I had lunch today with two of my former grad students.  For both of these women I have served as their dissertation co-adviser and mentor for several years.  Over that time we’ve become friends.  Now, we are in the process of removing me from their committees and learning to be just friends… Partially that’s because it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I’m done with academia but also because… I am a terrible mentor right now.

One of my students friends has a three month old baby and she is preparing to start collecting data for a dissertation.  And, she’s under a strict deadline in order to qualify for a fellowship.  Every time she would worry that she hasn’t been writing or describe some preposterously elaborate childcare/writing/researching/travel plans that she’s worked out in order to get some writing done in order to meet that deadline, my heart would break a little.  I remember in agonizing detail having a 3 month old and trying to finish a paper that I knew I needed to get out under review that month.  Just typing this sentence makes my blood pressure rise and a panicky feeling start to descend.

My other student friend is dying to have children, anxious about her future, and described how in order to collect data she and her husband have spent only 1 entire week together since November.

And, today, I had nothing helpful to tell either of them.  Because what I really wanted to say is that the deck is stacked against you, if you chose to have a family you are not likely to have the career you imagine.  And, time is fleeting.  Babies grow so quickly.  It gets harder and harder to have a kid the older you get.  Stop worrying about those writing deadlines and enjoy what you have now.  Don’t put off the family you desire because it may be too late when you get there.

BUT, THAT IS NOT WHAT  A MENTOR SHOULD SAY.  That isn’t going to make the long, lonely road of dissertations and writing any easier.  And, at any rate, they know my story. They know every detail of how and why I was denied tenure.  They know that I’m disillusioned with academia these days.  They know that I have come to see it as a credentializing endeavor focused far too much on profit and prestige and very little on learning and creativity.

So, for now, we go out for Indian food.  I smile and joke around.  Maybe in my relaxed posture, my relationship with my terrific kids and my truly authentic smile I indirectly pass along the only advice I have these days:  If you are not finding this path to be fulfilling and joyful, then you should consider another.  If you are loving what you are doing, then keep doing it.

In the midst of my final disillusionment with academia which includes feeling skeptical about schools, formal education and the real point of learning, my husband and I are obligated to make a decision about where to send our four year old next year for school…  by the end of this week.  We are at a complete deadlock.

Option 1 is to keep her where she is—a play based daycare with not enough outdoor time and no real curriculum but dedicated and loving staff and great kids to play with—and move her to part time.  If she went part time she and I would get to go to museums, do art projects, read books, and play.  We’d get to spend more time together but I know I’m not going to teach her to read or do math or to sit quietly.  It would not be pre-K.

Option 2 would be to send her to the exceptional pre-K at the same school that Big Girl attends.  The teachers there are amazing.  The resources are mindblowing.  The outdoor space is a dream.  The follow a Reggio-Emilia philosophy that would allow Little Girl to spend days and weeks diving deeply into topics I’d never think to cover, alongside lots of curious kids who would be at school with her for the next 6 years.  She wants to go, desperately.

Cost is not irrelevant: Option 1 is the cheaper choice and Option 2 is just about doable.  Option 1 is flexible with schedules and timing.  Option 2 is a school; five days a week, starting right at 8:15 for morning meeting.  The timing and flexibility issues are hugely important to me.

Do we pick the school that allows Little Girl and I more time to have fun, the flexibility for her to go back up to full time if the part time option doesn’t work, and is less expensive but no real academic content or the school that costs more, does more but is a year-long commitment?

We have four days left to decide…

There are lots of other pros and cons we can throw into these lists (including: one place for drop-off, Big Girls opinion, existing friendships) but the above captures the central dilemma.  Part of what makes this such a dilemma is the fact that we are trying to predict the future during a time of profound changes in our family life— it’s virtually impossible to make a prediction with so many unknowns (anyone have a crystal ball to lend?).

But, also central to our dilemma is a question about what we think kids need most: structure and stimulation or freedom and openness.  As with any other legitimate dilemma, I can find data to support both perspectives.

