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The aftermath of giving up your career to stay at home

In a link shared by reader Jaime (who should really have her own blog because she has such interesting insights), NY Times re-visits women in the 1990s who gave up their high-flying careers to become stay at home parents: The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In.

I really, really REALLY recommend you all read the post.

Anyway here are my thoughts on the situation, as organized as I could get them.

Opt-out-Generation-Wants-Back-In-NY-Times-Working-Women-Mothers

YOU COULD KIND OF SEE IT COMING

1. THESE WOMEN WERE ALREADY CAREER-ORIENTED TO BEGIN WITH

” [Sheilah O’Donnel]… had been proudly working since she was 15, when she had a job as a coat-check girl. By 17, she was buying clothes and books and food — and sometimes even paying her family’s electric bill… […]

…At her peak, O’Donnel was earning $500,000 a year.”

They’re Type A’s.

You know, the type that can’t sit still and want to work and be busy 24/7, so going from a fast-paced lifestyle of juggling a career and a family, to just concentrating on their family, might have not been compatible with their personalities to begin with.

2. THEY SEEMED PRESSURED INTO IT BY THEIR HUSBANDS AT FIRST, AND THEN THEY WERE VIEWED DIFFERENTLY

The general impression I got was that they let themselves be pressured into staying at home because their husbands also had high-flying careers and didn’t want to stay at home.. so they urged them to do it instead.

” Even with the reduced schedule, the stresses of life in a two-career household put an overwhelming strain on her marriage.


There were ugly fights with her husband about laundry and over who would step in when the nanny was out sick.

“ ‘All this would be easier if you didn’t work,’ ” O’Donnel recalled her husband saying.”

Then after they became stay-at-home-parents, they tried to defend their choice of walking away from a career that is pretty much once-in-a-lifetime for most folks (men or women), and to say that it was their choice to begin with, when.. maybe it wasn’t.

” The husbands hadn’t turned into ogres. Their intent was not to make their wives feel lesser. But when traditional gender arrangements were put into place, there was a subtle slide into inequality.”

What I noticed as a theme in the article is that then their husbands viewed them differently because they couldn’t talk about anything but the children and school, both important subjects, but not interesting cocktail conversation with people who interact with other adults outside of the home and can share what’s happening in the world. 

stock-drinks-cocktail-party-bottles-beer-empty-alcohol

3. IT ISN’T ALL DOOM AND GLOOM

“A certain number of these women … […] …. found jobs easily after extended periods at home. These jobs generally paid less than their previous careers and were less prestigious.

But the women found the work more interesting, socially conscious and family-friendly than their old high-powered positions.”

It’s not like they’re completely career-dead!

You can still work and find a job, but like with any job or career that you leave, you need to be continually updating your skills and making sure you are still relevant and interesting to employers.

The key is to have that sweet spot of being able to get back in and do all that after taking such a long hiatus from working.

THEY HAVE A POINT THAT SHOULDN’T BE IGNORED

A. I AM A HUGE FAN OF BEING ABLE TO AT LEAST PAY YOUR OWN WAY

“After one emotional session with a friend, her 12-year-old daughter asked what all the fuss was about.

O’Donnel told her: “This is the perfect reason why you need to work. You don’t have to make a million dollars.

You don’t have to have a wealthy lifestyle.

You just always have to be able to at least earn enough so you can support yourself.”

Aside from the fact that they should be getting big fat divorce settlements from their partners, I am a huge fan of being able to at least make your own way in life.

Even if your partner pays for you, or your parents are filthy rich.. anything can happen.

You just NEVER know.

I save partly because I live in fear and paranoia of the day that something happens, and I am really, truly on my own without a dime to my name, or enough saved for 2 months of rent.


stock-photo-money-cash-coins-bills

B. I LIKE THE IDEA OF INTER-DEPENDENCE, NOT TOTAL DEPENDENCE

Totally giving up any free rein or control in contributing to a household financially, scares the beejesus out of me, because I would personally feel like I wouldn’t be allowed to have a say in where the money goes… because I didn’t make it.

