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.
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.
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.
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”.
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).
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.