“The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In 2003 a New York Times Magazine cover story looked at women who decided to leave their jobs to stay at home with their children. Ten years later, Judith Warner revisits women from that story, now trying to restart their careers. She looks at the challenges of working mothers, the challenges of staying home, and how the changing economic landscape of the past decade has effected their home and working lives. Judith Warner wrote “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In” in the August 11 New York Times Magazine.


Judith Warner

Comments [38]

jenn from Princeton

PS One thing I did to increase my self confidence when going back to work was to create a Volunteer resume, which listed out all the volunteer things I'd done over the years I spent "at home" (which every SAHM knows is a mislabel, since often, once you're not working for pay, you are volunteering constantly.) I volunteered approx 20 hours per week in my community, mostly around the schools my kids were attended.

The volunteer resume was not something I sent out to prospective employers, it was something i did for myself to clarify my skill set, see what job descriptions i'd done as a volunteer, and to boost my confidence as I set out to get my first full-time paying job in 12 years.

you need that confidence, however you can get it. it's amazing how the work world changed in 12 years. I called myself Rip Van Wrinkle :)

Aug. 16 2013 08:22 AM
jenn from Princeton

I'm happy that I stayed home for 12 years with my kids. I did lose time in the workforce and there's no way around that. I'm now working full time for the last seven years, since my divorce. I'm happy I had the time with my kids that I had because it helped us bond before we went through the divorce. My kids and I are very close now and it was worth it despite the economic loss that opting out meant for me. Opting out wasn't a complete work stoppage, however: when I was home full time, I wrote a book that was published and still sells at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. But that's not what I remember from that time. What I remember is being there with my kids when they were small, for all the ups and down time, and being there at school and Scouts as a volunteer. We wove a family together that was quirky, accepting, loving, and supportive. not perfect, but ours. I don't think that would've happened the same way, if they'd been in day care all those years.

Aug. 16 2013 08:08 AM

I've been married for over 10 years and my husband and I don't have children. I have female friends who chose to opt out. It's a decision that I'd argue is both personal and economic but it's had far more economic ramifications in the past 5 years. What I resent is the group of women just like the ones in the article who were holier-than-thou when choosing to opt out. I hated it when they argued that WE COULD HAVE IT ALL. That's rubbish. It's one or the other but never both. Now there are women like that coming back with tails between their legs. Worse yet, the article has given absolutely zero credit for all the heavy lifting the husbands have done.

Aug. 15 2013 02:38 AM
tom LI

Listened to the interview, couldnt call in...was hoping everyone would hear me talking loudly at my car radio...

What is going on with thus Generation? Not sure what moniker they fall under Boomers? GenX, I have no clue, but what they should be called are the Whiner Gen. All they do is whine about what they dont have! Whine about they believe they deserve, because they did something they deem "special", like make a choice between a home-life, and a career. Wah!

They all think they're special and deserve special treatment for doing nothing special at all. Doing what many before them did and lived with!

But noo! Not this Whiner-Gen. They have no concept of the realities of decision making that takes you out a system and plops you into another. You leave the workforce, and join the Home-force. The two are not the same, and never will be - and cant be! They leave the Home-force, and whine that they no longer have a connection or time for it!

And Ladies, you want everything on a platter. You want a perfect Home-life, and the perfect career and job that bends every which way you demand so that everything is seamless and without friction. Basically you all want a fairytale to come to life and be YOUR Life!

Its sad how little reality this Whiner Generation has come to grasp. Having it all no matter your economics, race, or sex is IMPOSSIBLE! Even the "Icons" you all fawn over that you think have it all - do NOT! And if any do, they are freaks, anomalies! No one does! We all sacrifice something when we make big life-altering decisions!

Aug. 14 2013 04:29 PM
CharlieG from Nyack, NY

My issue with this article is that is does not take into account the sacrifices that men make as well. I stayed home for 3 and a half years with our first 2 children and worked at home, took care of a sick parent and was exhausted. My wife eventually left a corporate executive position because she felt distanced from her children. Seven years later she is volunteering at the hospital and that is great, maybe it will lead to a career or not. The point is that there are 5.7 million women that choose to stay home and that is great. How about honoring the men that made that a possibility.