It sounds stupid, I know, especially if I am contributing at home in other ways that are not financially evident, but it still makes me feel like I’d have to ask permission to use the money, and heaven forbid I would want to use the money to spend it on myself!

This is something I probably picked up from my mother. My mother never tried to stop working and to just stay at home, and her words were essentially:

“I have never wanted to stay at home with children because I’d go crazy with the repetitiveness and boredom.

What the hell would I do after they’re big? Wait around all day for them so I can go and pick them up? Spend my days making meals and cleaning the house?

NO THANK YOU.

I want to be able to make my own money so I can buy whatever I want and do what I want with my life.”

That’s basically how I feel.

My mother continually reinforces this by telling all the women in the family that they should work to have a sense of independence away from home (working outside, even part-time does give you a sense of pride as well), and sadly tells me of stories of her sisters who have decided to stop working or to take an early retirement, only to regret a year later that they did so because now they were dependent on their partner or their children to give them shelter, food and money.

She says my aunt would never admit this to anyone but her, but she regrets giving up her job to stay at home and look after the grandchildren.

Another aunt, tells my mom that she feels worthless now that she’s at home all the time.

It’s all pretty sad stuff, and they aren’t women who were making $500,000 a year by any stretch of the imagination, they were factory workers.

C. WHY IS IT THAT WOMEN HAVE TO BE PRESSURED TO STAY AT HOME AND NOT MEN?

Just because we’re women it doesn’t mean we’re more nurturing than men. I really don’t buy into that. I don’t think gender determines in the slightest, any indication of who would be more “nurturing”.

Shanghai-China-Photograph-Butcher-Baby-Under-Table

 

See? Mom works and the dad is watching the baby.

My best example of this is to cite gay and lesbian couples.

In each relationship it is either two men, or two women, and gender has nothing to do with which one is more “nurturing”.

Our society also looks down on men who WANT to stay at home and nurture their children (and partly exacerbated by the fact that women like me, don’t want men to stay at home full-time and look after the kids, because I’d feel resentful to be the only breadwinner.)

D. YOUR PARTNER WILL LOOK AT YOU DIFFERENTLY

For better or for worse, you are now not bringing home money (a hard bargaining chip), you’re working at home (a little harder to “value”):

“But housekeeping? That was another matter. She resented that the couple’s mutual mess was now seen as her concern.

“I had the sense of being in an unequal marriage,” she told me. “I think he preferred the house to be ‘kept’ in a different kind of way than I was prepared to do it. “

There are a few couples I know where the husband basically treats the wife like an house elf. Sometimes it’s appalling to hear the way they talk to them: “Get me my ______”.

While I do know a few couples that DO NOT treat their stay-at-home-spouses like house elves, they are rather rare in the majority of those who do.

Even if they are cognizant of what they are doing and saying, sometimes it unconsciously filters into their brain that they’re bringing home the bacon, and therefore, have a greater say in what happens with the money that they earn for the family.

E. THE DOWNSIDE IS YOU HAVE TO LOWER YOUR JOB EXPECTATIONS

“Eighty-nine percent of those who “off-ramped,” as she puts it, said they wanted to resume work; but only 73 percent of these succeeded in getting back in, and only 40 percent got full-time jobs.

[They] came back to jobs that paid, on average, 16 percent less than those they had before.”

If you aren’t a woman who has proven in their previous careers to have had those super-elite skills with a prestigious education, and want to obtain a job, any job above minimum wage, I daresay it’s a lot harder to find a job in the same position as you were before.

“…those who didn’t have the highest academic credentials or highest-powered social networks or who hadn’t been sufficiently “strategic” in their volunteering … [….] ….or who had divorced, often struggled greatly.”

