Monday, August 12, 2013

I Could Have Opted Out

So it was only two weeks ago that I shared how excited I was to meet Lisa Belkin, of "Opt Out Revolution" fame. I didn't expect to see the article pop up again just yet (I wonder if Belkin knew to expect it herself), but Judith Warner's follow up piece on the tenth anniversary of the article has just been published. Unsurprisingly, the women in the piece have had a hard time with getting back into the work force (there's also been this little thing called the Global Financial Crisis since then). And some of them have seen difficulty in their marriages too (what's that old statistic, 50% of marriages end in divorce?). While the follow up piece doesn't explicitly blame the women for deciding not to work ten years ago as the source for all of their current problems, it doesn't make it sounds like the decision to stay home wasn't the source either.

I remember reading the original article on my commute home from work, in the middle of the second trimester of being pregnant with Hannah. I even remember that I was standing while reading it--no one got up to offer me a seat on the crowded train despite the visible pregnancy--but I juggled to keep reading it along the way. At the time, I knew I was planning to keep working after my maternity leave, but I didn't think it would always be a definite situation.

I could have opted out. Many times, in fact.

We were lucky that our infant daycare for Hannah was only $1,000 a month. But as she grew, so did the costs with a more official preschool setting. Could have opted out then. I could have left when we decided to sell our condo and buy a house, if we chose to live in a less expensive area, maybe further outside of Boston or even another state. I could have opted out when I miscarried, and was so devastated and unsure of my body and health. Or when Max was born, and the year we spent carrying both kids through daycare, wiping out the vast majority of my income (but for the crucial necessity of our health insurance). I could have opted out after any bad day spent unsuccessfully juggling too many things. There are lots of days like that.

But the big caveat that I think is missing from the Judith Warner update is that the women who opted out made the best decisions they could at the time, with the information and opportunities they had. The women left because work, frankly, didn't work. They didn't leave to sit home eating bonbons or to perfect their mason jar craft creations. They made reasonable decisions, as most people do when assessing their lives. Maybe for some it has been more difficult than they anticipated, but it doesn't sound like they would have made very different choices.

There are so many ways to compile a life, and I admit that I'm fascinated by how people decide what works best for them. But people don't make these decisions in a vacuum--a lot of factors come into play. I can see that my own life could have taken a very different path than it has so far, and could still vary from where I currently see it heading. I just hope that when others look at my life and assess my choices, they see that I'm trying to follow what works for me, even if it's not the same thing that works for them.


  1. I love this, Cheryl! The media discussions of opting out vs. not opting out tend to be so simplistic and missing your basic points about women making the best decisions, given their options at the time and the information available to them.

  2. Cheryl,
    I've avoided so many of the opt in or opt out posts because they inevitably carry for me a whole load of judgment. Your is so perfect - so rational and reasonable. Thanks for that!

  3. Such great points, Cheryl. You're so right - those women made the best choice that made sense for them at the time. Working doesn't always make sense for women when they have children. Working full-time for me didn't make sense for loads of reasons. So I started freelancing. That was my family's choice. And it was right for us.

  4. Thanks for this Cheryl. I've just stumbled onto your blog and am really enjoying it. Hollie Rapello