When Opt-Out Isn’t An Option

Recently, the New York Times Magazine published a piece that “looked back” on a 2003 article about women opting-out of the workforce to stay home and take care of their children (The Opt-Out Revolution). Revisiting those moms in her piece titled “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In,” reporter Judith Warner discovered that many of the women, for reasons varying from the economic recession to lack of mental stimulation once children go off to school. Warner learned many of the women, after a 10+ year absence, want back into the workforce. She also found that the workforce was more willing to work with them (with the rise of freelancers, job sharers, and part-time employment on the rise as more companies downsize their full-time staff). Despite this more appealing schedule, many of the women profiled felt they were struggling to find their place in the professional world as they were no longer interested in the jobs they had or were too out of the loop in the way their old industry now operates. The article acted strictly as a profile and didn’t offer solutions of any sort.

However, over at The Guardian, columnist Jill Filipovic offered an interesting point to add to this conversation: Where are the men in this discussion? The answer to that question, as she goes on to explore, is that the opt-out model as it currently stands is not only bad for women, it’s bad for men, too. They spend their days working in a job they might not enjoy, but one that allows them to financially provide for their family. They end up overworking and missing half of the time they could be spending at how during the developmental years of both their children and their family as unit. Filipovic goes on to state that this also leads to an imbalance of power in the couple’s relationship, to tension, to fighting, and, in extreme cases, to divorce, which, she concludes, could leave a stay-at-home mom in a forced and high-pressure situation to suddenly get a job that would now need to support herself and her family as a single mother.

The two reporters’ observations were interesting to note and got us thinking about an even bigger issue: in most homes around the world, is opting out even an option? In times of economic depression, global poverty, and half of the parents in the world being of the single parent variety, this segment of the population being profiled is so small, perhaps its time to think on a scale that will make more of an impact: what are things workplaces and governments can do to make raising the next generation of citizens easier? Is it more paid maternity/paternity leave? More sick days or vacation time? Flexible work or job-sharing? Telecommuting/working from home? More pre and post-school programs for kids? It seems like all of these smaller questions can add up to large changes around the globe. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, what are some things you would like to see change in your workplace or community? Instead opting-in or out, opt for empowerment and start speaking up about what you’d like to see. Opt for change and don’t rest until you get it.

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