Opting Out, Opting In, or Having Few Options

Lately I’ve been thinking about my career, or lack thereof.  While I have a part-time marketing job that’s enjoyable and fairly low-key and low-stress, it’s also teetering at the bottom end of the pay scale.  It’s a job, not a career, with a small, family owned company and there aren’t any advancement opportunities. As with many women, I’ve been willing to trade my paycheck and career advancement for the flexibility that is necessary when you have young children.

While my current job has allowed me to keep my skills somewhat sharp, it’s not necessarily pushing me forward and, after 10 years, I’ve been feeling a little left out of the career loop and wondering where I would have been if I had decided to try to balance motherhood and a demanding full-time career.  Maybe in a corner office, maybe in the psych ward (half-joking!).

Lately, I’ve been perusing the job listings, but many of the jobs that appear vaguely appealing require skills that I simply don’t have (SEO, ISO, UFC, and a host of other acronyms).  The other rub is that the workplace is no longer the same place that I left 10 years ago when my son was born.  Today, employers demand longer hours, more productivity, and “networking” has gone from having lunch with clients and former co-workers, to managing a vast online social network – I can barely keep up with my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts – and I have no idea what my KLOUT score is!

But the reality is that, even if I brushed up on my skills, there’s no way I could jump back onto the high profile career path that I had pre-parenthood.   Leaving the house at 8am and returning at 8pm on a daily basis, being available 24/7 to an employer via cell phone/email, working weekends, travelling at least once a month, and still trying to balance the demands of motherhood and managing a home would be all but impossible for me.  I see this in the demands of my husband’s job – and a two career family running at this pace doesn’t leave much for the kids.  At some point, something’s got to give, and typically, it’s the woman’s career – or her sanity.

With fewer jobs and more competition for them, I wonder how our generation of women is going to fare in the next decade, as our kids go off to college and we are faced with the realities of a drastically altered workplace from the one that we left.  While I’ve at least kept a toe dipped in the wellspring of the working world, a lot of my friends are just starting to open the door to returning to work and their prospects are rather limited. Many are applying for substitute teaching positions within the school system so their in-synch with the school schedule, some have applied for retail jobs at local shops, others have signed up to represent home-party companies that sell jewelry, candles, or gourmet foods – not especially lucrative careers – and frequently the fees for after-school programs or babysitting eat up much of their earnings.

Just today, I was faced with a typical two career situation – I have a rare “must go” evening work event in September – there is absolutely no way that I could get out of this.  When I called my husband to tell him to put it on his schedule – so that he would be home with our son while I attended the event – he informed me that he also had a “must attend” event that very same evening in New York City – his company is hosting a reception and he was one of the hosts.  Of course, we have to throw a kid event in there too…it’s the Back to School Barbeque at school that night.  This should be an interesting sorting-out of priorities…

Having it all…is it really possible, or does something have to give? Does one partner in the relationship get to have “the career” while the other makes career concessions to raise the children? Does it really take a village – can you count on your parents or another caregiver to pitch in when you can’t be there?

Working moms – what do you do when you’re faced with these types of situations?  Any solutions?

14 thoughts on “Opting Out, Opting In, or Having Few Options

  1. Both of us work full time and I’m the bigger breadwinner. I’ve been told by managers that if I wanted to move into a more high-potential growth track at work, I certainly could – but it would come at a price that I’m not willing to pay. I’m not willing to work 10 and 12 hour days, I’m not willing to travel as much as would be required, I’m not willing to be tethered to a Blackberry even in evenings and on weekends. I’m not willing to miss out on my kids’ early years all in the name of earning more money. So I’ve essentially mommy tracked myself by deciding to stay in a purely technical career path; I put in my 40ish hours a week and work hard when I’m at the office, but when I walk out those doors I leave it all behind. I will never be an executive or even a manager and I’m fine with that.

    I actually want to make a pretty major career change once the kids are in school and my income is less critical to our family’s finances. Even if I can’t make that happen, I plan to switch to a part time work schedule within the next 5 years.


  2. I struggle with this daily. I have limits to my career that I never had before, with two little kids, I can’t work all the time, and it is very frustrating at times. I am not able to really achieve what I want to at work, but I am “holding on” and as they get bigger I am able to spend more time at work as they start school. I work full time, but have the flexibility to do it my way, so I work 3 days and I am home 2 days with the kids. It’s crazy for me work wise to try to get everything done in 3 days of a full time job. I also commute 1 hr. but I love my job. Can I have it all. yes, but not to the magnitude that I may have hoped to. I have to travel,2 to 3 times a year. This year I will miss Halloween. Thisis really hard, but I need to go. I am a tenure track faculty member in a research 1 university. My career is as much part of my identity as it is being a mom. It’s a difficult balance, but one that I feel is very worth it. Thanks for the article, it is nice to know others have similar struggles.


  3. Right now I feel like I have the perfect arrangement for us — I’m still working full-time yet I work from home so I get lots of kid time. I do pass up opportunities to advance, though, or attend courses or seminars designed to advance my career. I’m fine where I am right now but in my workplace, being an “individual contributor” as opposed to a manager is looked down upon and I wonder where I will be when my kids get older. I think I will be behind but it’s worth it to me.


