Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Opting Out of Work

I recently read two articles about women who had had children had chosen - they had the option to do so - of staying home with those children and being a stay-at-home mother. It's something I've only marginally thought about; I'm starting my career late (I usually feel I've started my life late), and now that I'm in my mid-30s, (finally) engaged, and trying to get a teaching job, many of my friends who did their lives "the right way" now have children. I still have many single friends, some of whom rent, some of whom own their own homes; and all of whom are in various stages of wanting, having, or getting in or out of relationships. This is the first time I can recall hearing much about this issue one way or the other. I've had a few discussions with my mother about her staying home until I was seven (at which point I think my parents needed her to financially be working full time; it can be difficult to stretch a teacher's salary to four people, especially when two of those four people are growing children). 

One article, "Opting Back In," is written from the husband's point of view. There's little commentary about whether or not women should opt out to care for their children; he simply writes about the difficulty his wife is having in trying to get work. The blogger does note that "[t]he economy is not designed for parents. [W]e always assumed that when the time came, [the wife] could return in some capacity as the educated professional she is. [.....]Any younger couples reading this should probably know that optiong back in is a lot harder than it should be."

It surprises me to hear that there are women who simply didn't consider the ramifications of their even temporarily leaving the work force, and how this affects their career, not only in the difficulty there could be in finding work in the field they left (if that's what they would want), but potentially giving up their own savings, losing out on their own retirement funds, etc. Mostly I wonder if these women haven't had to really struggle for their careers to take off. That might be unfair - I'm sure that statement doesn't apply to all women - but insofar as I've done nothing but struggle to first find a career that I'd love, and then get it started, I have a hard time thinking I would want to stay home. 

The author of the second article, "Regrets of a stay-at-home-mom," stated that she "wasn't worried, frankly, about the long-term economic consequences, partly because nobody else seemed to be. Most articles and books about what came to be called "opting out" focused on the budgeting challenges of dropping to one paycheck -- belt-tightening measures shared by both parents -- while barely touching on the longer-term sacrifices borne primarily by the parent who quits: the lost promotions, raises and retirement benefits; the atrophied skills and frayed professional networks. The difficulty of reentering the workforce after years away was underreported, the ramifications of divorce, widowhood or a partner's layoff hardly considered. It was as though at-home mothers could count on being financially supported happily ever after, as though a permanent and fully employed spouse were the new Prince Charming."

I can really support a parent staying home, raising your child, watching those milestones, etc. And I'll admit that one of the reasons I got into teaching was because if Ed and I ever have children, it will help that one of us has a schedule that mirrors the child's. On the flip side, Ed and I are in an unusual situation, insofar as Ed telecommutes from home full time; he has a flexibility of schedule that nearly no one else has, professionally speaking. Theoretically - although we haven't really discussed this too much at this point - it's not out of the realm of possibility for Ed to stay home and still work while I'm out of the house working, too.

But give up my career entirely? Absolutely not. Being home all day makes me crazy; as much as I love Ed, and as much as I hope we can adopt at some point, there needs to be a part of my life that I can develop for myself.

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