Aug. 9, 2013 at 6:16 PM ET
Let’s face it: the choice to “opt out” is an option for very few of us, especially in this economic climate. But should you find yourself, despite financial circumstances that make it an impossibility, dreaming about a simple life of domestic bliss with your children at home, The New York Times has a message for you: It’s not all a bed of roses.
Revisiting the women of the seminal “Opt-Out Revolution” piece by Lisa Belkin ten years ago and speaking with additional women who jumped off the career track, writer Judith Warner finds many of them navigating a messy re-entry to working life. One woman easily landed a dream job, but now finds herself with little time left for her husband. Another cannot find a job, and has to deal with a husband resentful of her 12-year “journey of self-discovery” taking care of kids. Another, recently divorced, is shakily reinventing her life with a lot less luxury as she goes back to work. While no one argues staying at home is a gift to your spouse, your children and to yourself, it’s also a huge emotional and financial risk.
The truth is that it’s complicated whichever path you choose. (And remember that many women have no choice but to work a paycheck job, or to stay home because childcare is too costly). If you’re a mom who steps away from a career that was part of your identity, it can feel strange to see your partner’s path diverge from yours and slip into the traditional marriage you never thought you’d have. If you work, you’re familiar with the hanging-by-a-thread exhaustion of keeping all the balls in the air. But, as this article painfully illustrates, the struggle may be worth it if it’s setting you up for a fulfilling work life (and greater financial security) once the kids are older. If you don’t stoke the fire, it may be out by the time you go back to it.
And here’s another reason to keep on keeping on, working mom: if you leave, you can’t affect change. No person—man or woman—should have to make the choice between having a career and experiencing parenthood, but unfortunately in many fields both cannot easily coexist. But that will never improve without working parents, both moms and dads, in the trenches, making flextime and part-time work, drawing the line at weekend e-mails, or putting a sick kid before a work obligation.
Ultimately, the ideal is to have real choices, but we can only make the best choices if we understand the ramifications of opting out. And this piece is a stark reminder that for many, it’s easy to idealize the road not taken.
Mom of two Sasha Emmons is a writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.