Scholars have shown through several studies that kids who attend a structured pre-K program do much better in all academic pursuits both short-term and long-term (for example, see http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Pre-kindergarten/Pre-Kindergarten/Pre-kindergarten-What-the-research-shows.html.)  But, scholars have also shown that pre-K is particularly important for kids with low-to-average IQs, those who grow up in poverty and those whose parents are not able to provide enrichment for them.

I am abundantly able to provide enrichment myself.  I do it automatically and naturally.  (What was you’re your favorite animal we saw at the zoo today?  Cool!  Why don’t we go draw a picture/sew a stuffed animal/make a sculpture of that animal?  I bet we can find books on it at the library too!)  That said, although I am an educator, I’m not a pre-K one.  A fabulous pre-K teacher will surely be able to give her all that and more.  And, I’d still give her that on the side, just like I always have.

The second big reason I read about why kids need pre-K is for the socializing aspect.  Well, part-time care at her current daycare will handle that easily.

For that matter, all the research I can find (including this compelling article in Slate (http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2013/01/how_important_is_preschool_if_you_are_researching_early_education_philosophies.2.html) shows pretty clearly that for most kids, and kids with highly educated parents especially, which school we pick makes very little difference in my daughter’s future.

For us, this is not a decision about the long-term future but the short-term.  What is best for her, for me, and for our family next year?  It’s hard though to know how much to weigh my preferences or to know how durable my preferences will prove to be.  I keep finding myself thinking that my little four year old would really benefit from more time at home, more time for big projects that she can immerse herself in, and especially more one-on-one time with me.  But, I also think that I can benefit from more time to play with her.  It’s hard to make a decision on so selfish a reason.

But, so far, it’s that assessment of my own wants that pushes the lever just a bit on the side of less school next year (keeping her at her current school and reducing to part-time).  This lever is finicky, we’re at 55-45 right now, but we seem to keep swinging back and forth… and we only have four more days to decide!

scarf and purse
Scarf that Big Girl is fingerknitting and purse.

Winter can make any house seem small… and messy too.  The cold weather has been keeping us indoors and hanging around in the living room.  This can be cozy but it can also be a recipe for frustration and claustrophobia.

About two weeks ago I decided I couldn’t stand another elaborate art project taking over the first floor or another fight with the kids about whether or not we can save the lego building they made.   So, I decided it was time for us to rethink how we are using our space… and find a way to create some more!  Luckily, we have a pretty easy solution: a mostly unused third story.

Our third story is not as comfortable or nice as the rest of the house.  We have done very little to refinish it, it’s not insulated and we rarely turn on the heat up there, the space is oddly broken up with eaves and closets, and the original lathe and plaster ceiling is starting to crumble under its own weight.   Although we ostensibly have offices up there, we have not really made much use of them and instead have generally just been using it for storage or as the occasional guest room. On the plus side, we have two more rooms up there AND a full bathroom.

I’ve wanted to reclaim and refinish this space for a while.  I’ve had grand visions of breaking out the internal walls and creating an amazing master suite up there.  We’ve also discussed letting Big Girl move up there and having the girls no longer share a room.   Both of these plans are long term and involve major renovation: installing insulation, removing and replacing walls, replacing windows, refinishing the bathroom, adding a bump out and re-roofing the house, etc…  You know just your average $10,000-$100,000 project.  Not happening any time soon.

Instead, I decided to create a plan for refinishing and reusing this space now! I began by having the girls help me turn the larger office/guest room into a sewing room…  with a budget of $0.

First we cleaned out the space, throwing away or recycling tons of old journals and books, gathering old pictures into one space and generally getting rid of the old to make room for the new.  I must admit that this felt bittersweet; in recycling 10 years of journals and donating Boice’s Advice for New Faculty Members, I felt the pain of failure more acutely than I had in the past bunch of months.  I even put my Ph.d. diploma and bound copy of my dissertation in the closet… not out of spite but because in making space for new things it is necessary to cast out some of the old things.  This is true for a room as much as for my soul.

