Opting out - Not such a great idea?

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Timebandit Timebandit's picture
Opting out - Not such a great idea?

I know this article is really talking about a thin minority of women out there, but as someone about the same age as a lot of the women in the article, I found this interesting.  I've never been entirely able to get my head around seeing becoming a dependent as an empowering choice, and it looks like I wasn't entirely wrong. 

Quote:
 

I reached out to O’Donnel — and nearly two dozen other women — because I was curious, after 10 years and many, many “why women still can’t have it all” debates, to know what happened to the mothers who gave up promising careers in the late 1990s and early 2000s to be home with their children.       

The economic landscape had changed greatly since these women — buoyed by their prestigious jobs and degrees, supported by their high-earning husbands, secure in their abilities to shape a new life worthy of their past successes — first decided to leave work and head home. In the years they were out of the work force, many of the professions they left contracted and changed; even once rock-solid fields like law were becoming insecure in ways that no one had previously thought possible.       

The culture of motherhood, post-recession, had altered considerably, too. The women of the opt-out revolution left the work force at a time when the prevailing ideas about motherhood idealized full-time, round-the-clock, child-centered devotion. In 2000, for example, with the economy strong and books like “Surrendering to Motherhood,” a memoir about the “liberation” of giving up work to stay home, setting the tone for the aspirational mothering style of the day, almost 40 percent of respondents to the General Social Survey told researchers they believed a mother’s working was harmful to her children (an increase of eight percentage points since 1994). But by 2010, with recovery from the “mancession” slow and a record 40 percent of mothers functioning as family breadwinners, fully 75 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” And after decades of well-publicized academic inquiry into the effects of maternal separation and the dangers of day care, a new generation of social scientists was publishing research on the negative effects of excessive mothering: more depression and worse general health among mothers, according to the American Psychological Association.       

I wondered if these changes affected the women who opted out years ago. Had they found the “escape hatch” from the rat race that one of Belkin’s interviewees said she was after? Were they able, as a vast majority said they had planned, to transition back into the work force? Or had they, as the author Leslie Bennetts predicted in her 2007 book, “The Feminine Mistake,” come to see that, by making themselves financially dependent upon their men — particularly at a time when no man could depend upon his job — they had made a colossal error?

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Oh, duh.  Here's the link I've quoted from.  Long article, but an interesting read.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/magazine/the-opt-out-generation-wants-back-in.html?pagewanted=all

MegB

Excellent article TB. Thank you.

Ghislaine

I am one woman who would absolutely love to "opt out", at least until the oldest child can come off the bus alone. financially, we cannot swing it, but I would love it. even part-time work would be great. I wish there were more "job-sharing" options, where two workers can share one full time position. I hate the idea of arranging after-school programs and care once my daughter starts kindergarten - it is such a long day for them. I think to want to "opt out" though, one has to have an extremely strong relationship with their husband. 

the idea of doing the early childhood education myself, exploring outdoors, being there for illness, soothing, and all the momentuous firsts just sounds SO MUCH BETTER and fulfilling than commuting, working in an office and especially working with the extremely difficult and sometimes abusive clients that are part of my field. 

and any mother who has dropped off a child crying at daycare while they are saying they just want to be with mommy all day knows how heart-wrenching going to work can be sometimes. I have had days where I sat in the parkade and had a good cry before braving the day. the work stuff just all seems so unimportant compared to my little ones' needs. and life is just so much more calm and peaceful when groceries,supper, etc can all happen at reasonable times. I am on maternity leave now and DREAD my first day back.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

I know it can be tough sometimes, but don't the long-term consequences worry you?

I'm coming at this from the perspective of seeing my mother's situation after my father died.  She'd worked when I was small because she needed to, but left the work force once they could afford it (this was back in the late '70s).  She was in pretty dire straits in middle age with more than a decade out of the work force. 

Even if your relationship is strong when you leave the work force, you can't be sure that a decade out things won't have changed.  I know a few women who've been blindsided by the end of what they thought was a stable marriage. 

I dunno, dependency scares the heck out of me - and I'm in a very strong, long-term partnership and feel pretty confident that we're in it for life.  But I also know that shit happens that can be beyond our control. 

KenS

I found the article very hard to idenify with. Both my wife and I took chunks of time out. Her's was a decade. We each paid a price, but didnt really have career tracks to lose. It was tough coming back than if we had never opted out, but it wasn't easy before we left. We dont really have the sense we gave up something. I know it as an intellectual fact that doesnt mean that much to me. When I talk about the choices we made, I'm not sure my partner even recogizes it as an abstract intellectual thing.

