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What Happens When the Opt-Out Moms Want Back In?

As a work at home mom, I have a natural interest in all things related career and parenting. It’s been especially interesting to me to read recently pieces on what has become of the so-called opt-out generation. An article for the New York Times [3]┬árecently revisited the lives of women who had opted out of work 10 years ago. Where are they now? And is it possible for them to opt back in to the workforce?

What is the Opt-Out Generation?

A decade ago, the opt-out generation was named as different publications explored the choice of many high-powered, high-earning women to walk away from their careers and stay at home. In a way, the opt-out generation continues today. There are plenty of Millennials who want to stay home [4] — or at least demand some type of flexible working arrangement that allows for more convenient hours or telecommuting.

The opt-out generation of 10 years age, though, was notable because it was made up women who were highly educated and were on a career track right to C-level suites. They also had husbands that made a lot of money. (As is often the case now, opt-out generation publications focused more on upper-middle class and wealthy women [5], and gave little thought to those in poorer circumstances.)

What Happens When Opt-Out Moms Want Back In?

The New York Times article revisits the lives of these opt-out moms, and it seems that many of them had trouble finding jobs that paid as well as the careers they left behind. Unless women can make connections fundraising for private preschools and elementary schools, and unless they make conscious efforts to network and keep skills sharp at home [6], finding work after spending more than 10 years out of the workforce is difficult — especially in this economy.

Another issue that the article brings up is the changing family dynamic when a woman wants back into the workforce. Many partners become used to a certain set up in that time. It’s much easier for traditional gender roles to emerge. What happens when, after all these years, suddenly dinner isn’t on the table and laundry needs to be done? In some cases, opting back in to the workforce means that the household responsibilities [7] have to be rethought, and some partners are unprepared. The egalitarian man who had no problem washing dishes when his wife was earning what he made is suddenly not so sure about the new arrangement. After years of not working the vacuum, he’s no expected to pitch in a little bit more — but his wife doesn’t make even half what she did back when they first married.

It’s a tough situation, and one that probably puts more focus on who earns what than is necessary, but it’s a very real response to the idea of opting back in after years spent as a stay at home mom, taking care of house and children.

What About Working from Home?

Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to earn money from. I work from home, while my husband teaches at university, outside of the home. He does a lot around the ouse, and many of our roles are the reverse of the traditional [8]. However, sometimes I wonder about opting back in to the workforce. I like what I do, and that I have a lot of flexibility, but sometimes I miss social interaction, and it’s kind of frustrating that my husband just wants to chill when he gets home, and I want to go out because I’ve been stuck at home all week. There’s still some of that hovering there, and I occasionally wonder if an “exciting” career doing something else might help. But, of course, I lack the time put in to the workforce.

What do you think? Would you want to opt back in to the workforce after leaving? What makes it hard? And what are some of the challenges of deciding to stay home?

(Photo: Ran Zwigenberg [9])