The result was a room with a pull out couch, a large desk/work space, a large coffee table, an empty book shelf, lots of wall space and a corner filled with a 5’ x 5’ stack of books to be relocated across the hall to our future library! (more on that soon)

Next, the kids and I pulled out all the fabric from the closet.  This too was bittersweet.  Lots of the fabric scraps were gifts from friends and family from a baby quilt I had made for Big Girl before she was born.  Other pieces of fabric were baby clothes I wanted to reuse in some way and a few maternity clothes that remind me of the good parts of being pregnant (the sheer wonder and magic of growing a baby!).  Having Little Girl and Big Girl help with this took away the sting, we weren’t casting aside their babyhood, we were building on it!

So we did: Little Girl sorted the pieces into general size of little scraps, small pieces and big lengths.  Big Girl sorted them into color and texture and put them on the shelf.  I did some ironing and lots of folding.

folded fabricspools of ribbon

Then we went on a ribbon scavenger hunt to dig up all the bits of ribbon and notions that we had around the house.  We had a “ribbon drawer” in the dining room so you know this was a substantial project.  We strung the ribbons on dowel rods that I had laying around and hung them on the wall.

We finished all this about 10 days ago.  And, we have been hanging out in our sewing room a ton (which means much less mess in the living room too!).

Little Girl’s first sewing project back in December made her fall in love.  Since then, she has sewn herself a stuffed animal (Pancake the Turtle), a stuffed heart for a friend, and she is working on another project for my sister’s birthday present.  She is working with embroidery floss and felt so far and it is a really good match for her 4 year old fine motor skills.  I am amazed at her determination.

heart pillow

Big Girl has sewn a few small projects, mostly from the kit she began back in December and she’s been finger knitting too.  She’s making a very cool scarf as a birthday present for my sister and promised to make one for me next!

And, I have been learning to quilt.  I have pieced together a bunch of squares from scraps and am planning a blanket.  I also just created a small purse (the final part of said sister’s birthday present) that I practiced hand quilting on.  Boy is that hard!

quilt squares

It has been wonderful to reclaim this part of our house.  Doing so has increased our living space and created an place where we can lay out big projects that we want to come back to later.

But, it’s not only physical space we’ve gained.  We’ve also gained emotional space by saying that sewing and crafting is something important that deserves a space of its own.  Lots of people have playrooms—a space for kids to go and play with their toys.  Playrooms say that the toys are legitimate and playing with them is an important part of childhood.  Having a shared craft space does the same thing!

I feel like we’ve also created some mental space.  By cleaning out the old work related stuff, I made more mental room for whatever comes next.   Also, I think we made some mental space for thinking about crafting and making differently.  By creating a space where we can make things for ourselves and others we are saying that gifts need not only be bought in a store.  They can also be made by hands, big and small.

No surprise but I’ve been thinking a lot about my priorities lately.   As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, one that I keep coming back to is a longing to be more creative in my daily life, to feel freer to explore ideas and to have fun.

I think creativity and fun are not just enjoyable but essential.  And often revolutionary as well, engaging in play upends our expectations, challenges the status quo and helps us to see the world in new ways.

I am writing about this in other venues and will share some of it here, but in the meantime, can I recommend some fabulous TED talks?  This playlist has so many hilarious and inspiring ideas.   I especially like the first two videos.  I totally want to figure out how to make a fruit instrument and I’m tempted to not wear any pants to my next faculty meeting too…

https://www.ted.com/playlists/88/that_s_absurd

 

Although my university expects to drag out our working relationship for another 18 months, it is clear to me that I am ready, eager in fact, to wrap things up and move on.  When classes resumed last week I was still on the fence about whether or not I wanted to teach next year.  Finding myself absent-mindedly cleaning out my desk was a pretty good sign that I am ready to depart.  Another round of aggressive action from my chair pushed me off the fence.  I am ready to get out.

There are lots of little decisions associated with this: What will the kids’ school and childcare schedules look like next year?  How can we save enough to mitigate my loss of income?  How much should I be looking at jobs right now?  What things do I truly want to focus on next year during my year off?  What email should I use for work correspondence from now on?  Is it ethical to renew with the American Sociological Association as unemployed because the dues are so very expensive and I will be unemployed soon but I’m not quite now?  These are just the ones on the top of my mind.  More will occur soon; I know.

There is another decision that feels really important to me right now though.  How should I communicate my decision to my department and the University?  At the two extremes: I can either make a fuss by pointing out all the structural and cultural forces that I think inhibited me from getting tenure or I can quietly and meekly exit.  There are real merits to both approaches.

