Life is full of decisions. There are the every day questions we ask ourselves like should I eat egg salad or peanut butter and jelly? Should I go to the store today or wait until tomorrow? And then there are those bigger decisions that weigh on your head and your heart. Those questions differ for everyone but mine included: Where should I go to college? Should I marry this man? Should I buy this house?
Among the ranks of the most difficult decisions I made certainly included: Should I leave the work force to stay-at-home with my son? After months of contemplation I took the leap and have now been home with my son for nearly two years.
Since I decided to stay home I am fascinated with the topic of moms who are faced with this same decision. I know my case is not typical, but not highly unique either. I gave up a six figure salary. I also had the option to stay home where I know many others do not.
I recently read The New York Times article The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In. It tells the tale of a group of highly paid women who opted out of the workforce years ago and now want, (or in many cases need), back in. What struck me most of all in reading this story was how unprepared some of these women seemed.
Did they really think they could leave the workforce and return ten years later to the same job with the same level of pay? Industries are constantly changing and your skills are now ten years behind younger, more eager individuals who are applying for the same positions.
I realize that many of the women interviewed in this article are now divorced. Perhaps they never planned to work, perhaps they never thought about a day where they might need a job. I myself have contemplated a world in which I never need to work again, but let’s face it things change. Situations change. Marriages crumble.
You have to know how much money you have in the bank. You have to keep in mind that it will get split in half in the divorce and that you still need enough money to live on. You have to realize that the interest on a million dollars goes a lot further toward paying a mortgage and utility bills than the interest on $500,000 will.
To be honest I don’t know how a woman making $500,000 at the height of her career didn’t have enough money to fall back on. It seems she should have been able to save a significant amount of money before ever dropping out of the workforce, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.
I often think about returning to work. I’ve thought about what skills I need to possess to return to a job similar to the one I had and what skills I would need to look for a completely different job in a completely different industry.
I have a general idea of how much money I would receive in a divorce, (hopefully that never happens) and how much money I would need to live and pay my bills. I know that I am frugal by nature, but I also acknowledge that I could and would significantly downsize my lifestyle.
I’m a planner. In fact every time we purchase something new I drive my husband crazy with a series of ‘what-if’ questions. I want to know how much that decision will cost us today, what factors we need to consider and how it will impact our bottom line in the future. It’s difficult to tell from the opt-out article if any of these women contemplated their futures. If they had any plan other than to leave their jobs and never look back on that decision.
The truth is we all need back-up plans in life. We need to understand our skills and consider returning to school for additional education. We need to keep tabs on our industries and understand how the models are changing. I am always shocked by the number of female students who still graduate with journalism degrees and the very small number who complete degrees in engineering or computer science.
These articles can be difficult to read because they only provide one piece of the puzzle. They focus on a select group of people and provide minimal details on their lives and the decisions they made.
Every individual is unique as is every marriage. What works for one family might not work for another. Many women are thrilled to stay home and others can’t imagine not working.
If you decide to stay home you shouldn’t do so without ever looking back at that decision. You have to have a plan for the future. You have to keep a careful watch over your finances. You have to recognize the fact that you might need to return to work one day.
This is really no different for someone who is working. When I worked as a software engineer I worked alongside many employees who didn’t keep up on their skills. Software is constantly changing and there were so many employees that simply didn’t keep up with the times. They thought their jobs were secure but when layoffs came they found it difficult to find new employment.
No matter what your situation is you have to stay up to date and relevant.
While I loved feeling smart and certainly miss the companionship of coworkers I still believe staying home is the right choice for me. The most important thing I can do is revisit this decision frequently and make certain I have a plan for the future.