Opted Out or Pushed Out? or Do We Abuse Single Women, Men, and Non-Parents While We Abandon Mothers?

Their personal priorities can only interfere with their professional output.

Their personal priorities can only interfere with their professional output.


I was single for 40 years, and gainfully employed for 20 of those, before marrying and having children. I work in a time-pressured, intense profession. For a decade of this career, I was a consultant for hire, working regularly for a Fortune 50 company. Long hours. Food deliveries to offices for a 7pm dinner break. Sometimes working through to the next day.

I didn't date much.

I saw dedicated people, mostly “without families”, working right next to me at 10pm.

I saw allowances made for people who “had families.”

I saw entire proposal organizations with only one successful (new) marriage. Divorced or never married were the default relationship statuses.

I saw men taking a week off when their wife had a baby. A week! But they had to get back to work, because vacation time is not generous, and they couldn't both afford to take Family Leave without pay.

Such is America. We work our tails off, and our home lives come last, especially if we don’t have a traditional spouse and kids at home. Young workers and men take the brunt of the overtime required to keep the business successful.

I wondered how I was ever going to have a family if I stayed on this roller coaster.

If businesses don't have a strong incentive to enable their employees to have personal lives, why would any of this change?


I finally did marry, and had my first child at 41 years old. I never had much expectation of a work/life balance before, but suddenly I had a new responsibility. I not only had to provide food, shelter, and clothing, I had to provide this child with a mother. If I left before he woke and returned after he went to bed, I failed in that responsibility, no matter how much money or how many bottles of mommy milk I brought home.

I found that people’s understanding of what to expect from me professionally changed suddenly and dramatically. No longer did they assume that I was at work, was working, had my mind on my work, and would continue to work. People who were not close friends asked a lot of revealing questions.

  • They asked about my baby. I lit up and shoved photos in their faces, but not until they asked.
  • They asked if I was leaving. Many women do. I could not, and I don’t know that I would have if I could have. I did not ask them if they were leaving.
  • They asked if I cried when I left my baby in the morning. I did not. He was being cared for very well. I did not ask them if they cried when they came to work.
  • They asked if I had a hard time keeping my mind on my work. I did not. I did not ask them if they were focused on their work.
  • People did not ask if it was difficult breastfeeding exclusively while working. It was. Very.

I felt awkward about my responses. Was I supposed to fall apart? Did they think I didn't love my child? Was I not bonding appropriately? Was it not enough that I was doing the job that I was paid to do and that my child was happy and healthy?

Should I reveal myself as a heartless less-than-woman or a professionally useless mommy-brain?


I have read that when a person has a child, their income flat lines. It ceases to rise year over year.

There are exceptions to this rule: a few women and, oh yes, all men are unaffected in their earning potential after having a child.

An article by Lisa Belkin reminded me of some harsh statistics: "Working mothers are 79 percent less likely to be hired, half as likely to be promoted, and are offered an average of $11,000 less," said Joan Williams, the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law and a professor at the Hastings College of Law and author of a paper called "Opt-Out or Pushed Out?" What feels like a choice is made in a context, she said, and while women might feel they are "choosing" what is best for them and their families, they are limited to the available options.

Look, businesses don't give a fig if a woman has kids or not. They just want the 120% effort that they are paying her a 70% salary to perform. But they assume that she, and not he, will take on the brunt of the family management responsibilities. They assume that mothers no longer prioritize their work and are therefore no longer candidates for advancement. So they as a business, and we as a society, treat her as a mother, as a professional has-been. And there are plenty of people who step up to take up the extra work, the salaries, the raises, the overtime, the lack of a personal life. See Chapter One, above.

Meanwhile, more and more women are the primary earners in families. Since women make much less than men on average, you can see that families aren't winning. Businesses get the productivity at a lower price. Women are probably bringing down the salaries of men who are competing with us, too. Why would businesses walk away from that?

If businesses don't have a strong incentive to enable families with win-win options, why would any of this change?

The entire work/life balance issue ought to be readdressed for all humans, but that's a social issue, not a business issue. When it comes down to it, we’re working for companies – they’re not working for us.


Update: I was laid off at the end of March. I now have to go get a new job. I am 79% less likely to be hired and will be offered less if I am hired if they learn that I have children.

I remain the primary breadwinner in our family.

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We will continue to pay for childcare out of pocket four days per week while I look for a new job. So I can look for a new job.