The “make a fuss” approach is not really about my tenure case.  I am not appealing the decision.  But, there are a number of structural issues starting with things the university could have done when I was hired and continuing clearly throughout my time there.  By bringing these things up by writing a formal resignation letter to my chair, deans and provost, I potentially improve the university environment for future women in similar circumstances (ie: mothers of young children).

Because, this really is a generalizable problem.  For women, having young children is associated with much lower rates of getting tenure track jobs and getting tenure.  And, there are lots of things that happened to me in the past bunch of years that ended up sinking my tenure case.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I decided to read Do Babies Matter: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower by Mary Ann Mason, Marc Goulden and Nicholas Wolfinger (Rutgers University Press 2013), it’s been both validating and heartbreaking.  The authors show how at every major turn, for women, family and career are incompatible in academia.  They found that approximately 50% of assistant professors do not get tenure (page 48) and that women are less likely to get tenure than men.  This issue is particularly a problem in the sciences (including social sciences, they note).  Specifically, they write:

 “Having young children dramatically reduces the likelihood of tenure for female faculty members in the sciences [including social sciences].  A female scientist with a preschool-age child (in other words, a child under six years old) is 27 percent less likely to get tenure compared with a man who has a small child.  If that same women does not have a young child, she is only 11 percent less likely to get tenure than is a male scientist.”  (Mason, Goulden, Wolfinger 2013:49).

Well, there you go.  I have two children.  And, everyone knows (ie: google “two kids harder than one” and watch the hits tally up!) that it is exponentially harder to have two kids than one.  That must mean that I was exponentially less likely to get tenure…  like 729% maybe 😉

Seriously though, the stories and reasons the authors list all resonated with me: the difficulty of moving to a new city with a newborn baby, the difficulty finding day care for that baby, the difficulty of travelling to conferences with kids, the lack of childcare at those conferences, discrimination, being perceived as being on the “mommy track”, resentment by colleagues for getting breaks, punishment to make up for the “breaks” I previously received.  (Have I mentioned that I’m doing my fourth new prep in four semesters right now?)

Without engaging in recriminations, this is the point that my “make a fuss” exit would address.  I would write a resignation letter that educated them about the “baby gap”.  I would tell them that:

  • “Women who have at least one child in the household early in their career are 24% less likely in the sciences and 20% less likely in the social sciences and humanities to achieve tenure than men who have early babies;”  (Mason et al.  http://ucfamilyedge.berkeley.edu/babiesmatter.pdf )
  • “Overall, the majority of women who achieve tenure have no children in the household at any point in time after the Ph.D.” (ibid)
  • “Women who have early babies are more likely than others to become a ‘neck problem’, i.e. part of the non-tenured academic second tier (lecturers, etc.).” (ibid).

And, I would list some of the practices that experts recommend to improve this problem, focusing heavily on what would have helped me.  For example:

  • Faculty support groups for family issues;
  • Guaranteed child-care spots for new faculty at the university day care center;
  • Information about day cares and schools distributed automatically to help us track down care right from the start;
  • Part-time track with re-entry rights;
  • Communicating with me to find out when would be good times for teaching and meeting hours so I could better accommodate childcare needs;
  • Funding to support bringing my child with me for conferences or work travel;
  • A place to store breastmilk!

Then I would say goodbye and farewell.  It would feel so good to actually speak up for myself and address these issues! Something that I have done very little of in the past few years.

The downside of this guns blazing approach?  All that blazing will certainly burn some bridges and would undermine my chances of getting a future job in academia.  My chair will definitely NOT write me a letter if I take that approach.

Sadly, it would be so much easier, safer and more peaceful to embrace a very different exit strategy.  One where I simply say that “I have decided against teaching there next year.  Thank you for everything.  Good bye.”

Easier and safer but not quite right.

 

It seems like the school day is both too long and too short.  I don’t mean this in the classic paradox of time way (You know, “the days are long but the week is short” or “time flies when you’re having fun.”   Rather, I mean that the days are too long for kids (mine for sure!) to have enough down-time and unstructured time in addition to having enough time for meals, homework, bath and chores.  And, they are way too short for a working parent to ever manage to finish up their work in time for pick-up!

