And this isn't the first time a friend (or acquaintance, or random stranger in a bookstore) has told me about her thoughts on the topic. It happens a helluva lot more than I ever had thought it did.
When I was younger, cutting my teeth on the corporate ladder, I worked in a "boys club" and listened to coworkers talk about a woman on mat leave in the past tense. Past tense people. As if she's dead. Not just on leave - but never-to-return-again. And it was always a point of curiosity for me. Back then, I was in my mid-twenties. Waiting (im)patiently for a ring on my finger, but in no way feeling those maternal urges. So the thought of having kids was so far off my radar, the thought of not (gasp!) returning to work after mat leave was unfathomable. What do you mean, not return? Who do these women think they are, if not defined by their careers!?!
I was naive. But at least I was admittedly so. And I remember chit-chatting w/ the CFO about a recent co-worker who had gone on leave. "If so-and-so comes back, then we'll have to figure out x-y-z." ... I was like, hold up. What do you mean if she comes back. She's coming back. She's a VP. She's important. She likes her job. She's good at it. And she makes all that money!!!
And I remember so very clearly, how Mr. CFO looked at me with pity in his eyes, "I wouldn't just assume so-and-so is coming back - she probably won't. In fact, that's the assumption we're working on right now [as they make incredibly important departmental decisions]."
Sidebar: yes, I'm aware how HORRIBLY politically-incorrect it is for a CFO to chat w/ a subordinate about how another executive is probably not coming back, that the company is essentially planning on her not to return, and that it contravenes all sorts of legal and moral boundaries, yadda yadda yadda - I told you - it was a boy's club - and a loosey-goosey one at that.
Then I grew up (a bit). Got married. Turned 30. Started to hear the tick-tick-ticking of my biological clock and next thing you know, I'm knocked up.
Around that time, I had moved on and was now working at a girls-club instead - employee base of about 95% female with a few gay men thrown in for fun. So instead of talking behind my back and making assumptions, I was just asked outright - "So, are you coming back?"
I'm not kidding you. My boss, other executives, subordinates - it didn't matter who - they all felt like they could just ask me this. And again, I kept hearing, "Most women don't come back, you know." I just scoffed it off - this was me. I lurrrrrrve working. I am a career-woman - hear me roar.
Fast-forward to the end of last summer and the final days of my mat leave. Where I was starting to feel that anxious, lead-hearted feeling of having to return to work. A return that needed to happen financially, but would also include a commute that would take me away from my baby girl for about 12 hours a day. Factor in her 11 hour sleep schedule, and that left me with about 1 hour of face-time each day.
It wasn't a good feeling. And so I started to explore my options... 1) Not returning (not an affordable option for our household). 2) Returning to existing job (aka "sucking it up"). 3) Returning to a different job.
#2 is what I opted for in the end (as option #3 was yielding zero possibilities). And in my discussion of exploring options for returning (I pitched work-from-home ideas, flex hours etc. etc. etc.), I eventually agreed to a consulting role in a sub-contract position.
Which then resulted in a different consulting gig, which resulted in a part-time gig at a different company (where I could work from home on flex hours), which has since resulted in a super-amazing promotion and increase to full-time commitment, but still having flex hours.
Long story short - I'm a lucky gal and it worked out well for me.
But the experience has opened my eyes and I understand now how these women don't return. Or they do, but in a different capacity. Or sadly, they return and hate every minute of it. I get how priorities shift - oh how priorities shift... That has been an experience for me - I figured I knew myself, and then whammo - my self changed.
But I digress - this post wasn't about me. It was about me marvelling that as much as things change, things still stay the same. And while there's more women out in the work force than ever, how there's more dual-income families than ever ... it's still normal, okay, and in fact coveted* sometimes, to be a SAHM.
And in a way, I'm totally jealous of my friend. That she has the choice at all.
PS - what a rambling post, huh? Sorry 'bout that. I had more to say than I thought I did...
*Disclaimer for current employers should they decide to read this: This isn't me! I don't covet it. I love my job. I love working. I don't want to be a SAHM. I promise! It's the truth - I swear!