Too Many Women Can’t Opt Out

Mother, daughter and son planting flowers together.I didn’t opt out.

Two years ago, I hit the wall at my job. I’d been there almost 7 years, and I was done. I’d learned all I could learn, gone as far as I could go in that position. I was ready to move on. One way or another, I was not going to be working at that office anymore.

I could have taken a number of options. I worked in advocacy in a government town, and I knew people in lots of different organizations. My husband and I talked over that possibility, but what I wanted was to be home with my son and to have another baby. So that’s what I did.

I don’t discount the distinct level of privilege that made that feasible, and I don’t want anyone to think I don’t understand how fortunate I am. But I also don’t want anyone to think that I tossed my career over for an apron and babies, never to return.

So much of the hand wringing over the choices women make presuppose a certain finality to everything.  Either women work or they don’t and if they try to change paths along the way, ZOMG What can it mean?!

I’ll tell you what it means: For a certain number of women gifted with a certain level of affluence, circumstances converge in such a way that a woman who prefers to stay home with her kids can do so without risking destitution. The end.

Or it means that circumstances converge in such a way that a woman enters the workplace after an extended absence. The end again.

It doesn’t mean anything. It’s personal. Individual. And it takes the focus off the the real issue that most women have no choice but to work.

Wages from one income are not sufficient to support a family, and trying to live on a single income can mean crushing poverty.

These women couldn’t stop working if they wanted to because they and their families would starve.

And then there’s the cost of childcare. In my city, Washington DC, childcare for one infant costs $10,000 on average, a breathtaking number when you consider the $23,000 median income for single moms I cited earlier. Head Start programs that provide free or low-cost preschool for low-income families are being cut across the country shifting the cost of child care back to families that are barely making it as is.

For working families of school age kids, the kids are in before-school programs, school, and after care, often at some cost to the family. Working hours are designed around the model of the family with one stay at home parent, a model that is increasingly untenable. Parents aren’t given paid leave to care for sick children or to be home during lengthy school breaks. American workplaces and American schools are almost antagonistic in their lack of reciprocal flexibility to the other.

Talking about women like me, women with the affluence and support structures in place to take a leave from working to be home with kids is not much different than reading the society pages to gaze at the comings and goings of the monied classes. There are not enough of us and our choices are not sociologically significant enough to make much difference to anyone outside of our families.

Stop talking about us and our opting in and out. Talk about the need for living wages, a different school calendar, flexible work hours, subsidized child care. It’s not as glamorous as the vagaries of pretty, college-educated moms but it’s a hell of a lot more important.

Rebekah Kuschmider is a D.C. area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, a cable news addiction, and a blog. Rebekah has an undergraduate degree in theater and Master’s in Arts Policy and Administration and a decade of experience managing arts organizations and advocating in the public health sector.  Rebekah also blogs about her life, her thoughts, and her opinions at StayAtHomePundit.com. She was voted one of the Top 25 Political Mom Blogs at Circle of Moms. Her work has also been seen at Salon.com, Redbook online, and the Huffington Post.

Image source iStock

  • Daphne

    Life is hard. I cannot stop working to do other things I would like to do, like travelling or caring for the pets I cannot afford and therefor, don’t have.

    Nobody will die if they don’t have children. We have enough people in the world as it is, so nobody NEEDS you to have children. It’s a lifestyle choice. If I don’t get my choices funded, I don’t see why you should.

    The end.

  • http://www.perilsofdivorcedpauline.com Pauline Gaines

    THANK YOU for this on-the-mark rebuttal to the “opt out” nonsense. The fact that you are a woman of privilege writing this makes it all the more meaningful to this single mom with no child support, working a job that I would love to quit, but can’t.

  • Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens

    While I am aware this is a huge problem, and I have had to make very individual, and personal decisions about work and staying home with young children, the story is not so black and white as being able to “afford it, end of story” or “not afford it, end of story.” You are missing the argument or the point of view concerning the sacrifices families make to “opt-out” that then get all lost and confused into a misconception that a stay at home parent is living a life of luxury. I stay home, and many could correctly argue that we “can not afford it” however, the sacrifices made include, living in a small home, never dining out, driving older vehicles, limited cable, limited hair cuts, clothing purchases, vacations, etc… the sacrifices are countless, and are made everyday. We make these sacrifices so at least during the young years I can “opt-out”. Yes, there is a small privilege with being able to afford the basic needs on one income, but it is not a life of affluence, or prestige.

    I think there is a middle ground that really is very lost in this editorial. Ultimately, the crippling cost of two young children in childcare made the decision easier to make for my own family, and is a point that needs to be further investigated. And yes, I am extremely blessed to not be a single parent, I was raised by one, and I am familiar with how difficult that battle is… I guess, I am trying to clarify that the decisions are not so black and white, and it is not necessarily as simple as wealth v. poverty; there is a huge grey area between the two including working poor, lower class, middle class, house poor, debt burdened… etc.. All classes of people who may “opt-out” and may not, but likely struggle.

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