We have really been feeling this tension in my house this week.  We had a wonderful Winter Break.  We read, slept late, did art projects, cooked, hiked and played (more on some fun ideas in another post).  My Fitbit even reported that I slept for 11 hours and 45 minutes one night.  It’s not true of course, but what I did do: lay in bed taking turns with Big Girl and my husband reading a great book for two hours before bedtime and then sleeping in, is basically paradise.

Now, I knew this blissful state of harmony and relaxation was temporary.  It was vacation, after all. So, I did my best to prepare:  Mid-way through the break I persuaded Big Girl to get her book report done (1 paragraph) before she started reading another book.  The girls and I baked three batches of orange blueberry scones and froze them to have for school morning breakfasts.  I did the food shopping.  Husband and I did a whopping 7 loads of laundry and even put it all away!  Three days before school started back up I started setting the alarm so we could ease into the early wake-up.  We laid out outfits, packed backpacks and pre-planned lunches too.

All of this was just to buy us a little more time for relaxation and fun during the coming non-vacation weeks.  But even being hyper organized and getting enough sleep wasn’t enough.  By Tuesday afternoon we were all already tired.  Big Girl took over an hour to write her spelling sentences.  Little Girl spent the afternoon in a fog of post-nap crankiness reminiscent of a startled Black Bear.  We barely made it to bed on time and then we were tired again when we woke up, almost late for school and completely stressed out.

In the midst of all that, I realized that for my kids, at least, the school day is too long.  It doesn’t allow us enough time for all the things that are supposed to really matter for happy and healthy kids: family time, reading time, unstructured play time, outdoor time, getting enough sleep and family dinners!  Big Girl is in school for 7 hours.  Little Girl is in Preschool for 7 ½ hours.  Both girls go to schools that prioritize art, music, and play.  Big Girl’s school is awesome about getting the kids outside for playtime during recess and gym sometimes as well.

But, add in commute time (45-60 minutes of walking for Big Girl, 25 minutes for Little Girl), getting ready for school (1 hour), homework for Big Girl (about 1 hour all together because she drags her feet), and dinner (1/2 hour to eat, ½ hour to set the table and clean up) and those kids are busy for 11 hours a day.   Big Girl needs about 10 ½ hours of sleep and Little Girl needs more like 11-12 hours.  That adds up to 21 ½ for Big Girl and 22 hours for Little Girl of busy-ness. No wonder they are so cranky!

Of course we could use some time differently.  Drive instead of walk.  Not make the kids help with cooking and cleaning.  Banish Big Girl to her room to do her homework quickly and on her own.  And, we also take pleasure in many of these scripted parts of the day: walks and dinner for sure, homework sometimes as it includes reading aloud, and bath time is great fun!  But, these are all obligations and they come at the expense of free time and relaxation.

In thinking about this issue I did some research: It seems that my kids are in school a little more than average but not a ton more.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average school day for elementary students is about 6.7 hours a day… a slow increase from 6.3 hours in 1988.

At the same time, 7 hours (minus 35 minutes for my side of the commute) is nowhere near enough for me to ever finish my work.  I spent my work days this week writing syllabi and prepping classes, aware the whole time that I wasn’t giving any time to research and writing.  I postponed email responses, classroom correspondence and other miscellany until the evening.  The semester has just begun.  I know I’ll soon be grading students’ work late into the night after getting my kids to sleep and replying to emails at 6 am.  And, I’m in a profession (for this semester anyway) that allows me extensive control over my time management and prioritization.

The average number of hours a full-time employee reported working in 2014 was 47 hours a week (http://www.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx).  If someone is home for the kids in the afternoon, then that means that other working parents are doing the same thing I am—squeezing in more work early in the morning and late at night before and after work.

No wonder parents are so cranky too!

These are two non-complimentary schedules:  Extending the school day helps parents but is generally detrimental to kids (especially young kids) as it often means more structured indoor activities.  Decreasing work time undercuts parents’ advancement in their careers and can lead to financial insecurity.

