When I started this whole stay at home mom journey, it was easy to feel isolated. I knew there probably were other women who had left law firms, or other career tracks, to stay at home, but I only knew a few. I suppose part of the reason I started this blog was in an effort to reach out and feel connected. A virtual way to say - "Is there anyone else out there?"
Well, seven months out, the resounding answer is YES! Thanks to this virtual community I've joined, I've realized there are SO many of us. So many women who have taken a break from a career to be with family. So many women who never thought it was the course their life would take. Maybe it's just now becoming more apparent, or maybe it's just because I'm looking, but I've also noticed a lot more people are talking about it. In fact, in the past week, thanks to the blogging community, I've come across three fascinating articles on the subject.
The first was a post called "Quitting Law to Stay Home - Is That Your Choice?", on a blog I recently started reading, The Careerist. The post explored whether women who quit law firms truly do it out of a personal choice, or whether their choice was really not a choice at all:
"In one [study], the researchers surveyed 117 stay-at-home moms with professional backgrounds. Women who emphasized it was their 'choice' to leave the workforce reported greater psychological well-being. That also fits with the ethos of the capitalist marketplace because choice is 'connected to related American values, such as independence, autonomy, personal control, and responsibility,' says the report. Choice is appealing because the alternative explanation is a downer. 'It's deeply threatening to say there's something out of your control,' explained [the researcher.]
But here's the rub: Women who cite 'choice' also showed 'less recognition of the structural barriers and discrimination that hinder American women's workplace advancement, compared with women who did not rely on the choice framework.' says the research.
"Women will say there are obstacles to balancing work and family, but that it's their personal choice to quit their jobs." [The researcher said.] "It implies that in the long term, you won't recognize the structural obstacles." And if you don't acknowledge those obstacles - such as lack of workplace flexibility and mommy-tracking, "there's no motivation to change anything."
Hmmmm, a choice? I suppose I do feel I made a choice, but one that I was somewhat forced into, if I wanted any semblance of a normal family life. A New York Times editorial that ran yesterday, forwarded to me by one of my my favorite bloggers, demonstrates that I'm not alone. After citing the statistics that women make up 45% of associates, but only 15% of equity partners, and only 6% of equity partners at the 200 largest firms, the articles goes on to state that:
"Some women do succeed in private law firms, especially if they fit the traditional model of the lawyer who can leave family responsibilities to a stay-at-home partner or nanny. But that model represents only one-sixth of the work force, and is outmoded. There are ways to retain more women in the law. Flexible schedules can work well, but to end their stigma men need to choose to use them as well as women. And firms must have transparent systems for evaluating, assigning, and paying lawyers. Legal employers should understand that unless they retain a higher share of women, the profession will continue to lose talented lawyers. It will fail to be a profession that embodies gender equality - what many thought the O'Connor selection promised to bring."
The New York Times article cited a Keynote Address by Joan C. Williams, entitled "The Politics of Time in the Legal Profession". The article is a few years old, but discusses "time norms" in the legal profession, and how those norms are completely at odds with basic needs inherent in parental care. I won't post all the worthy quotes here (as there are numerous ones), but it is worth a read. One of the most interesting points she makes is that the definition of "full time" has dramatically changed in the legal profession. In fact, as recently as the 1960's, "billing 1,300 hours per year was considered 'full time.'" (at 381).
[Allow me to digress for a moment: 1300 hours full time? Are you kidding me? Sign me up. In fact, even better, I'll take my 60% schedule again please. Then I'll bill 780 hours a year. And I'll pick Braden up from preschool every day.]
But the most interesting quote from the article was by an anonymous "highly qualified woman who spent many years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars on education and training to enter her profession." She explained how a lot of women do not "cheerfully" opt out of their professional lives:
"'I decided to quit, and this was a really, really big deal . . . [b]ecause I never envisioned myself not working. I just felt like I would become a nobody if I quit. Well, I was sort of a nobody working too. So it was sort of, "Which nobody do I want to be?"'" (at 386).
This all sounds so familiar.
Thank you, internet community, for reminding me I'm not alone. And thank you for allowing me to be a small part of the conversation.