While half the blogosphere shouts from the rooftops about how we should all “lean in,” plenty of women are going the opposite route, choosing to “opt out” of the workforce. Or, as some stay-at-home moms prefer to call it, “opt into a different kind of career.”
How do I know? Because a lot of my friends are having babies. A lot of their friends are having babies too, so I often find myself in circles of new mothers, or in the case of this past weekend, at a panel discussion of women who’ve chosen to stay at home to raise their kids rather than head to the office. Since I’m fascinated by work-life balance and women in the workplace — partly because I hope to become a mom in the not-so-distant future — I take all of these opportunities to ask a lot of questions about whether new moms are going back to work, what they do for childcare and how they manage family life while growing their career.
While some of these women want to opt out entirely, many of them simply don’t want to work full time, so they can spend more time with their kids. But the American workforce hasn’t evolved to the point where we offer quality part-time or work-share options that are family-friendly. And as the women on the panel informed me this weekend, part-time employee options that do exist often don’t pay enough to cover child care, which makes working outside the home not financially worth it.
That means tons of smart, qualified women who want to work part time are staying home. It’s a loss not only for those moms (even though they’re gaining time with their kids), but for the U.S. economy, too.
But we’re leaving something out of this conversation. Something important. Something that would allow these moms to find a middle ground between leaning in and opting out, so they could actually achieve that work-life balance we all dream of.
That something is creating your own job. It’s freelancing or putting yourself out there as a solopreneur or starting your own business. It’s an option that not only allows you to choose how many hours you work, but also gives you the opportunity to create your own schedule.
Why? For the same reason most childless professionals never entertain the idea of creating their own career — because our society and education system don’t encourage it. We’re taught to climb the ladder rather than think outside the box. And worse, since most people around us are used to acting inside that cube, too, when you do push yourself outside your comfort zone to do something different, your network will likely balk at the “risks” you’re taking, which makes it that much more difficult to follow through. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with go-getters, so thinking in a way that will actually allow you to live the life you want feels normal.
The best way to accomplish this is by creating your own career before you have kids. But even if you’re already spending some serious time parenting, it’s not too late to create a career on your own terms. It might take more purpose and focus since you won’t have hours or minutes or even seconds to waste. It might take sacrificing other parts of your life. And it might take pushing yourself to recognize that most of your obligations are actually choices — but it IS possible.
Of course, entrepreneurship, whether it comes in the form of a startup or a freelance biz or consulting, is not for everyone. It requires a certain amount of hustle, confidence and skill. But more often than not, mothers who can afford to stay home with their kids do have the skill and experience that would make them successful at creating their own job. Odds are if you’re married to someone who makes enough income to carry the family so you can stay home to raise the kids, you’re educated and experienced yourself.
We’re seeing some interesting trends and changes regarding women in the workplace, but this solution hasn’t yet taken off, hasn’t yet caught on. While training and support programs for mothers who want to tap into their entrepreneurial side could help, the real challenge here is changing our mindset. Opening our own doors. Knowing what’s possible. Realizing what’s out there — because that’s the first step toward achieving it.
If you’re a mom (or dad!), have you thought about creating an alternative career? One that gives you more flexibility?
On a related note, I’m offering a free webinar with Ryan Ferrier of the 60-Day MBA about how to make good money as a freelancer or solopreneur. If this type of work and life sounds appealing, join us!