I Regret Having Opted Out

monitor on deskWhen I met my husband in 1999, I had my dream job, in my dream industry, in my dream city. I had an Ivy MBA and was financially self-sufficient. I told my then future husband, that I would never, ever quit my job to be a stay-at-home-mother. I am certain that these things all contributed to him falling in love with me.

Fast forward to 2003 and I had just given birth to my first child. I now lived in the city my husband was from and still had my dream job, but it required four hours of commuting time daily (which I continued to do throughout a difficult pregnancy.) My boss, herself a mother, knew that it would be hard for me to return to work given my long commute, so while I was on maternity leave she promised she would go to bat for me with her boss so I could work part-time. There was little precedent in the company for that, and I was sure (and secretly hoped), that it wouldn’t be approved. It was.

Back to work I went, leaving my house at 6:30 a.m. and returning after 7 p.m. My husband, whose office was four blocks from our home, interacted with the nanny. I was miserable. I was exhausted. I had to work and take conference calls on my days off (for which I was no longer being paid). I had to give up my window office for a cubicle and knew I was no longer on the promotion track. When eight months later, I saw two lines appear on the pregnancy test again I felt like I could legitimately quit my job. Who would dare judge me now? I had an infant and was pregnant, with a crazy commute and a demanding job. So I took this opportunity and handed in my resignation.

I could do this because my husband had a good job. I am grateful that the loss of my income did not impact our lifestyle too much, and I know I am extremely privileged to have this choice.

When my children were toddlers and preschoolers, I felt little judgment from others about my “opt out” choice. I live in an affluent area, and at my children’s private preschool most mothers did not work. Now that my children are in public elementary school, a majority of the mothers do work (although they all seem to be present at events taking place during school hours, which makes me wonder how they all have such flexible jobs. But I digress…)

Every September, as my kids head back to school, I tell myself this is the year I will go back to work outside of the house. And I have been trying to find meaningful work. My resume looks great (albeit for the big gap in employment history), my LinkedIn profile is completed, my suits are clean and my heels are polished. I network. I meet influential people for coffee. I am complimented on my impressive education and work experience. I am told that I should have no problem finding a position. I send thank-you notes. I follow up. I follow up again. But so far, I haven’t received any offers.

I feel awful about myself. I’ve taken to avoiding social events because I hate being asked the dreaded “what do you do?” question. I am bored out of my mind. There’s only so much exercising and volunteering I can take.

Every three or four months, my husband and I have the same argument. It begins with him asking how many resumes I’ve sent out recently and how many networking meetings I have scheduled. It ends with me getting defensive and shutting down.

I think corporations have a long way to go to make things easier for working parents and to offer more part-time, career-track opportunities. I’m not holding my breath though, and frankly, if and when these changes take place, it may be too late for me. In the meantime, I would advise my daughters and other young women to give careful consideration to the career they choose. Make sure it is one where jobs are not concentrated in a few geographic areas (as mine is) and where jobs are not tied to working for large corporations. If you can work for yourself, as my husband does, that’s all the better.

Most important, planning ahead is imperative. Have an on-ramp strategy mapped out before the baby is born, because trust me, it’s difficult to do the networking and job-hunting and soul-searching in those first early years with a baby. Force yourself to network with former colleagues once a month, take on-line classes, and attend industry events. Don’t wait until the kids start preschool or kindergarten. The longer the break, the harder it is to get back in. It won’t be easy, but if you know that ahead of time, it helps with expectations.

As my tenth anniversary as a stay-at-home mother approaches, I may have regrets, but I am still hopeful that I will find a paying job and one that is meaningful and challenging too. After all, I still have a good 30 years to devote to a career, and quite frankly, any organization would be lucky to have me.

You can find guest contributor @mainlinewife on Twitter.

Image via iStockphoto

  • Marti Teitelbaum

    These decisions are never easy. If you had continued to work full time, you’d probably now be regretting having had so little time with your children.
    I took off 2 mos after my first child and vowed I’d never make it such a short amount again. For the next 2 children I took off 6 mos each. And then I worked part time. I was lucky to have a career and job in which that was possible. And also lucky that I didn’t like administrative or managerial work because I would never have been promoted to those positions with my part-time record. But since I did data analysis and writing (some of which could be done from home) and really liked that work, it was fine for me. For people who want promotions into management, my career path would not have been helpful.

  • Mary Pawlicki

    Thank you for this heart-felt article. I’m an Ivy-educated lawyer and I too decided that I could not take the long and unpredictable hours and stressful work environment when my son was born, so I took 2 years off. At the end of the 2 years, I was extremely lucky in that one of my close friends was in a similar position and she had already planned out, much better than I had, her ramp-up path. She had found a part-time position and when she went on her second maternity leave, I filled in for her in that part-time position. Unfortunately, the company downsized and a year or two later, we were both out of that company, but based on that part-time experience in-house, I was able to get another part-time project and then onwards from there. Now, 7 years after my son was born, I’m back full-time 9-5 in-house, albeit having lost a good deal of earning capacity, but at least I was able to get back to a full-time job in my field and really like my current company. So I have to echo your words of advice to any women who are thinking about opting out, keep the networks and attend trainings, even if it costs some money, try to consult or contract in the off times, and try to get back, some level at a company or business, within a few years.

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