Mothers Who Chose to "Opt-Out" Want Back In The Workforce

Friday, August 09, 2013

About a decade ago, a movement of highly educated, well-paid professional women left their positions of power and esteem for the choice to stay home and raise their children. At the time, journalist Lisa Belkin coined it the “opt-out revolution.”

But a lot has happened since then—the recession hit, once stabile careers became suddenly quite smaller and less secure, and ideas about motherhood shifted.

In a recent article for our partner The New York Times, Lisa Belkin and author Judith Warner decided to return to the women who had previously been chronicled for their triumphant escape from the rat race in order to see where they were now and whether their decision was the right one. They join The Takeaway to provide an update on the "opt-out revolution."

Belkin is currently the senior columnist on life, work and family for the Huffington Post, and Warner is a New York Times contributing writer who authored “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In.”


Lisa Belkin and Judith Warner

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman


T.J. Raphael

Comments [3]

I don't care for the phrase "opt-out". For many of us, it didn't feel like an option; either economically, it didn't work, or the strains of caring for kids and aging parents was more than we could bear while trying to hold down a job. Women are economically disadvantaged from the start; add kids and/or parents to the mix, and it can be unbearable.

I was out of the paid workforce for ten years, and I never worked harder; I was at the beck and call of family and neighbors 24/7 and was often regarded as someone who sat home doing nothing. I did a tremendous amount of volunteer, political and community work. Eventually, I bore endless resentment from my husband, who saw himself as the sole provider. Over time, he stopped doing anything around the house, and I felt guilty for not bringing in a paycheck. I made home repairs, shoveled snow, took care of the lawn and eventually did EVERYTHING but bring home the bacon. I raised tens of thousands of dollars for schools and charities, learned to work with the most and least skilled people in a variety of settings, and figured out how to work with bureaucrats, insurance companies, administrators and tradesmen, effectively and cordially.
I've gained skills and strengths I never would have in the traditional workforce, and feel I have more to offer than ever, but the working world doesn't value middle-aged women. Not even feminists!
I've been told by women my own age to have my eyes done, to dress differently, wear more makeup and bigger jewelry, AND that there's no reason to hire someone like me when colleges are churning out young people who will do the work for next to no money (and that these young people are the "children of" important people).
Leaving the paid workforce was the worst decision I ever made and I don't think I will ever recover. I tell my daughters not to make the same decision, no matter what.

Aug. 13 2013 09:31 PM
Maggie Danielski from Boston, MA

I'm a lawyer and a mother who tried to "have it all" by working part time. I've been pushed out of my job recently because my salary couldn't cover the cost of childcare for my two young children. My husband has an intense job so I am the primary caregiver. I've discovered that I have to be "all in" or "all out" - there is no in between for me. I would love to work, but it doesn't work for our family's budget at this point. I hope that by the time I'm ready to return to work, I will be able to find meaningful work and won't be set back by my time out. We'll see.

Aug. 09 2013 11:35 AM
Sally Edelstein from NYC

A few generations before the opt out generation that now wants back in were the Real Housewives of the Cold War.

The mid-century housewife knew in her heart - because all the magazines confirmed it to be so- that love, marriage and children was The career for women. My own mother Betty would follow in the footsteps of another Betty, Betty Crocker, seemingly satisfied in her role as housewife and mother. But in the fall of 1960 another magazine article appeared in Good Housekeeping questioning the role of women. It wouldn't be until 1963 when the article's author Betty Friedan's book the Feminine Mystique appeared.The problem that had no name was so unfathomable to many homemakers at the time no one even thought they had a problem. It was buried as deeply as our missiles underground and would cause the same explosion when they were released. For a look at the real housewives of the Cold War visit

Aug. 09 2013 11:29 AM

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