Don’t stay home too long

imagesSomeone told me the other day that 70% of millennial women are thinking that they do not want to have children for a variety of reasons including their desire to have a career first.  Then on the other hand something like 35% of male millennials are interested in staying home for a period of time to raise their family.  Having it all is impossible at least at the same time.  Something gives and from those statistics it sounds like the millennials are acutely aware of that.

Our daughter Emily just handed in her thesis.  The title is Life Sequencing: A Viable Solution to Work-Life Conflict for High-Achieving Women.  What came across loud and clear is a few things.  The lack of childcare options is certainly one. That many of these high-achieving women end up marrying someone who is in the same socio-economic bracket and because of that they can make a decision to stay at home.  That is the piece I continue to think about.

When I meet women and men I often ask a bit about their backgrounds.  What does your Dad do?  What does your Mom do?  Where did you grow up?  A huge percentage of the people I see came from families where the Mom stayed home and raised the kids.  A tough job and no doubt commendable.  I did it for awhile and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.  Yet many of these women never went back to work for a variety of reasons.

I remember when our kids were young we would go down to DC and visit my Mom.  My Mom had several careers.  The kids would go visit here at her office.  She was an entrepreneur.  It was obvious that she ran the place.  I always left thinking how great it was that our kids especially our daughters saw that my Mom had built her own company and worked hard.  I also used to tell our daughters that you must figure out how to be an entrepreneur or do something where you can freelance so when it comes time to have kids that you will be able to continue working in some capacity to keep your intellectual curiosity going and kids don’t stay small forever.

Mothers are role models for their children.  Telling your daughters to go to the best schools, excel in school, be the best, do anything you want to do when you took off to raise them and never went back to work is not setting an example.  It is saying that at one point you can jump off the train and not get back on.  Then history repeats itself.  How do we break this cycle?  Certainly having more men get off the train would be a step in the right direction.

I hope that the next generation of parents both opt to stay home in some capacity.  If you get off the train for a little bit then get back on.  Trains don’t hang out in the station for long.  Those role models are essential to the future for women leaders in the workplace.

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    If I read this correctly, the weak parts are the linkages/transition points between work/home choices, which seems to tie into Emily’s thesis.Is Emily’s thesis available publicly?I would also be curious to learn about how these sequencing choices vary by income levels and even from country to country where the cultures are different.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It is not available publicly. It focuses on the US and highly educated women.

  2. Sarah Jane

    I have a 10 month old son. I work as a contractor ~ 20 hours a week. I love the work I do, the team I work with and am incredibly fortunate to have the luxury of the decision of how much I would like to work. That said, I’ve come to the conclusion that that there is no scenario of working/not working that will ever feel “right”, at least in this moment. The balance of mothering/working always feels tenuous to me (and my friends and colleagues) in this stage of life. On really tough days I remind myself that continuing to work is an investment in my future and the example I’m setting to my child(ren). Very well said and so great to hear from someone on the other side.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Setting an example for your kids is the number one.

  3. ErikSchwartz

    “Someone told me the other day that 70% of millennial women are thinking that they do not want to have children for a variety of reasons including their desire to have a career first. “I remember a lot of GenX-ers and late baby boomers were saying the similar things when they were in their 20s. But when they hit 40 many of them were going through IVF and fertility treatments.The idea that ones perspective on the world while in your 20s will be the same as it’s in your 30s and 40s has been disproven over and over again.

    1. Erin

      Yeah I don’t get it- 70% of millennial women don’t want kids at all? Or they want kids after their career is off the ground? That’s a big number.

      1. Gotham Gal

        I heard no kids but hard to believe.

        1. Erin

          Weird. A lot of them will change their mind, but yeah that’s huge. I guess we can say feminism has done its work in terms of raising awareness of what’s possible for women…career-wise.

      2. Jessica Chavarro

        Well as a millennial myself I could not agree more with Gotham Gal, many professional women are struggling with the idea of having kids which of course will change over time…At least until we feel accomplished to our standards which I would think maybe after the 30 year mark. We are definitely ambitious and want a career first but I also believe we’ll eventually want kids and learn to deal with both roles as we mature.

