Like about 43% of all women, I chose to give up my career path to stay home and raise our two daughters. It was what I wanted; I never was an ideal “corporate” employee, anyway.
At the time, I had been a programmer for a telecommunications firm. Before that, I was an instructor at a computer software company, and before that, an administrator at a corporate benefits firm. I wouldn’t want to (nor would I have the skill set any longer) return to any of these positions. Too many years have passed, too many transformations have taken place—both within those worlds and within me.
I sit now at the opposite end of this chute that I spent 21 years wholly immersed inside—that of being a mother first and everything else second.
During this time, not only did I raise two children, I created several businesses—yoga, alternative health, and finally publishing—all of which I structured around my life and my schedule. In 2020, I self-published my first book. I claim the title of “Entrepreneur.”
I have no regrets. If I could do it all over again, I’d do it the same way.
But. On my bad days, I feel bitterness about the life-long impacts of this single decision. These days, I’m envious of my husband, who has had the opportunity to pursue his career because I gave up mine. I’m jealous of the networks he’s created—everywhere we go, we run into people he knows. We were once in Reykjavik, Iceland, and out of nowhere, I heard someone call his name. I couldn’t believe it. It pissed me off, actually; I had no interest in shaking hands and exchanging rote pleasantries while on vacation.
On my better days, I’m proud of him and know that if it weren’t for me and the sacrifices I’ve made, he would’ve never been able to hold this job, which has required a fair amount of travel and time away from home. And, on these better days, I recognize that if it weren’t for him and the sacrifices he’s made—to be away from home, to miss certain stages of our girls’ lives—I wouldn’t be free to do what I love. And the money piece matters; of course it does. But do I still sometimes feel like a “kept woman?” Yes. Yes I do.
Whereas his role in his work continues on its upward growth curve, my role as a mother, though it will never end, has crossed a certain finish line. Now what do I do?
The bitterness isn’t really toward my husband, though, not when I dig deeper. Instead, I’m bitter because no one warns women that this single decision — to leave the corporate world and stay home to raise children — is likely the most life-defining decision you’ll ever make.
I’m bitter about a society that doesn’t value experience in life as much as it values experience at *insert industry here*. Job specifications can be learned and taught, but having a hungry curiosity and a learning spirit, as I do, just doesn’t read the same way on a resume once you’re either in your 50s or nearing them.
Ageism is real, and perhaps harsher on women than on men. A quote from this article:
“When (employers) see your photo or your age or your tenure or your education timeframe, I find, like, instantaneously you get an email saying, ‘You have great experience and but we’re going with another candidate.’”
When I was 28 and making this life-changing decision, I wasn’t thinking about what would happen if I wanted to return to the workforce after our children had moved out. There’s just no way to have that kind of foresight at that age. And again, unless there was an option to live a parallel life, I made the best choice for my family.
I keep saying that. I keep having the same ping-ponging arguments in my head about what was fair and what wasn’t, about how to be both grateful and accept the bitterness as part of the equation.
I sit in the empty space of empty-nesting. I could live the retirement lifestyle. I could travel, or read lots of books, or start a new hobby of some kind. But, I’m not yet 50, and I want to do more. I want more challenges, the opportunity to make more connections and learn from others; as good as I am at teaching myself, I miss mentorship and learning from experienced others. It’s quite a challenge to feel so often overlooked, when I can remember days when I always got the job I applied for. And now, I watch this same phenomenon happen to my daughters—I watch as they get courted from one internship or job to another, while I can’t often get a callback anymore. From this article:
“The invisible woman might be the actor no longer offered roles after her 40th birthday, the 50-year-old woman who can’t land a job interview, or the widow who finds her dinner invitations declining with the absence of her husband. She is the woman who finds that she is no longer the object of the male gaze — youth faded, childbearing years behind her, social value diminished.”
It’s one thing to believe in oneself and one’s ability, which I do. It’s one thing to believe that anything is possible, which I also do. But it’s quite another to face the reality that, in our culture, not everything is possible for women of a certain age who left the traditional workforce two decades ago.
But the most important thing is this: I have more to offer this world. I am not ready to begin the “great disappearance.” To this end, I’m doing what I can, including trying to create a set of new keys.