"Why I Opted Out": One Mother's Story
By Pamela Kruger
Last winter should have been a high point in Caryl Hahn's career. As vice president of global media at MasterCard International, Hahn was one of the most successful women in advertising. In November she was even one of the few honored as Advertising Working Mothers of the Year by the Advertising Women of New York.
But at the same time, Hahn, the mother of two, was quietly wrestling with whether to quit working. By February she had made up her mind to resign, and on March 31 she left MasterCard to become a stay-at-home mom to her children, Evan, 13, and Alison, 10. In an interview, the 47-year-old Westchester County, NY, mom explained how and why she made what she calls "one of the hardest decisions" in her life.
"I didn't just wake up one morning and say to myself, 'I'm not going to work anymore.' I had a phenomenal job, I worked only nine miles from my house, and my employer was extremely family-friendly. But in 2001, my mother passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. I started thinking, 'What do I want my life to look like when I'm older? How do I want my kids to remember me?'
"After my mother died, we took a summer trip to Alaska. The sun never sets there in July, so people work long days. I said to our tour guide, 'Wow, you've been working since 7 a.m.' He said, 'Yes, how lucky I am.' I thought, 'I want to feel that way about a job.'
"The truth is, though I loved advertising, I never loved the corporate environment. But I chose to work in it because it has controlled hours; you aren't at the beck and call of clients, as you are at ad agencies.
"But my job was getting harder. I was starting to travel abroad; my kids hated it. And I knew I should take more trips if I wanted to keep growing. My bosses were fine with me not doing that, but I knew I was coasting. My mother had always worked but was home by 5:30 p.m. I wasn't getting home until 7:30. I was drained and had nothing left to give my kids at the end of the day. There were nights I couldn't even move from the couch to say good night.
"Meanwhile, Evan was having a hard time in middle school, socially and academically. At night, he'd be in bed crying, 'I had the worst day of my life today!' We'd talk, but I was exhausted and didn't have the energy to come up with strategies for him. I decided one parent needed to be home to give our kids the foundation they need to grow into happy, productive adults.
"My husband works even longer hours than I do and loves his job, so I felt I was the one who should quit. He was worried about the money and didn't want me to leave at first. But we're learning to live on less now. My kids don't care. They're happy to have me home. My son is doing better at school.
"Am I walking away from my career forever? I don't think so. I'd like to use my skills to give back to the world. I'm also pursuing consulting work. But whatever I do, I won't work 50 hours a week, travel, or expend all my energy on it. I know a lot of women who have humongous jobs and great kids, and they love it, but it just wasn't suiting me and my life anymore."
Pamela Kruger is a Child contributing editor. Her book, A Love Like No Other: Stories From Adoptive Parents, will be published this month.