        1. Erin

          It would make Betty Friedan or Emma Goldman very happy to hear you say that. Awesome. On the other hand, my sister-in-law is a millennial, just finishing up her masters in International Finance, and god help her if she doesn’t get to have 7 kids.

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      I was one of these who put it off until I was 40. It’s not that I suddenly realized I wanted kids. I married someone who really wanted them, and I wasn’t diametrically opposed. I just kept putting it off until it was now or never (and my spouse gave me the ‘puppy eyes’). I’m lucky I didn’t need IVF or anything.Of course, now I’m SO glad I had my kids! But we do need to find a way to help women in their 20’s and 30’s not feel like it’s either/or.

  4. LE

    Certainly having more men get off the train would be a step in the right direction.I think it’s pretty clear in this day and age that “house husbands” don’t get much respect. In fact people who don’t appear to be working will tend to get hassled by those that do and are engaged.I remember a time when I sold my first business and had met up with someone that I previously did business with. We went out to lunch. He was rushed and I had obviously much more time and was relaxed. At one point in the conversation he said something like “you have a lot of time on your hands”. The way he said it, or at least the way that I interpreted it, to me it was like it was an insult. As if to say “I am doing serious labor and you are loafing. I am still important you are not”.This reminded me of when I was growing up and used to work for my Dad’s wholesale company in the summer and after school. I got to work in the air conditioned office (because I could type invoices and do office work) while my cousin worked in the hot warehouse. He used to walk in and say “I’m doing the man’s work”. Seriously you see men are like this which is the point I am trying to illustrate.I have news for you. If my daughter told me she wanted to marry someone who was ok with being a house husband I don’t think I’d be happy. I’m just brainwashed to believe that men are supposed to be off working.That’s not the same as saying that women should be in the house with the kids. Both of my sisters have careers and work and make more money than their husbands do. My wife has a career and makes a great living. I’ve never dated a women that wasn’t a hard worker or intelligent prior to getting married or after my divorce. But I have met men who are amazed that I would want to be married to a smart or driven women and have actually questioned why I would want to do that. They seem to like the women being dependent on them and what is a turn on to me is a turn off to them!

    1. Erin

      Lol you don’t even want your daughter’s future husband to be open to the idea of staying at home?

      1. LE

        What do you mean by “open to the idea”? To me that sounds like a recipe for disaster in a relationship when the goals or roles are not aligned and are not clearly defined.It’s hard enough when after a few years in marriage people change their tune or perhaps they have animosity as a result of changing life circumstances. The last thing someone needs is a wishy washy “well I’d consider it” which turns out to be “well that’s what I thought then … but I now I have changed my mind”.Side story, my new wife’s first husband graduated from law school, got a job at a big law firm, and then decided to do the stay at home Dad thing. It was actually what ended up killing their relationship. She didn’t like it at all. She wanted to hire someone to help at home so they could both pursue careers. Short story he was lazy and was just fine playing with the kids all day and loafing off. Pitchforks down. Not a judgement on all men who do this, an anecdote about one.Look everybody is different this is just the way I see it. Nobody needs to change anybody. There are enough people out there that someone can find a spouse that agrees with the way that they see the world and be happy.

        1. LE

          Edit: “Loafing off” does not mean to imply that being a stay at home parent is an “easy” job.

          1. Erin

            Well open to the idea, as in flexible. My understanding is that raising kids requires lots of it. I agree values and goals have to be aligned.

          2. LE

            An area of concern for me is that for some people work, or the rewards of work, can be a drug. Consequently trying to anticipate the hook of that drug before it has happened can create unreasonable expectations later on on one party in the equation. The woman could be bored at home but the man could be totally involved in a challenging career (or vice versa). Plus by you saying “my understanding” I take that as indicating that you don’t have kids. As a result you probably aren’t even aware of the big leap between having 1 kid and having two kids or more. That’s a big change in itself in demands and responsibilities.Money is also always a problem. I know of one couple that has 4 kids. The wife thinks the husband should be more aggressive and work harder and make more money. The husband loves to take time on the weekend to go do scouting and spend time with the kids. The wife would rather he earn more. Because she sees what others have that she doesn’t. No way to anticipate that when they got married. If this all seems like a mess (and I’ve got a hundred stories to tell you) you are right it is.

