This retrospective piece from Amy Tiemann, aka MojoMom, crystallizes what so many working parents face as we think about the larger meaning of our own, cobbled together work-life situations. Amy writes that when she became a mom in 1999, from her own “ruggedly individualistic” perspective her choice to opt-out for a bit wasn’t so bad. Her teaching career “just didn’t work” any more so I chose to leave.” She found her way into writing and felt happy with her new lot.
But then, she writes, “I started to see that motherhood wasn’t just all about me as one person. I started to think about what it meant that work “didn’t work” for me as a mother of a young child. How much of this was my individual choice, versus larger social structures that ranged from my family, to employers’ attitudes and policies, to public policy, most notably the fact that American women don’t even have paid maternity leave?” She continues,
I was fortunate to be able to do so, but even though this worked for me, the dangers and fallacies of the Opt-Out storyline started to come to into focus for me. First of all, most women and mothers need to work for basic financial reasons. So the idea that motherhood = not employed is a worrisome one, because the workforce truly needs to figure out how to retain us and stop punishing us for being parents–specifically, mothers, because fathers are more respected in the workforce and are often assumed to have a wife who can do the majority of the caregiving. As Opting Out? author and sociologist Pamela Stone has pointed out, too often, parenthood means that fathers step on the accelerator of their careers and mothers step on the brakes. For women of Gen X and Y this can create a major fork in the road that has lifelong consequences.
Indeed, we all pay the price. As Ellen Galinsky notes in the Consumerist blog, women pay more than men for goods and services. Accompanying the opt-out fantasy is the fact that women drive the majority of household purchasing decisions- and for many it’s more comfortable to think of women as spenders rather than as earners. Plus, the wage gap persists: “a woman still earns about 78 cents to a man’s dollar (or $78,000 compared with $100,000 paid to a male colleague with the same level of experience). And women with children are less likely to be hired and are offered lower salaries than are fathers or women without children, according to Stanford University researcher Shelley Correll.”