  4. I loved this post and can totally relate. I used to struggle with this same thing – I am a marketing professional, but left the field to be home with the kids 10 years ago. I’ve had part time work on and off and used to worry so much about if I could ever get my career back someday. Then I decided that who says having it all has to involve a big career, or any career at all. My kids won’t be kids forever and there is plenty of life left to have a career once they are older. It’s not the answer for everyone, but for me it was an ah-ha moment where I was able to leave the pressures of society and just be happy with my choice, and to be grateful that I had the choice to make at all. I’m not sure how it will work out, but I trust that when the time and season is right I will find my place in the full time workforce again. Everyone is different at has different energy and skills and I know that doing it all at once would push me over my edge of sanity, so I have decided to space it out! Less money, but more sanity 🙂


  5. Ann, great questions! I’m also in a part-time position, and I frequently wonder if I’m hurting my career chances of ever making it to the top of my career ladder? I am always questioning myself, should I add more hours, am I being foolish by leaving so much money on the table by not working full-time, or should I just stop, and enjoy the fact that I have a boss who allows me to work part-time and put my family’s needs first?!

    I really do believe that women can have it all, but having it all, IMO requires balancing what your ‘all’ really is. Over the past five years I have had the opportunity to be a mother, take off a significant amount of time to be with my children, work part-time, get a promotion, and provide financial benefits (both short and long term) to my family. It has been hard and stressful, but ultimately it has been worth it, and every day I feel very fortunate about my situation.

    Thank you for bringing up this topic, it’s such a valuable conversation for women to have!


  6. Yes…yes…yes. I spent a full year looking for a job that would allow me flexibility to be there for my kids yet still allow me to use my degrees. It’s really hard to strike that balance. I always planned to somehow magically return to my career full-time when the boys were older, but of course I have to keep current or that won’t happen. I had originally planned to go into school administration, but to be honest, I don’t see myself with that kind of time and availability for my own career for ohhh…15 more years? Haha. It’s a tough choice to make.


  7. Well, I’m not always here. My friend Vivian above will post links to compelling and well written topics posted here and yours hit a hot button with me. My wife and I had long talks about children and our approach. We both decided one of us would sacrifice our career if we decided to have kids. She pleaded to let be her, because she wanted to raise her children and be home with them. Do we miss the dual income…oh yeah. But the memories she has as a mom and the secure and happy demeanor of our children make us feel we made the right move. This may not be the road for everyone – but our thinking was – if we have children it is our duty to put them first and be a big ppart of their lives.


  8. Male Perspective – I have never really understood why women AND men beat themselves up over this. Title and power are really that important? I know I achieve much more joy, sense of purpose, and self actualization brushing my daughter’s hair and talking about her day than I ever do closing a million dollar deal. The question I always ask myself is – “If I quit or died, could someone else quickly fill the void?” In most jobs, the answer is yes. No matter how powerul and successful, you are still a rat in the race. Nobody is as important as they think they are. Vivian – I simply can’t imagine being a child in a three nanny household

    I am not just talking about women. I know men who are absent from their families who strive to be power brokers – who are constantly disappointed and whose families are a mess because of their absence.

    I would love for my wife to be the bread winner and for me to be a stay at home dad. I don’t need to run with the big dogs. Most big dogs die unhappy and unfullfilled and most are forgotten in a breath of time.


    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your male perspective! First, I love that we have men reading these posts, and second, that your view is focused on the big picture and achieving satisfaction from things that deeply matter and will be remembered! You sound like an awesome dad and a terrific person!


  9. It is a challenge. I limit night work events to only once or twice a year. My husband is in sales and sometimes will meet with a client. Our 8 year old son is learning that mom and dad can not attend all the school activities. There are some Friday family nights but truthfully, I’d rather be at home and not spend the $50.


    1. Exactly, Louise. I miss so many of the school activities during the day, that I try to make the evening ones when I can – but sometimes, as much as you’d like to, you just can’t do it.


  10. UGH, this is something that I struggle with SO MUCH. Like you, my current job is pretty awesome from a work-life balance standpoint, but there are sacrifices to be made stemming from the family priorities. When I feel frustrated, I have to keep reminding myself that “this is only temporary” and that I am making a personal sacrifice for the sake of my family. I think the absolute fact is that there are just some industries more than others that are not great for working parents and perhaps your industry and mine are just not really the easiest to juggle both.

    In the early days of my career, ALL of the women that I had direct exposure to who were in roles of power (granted – I am in a fairly cutthroat industry) had absolutely made personal/family sacrifices in the interest of staying focused on their career. One of my work mentors – whom I ADORED – had THREE NANNIES daily to take care of her kids. One came from 6AM to noon; the second came at 11:45 to 5:00. And the last came from 4:30 to 9:00. She left the house at 5:30AM before the kids woke up, would leave the office between 7-8PM to tuck them into bed at night, and returned to the office from 8 until about 10PM. She was an awesome career woman – but it came at the expense of her children only seeing mom for MAYBE a half hour (at bedtime) once you factored in the travel time. When they entered middle school, she ended up sending them to boarding school.

    When I try to rationalize that with raising my kids, I have to keep reminding myself that my number 1 job is to raise my kids to be happy, healthy and well-adjusted. In the long run, the amount of money or the title that I held won’t matter because no one will care, but how my children ended up definitely will matter. It’s SO HARD and it sucks bigtime to have to be able to figure out how to juggle it.

    Great, great post. So sorry for rambling on in my response, but as you can see, it definitely resonated with me!!!


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