          3. Erin

            Well realizing you’re in a situation where you’re addicted to the rewards of work or craving what other people have requires taking a deep breath… maybe talking to someone about it…I don’t have kids because I realize exactly how much work it is. Yech.

          4. LE

            where you’re addicted to the rewards of workWell keep in mind Erin that both Fred and Joanne would fit into the definition of being addicted in some way to work. Unless you can explain why they work as hard as they do. Because it’s pretty clear that at this point they aren’t doing so because of economic reasons. Maybe that was a driver early on but at this point I don’t believe that is even close to the reason.

        2. Elizabeth Spiers

          A lot of women–myself included–wouldn’t just be open to our husbands staying at home with kids, we might even prefer it if it were financially feasible. That said, you’re right that if both halves of the couple aren’t on the same page, it’s a recipe for disaster. But I also know men who eventually resented their wives for staying at home and when faced with the reality that they were now responsible for generating all of the income. It works both ways.And from what I’ve seen stay at home dads only get disrespect for it from other men who derive their own security in their masculinity from the fact that they have day jobs. I don’t know any women who have a problem with it.And those guys who question you for marrying a smart woman? They married people who wouldn’t challenge or threaten them in any way–and they probably surround themselves with yes men in other parts of their lives, too. What a sad, cowardly way to live.

          1. LE

            But I also know men who eventually resented their wives for staying at home and when faced with the reality that they were now responsible for generating all of the income.I wonder how that correlates to either of the parties economic needs. In other words if the wife wants “a good life” and puts pressure on the working husband to “earn a better living” that could be a reason for stress and resentment (ie “why don’t you work then”). But also likely that the woman is happy with what they have and the man is not (and that is the reason for the resentment.) I don’t know any women who have a problem with it.Interesting and agree that it’s most likely a generational thing (that hasn’t fully worked its way out..)They married people who wouldn’t challenge or threaten them in any wayRight and they like the “security” of having someone who depends on them for food, sustenance and all decisions. Since with money comes a great deal of control. If the woman doesn’t earn any money then there are certain decisions that she can’t make.

          2. Gotham Gal

            Know who you are marrying and make those decisions together

  5. LE

    I also used to tell our daughters that you must figure out how to be an entrepreneur or do something where you can freelance so when it comes time to have kids that you will be able to continue working in some capacityExactly the reason I bought my now ex wife a small advertising coupon book which she operated for many years during the period when our children were born (early to mid 90’s). Best decision I ever made. She could totally work her schedule around the kids and operate and earn money and stay engaged. When she was pregnant (this was pre-uber and pre-internet obviously) I hired an immigrant to drive her around the city on sales appointments and to pick up payments from her customers. She earned about what she would have done selling advertising for someone else but had the flexibility to not have to deal with a boss and arbitrary rules. And of course there were the tax benefits as well.

  6. Erin

    We had my mom’s retirement dinner tonight, and although she never aimed very high or pursued entrepreneurship, what drove her to go to work every day was the desire to give us stability, and you gotta give a toast to that!

  7. Matt Kruza

    Does her paper talk at all about flexible / part-time options? Besides the entrepreneurial ones that you allude to. I think one of the great failures of American capitalism is the inability to create many high-achieving roles that are in the 20-30 hour lot. Both for people with kids, for people with personal or family medical issues for a time, or for those who may want to tone back and maybe ease into retirement over a 5-7 year period. Two major reasons are training costs and health care costs. Not sure the first has been solved, but I think this is one area where Obamacare CAN potentally have its biggest option in pushing more towards a viable option of part-time high skilled positions primarily within same company. Definitely one nitch I am exploring for my company. Not good for first 10-20 of a startup, but if we hit initial scale and get to 50 – 100 employees I think there are a ton of professionals who would jump in a heartbeat for these roles

    1. Gotham Gal

      It talks about many of the new solutions around on-boarding women back into the workplace. Most of these are happening in companies like a Goldman Sachs or even Return Path. They have been quite successful. There are even education platforms helping women return with ease.

