TODAY   |  August 08, 2013

Moms at work: Opt-out generation wants back in

Ten years ago, New York Times writer Lisa Belkin penned a provocative article on the “opt-out revolution” that saw many women leave their jobs to be stay-at-home moms. Now, according to a follow-up article by Judith Warner, many of those women want back in. Three moms who recently returned to the workforce talk to TODAY’s Matt Lauer about their return.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> on our cover story this morning, the opt-out revolution. ten years ago, lisa belkin wrote an article for "the new york times" about droves of women leaving their jobs to become stay-at-home moms. a follow-up piece in this week's new york times magazine suggests that the opt-out generation wants back in. meet three of those women.

>> sheila o'donnell made national news nine years ago on 60 minutes when she left her sales job to stay at home with her two young kids.

>> i'm very good that i'm stay at home .

>> she's a 44-year-old divorced mother of three now, back at worth making only a fifth of what she made before. she now regrets opting out of the workforce entirely.

>>> a former producer for nbc news who left her job in 2000 , opting to stay home after the birth of her second child. for years she volunteered at mocha moms.

>> greetings.

>> a national nonprofit support group for stay at home mothers. today, with college fees looming for her three kids, she wants back in. quay has been actively looking for work for three years.

>>> carrie irvin, 46, attended brown and harvard choosing a career in education policy . but in 1998 she tropd out to become a full-time mom to her infant daughter. three years later, another daughter was born. as the girls approached middle school , she wanted back in. today she works at the nonprofit company charter board partners that she started.

>> they're a way to connect lots of people.

>> allowing her to work and still be there for her daughters when they come home from school. and those three women, quay, she sheila and carrie are here with us along with lisa belkin who wrote the original article. the opt-out generation.

>> good morning.

>>> when you look at the video from 60 minutes from ten years ago and look at this person pushing a baby carriage and then gave up a lucrative career to stay at home , did you make the right call?

>> i did, absolutely. i think it was the right call for the time. and i probably would have done things a little differently.

>> what would you have done differently?

>> i probably would have kept my foot in the door a little bit and tried to look for something at a company that wasn't so hard charging, that would have enabled me to continue to work but not at the capacity i was working at.

>> the decision you made impacted every aspect of your life. to tell a little personal story, your marriage ended in divorce and financial reasons created a need to go back to work. so when you go to an employer and you say, i want back in, i've been a stay-at-home mom for the last ten years, what's the reaction you get?

>> well, i was very fortunate. first i was fortunate that i was able to stay at home at all. i know most americans are not allowed to do that or able to do that. i'm grateful for that time. when i went back to work, my employer monster, they were incredibly supportive and i was able to not jump right back in to what i would like but i did as good as i could have done.

>> quay, i should mention you were in this business. opted out. then wanted to opt back in. what kind of questions did you receive?

>> i actually had someone call me after talking to them and say wait a minute, you've been out of work for seven years, eight years? what have you been doing? that's the big question. what have you been doing?

>> did you have to get creative on your resume because of that?

>> i had to be exceptionally creative on their resume. that's the hard thing. translating what you're doing in the real world to what you can do back in the working world.

>> you decided to go in a slightly different -- you created your own educational nonprofit. was that out of something you always wanted to do or was it your route back in?

>> both. as i got older, i very much wanted to get back to my career which was about making sure every kid has the opportunity to have a great education. i was fortunate enough by starting my own company, i was able to build in the flexibility. i still pick up my kids and home in the afternoon.

>> what would you tell people watching who have done what you've done or thinking about doing it, what is the best way to -- i'll turn it around. talk to a potential employer.

>> sure.

>> why should they hire someone like you three who spent ten years out of the workforce when they might have another candidate who has been working all along? what's the best reason to hire someone like you?

>> the fact of the matter is, i've still been working, been ceo of my home and all the skills i have now are transferable into the workplace. i work in nonprofit management now. i was a journalist before. i know now that i'm a better journalist today than i was years and years ago.

>> sheila ?

>> i agree. i think your skills are, they transform with age and i think -- one of the big selling points, i've always been a good salesperson. that will never go away. those skills will always mature as you mature.

>> carrie .

>> i think it's important for women when we're home. it's not as simple opt out or in. i think you can find and create opportunities to do things that add meaning to your life and build the practical skills and meet people serving on a nonprofit board or a charter school is a great way to do that.

>> lisa , what surprises you most about what you saw in the beginning, ten years ago and what you're seeing from these ladies and other ladies? sniem

>> we talked about that original magazine piece and wondered at the time. this was an experimental generation. it was successful enough to make the decision to opt out from a fast track. and what surprises me is anyone that's surprised they're going back. i think they were always planning to go back. and i think they're not the only generation making it. it's not like this cohort decided and now no one else will. i think women ten years younger than them are making the same decisions in a somewhat different workplace. in a workplace that slightly --

>> this transition back is also --

>> the generation has to be smarter. the next generation has to lean in more and be more aggressive at keeping their irons in the fire.

>> when you decide to step away, know what your plan is. it can be i want to try a year, do nothing or have a plan so that when you do want it go back, you have more options.

>> give you the last word, carrie .

>> we didn't go anywhere. we're right here. for me, it's never you have your work life and home life or you're working and a mom. it's how you allocate your time and spend this one life that we get. we didn't go anywhere. we've always been right here. what have we done to build our professional skills and make that plan and decide how we want to contribute.

>> it's a great topic. thanks for updating us on the situation, ladies. nice to see