We're also both working class kids who dont carry that around as resentment about the privileges of others. So its not like I was ill disposed to projecting from the experiences of the women written about. 

But it came across as alien. We have friends where there is a long term 'house husband' [she has the bigger income], the moms at home, and the usual majority of neither. My friends are mostly not 'seriously working class,' but in the article I didnt recognise any of my friends, let alone myself or my partner.

For me at least, it goes beyond that the article is talking about a small minority. My partner will not likely read it. She would probably understand the gut worry though, even though it doesnt describe her life. So the not being able to get beyond the class distance thing may just be because I'm not a woman. Facing the same issues, and paying a price for your 'lifestyle choices,' still doesnt make it the same.

KenS

Summarizing: opting out, is it a good idea?

In the first place, its not for everybody, even if it all turns out pretty good in the end. Which is really why most women do not or should not do it.

But for the minority who make it over that hurdle, and want to: beware, count on there more being more that causes downsides than you would predict, or are willing at the outset to accept. Most of all whether the partner will be there.

Mind you, many more women [and men] have a rough go of it after the blindsiding death, disability or divorce or a partner- when both of you were working. And now person is freaked out by having to go on, with kids, and that other income is now gone.

The difference when it comes down to it is exactly what now?

 

Can I get the same as the author of the article got, using a lot more words?

Francesca Allan

Is family law wildly different in other parts of the country? Of most broken-up couples that I know, the woman, by receiving spousal and child support and generally the sale proceeds of the matrimonial home, is doing better financially than she was when she was married. I would think that the man has more to lose by an opt out marriage.

KenS

I think Fransesca that its not differences in family law, it must be differences in who you know. And maybe if you know these stories from the ex-husbands versions, but are more superficially or second hand acquainted with the circumstances of the ex and families

I do not know a single case of that ideal you portray, whcih might be how the system is supposed to work, or is popularly reputed to work.

I know mostly ex-couples where both partners are doing considerably worse after the break-up- even when one at least has a new partner with an income. And I know some women living on the edge, while their ex is hurting less. But the only men I know in seriously diminished circumstances because of child support and possibly alimony, their exes are not doing that well either. Maybe some of those men are somewhat worse off than the ex=wife and kids in their diminshed circumstances, but thats difficult to say.

Francesca Allan

KenS wrote:

I think Fransesca that its not differences in family law, it must be differences in who you know.

Actually, it's based on about 10 years' experience working with family lawyers.

KenS wrote:

I do not know a single case of that ideal you portray, whcih might be how the system is supposed to work, or is popularly reputed to work.

I don't think of it as an "ideal"; I think of it as a very serious pitfall when agreeing to have your partner be a stay-at-home mom or dad. Perhaps an analogy might make it clearer: the way the law is now, after a couple has cohabited for 2 years, they are equally responsible for family debts. That means that supporting your partner making his/her way through school on student loans is a dangerous proposition. Same deal with supporting your partner dropping out of the work force to raise children.

KenS wrote:

But the only men I know in seriously diminished circumstances because of child support and possibly alimony, their exes are not doing that well either. Maybe some of those men are somewhat worse off than the ex=wife and kids in their diminshed circumstances, but thats difficult to say.

Well, perhaps we're dealing with sampling error and "my" women friends are incredibly lucky. All the same, it's hard to see why both partners would be worse off post-break up, especially when there's often a new partner in the picture (often the cause of the marital breakdown in the first place).

I know men who are ordered to support their wives indefinitely, probably forever, to equalize their incomes.

I think the only answer is to share child-raising reponsibilities equally. If both partners need to reduce their work to half-time to accomplish this, then so be it. If it means selling their house and moving into an apartment, ditto.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Or you both work full time and share home and childcare duties.

There might be a decent settlement, but if you read the article, it's clear that it's not so cut and dried and there's the long view to consider.  You may only receive spousal support for a period of time. If you share custody, which is much more common now, you get less child support.  And the same pool of money goes to maintaining two households, so I don't see how anybody's better off - even if there is a new partner.

In any case, stepping out of the work force for a period of several years was supposed to be this bold, fearless post-feminist statement - and it seems that a lot of women (and their families) got burned by it. They found themselves with less earning potential, and often back in traditional roles that they weren't that happy in after all. 

I realize that we are talking about women who have a high degree of privilege here, but it's interesting to me because we see elements of this - sometimes just the aspirational rather than being able to realistically do it - in the way women in other situations think about what they want and what's the ideal.  Helps to think about it.

