I recall the first time I read an article entitled the “Opt-Out Revolution” in the New York Times. It was a trend piece written 10 years ago about high-achieving women who were leaving their careers to become stay-at-home moms.
When I first read this story, I was fresh out of law school working as a New York lawyer and full of career ambition. At the time, I remember wondering whether I could ever quit the practice of law to raise a family. I also wondered what would happen to me if I did decide to “opt out.” Would I ever be able to practice again when the children were older?
With those questions in mind, I decided that opting out was not an option for me, but admired those women in the article greatly for their strength and for their choice, although I was convinced that I couldn’t make the same decision for myself.
Recently, a contributing writer to The New York Times, Judith Warner, followed up with some of these women and found that after many years, they wanted to go back to work. She also found that while some of them were able to go back to work with ease (although not in the same position or at the same salary), most struggled to find employment.
Well, it’s been 10 years since the “Opt-Out Revolution” was first published, and I have a lot more in common with these women than I ever would have thought. I am no longer a practicing attorney. I am now a mother and yet another professional woman who has “opted out” of the traditional work force to become a stay-at-home mom. Like many of these women in the article, though, I am a stay-at-home mom who, at some point, would like to opt back in.
Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, I knew the consequences of my decision. I knew that many industries, such as law, could be very unforgiving of those who take time off, and finding employment after several years at home would be difficult. Now that I am a stay-at-home mom, I question the fairness of this and whether this makes sense for society.
In the United States, women make up the majority of college graduates. They also make up the majority of graduate degree holders. So with this said, does it make sense for society to lose parts of its most highly educated population indefinitely because traditional work life conflicts with family life — especially during those stages when our children are at their youngest and most vulnerable?
So, what are the solutions to this problem? I’m not sure, but here in New York City, the political cycle is heating up. During the next few days, candidates who are running for mayor will outline their positions on a variety of issues from transportation to housing, all of which are important. Someday soon, though, I would like for policy makers and would-be policy makers to talk about this very issue — the issue of women and work and family.
How can we as a society work to do a better job of retaining women in the work force — or at the very least, provide a means for women like those in the “Opt-Out Revolution” to opt back in?
Notoya Green is a parenting expert and former Family Law attorney. You can read her blog at www.triple