today called For More Fathers Who Stay at Home, It’s A Choice. http://nyti.ms/1xhliJXMy favorite part of the article was this:*“I now know why women are so angry,” he said. “For people in the work world, their opinions on anything are considered more valid than those who just take care of children. Here’s the great line: ‘Well, all you do is hang at the park all day.’ ”**“The gender switch has been difficult because of the outside world, but very rewarding in my internal world,” he said.**Mr. Johnson, who cares for his two children and three stepchildren in Asheville, N.C., has a similar point of view.**“I don’t care what people say about men staying home, that it’s wimpy or other explicit words,” he said. “My daughter a couple weeks ago learned how to hop on one foot and she was just so excited about it. Men who don’t stay home are missing out on some of the crucial moments in the child’s life, and I’m blessed to be able to witness it.”*

  10. Nadine

    Great topic. I hope my story encourages women everywhere to stop and reconsider their priorities and direction. My decision to work from home was challenging. When my girls turned 4 and 6 I knew it was time for me to be there to pick them up at the bus, serve hot chocolate, and listen to their tales. Financially, it was tough, I left a middle management position making 65K in the 90s and the first year starting my own biz I made /wait for it drum roll/ an astonishing 23K. Not one kid in my house seem to notice I was serving hamburger instead of filet. It was all about MOM BEING HOME! Well that was 1996 and I still work from home but the kids are 21 and 23 and wow what a fantastic choice. No regrets. I have been frugal and conscious about savings so both girls could get into a good college without absorbing debt. Cate is working on her Masters in Justice, and Nicolette is at ASU figuring it out. All is good. I just landed a position as an ambassador to giftforcollege and since I was privy to 529s happy to join on to such a worthwhile cause. You will find this registry a perfect way to encourage family to contribute to your kids higher education. Cate and Nic were happy to receive donations for their higher education in lieu of those ugly xmas sweaters. Oh don’t get me wrong we still scrounged thru salvation army for the reindeer red itchy version! Never miss the fun of a humiliating jumper at a party.

  11. Frank Traylor

    Thanks for the post. This is an important topic. Some of my experiencesFrom the business side it’s about the bus schedule. At my last company I hired a mom with 2 kids as our HR Director. She had vast experience and was a joy to work with. Her only limitation; the bus schedule. She would drop the kids off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon and be in the office between. She not only managed HR but was our best mind in corporate strategy (she had been through a couple of tech company failures).From the career side: what is a “promising career” these days? I find that things move so fast that careers are only promising if they change constantly. I started my promising career as a Cornell educated electrical engineer, then software geek, then tech CEO, now raising capital for a marijuana testing lab. It’s a valid question: who is better positioned for the future; someone who has been out of the workforce that has stayed current with technology or someone in the workforce who hasn’t.From the value side; companies used to target markets, then segments, then tribes. Now the individual is the target… or more accurately individual relationships. I apologize if I’m being sexist, but I believe that is the domain of women. Who is more connected and more respected than the PTA president? What’s the chance that’s a man? I don’t know the answer of how the immense value of strong, respectful, personal relationships converts to employment but access to those relationships is the holy grail for the largest companies in the world.Bottomline; I believe the evolving model of business will increasingly favor highly talented, focused yet flexible individuals that solve problems outside typical working models and constraints. This will provide increasing opportunities for those (women and men) that refuse to follow the all or nothing career path.

    1. Gotham Gal

      the opportunities to forge new career paths would be the best for all worlds.

  12. Alex Wolf

    Successfully navigating the on-ramp to one’s own liking and satisfaction is a huge part of the success of the family unit as a whole. Good for Emily she is tackling this! I can see the Gotham Gal spirit in her thesis, and that’s great for her to have you as a role model.I would be delighted to support Emily by posting my story, especially since my on-ramping was so deeply tied to kids by becoming a game designer to teach kids about nature.I do hope though as you mention, that there is some engagement with men on seeing these stories. Those men will make different decisions in their own lives at work and at home when they feel the growing bank of solutions which stem from this frustration. Mothers are the the magnetic and gravitational centers of families, and keeping them strong makes the family stronger in turn.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It would be wonderful if the men who opted out (and there are some) posted their stories too

      1. LE

        Picking strawberries, baking cookies, going to Stu Leonard’s to grocery shop, rainy afternoon projects, driving to play dates or cabbing. I could go on and on.The question is if more men were able to do this would they do this?Speaking strictly for myself only, I have never enjoyed doing things like this. [1] I also know there are women who don’t either, but in our culture it’s almost expected that women like doing these activities. And if they don’t, well then how are they viewed by other women?[1] Of course the question is if I didn’t have to earn a living and money didn’t matter would I enjoy those types of things? I don’t know the answer to that.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Good question. I am reading the third volume of My Struggle right now and Karl Ove writes about this. He is home with the kids taking them to classes, etc at quite a young age and he totally hates it. I get it.

  13. LE

    Early 90’s I bought a small advertising coupon book for my then wife (now ex wife). She operated that totally from home and was able to arrange the sales calls around the kid’s activities. This was pre internet but post desktop publishing. (I taught her how to layout ads and some business things, she already had some sales skills).When she was pregnant she didn’t miss a beat either. I suggested paying someone to drive her around the city (Philly) so she wouldn’t have to park. Worked very well. (Retired people typically..)My point is that by putting thought into it she was able to achieve what she wanted (and did pretty well with it) and take care of the kids with no issues. No boss no one to report to other than customers.I think for any decision someone is making practicality has to be taken into account. You can’t decide to take a certain career path (man or woman) without considering many factors.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Bravo for her. Thanks for sharing.

  14. lemead

    This is a fascinating topic and one I write about all the time. I am often overwhelmed with regret that I didn’t make more use of my MBA right away, lean in, as it were, but instead immediately choose a path that would afford me flexibility. But despite those regrets, what I have now, almost 15 years later, is a flexible career that uses my brain and allows me to be present with and to my children. I would not change a thing. No path is without wondering about what might have been though, I really believe that.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I never look back. You made the right decision at that time. It is impossible to go back and think about where you were mentally and all the other pieces that were when you made any decision.

  15. TejDhawan

    I was reading this morning’s Des Moines business record and an article caught my eye related to this topic. It is about a startup that has brought moms who once opted out front and center to their ethos. Though the original is still behind a paywall at http://www.businessrecord.com, it is excerpted here in the PDF.https://www.dropbox.com/s/x