Francesca Allan

Timebandit wrote:

If you share custody, which is much more common now, you get less child support. 

And as your child-related expenses are lower, so is your entitlement to compensation for them.

Timebandit wrote:

In any case, stepping out of the work force for a period of several years was supposed to be this bold, fearless post-feminist statement - and it seems that a lot of women (and their families) got burned by it.

Only if you completely disregard the non-monetary value of having children. What about having a family? Isn't that worth something?

Timebandit wrote:

They found themselves with less earning potential, and often back in traditional roles that they weren't that happy in after all. 

Of course they had less earning potential -- they had been out of the work force for a decade. And being a stay-at-home mom is the ultimate traditional role; they must have known that going into it.

I think the real problem here is a staggering sense of entitlement -- that we're supposed to have it all: loving spouse, beautiful house, car, ultimate employment, great family, without reflecting on what these choices actually mean in terms of sacrifice.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Francesca Allan wrote:

Timebandit wrote:

If you share custody, which is much more common now, you get less child support. 

And as your child-related expenses are lower, so is your entitlement to compensation for them.

Some are, some aren't.  Housing costs the same whether they're with you half time or full time.

Quote:

Timebandit wrote:

In any case, stepping out of the work force for a period of several years was supposed to be this bold, fearless post-feminist statement - and it seems that a lot of women (and their families) got burned by it.

Only if you completely disregard the non-monetary value of having children. What about having a family? Isn't that worth something?

I have two daughters that I value immensely in non-monetary terms.  I've managed to love them and raise them while working.  Many, many other parents do the same with their children.  Working and having a family is not, nor should it be, mutually exclusive.

I would go so far to say that I'm actually setting a better example for them in terms of showing them that I can be their mother and they can be my top priority at the same time as I am something other than "Mum", in addition to the fact that, if I really had to, I could provide for us.

Quote:

Timebandit wrote:

They found themselves with less earning potential, and often back in traditional roles that they weren't that happy in after all. 

Of course they had less earning potential -- they had been out of the work force for a decade. And being a stay-at-home mom is the ultimate traditional role; they must have known that going into it.

I think the real problem here is a staggering sense of entitlement -- that we're supposed to have it all: loving spouse, beautiful house, car, ultimate employment, great family, without reflecting on what these choices actually mean in terms of sacrifice.

I don't know if it's a matter of *supposed* to.  Maybe the "having it all" debate is partly about how perfectly you want to have it.  Unrealistic expectations tend to make people discontented.

ygtbk

Um. These women are just off the scale for entitlement (and their ex-husbands are in fact also off the scale for indulgence). So if I had a good thing to say, it would be I wish you well.

Francesca Allan

ygtbk wrote:

Um. These women are just off the scale for entitlement (and their ex-husbands are in fact also off the scale for indulgence). So if I had a good thing to say, it would be I wish you well.

No idea what you're talking about. Have a good night.

Francesca Allan

Thanks for your post, Timebandit. You make some excellent points.

I think the real problem in this conversation is that I'm in a foul mood today and need pajamas, a cup of tea and some Seinfeld reruns. Somebody was very rude to me today and my feet hurt (not necessarily talking cause and effect here).

Statistically women tend to get poorer after divorce while men eventually see their incomes rise. Women earn less then men and in most cases spousal support, as opposed to child support, is at best limited to a set number of years as the woman is expected to work.

Part of the problem is that good quality child care is often hard to find and expensive. Most studies I have seen report that children who attend good child care develope better socializing and problem solving skills when compared to children raised at home.

Across Canada most mothers of preschool children work;and most because they need to financially. Canada's average family income statistics assumes a 2 wage family. As work changes from full time to contract employment it is hard to see it being any easier. Pragmatically more children, more mothers and more families lives are made better by good quality affordable child care that any other sociatial option.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Thanks, Francesca -- I hope you got that cuppa tea and Seinfeld reruns.  :)

Shartal, I think that the child care question is something that intersects here.  Most of the women in the article could have, of course, afforded quality childcare.  But there are a lot of women who, if they go to work, the majority of the paycheque goes to paying for daycare, usually unsubsidized and not necessarily licensed.  My niece went through a patch where the only work she was offered paid less than it would have cost to put her very small children into daycare, and they longer she stays out of the workforce, the harder it is to get back in.  It can be a vicious cycle.

I'm all for a proper nationalized child care system, with decent wages for caregivers and affordability for families. 

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

That's the main reason I posted the article - because "opting out" has been talked about as a choice available only to the elite, and, as it turns out, it isn't even a realistic choice for most of them!

