Mothers Who 'Opt Out' And Now Want Back In

I thought I was the only one.  I opted out of the career world when I had my son, 12 years ago, and after 25 years of supporting myself (even in marriage), I suddenly had to ask my husband for money, a humiliating and devastating thing for me.

Now Judith Warner writes that many high- and mid-level executives have had the same experience when they decided to put their careers aside to raise their children.  Reporting Sunday in The New York Times magazine, she writes, "The women of the opt-out revolution left the work force at a time when the prevailing ideas about motherhood idealized full-time, round-the-clock, child-centered devotion."

In 2000 almost 40% of women in a survey said mothers working outside the home were harmful to children.

So, many of us left the workforce in droves, and were happy, for a while. But for those of us who opted out, another survey was finding that the very mothers who had chosen to stay home with their kids were more depressed and in worse general health than other mothers, Warner writes in her story.

She was talking about me.

Had we all made a "colossal error," as Warner puts it, to drop out and depend on a man for income?  I found I lost my confidence, my identity, my self, when I stopped working.  My plan was always to go back after about a year or two, but when my son had just turned three, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, not once, but twice, and so followed two years of treatment, leaving me not at all able to.

I hated depending on my husband.  For the most part he was fair and generous, but sometimes, when we argued about anything, he'd say, "I'm not giving you money."  No question, the one who controls the money controls the relationship.

“I had the sense of being in an unequal marriage,” one woman told Warner.  Having been in control of my money, my independence, my life, it was all suddenly gone for me, too.

I found myself depressed all the time. At social events I felt less than everyone else, even other mothers who had chosen to stay home.  For the first time in my life, I no longer had my work, and who was I?

I liked being a mother.  But when my son was just a baby, I began to have a sneaking suspicion it wasn't -- dare I say it? -- enough.

Fast forward seven years.  I'd like to say now that everything is great.  I did have a good writing position last year but we got into a little tussle over money (they weren't paying me), so we ended the relationship late in the year, and I haven't had steady work since.  But being back at work reminded me of who I used to be before I became a mom, a person I really liked and respected, not just someone who needs to ask if she can have money for a new pair of shoes.

I wouldn't give my son up -- and the life I've had with him -- for anything, but sometimes I really miss that woman with the office who executives expected to write great speeches and portray them positively online. Now a success is my son doing his homework and negotiating with a teacher when he doesn't.  It's different, it's very different.  Would I do it another way, if I'd had the chance?

Probably not.  I dream of having a career while raising my son -- the best of all possible worlds.  But I'm still waiting.


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