Aug. 14 2013 03:50 PM

To hjs11211:
You have a job description and scheduled work hours, even if you exceed them regularly. Maybe you get overtime.
You have legal protections and rights. If you are mistreated or have an accident or hardship, there are procedures to help you.
You are not likely on call 24/7 and are entitled to weekends, vacation time and sick days.
There are likely opportunities to move up, or even laterally, occasional raises and colleagues to work with. Through your paycheck, you contribute to social security (and yes, pay taxes). You might have access to a 401K.
If your spouse left you, you'd still have healthcare.
You will likely have some say in when you stop doing this job.
At any given moment of every day, you have a lot of choices that I didn't.
And, everyone, please remember the wage gap between men and women. It's a big part of how I got where I am.
I am not asking for pity, just consideration. I wasn't earning enough to hire people to do all the things that needed to be done, and I couldn't figure out how else to make things work. My spouse was supposed to help, but it just didn't work out that way and I could not affect it differently.

Aug. 14 2013 03:46 PM
Becky from Manhattan

To all those who thing going socialist will help and implementing a "Swedish - style" cradle to grave system is the answer, as a few commenters suggested, I ask you this:

Why does Sweden only have 59% of women in the workforce vs. the United States 58%?

France has only 51%, Germany 53% - yet each of those have many of the socialized programs you think will help.

Separately, Judith Warner has an axe to grind - I have read many of her articles over the years and she comes at her topic from a set worldview.
Her NYT article was very negative towards staying home. I could find a similar cohort of men who were at the same places as these women 10 years ago and yet have seen their careers stall horribly, despite STAYING in the workforce with no leave time.

It's the economy, stupid, as James Carville stated during the 1992 campaign. Had these interviews been conducted during a boom, many things would be different.

Aug. 14 2013 03:18 PM
Kireleason from Staten Island

Both me and my husband work full time, he is a part-time student, and we have two young children. He stayed home with our oldest for almost a year. We have a pretty equal relationship when it comes to managing the house and raising the kids. We are lucky in that we earn enough to pay for childcare and still have a little wiggle room. We joke that college will be a breeze after these costs. I never considered not working; having children was the thing I put more thought into. The only thing I might change is encouraging my husband to finish school earlier - when he graduates, we'll see him a lot more, and maybe our house will be a little less messy!

Aug. 14 2013 02:07 PM

I feel that there is backlash in wealthier communities against moms who want to or need to work. As a working mom of three, I am often expected to deliver kids to practice, playdates, school events, etc. during working hours. I choose to work to keep my children in this community where the schools are good and the crime is low but I also really love to my job.

Aug. 14 2013 12:57 PM
James from New York

To Chadookydoo:

Your situation sounds exhausting to me. You have every reason to expect appreciation and recognition for your sacrifice.

Based on the article, this interview, and your comments I would say that my comments don't apply to your situation.

Aug. 14 2013 12:54 PM
John A

Chadookydoo. Having your bills paid for you is pay. You have a job. Congrats on that.
(Should I now say that I am "hiring?")

Aug. 14 2013 12:48 PM
Amy G from White Plains from White Plains

Thank you for having Judith Warner as a guest on your show. I'm the Director of a program at Pace Law School called New Directions for Attorneys. This program assists attorneys who are seeking to return to traditional law practice or an alternative legal career after stepping aside from practice or pursuing another field for some period of time. I was driving when Claire, the attorney, was speaking, and I was very struck by her comments about both her, and her friend's, another attorney, choices, and how, while each made these choices for their own good reasons, each had some regrets about those choices. I was also nodding in agreement when she mentioned the lack of confidence felt by bright, accomplished professionals when they have stepped aside from the workplace. This is an important conversation to continue as, hopefully, we are able to move towards more viable work solutions for both women and men--solutions that recognize a person's professional accomplishments while also affording her or him meaningful personal/family time.