      1. Matt Kruza

        I think this may have been mentioned in another comment, but any chance she / you will be able to post publicly available? Always interesting to learn about areas that obviously aren’t native to me, but which I want to be well-versed on to run my company effectively.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Happy to ask

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Would also love to see this!

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Matt — this is great thinking. I see a lot of people building disruptive companies get locked into thing about jobs from a more traditional mindset and missing out on outstanding potential team members. My business is not the best example because it is more conducive to flexibility, but two of my team members are moms who work from home — one works late at night after her kids are in bed and does really great work — and she is so grateful. I would love to someday help founders and CEOs rethink how they structure employment at their companies.

      1. Matt Kruza

        Awesome to hear some validation / examples of this in practice. Will keep in touch and hopefully connect when I am closer to being able to implement some of these concepts. I think one major issue is in the new “unicorn” type massively funded VC companies they are trying to grow so un-naturally quick that they aren’t even considering new options. And to be fair, if your goal is a billion dollars in 2-4 years I am not sure that you can “innovate” this way with flexible employment options. The current VC business of “steroid level growth” is unhealthy long-term I think, but certainly will continue for some time with the capital currently in the market.

        1. Gotham Gal


          1. Matt Kruza

            I have all the smart commenters and women in agreement. nice! Enjoy paris btw

        2. Donna Brewington White

          I would love to be in touch about this and to exchange ideas and insights. And don’t get me wrong, I have tremendous respect and empathy for the challenges and pressure faced by the founders/CEOs and other leaders at these startups. For the most part the ones I know are doing an amazing job building their teams while under fire. I learn so much from them.

  8. Marissa_NYx

    Emily interviewed me for her thesis – I’d love to read her final paper. As a kid growing up, my mum worked. While she never said this to her kids, working gave her a level of personal financial independence and also a social life outside of family. Role models are important – actions speak louder than words. I believe having role models is important for both men & women, developing interests, learning & growing is lifelong. I see many smart women & men who take time out to look after kids , who seem to lose confidence , they are swamped by the day to day , they start saying ” I couldn’t do that ” when it comes to finding meaningful work or a project to which I say – “what do you want ? ” or they say “you’re superwoman” to which I say “not really. I do the school run just like you .” We need to relate to our role models , they need to show their human side , their vulnerability . maybe it’s the lack of access to these conversations , conversations about what choices are possible , how other men & women navigate their family choices , how we are all human . There’s a challenge here to lift the conversation and make it accessible to the parents who are doing the school run, the parents who do take time for their families. We should honor and celebrate parents and family.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Totally agree that we should honor and celebrate parents.At some point women (or men) who stay home and focus completely on the family start to lose their identify. The importance of finding something that is theirs such as work is key.

      1. Marissa_NYx

        Maybe cities around the world can set aside a week or a month in the calendar for the conversation eg. April is Opting Out, Opting In month (or better name ).

  9. Sherry Abdou

    The topic of gender equality, high-achieving women, and shift that is occurring with Millennials is such an important topic to discuss. It’s one I frequent with my twenty-one-year-old daughter on our many walks. Funny how the very same topic with my mom would have carried a completely different tone. I want my daughter to own her destiny, and my mom (with good intention) wanted me to build a family, not a career. I want my daughter to have both, as she sees fit for herself.I agree that you need to set the example and hop back on the train. I know for sure that it’s best to not check-out completely, as I had done to stay home with my kids because entering back to the workforce can be a frightening concept. New technology and fast-paced work environment were incredibly intimidating, but I’m so grateful I took the plunge and showed my children that fear is a state of mind.I truly enjoy reading the comments and learning from everyone that shares their thoughts. It helps me see things in various light. Thanks!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Different generations.When we moved to the burbs for a few years it was my Mom who said that having both of us commuting with young kids at home and working crazy hours will not be good. She basically said someone needs to figure out their career closer to home.