After even 3 years out of the workforce, people look at you like a pariah, as if you’ve forgotten everything you learned and can’t possibly learn anything new beyond minimum wage tasks (NOT TRUE).

ronald-mcdonald-junk-food-fast-food-work-career

The problem is that you basically have to start over from scratch, that is, you won’t be at an entry-level job per se, but you might have to start near the bottom rungs, having been out of work (and therefore experience) for the period of time you chose to stay at home.

F. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO HAVE TWO INCOMES THAN ONE

” ..60 percent of her interviewees, two-thirds of whom have returned to work — their decisions sometimes prompted by their husbands’ somewhat reduced earnings, post-recession.

“What I heard repeatedly was ‘The job found me’ or ‘The job fell into my lap,’ ” she told me.”

You know how we’re always talking about multiple income streams? How NOT to depend on your day job 100%? Well it works in the same way in a family unit — it is far better to have two incomes coming in than just one.

It spreads out the risk of if one day, one of the incomes drops off unexpectedly (due to unforeseen circumstances), or whatever the reason may be.

Maybe you wouldn’t be able to survive on the part-time or lower income completely, but at least you wouldn’t be at dead zero and freaking out.

DID YOU READ THE ARTICLE? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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31 Comments

  1. Depressed devoted dad of 3

    What about guys like me who gave up careers to support a more career driven partner with better prospects? Now that my three daughters are nearly all grown up she no longer wants sex and has forgotten what she ever saw in me. I stayed home and practically built the house and created the garden myself. I invested far more in it all than she did because she was always too busy working. But, from everything I’m reading it will be me who has to leave even though she is initiating the split. I’ve always worked but my income was restricted by having to be flexible for childcare and I can’t ressurect a career at my age. I can’t get a job, veryone wants women to balance out the genders, even for physical work. My pension is pitiful, most of the money and the income is with my partner. The only thing I have is the house and I don’t want to sell it or move out.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      You have the same problem but in reverse. I suggest hiring a good divorce attorney and having her pay for your compensation for the next while because of what you sacrificed. Also, if you need the money, sell the house, rent a cheap abode and start again even if it means being a Starbucks barista.

      Reply
  2. K
    Kerry

    This post made me feel a little weird. I’ve had a chronic illness since I was 20 and I’ve never been able to work. I really hate having to rely on my husband for my income and would love to be able to support myself but at the moment I’ve got to accept that it isn’t possible. I tried several years ago to get in to the workforce, did courses, volunteering and polished my CV, but it was impossible to get a job. I tried for 2 years and just gave up because the rejections were taking a major toll.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I am in no way passing judgement on your individual situation. I am talking for myself and how I see myself in the workforce, and all the horror stories I hear.

      Not many people (I’d say the majority) have your chronic illness I am sure, and it must be frustrating to try and get up, or try to work but be unable to. It is horrible, and I do get the same feeling when I don’t work and am in between contracts, so I know a LITTLE of how you feel, but I am sure, not the whole picture.

      You do you. Ignore me.

      Reply
  3. Life we learn

    I’m planning to go on maternity leave for one year and then figure out if I want to go back to work full time or part time (if they let me). Whatever the outcome, I know I don’t want to stop working all together.
    Like you I think everyone should have some form of financial independence as you just never know! I’m paranoid too about the prospect of “what if?” something happened to my partner and i’m left to fend for myself.
    Not only that, kids grow up and become more and more independent as they get older. When they eventually leave home, what are we supposed to do if we sacrifice our careers for them. I think it’s really important to do things for yourself and look after yourself and not give up everything to take care of the kids.

    Reply
    1. sherry@savespendsplurge.com

      It is v. important to take care of yourself.

      Reply
  4. s
    sieneke

    I’m curious: what do you think about working as a freelancer from home? (not only being a homemaker)

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      If you can do it, go for it! I know plenty of mothers who stay at home and work as freelancers. They do quite well for themselves & are happy.

