There's a lot of buzz about an article in yesterday's New York Times, "The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In," but its conclusions don't surprise me. I know many stay-at-home moms who eventually ached to go back to work—either because their family needed the income or because they craved more daily fulfillment. The NYT piece admittedly focuses on a particular group of moms—"highly educated, very accomplished, well-paid professionals with high-earning spouses who in the early 2000s made headlines for leaving the work force just when they were hitting their stride"—but it raises issues that are relevant to all of us.
A recent Pew Research Center study found that an increasing number of moms now say their ideal situation would be to work full-time (32% in 2012 vs 20% in 2007). Fewer moms say their ideal is to stay home (20% vs 26%) and about the same percentage say their ideal would be to work part-time (47% vs. 50%). Although this trend is certainly related to the pressures of the economy, there are lots of moms who want to be working for various reasons. But for those who have taken time off to raise kids, getting back into the competitive job market is tougher than ever.
According to a new Parents survey, 63 percent of working moms and 43 percent of at stay-at-home moms say that working or staying home isn't really a "choice." Most families need two incomes—or mom has to stay home because her salary won't cover the high cost of child care. However, some moms will do whatever it takes to be able to be home with their children, while others find creative child-care solutions because they want to be able to work. There is no perfect situation. That's why most moms are calling a truce in the Mommy Wars.
I feel lucky to have a job that I love. Apart from my two maternity leaves, I have always worked five days a week in an office. I feel pangs when my 8-year-old asks me, "Why can't you pick me up from school?" and there are undoubtedly things that I have missed out on by not being home. I have always felt that working makes me a better, happier mom, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for moms who stay home. There is no question that being a mother is the toughest and most rewarding job.
Yet I've watched what's happened to many SAHMs as their kids got older...and didn't need or want them around as much anymore. Some moms floundered or got depressed or remained too involved in their kids' lives. My teenage daughter says that her friends' whose moms don't work are less independent than other kids their age. Although it's been wonderful to see some women reinvent themselves and start on a new career path—for many moms, it is not easy. One of the moms profiled in the NYT piece went through a divorce, and had been terrified by the prospect of suddenly having to support herself as a single parent. In many ways, continuing to work—at least part-time—is like insurance for the unpredictable future.