  10. pointsnfigures

    Yes. I am fortunate that in my life I married my wife. She has a degree from the University of Illinois College of Business-elected to stay home with the kids. She was the top sales person for her division of J+J when she quit.I made an investment in over a year ago. One of the reasons I made it is they have one location called I think it’s the killer app for co-working. Our goal is to roll them out nationwide.

    1. Gotham Gal


  11. Pranay Srinivasan

    For the women who don’t have the entrepreneurial bug, after kids, they could go to sites like run by my friend Sairee Chahal ( who focuses the portal *Exclusively* on Highly Educated, Return-To-Work Moms and places them with top class companies. And is profitable too.

    1. Gotham Gal

      very cool.

  12. Johannesburg

    I totally agree with everything in this post, GothamGal, although I suspect there’s more nuance to this story –Both my parents are dentists. My mom naturally possesses more leadership and, when I was 9, spearheaded opening her own office and various other family business adventures. She worked all through my childhood and “wore the pants,” but also bent over backwards to be there for me as much as possible, having her employees drive me to my lessons when she was tied up with patients, arranging a workstation in her office so I could do my homework there, etc. She taught me to be extremely hardworking, fiercely independent and probably too competitive. As a result I cannot imagine any scenario where I myself do not work.When I was in college, she kept telling me to be a doctor, dentist, or lawyer – some profession where I could start my own small business. After 4 years in finance, I finally understand why and sometimes wish I had followed her advice.I graduated with aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder on Wall Street. I’m realizing more and more that the big paychecks I’m gunning for come with a major condition – that I be willing to sacrifice my leisure time indefinitely (definitely today’s time and probably tomorrow’s too). Silicon Valley requires the same thing. These are paths which have proven to have the potential to lead to multi- million or billion-dollar net worths. And since I grew up with my mom telling me I could do anything, I competed for that along with all my other Type A, high-achieving friends right out of the gates of college.There are examples of billionaires financiers, tech entrepreneurs, etc. But there are no billionaire dentists. But the dentist can be financially comfortable and balance life with work. My mom laments, “What do you want with so much money anyway” and there are no people in the world that would consider my mom anything but extremely successful. But I feel that my obligation as the second-generation immigrant and recipient of my parents’ hard work is to build on top of it and take it further, not just replicate it.I keep imagining the day I go to my 10 year college reunion and invariably some of my college classmates will have made it to the stars; if I look in the mirror on that day and know that I didn’t give it my best shot, I’m not sure what level of failure or self-loathing I will feel. For now, that’s enough to keep me on this female-unfriendly, leisure-time-sacrificing, non-existent-prospect-of-work-life-balance track.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You have to do what is in your heart. Success is different to everyone. Being a type A is not easy…

  13. Donna Brewington White

    My husband and I actually wrote into our wedding vows that we would find a way to work and still put time with our kids first — I forget the exact wording (it’s been over 20 years). Interestingly, I’ve been self-employed with a flexible schedule (although working long hours) for most of my kids’ lives and my husband while not self-employed has had a flexible working schedule all along, worked part-time at one point, and even spent some time as a stay-at-home dad. I share this because we are proof that with creativity and commitment — and both parents being willing to be flexible — it is possible to do things the nontraditional way. Admittedly, there were sacrifices along the way, many of them material.It is no surprise that my 20 year old son is thinking about his future career from the standpoint of being a parent …and leaning toward entrepreneurship.

    1. Gotham Gal

      nice job! the fact that your 20 year old thinks that way is a huge credit to you and your husband.

  14. Christine

    Would love to read your daughter’s thesis, or at least a synopsis. These are issues I, and so many people I know, grapple with on a daily basis.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Not sure how she feels about that but we will see