      Reply
  5. R
    Rowan

    Hi -I found you again! I used to read your other blog and lost track after it was sold. Based on observation of my mother’s and grandmother’s experience and my own judgement, I have chosen to purchase a rental property that will generate income for me and my family. This is the best of both worlds (high-achievement, savings, investment, income, security). Clearly there are risks and rewards associated with this decision but I am over 2/3 of the way there. This was, ahem, supposed to be completely paid off before baby’s arrival but I am still working toward the goal of financial freedom and the opportunities ahead.
    I am so glad I’ve found your blog again.
    Cheers

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I too, am glad you found me again 🙂 How did you!?

      Reply
  6. L
    Lila

    This is Jaime, I go by my middle name now 😉 Anyway, that article scared the living daylights out of women throughout North America when it came out. I know it scared me. I also agree that *some* feminists criticize too harshly when women opt out.

    I think it helps having the right partner because I’ve seen too many situations where things worked out poorly. One time I was watching Oprah, this lady was in her early 50’s, had been married 20 something years and her husband asked for a divorce and she had like only a few thousand to her name. They had a financial guru trying to help her get back on track.

    It was very sad.

    Reply
  7. SarahN

    I couldn’t agree more – you can’t ‘rely’ on someone else to support you. I was out with three friends (we play sport together, so not super close) and it was insane how much our mother’s choices would impact if we’d stay at home. As one said ‘why have kids if you don’t want to be with them’. Illogical really – many men have kids, and work! Anyhow, I’m almost sure I’ll work after having children. I can’t imagine being interested and fulfilled by the boringness of children. Perhaps hormones might change my mind but hey, we’ll see.

    I don’t think anyone can take 3 or 10 years off and expect to be where they left off. It’s a little illogical in some regards, I’ve love it to be true too!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      What I hate is the double standard, as Anne mentioned in the comments. Men have kids and work, why can’t women?

      I will say though, that I did have kids to spend time with them and be with them, which is why I gave up this $250K contract so that I wouldn’t travel Monday to Friday and I’d be with Baby Bun.

      THAT I can sacrifice. But I can’t sacrifice not working at all just based on the fact that I should be with them. If I didn’t need money to fuel my shopping habit (I kid.. I KID!.. sort of..) then I could consider staying at home longer… Or not.

      Reply
  8. G
    GirlinaTrenchcoat

    Frankly this article terrified me. I’m not a mom and don’t plan on having kids for a while yet, but reading about the difficulties and the regrets the moms who opted-out had was an eye-opener.

    I do wonder, like you said, these women were Type A’s and probably weren’t suited to that kind of lifestyle in the first place, but what kind of women they’d be in the 1950’s? IMO, I think they’d be the super Stepford Wife type of mom since women weren’t really in the workforce back then and they’d need an outlet for their Type A personalities.

    Personally I don’t think I could be a stay-at-home mom because, as much as I am sure I’ll love my kids, it wouldn’t be fulfilling if that was all I was going to do. I’d also feel bad if I wasn’t contributing something to our financial situation as a married couple because I would be too scared that something bad would happen and we’d have no income, period.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I think Type A personalities in the 1950s probably threw themselves into volunteering, baking and running the entire household while wrangling children, helping with their homework and so on. They would have found an outlet if they weren’t encouraged / allowed to work.

      That’s my fear too. I want a double, dual income as well.

      Reply
  9. K
    Kathy

    I fully understand the desire to be a contributing member of a household…in the financial sense. And if I had stayed home with our son, I would absolutely expect to do the household chores myself. But I think this is a decision that people need to make as a family instead of letting other people-related or not-have input into the choice. I also think that the more strident members of the women’s lib movement have inserted their opinions where they had no right to be when they started criticizing women who chose to stay at home with their children. They simply need to butt out. Anyone who questions your decision would be met with an icy stare.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      True, it’s what works for you and your family. For me, my concern is “what if he can’t / doesn’t make enough!?” … I’d need to be the backup or pinch-hitter financially if push came to shove, and lower salary jobs would be what I could probably get at that point depending on my skill set.