Aug. 14 2013 12:46 PM

I have boss and a time that that have to be at my desk.
That's work.
I'm sure u fill your day and help your family but that doesn't mean u have a job

Aug. 14 2013 12:44 PM
BK from Nj

Boohoo. I have already heard this guest on another show this week. This "whoa is me" attitude is ridiculous. My wife is a career woman, on a great track with her company. We have two young kids. Stop complaining and sit down with your husband and work it out. I work, and have stayed in my current position because I can be more flexible on the home front. Sometimes we men have to make choices like I have, where I passed on a promotion.

Aug. 14 2013 12:39 PM
Marie from new york

I take issue with the title of the article - i think it trivializes the choice that women/families have to make. Saying this community "... wants back in" makes these women sound juvenile whereas the reality is very different. You sound as though you are blaming women themselves for the lack of female CEOs and executives, rather than the network of the "old boys club" that shuts women out of opportunities.

Aug. 14 2013 12:39 PM

To James from New York and hjs11211,
For 10 years, I took kids and four aging parents to doctor appointments, dental appointments, for haircuts and grocery shopping. I cleaned and did laundry in 3 different households. Did all the home repairs I could, mowed lawns, had cars serviced. I've spent an enormous amount of time in hospitals and doctors' offices.
I cooked like a slave. I cleaned and cooked for holidays, AND picked up and drove our parents from their homes to ours for the holidays, and purchased their gifts to our kids for them.
It was exhausting and thankless and not valued by anyone, even my husband, who paid the bills, mostly, and little else.

Aug. 14 2013 12:38 PM

Choice is part of life. The question is: would women feel less like opting out if the workplace provided more opportunity to excel. Currently, only 15 FORTUNE 500 are run by women. The glass ceiling is the problem, still. Once women start to run things better answers regarding the division of family care will be possible and the world will be a saner place.

Aug. 14 2013 12:38 PM
susan from NYC

I have not opted out in terms of career.
Instead, I've chosen not to have kids.
So, I "opted out" of having a family.

at 38 I can probably not have kids at this point. When I am more secure, and have more time, I might adopt.

We all have to make choices.

I feel no sympathy for any of these women. They could have chosen not to have families.

I also feel that there's a big difference between overparenting, and being a stay at home mom. There are plenty of great moms who stay home, and whose kids grow up to be just fine.

Aug. 14 2013 12:38 PM
John A

Work as money buying independence is a given. The only solution it seems is socialism.

Aug. 14 2013 12:38 PM
Christine from Fairfield, CT

Stayed at home after 1st child was born and then second.... getting back into teaching has proven to be very difficult. I feel interviewing with women who never made the choice to stay home and then being made to feel less relevant for having made a different choices. I would not change a single thing about my choice to stay home even in the face of financial difficulties experienced in our family. Not every thing important in life can always be rewarded with dollars. I nursed both my children for several years and I have loved every difficult stage of child development. Could I have been the same mother while working, I am sure that I could have but I believe in not regretting ones life choices. I do believe our society needs to really talk about raising healthy children as a national priority not only on the backs of women but as an intricate roll in our entire society.

Aug. 14 2013 12:37 PM
Greg from Spuyten Duyvil

Clarification alert to Ms Warner. We have not "allowed" our society to degrade into its current state of limited or nonexistent maternity leave, viewing family life as an obstacle to work/productivity, etc. This state of affairs has been brought on by corporate leaders who descend further and further into the belief that Bottom Line/Money is EVERYTHING. That's not my fault, my mother's fault, my sister's fault.

Aug. 14 2013 12:37 PM
Joe from Kearny NJ

We all have choices to make. Some choose career over family live or vice versa, and some choose the middle. We do not need to legislate more change, people just need to understand the consequences and rewards of the things they decide.

Aug. 14 2013 12:36 PM
Julie from Nyack

I don't understand why women who haven't worked for ten years are surprised to find it difficult to get back in. It's hard to start. So it's hard to re-start. Of course nobody expects a job to be held for them for 10 years. So what are we really looking for? I agree we need change. Please, please, please let's change this conversation to one about families and not about women.

