Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Opting Out, then Opting Out

It occurred to me recently that I opted out before I had the chance to opt out.

Let me explain.

Many of us have read, or at least heard about, Lisa Belkin's controversial 2003 piece in the New York Times Magazine, "The Opt-Out Revolution."  In it, Belkin profiles a number of women who, after graduating from top colleges, law schools, and business schools and starting prestigious and lucrative careers, gave up on their professional ambitions, at least in part, once they became moms.  Belkin's methodology and conclusions were criticized at the time (see here for starters); a recent article in the Washington Post reported that census numbers simply don't back up Belkin's suggestion that this "revolution" is a wide-spread phenomenon among well-educated women and that many stay-at-home moms do so out of economic necessity or a lack of opportunity.

I am interested in Belkin's conclusions, the debate surrounding them, and the recent statistical rebuttal and maybe I'll revisit them in a future post, but rereading Belkin's article recently made me think more personally - of the choices I've made.

Like the women in Belkin's article, I graduated from an Ivy League school (Yale, in my case, not Princeton, like her subjects), but I never pursued the high-flying fields that they did.  After debating between a career in law and a career in education, I took the decidedly less competitive (and less financially rewarding) path, doing a two year stint with Teach for America before teaching for several years at two different New England prep schools.  As much as I enjoyed teaching - and I usually did - I often felt conflicted about the choice to, well, opt out of the lofty career possibilities that were available to me after college.  And now that I'm staying at home with my sons, I feel conflicted about that too.

I opted out early in the game and then opted out of my option.  Why did I do that?  What do my choices say about me?  I wonder.  To be continued, I suppose.

What do your career and family choices say about you?  


  1. Kristen,

    You've got great content on your very new blog. I've enjoyed my visit.

    I've had two careers, first as an interior designer then as a high school teacher. I guess three careers if you count motherhood as a career.

    I am full-time stay-at-home mom for now. Sometimes I want a career but those moments are fleeting. My kids really, really need me and so does my husband. I know some families can manage more than us but we're learning what works best for our family. Me being available to them works for us.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to post a comment, Christina.

    I especially appreciate your idea that it's all about what works for each individual family. I sometimes get too wrapped up in what I think I *should* think, rather than what I actually do think.


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