The whole post-feminist return to traditional roles as a *choice* is so much malarky.  It's certainly not in the best interests of an even vaster majority of women than we originally thought.

6079_Smith_W

Thing is, those traditional families more often than not had three generations living under one roof, or families big enough that kids helped with childcare. I think that kind of support, and the kind of work one does is at least as significant as whether one is an elite or not.

(edit) And people used to have neighbours, too.

Going back as far as my great grand parents, the women in my family all had jobs, in some cases very essential ones, so while I know it wasn't that way for everyone, it's not like it is a modern aberration from some natural order. I think it may only seem so because so much more work today is waged and career-stream.

For that matter staying home to raise a kid is hardly an idyllic and cloistered lifestyle, as I am sure most here know. Even without a wage and schedule it can be far more work, far more complex, and unpredictable. So I agree, good article, but "opting out" is a bit of a misnomer.

 

 

6079_Smith_W

Summer wrote:

Arguably, a man could choose to opt out as well.

True, but sharing home duties, or a man taking them on, doesn't always run smooth. Even if there is some sort of balance and understanding between the partners (and there isn't always) there are always people who are going to see the man as "just helping out" with what they think is really his partner's responsibility - and blaming her.

Of course, traditional roles in child rearing and home work are secondary to the main problem, which is the specific discrimination many women face when they make this sort of decision, part-time or full-time.

 

Summer

I think the fact that the focus of this thread has turned to costs of divorce and child care is a great illustration of how opting out is not financially viable and therefore not a realistic option for most people.  Even if it were an option for me, there are huge barriers to opting back in that would make it a scary choice.  It is hard to re-enter the workforce after a long absence.  The knowledge gap would be difficult to overcome.  You would likely lack a network.   Depending on the industry, it could be a challenge to be older than many of the people at or above the same level.  You will be competing for positions with people with more recent (and possibly more relevant) experience.  

Several years ago, when I was a student, I had a part-time job at a small communications company.  Shortly after I was hired my boss brought in a full-time employee to work in government relations.  He was impressed with her experience and education but was concerned about the fact that she hadn't worked for the past five years.  "You know what that means..." he said.  I actually had no idea what that meant and I guess it showed on my face because he said, "She took time off to stay home with her kids".  His tone of voice indicated that he did not think this was a good thing.  Of course, I know that this is but one anecdote but I would guess that his is not an uncommon opinion.  

Summer

Timebandit wrote:

That's the main reason I posted the article - because "opting out" has been talked about as a choice available only to the elite, and, as it turns out, it isn't even a realistic choice for most of them!

The whole post-feminist return to traditional roles as a *choice* is so much malarky.  It's certainly not in the best interests of an even vaster majority of women than we originally thought.

I don't think it's necessarily fair to conflate "opting out" with a return to traditional gender roles.  Arguably, a man could choose to opt out as well.  Not to say that there aren't people *cough REAL women cough* who would point to the fact that a small group of women are making this choice and conclude that all women should make the same choice/are genetically wired to make that choice.  Next thing you know, the choice aspect is completely removed from the equation.  But I think it's possible to discuss opting out outside of that context.  

For example, the article in the OP does not talk about how the women opted out because as women they were inherently less ambitious or less driven or less suited for a career.   In a perfect world, men and women would both have the option to choose to work full time or be the primary caregiver for their children without being judged negatively for that choice.   As long as "opting out" is truly a choice, then it's great to have that option.

Forgive me for re-posting this article about selfish reasons for a man to be feminist which I posted earlier in the Is it ok for men to call themselves feminists? thread but I think it's apropos.  For me, the end goal* is to stop worrying about whether one's chosen role is traditionally male or female and just let people make the best choices for themselves as individuals and families.  This cuts both ways which means that when a woman does make a choice that is consistent with a traditonal female role, she shouldn't be judged negatively for i.e. wasting her education, not living up to her potential, being content to let her husband be the sole breadwinnner (although on second thought, I suppose many people would share the same types of thoughts if a man made those same choices, in which case, maybe my concerns are not about sexism and gender roles but are about the value we ascribe to paid work versus work in the home...)

*Note - I do recognize this is pie in the sky thinking.  

 

 

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

What I found interesting about the opening article, Summer, was that when women *did* opt out, the traditional roles frequently resurfaced and were once more established, often without either partner of the couple being conscious of it until they were already there.  And the return to a more modernly-fetishized traditional-ish role - the crunchy-granola baking-my-own bread housekeeping woman who is hipper-than-thou (yes, it is out there, google "urban homesteading" or read Gwyneth Paltrow's glossy magazine) - is put out there as an aspirational choice. 