Aug. 14 2013 12:36 PM
anon from Manhattan

I think the only way to have a better balance between work and family is to move out of the country. That's what I'm planning on doing (I'm in my early 30s).

Aug. 14 2013 12:36 PM
Judi from Kansas

One issue is the notion that is must be all or nothing -- why can't women take just a year or two off when their children are infants and need a committed adult 24/7 (i.e. exclusive breastfeeding) then return to work when the child's world expands-- a child needs their mother intensely when they are six months -- they don't need a full time mom at six or sixteen

Aug. 14 2013 12:34 PM
Judi from Kansas

One issue is the notion that is must be all or nothing -- why can't women take just a year or two off when their children are infants and need a committed adult 24/7 (i.e. exclusive breastfeeding) then return to work when the child's world expands-- a child needs their mother intensely when they are six months -- they don't need a full time mom at six or sixteen

Aug. 14 2013 12:34 PM
ivan obregon from nyc

Our refusal to "go Swedish" and socialize domestic care- through free childcare, free college, maternity/paternity leaves, flexible part-time work as a mandated option for people with kids who want it and with national health insurance in place- is making it impossible for women to have.....a choice.

Instead, we've chosen to tax-fund.....the Pentagon with our budget priorities.

Aug. 14 2013 12:33 PM
bkparent from Brooklyn

I am a working mother who did not leave work (or opt out as some like to call it). I'm a lawyer. I don't work super long hours, or get paid a huge salary, but its enough. I feel pretty fortunate to have a decent job in a world where many people are barely earning a living wage. Same for my husband. Women who took ten years off should try to appreciate that they were able to do that. Working people should try to appreciate that we have jobs. There are plenty of choices. They aren't perfect, but that's just life.

Aug. 14 2013 12:29 PM
James from New York

Thanks to all of the people who realize that men don't have these options. We have to work. We are expected to work.

Aug. 14 2013 12:28 PM

How is this different for men
I would have loved to have taken tens years off. There's no way I could, no one to pay my bills.

Aug. 14 2013 12:25 PM
John A

Wanting for a revolving door and not getting it is a problem equal for M and F.

Aug. 14 2013 12:25 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

What about at least a mention about what is usually never mentioned -- that culturally-speaking, men for the most part don't have any choice at all.

Where are the discussions of the toll that takes? The pressure that knowing you are the primary breadwinners for your family and that you have to put up with crap at work, because you don't have a choice? (And with the downturn in the economy hitting men harder than women, the pressure is even greater than ever before.)

Aug. 14 2013 12:23 PM
James from New York

It sounds to me like these folks don't realize that you can't have everything. It's called sacrifice!

Aug. 14 2013 12:21 PM
Palisades from NYC

It doesn't always feel like Opting Out when a woman leaves work; if an aging parent has an emergency or needs help, it's usually the woman who has to miss work - as the woman and as the lower wage-earner. Add an occasional sick kid, a boss who isn't flexible or sympathetic, and you can quickly reach the breaking point. I thought I'd take a few months off to get some things in order and then find a new job - maybe more flexible, maybe working from home part time. Guess what? The parents became needier, the husband more remote and more demanding, and it was nearly impossible to resist becoming sucked in and take care of everyone AND find work.
Worse, I was regarded as someone who sat on the sofa eating Bon bons and watching soap operas all day. I never worked harder than when I was at home. It was exhausting and challenging and never ever ending.
I have little retirement money or social security.
Now even feminists don't value how hard I've worked, what I've learned and who I am.

Aug. 14 2013 12:20 PM
John from nyc

I believe the women that opted out are miserable by nature.

I can see why they don't want to speak about their experience.

Aug. 14 2013 12:20 PM

NY TIMES site is down

Aug. 14 2013 12:19 PM

NY TIMES site is down

Aug. 14 2013 12:19 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Your link to the article isn't working for me. Thanks.

Aug. 14 2013 12:09 PM

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