Opting Out and Linking In

LinkedIn sent me a list of suggested jobs: Construction Project Coordinator, Entry Level; Entry Level Consultant; Research Associate I; and Assistant Media Buyer. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be awesome at these jobs, because I’m pretty sure I’d crush it. My problem with “entry level” and “assistant” is twofold. First, the assumption that full-time caregivers don’t develop marketable skills as anything other than full-time caregivers means that those who choose the “mommy track” stand still professionally – which effectively means they rapidly lose ground. Second, even objective markers of pre-maternal accomplishment, like, say, a JD, seem to be forgotten once the stay-at-home mommy switch is flipped.

As it turns out, I don’t much want to rejoin the paid workforce at the moment. I loved having a toddler and a baby, and – despite the short living hell that was having two toddlers – I now truly enjoy spending my days with a baby, a toddler, and a little person. Yes, as Tina Fey put it, “[there are] many moments of full-time motherhood that stink like Axe body spray on a brick of bleu cheese”; but I also learn and grow every day. I find satisfaction in helping my kids develop into empathetic, inquisitive, and independent little beings. I like teaching math, chemistry, impulse control, and delayed gratification by baking cookies on a Tuesday afternoon as much as I dislike cleaning up feces. I like helping the kids find their way to answers and understandings about the world as much as I dislike constant physical and auditory contact. I like exploring and evaluating new experiences through fresh eyes as much as I dislike feeling pulled so vigorously in so many directions that I may snap at any moment. Like everyone else with any choice in the matter, I put up with the more unfortunate aspects of my current occupation because, on the whole, it fulfills me more than any other would right now.

And there is no question in my mind that the past five years have increased my skill set tremendously. I’m not talking about job-specific skills like “wipes baby ass thoroughly and efficiently” or “makes engrossing noises with fingers and mouth.” My blue-booking (i.e., ability to check legal citation format) may be a little rusty, but other gains at least rival the legal skills I would have acquired. I recently drafted the following addition to my resume: “Stay-at-home mother, 2009-present: Developed patience, perspective, and unflappability. Enhanced ability to manage time, multi-task, network, problem-solve, resolve conflict, and handle difficult personalities and behaviors. Engaged in various volunteer efforts including, but not limited to, serving on a CPI committee at Seattle Children’s Hospital, facilitating a local play space, and organizing multiple parents’ groups.” And that description may even be a wee bit modest: there is no question in my mind that I am a far stronger, more efficient, and more reliable person than I was five years ago. Perhaps most valuably, I now know a tempest in a teapot when I see one.

I consider these years to be a sabbatical. Though I generally hate to quote Wikipedia (most amusingly elitist trash talk ever: the Harvard GameDay sign reading, “Yale Cites Wikipedia”), it helpfully summarizes that “in recent times, ‘sabbatical’ has come to mean any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something. . . [,] typically to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or traveling extensively for research.” In other words, I plan to seek paid employment again, certainly by the time my youngest begins school, and I believe I’m accomplishing something in the meantime, not just for my kids, but for me – and not only for private-me, but also for professional-me.

Hopefully, when I attempt to reenter the fray employers will recognize that. And if they don’t, perhaps there’s strength in numbers. I figure if enough of us stay-at-home parents (particularly women who have opted out of professional careers) refuse to be deterred from trying to re-engage with the workplace, our talents – old and new – will prove impossible to ignore. If, however, that time comes and all that’s available to us is “Entry Level Consultant,” our national economy and ethos will have lost out. The abandoned productivity of multi-decade, post-kids careers would be tremendous.

Much energy has been spent dissecting the decision to opt-out. It’s time we turn some of our attention toward enabling these women to link (or lean) back in.

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One thought on “Opting Out and Linking In

  1. Gail,
    Right on sister!!!! I took an 11 year sabbatical from working outside the house when my kids were born. I understood the rigors and demands of parenting that helped me get back into the work force. – i.e. problem solving, conflict management, multi-tasking etc. I don’t care what anyone says there is no job on earth more challenging than child rearing because YOU CANNOT CONTROL IT (which I hated) but it taught me patience and grace.

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