They don't talk about the sucky bits, though, some of which are mentioned above.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of the total range of choice, including being a home-maker (even if, personally, I can't imagine actually doing that), but the reality is that it's rarely a good idea for either men or women to opt out entirely.  Certainly, at this point in time, I'd argue it's a particularly bad choice for women - we're not so far removed from forced dependency and all the cultural baggage that goes with that seems to seep into that particular choice. 

In the personal as political. I have always end shared cleaning with every man I have ever lived with and nearly universally they thought they did more chores. Also near universally they rarely noticed the daily work I did. So an unwashed pot was seen but washed dishes were invisible

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Smith - I totally hear you.  My father would often try to take on the vacuuming, but he could never do it to my mother's satisfaction.  She would literally take the vacuum cleaner away from him.  I've seen younger women do a version of the same thing - when the male partner makes an effort, it gets criticized because it's not just so.  I think all the men I've been in relationships with did not learn how to do housework of any kind until after they left home - their mothers did all the cooking, cleaning and laundry for them.  I think it's changing for young people now, but my generation needed to take into account the learning curve.

My partner does half the housework, always has.  And he probably changed more diapers than I did.  We both make a point of appreciating the other's contributions.  I hope that we're modeling this adequately for our daughters!

6079_Smith_W

@ shartal

I don't mind the unseen work; I can think of dozens of jobs I do around the house that no one is even aware of, nor would be unless I stopped doing them. And I know there are chores and tasks that my partner takes care of that aren't that important to me.

Problem is when things get to the point where people think they have to keep score, or think they are pulling their load when they are not. And while the split is not always along what one thinks are gender lines (and frankly, there have ALWAYS been exceptions to that) I do think in a male-female household it is usually the woman who winds up on the shit end of the deal when it comes to making sure the house keeps running and the kids don't go feral.

Differences in style aside, I think a lot of guys are lazy and inconsiderate about it because they just assume the woman will act as the last bastion to make sure things really get done, even if she is overworked or feels like shit.

It's funny too, how household administration and finances isn't recognized as traditional women's work in the same way as scrubbing floors, even though it is referred to as "holding the purse strings". It's kind of invisible, but it is the job that holds the whole house together. As with chefs and tailors, somehow it is only valued work when a man does it.

I know my partner and I  have puzzled about traditional gender roles -  because aside from dishes and cleaning we do have some clear divisions of labour, even if they don't all fall along those traditional lines. Trying to separate what makes sense from what is just programming is a crazy-making and not entirely productive task, IMO. I am less concerned with making sure that my partner knows how to free a rusted bolt (she is free to make that choice anytime) than that our kids - boy and girl - are both taught that is something they can and should know (as you say, TB).

I know it is going to be a long time (if ever) before those traditional roles are gone, but reinforcing to our kids that they aren't cages is the most important thing, IMO.

 

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/201381615448464851.html
This article reflects what I see in my community

Francesca Allan

[email protected] wrote:
Statistically women tend to get poorer after divorce ....

But I think a relevant question is: Are they now poorer than they were before they got married?

Yes

Francesca Allan

Are you speaking for yourself or generally?

6079_Smith_W

Francesca Allan wrote:

But I think a relevant question is: Are they now poorer than they were before they got married?

I don't think it is a relevant question. The implication there is that she should be thankful for what she's got, and is better off because of her partner than she would have been otherwise. In truth, there is no way of knowing what would have happened had her life taken another course.

You might just as well ask whether her partner is richer than before they got married. The answer is likely of course; most people have more stability and wealth in their lives as they get older. And those wage-earning careers are built with the support of partnerships. How many women take part-time work to maintain the house and put their partners through university? I know more than one who has experienced the shit end of that deal, and her ex's selective amnesia, after having done that.

 

Neither.
Statistics canada

Ignore the earlier post, , overall before marriage women are younger and earn less. Many have children during marrage. Statistically after divorce women end up poorer than during marriage and often with more dependants than before marrage. Even when child support is paid, remembering that a large number of fathers do not pay or do not consistently pay child support, the costs increase and women' end up poorer.

Ignore the earlier post, , overall before marriage women are younger and earn less. Many have children during marrage. Statistically after divorce women end up poorer than during marriage and often with more dependants than before marrage. Even when child support is paid, remembering that a large number of fathers do not pay or do not consistently pay child support, the costs increase and women' end up poorer.