What is a parent to do?  Count the days until Summer Vacation, I suppose…

I was chatting with a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) friend the other day.  We were doing that idle mom sharing where we bond over our kids’ tendency to eat rice and spaghetti with their hands, have breakdowns on sidewalks and the aisles of Trader Joe’s after school, and the other daily glories of having young children.  Although those rants are good-natured, they are also an effort to connect with another person about the very intense fears, anxieties, joys and victories of parenting.  My friend ended her rant with a grimace as she observed, “I probably hadn’t spoken to another adult all day!”

The eating spaghetti with hands and Nutella mustaches resonate with me.  The need to connect around parenting resonated too.  I heard in my friend’s words that being a SAHM has left her feeling a little lonely and spending an inordinate amount of time doing tedious routine tasks.  For me, parenting is much less lonely then work has been.  I have fellow parent friends.  I have kids that I talk to about everything and with whom I love to play.  (I’m quick to turn a walk home from school into an expedition to a foreign magical land.)  And, my husband and I are co-parents, staying up late into the night reveling in the cuteness of our girls or working through parenting decisions.

At work, on the other hand, I am pretty isolated.  My writing days are full of talking to myself (out loud and on paper) and my teaching days are full of lecturing and instructing (which is much like talking to myself.)  In fact, one of the really big things I’ve realized about my job is that I have hated being there because I have felt socially isolated.  I’m the only one with young children.  The only one who doesn’t go out drinking at 8 pm after waking up at 8 am and starting work at 10.  (I’m in my PJs at 8 pm!)

I’ve also felt isolated intellectually.  For all the promises of creating an intellectual community, the ONLY time I’ve felt that in my job is in my graduate seminars.  My colleagues, for the most part, have always been too busy doing their own work or pressed by deadlines to hang out and talk about ideas.  Further, I have slowly learned that academic success (ie: PUBLISHING) depends upon following existing formulas and conventions; not introducing new ideas!

Thinking about both my experience and those of my friends, some of whom are so pressed for time that they stay up half the night finishing their work, others who work part time (often from home) and still others who have opted out and are giving the SAHM thing a try, two major themes emerge:  not having enough time for the kids or not having enough time for oneself.  My friends comment that they don’t have time to exercise, to cook, to sleep, to play a favorite sport or continue with a favorite hobby, with or without their kids.  This table taken from a PEW report on work-family balance backs this claim up.  About half of all moms say they don’t have enough time for friends or hobbies; this is especially true for working moms.

ST_2015-12-17_parenting-31http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/17/2-satisfaction-time-and-support/

So, working moms are pressed for time.  But, they clearly are not the only ones feeling stressed or worried.  Although this table is from a 2012 Gallup poll, it tells a stark story: SAHMs are actually more likely to be worried, lonely and stressed.   (But, notice too that moms are more likely to non-moms to feel these negative emotions.  Moms are torn!)

SAHM

http://www.gallup.com/poll/154685/stay-home-moms-report-depression-sadness-anger.aspx

The thing is, when I take this all together, I see a damned-if-you-do / damned-if-you-don’t scenario.    This is obviously not an individual problem but a more generalizable issue:  lots of parents are seriously stressed and don’t feel emotionally fulfilled.

Thinking about both my anecdotal evidence (friends) and the sociological research I’ve read, it seems to me that people who are happier (in work and/or at home) are those who are part of a collaborative community group that is focused on progressive improvement, those who are intellectually stimulated, those who have control over their own time, and, most significantly, those who are doing creative work.

I think the creativity part is the part most often overlooked.  Lots of researchers observe that people who have hobbies are happier.  Increasingly though, it seems that it’s not just the busy-ness of the hobbies but the creativity.  (Check out an awesome podcast on this topic from Note to Self http://www.wnyc.org/story/what-your-creativity-has-do-lego-kits/ for more, also see  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/creativity-happiness_n_4235417.html, http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/creativity/creativity.)

Ironically, we are not a culture that especially values creativity.  Art is cut from school budgets.  Wood shop is a thing of the past.  Schools focus on benchmark exams over writing.  Marketing persuades us that the purchased is better than the homemade (in food, clothes, decorations, and especially toys!).  And, for the majority of workers, decisions are made at the top and passed down the line, convention is rewarded over innovation, productivity matrices predetermine the “right” way to make a sandwich, build a machine, and even write a paper.