      I do feel rather bad for the women in the article, particularly the one who divorced…

      Reply
  10. A
    ArianaAuburn

    Bulls-eye. Those are the reasons why I am hauling my butt into the STEM field by going to school again. I did not know staying at home all day would drive me nuts!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I had a feeling it would drive me nuts, although sometimes I look into Baby Bun’s super sweet, totally dependent eyes and melt… until he starts fighting his naps again.

      Reply
  11. debt debs

    I read most of the article. I’ve always told my kids, “I don’t care what you do (career wise) as long as you can support yourself and whatever offspring you bring into the world.” I still stand by that adage. Being reliant on someone else can affect your self worth. I’m not putting down stay at home mothers at all. I’m just saying, keep your options and contacts open and get back into the work force at a reasonable juncture. This way you can enjoy the best of both worlds in some manner. If you choose to work and not stay home, cherish your maternity leave, and keep things simple once you get back to work.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      *nods* For me I’m in a peculiar position being a freelancer. I can take as much mat leave as I want, but if I do and turn down contracts I may be on mat leave for longer than I think

      Reply
  12. C
    CorianneM

    I remember reading that article last year. It is pretty much what my mom told me – always be able to support yourself. I don’t think she really regrets staying at home, but she did say she would do it differently if she had to make the decision right now instead of 25 years ago. Back then it was just more normal to stay at home. She did get a job about 5 years ago, part-time. She’s very happy to have work and she enjoys it. It’s administrative work and the upside of it is that she has learned a lot more about computers! Before starting work she was not that comfortable with electronics, software or internet in general. Now she has her own laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod…

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      LOL! That’s so cute. My mom still says to me: This iPad business…how do kids know how to use it and I don’t!?

      Reply
  13. m
    marilyn

    I found this post very interesting.At 52 i look back to a life,given up working to stay at home and look after the kids and hubby.While I enjoyed those years I didn’t enjoy giving up my own financial freedom and being controlled financially by my husband.I then became to sick to work, got divorced,and now am living on benefits.I implore people to always have their own finances, and save as much as you can as i would hate anyone to end up like i have with no money and no chance of a career . I would tell my younger self not to have a joint account with anyone, however much you think you can trust them and have secret savings.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Thank you so much for commenting. I am happy to hear it from someone far more experienced than I am in these matters, and particularly since I myself do not have a joint account with my partner.

      We share all the expenses 50/50 but we have our own separate bank accounts and tally up what each other owes at the end of each month. It sounds so clinical and roommate-ish to a lot of people, but it works the best for us because we both feel like it’s fair and we are both on the hook to work, so to speak.

      With that in mind, being on the hook to work, he also understands I am not going to give up my career and my life to look after kids and he is fine, even supportive of that, which is a relief.

      I think as a woman, being financially independent is very important, not just for the reasons you mentioned but for self-worth as well. I’d feel exactly like that — being controlled financially.

      Reply
      1. L
        Laura

        @save. spend. splurge.: If you share all your expenses 50/50, how do you finance your 50% during maternity leave? Does your partner pays all of it during this time or do you use your savings?

        Reply
        1. save. spend. splurge.

          I use my savings. He doesn’t pay for me.

          Reply
  14. A
    AdinaJ

    Staying home for a year on maternity leave def gives you a good glimpse of this. I could not do it long term. I respect the women who choose to do it, and are happy and fulfilled by it, but I think we must be wired differently. And I admire women who have no choice but to do it, for whatever reason, because like I said – I don’t think I could.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      That’s all I can say — we are wired differently because I can’t stay at home.

      I can’t even fathom staying at home, or joking about it. It scares me.

      Reply
  15. eemusings

    Yep when it first came out. So depressing.

    I want us both to work and earn reasonably equivalent incomes while having kids as I do not want to be the breadwinner (though prob slightly preferable to being the SAHP) … just do not know if that is realistic. With enough $$$ anything is possible but we are hardly Sheryl Sandberg and her husband.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      If we had all the money in the world… I’d still work. I’d go stir crazy otherwise.

      Reply

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