There are exceptions, of course, and my personal goal is to find them.  For some, this is why being a SAHM is glorious; it’s a chance to be creative and free!  For others, this is why work is wonderful; a place to think and build and create.

By now the idea of an “Opt-Out Revolution” has become not only old news but even partially redacted.  Yet, it has really come to resonate for me.  Lisa Belkin first published her article about the “Opt-Out Revolution” in 2003.  She described how high paid and powerful career women were finding that instead of being sustained and fulfilled by their career they actually wanted more time with their families and thus were opting out of the workplace (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/magazine/the-opt-out-revolution.html).

Although I am a big admirer of Belkin’s writing and the Motherlode blog she founded at the NYTimes, the idea of the “Opt-Out Revolution” always infuriated me.  Only the rich, only the privileged, only the lucky could ever have the choice to “opt-out,” I argued.  Those who took the choice, I would say, must be those who chose bad careers.  It wasn’t a problem of work-family balance but just a work problem, I figured.   A different job would surely alleviate the tension for most women.  Maybe a job like being a professor (my grad student self hopefully suggested)?

My lack of sympathy for the women described in Belkin’s article was partially due to my own class biases.  But it was due more to the fact that for my whole life I have believed that the way to be a successful person and also how to be a feminist was to have a job and to be independent.  (Never mind that my husband and I are college sweethearts and have been together since we were 20!)   I have been a feminist since I could walk, talk and think.   I wore political buttons on my 3T corduroy overalls. Literally.  My favorite said, “Don’t Call Me Girl, I Am A Woman” and my mom saved it for me.  (Never mind also that someone was probably being sarcastic when they gave it to me.  I took it to heart.)

And yet, and now, I have had a major change of heart.  It didn’t happen overnight but rather it happened through hundreds of books and articles and conversations that all made me start to wonder: how can equality come about by making the workplace stronger?  (The workplace is often a sight of exploitation!) How can equality be equated with independence if it also often leads to isolation and anomie?  In focusing on fulfilling ourselves, what does that mean for our connections with others?  What does that mean for interdependence, for love, and for family?

My scorn for those women who choose not to work has eroded and over the years been replaced with sympathy and even jealousy.  After having Big Girl in 2008 and Little Girl in 2012, I started fantasizing about a life where I could just focus on being with my girls.  Where we could do art projects and read books and just be happy and be free to be ourselves.   I could even homeschool and I could raise brilliant little radicals.  That fantasy is tantalizing, intoxicating, in fact.  And, I have an easy out right now.  I am, in fact, “out” already.  I don’t need to “opt-out.”  One possible path for my future is crystal clear:  become a stay-at-home-mom.

It’s a common path.  According to a recent PEW report, almost a third of women with young children did not work outside of the home.  To learn lots about the demographics and historical changes see: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/04/08/after-decades-of-decline-a-rise-in-stay-at-home-mothers/ .

Yet, this path doesn’t seem quite right, I’m not quite comfortable with the idea of being a stay-at-home mom (although with time I may be).  Maybe that’s a bit because I’m somewhat type-A and the idea of not being “successful” grates at my nerves…  and makes me feel a little ashamed.  Maybe it’s also that I would be worried about money.

But, that’s not the whole story.  I’m also uncomfortable with me becoming a stay-at-home-mom because if I take over the home sphere then the flip-side is that my husband will have to work more and harder.  And, at least sometimes, he will have to opt-out of family.  And, I don’t want to force that on him.  I want him to be around too.   (Although he’s terrible with art projects.)

Maybe I will decide to become a stay-at-home-mom.  At least for a little while,  but I think I will also want to work again some day too.   Like everyone else, I want the choice!  But, I also want to find better, fairer and happier choices.  It is clear to me that gender equality is not achieved by sublimating the home sphere and elevating work.  But it also can’t be actualized through a stark division of labor if that division is gendered because that, in fact, is a direct path to inequality.

The only conclusion I have so far is that cooking and crafting are only fun because they are choices, not limitations.