Reframing the “Opt Out Revolution”

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 2.49.56 PMWhen you read about “opting out” in the media, it’s presented as a decision made forever.  A woman says “oh I opted out” as if that is her choice for the rest of her life even though she’s only 30. But, as the recent articles on the women choosing to return to work attest, in reality, opting out is a life decision made for a period in time for a particular purpose.  If we reframe women’s career decisions differently, thinking more long-term, women might actually make different choices.

She might decide to stay in and rethink the support she needs to enable this.  She might decide to rethink her job or current work situation to make her work and life more compatible.  She might still decide to step out for a couple of years, but know that she will be back.  Thinking of the break more as a sabbatical in a longer-term career may seem like semantics, but it is not.

A sabbatical is a break from work with the intention of returning at some point.  People take sabbaticals for all sorts of reasons – burn out, illness, fun.  You can take a sabbatical as a parent as well.  A sabbatical looks at your break to parent as a short- or medium-term decision.  That is, you are deciding not to work for a period of time – but not forever.  A sabbatical also suggests that career remains important. People traditionally have taken sabbaticals to refresh the mind, learn and discover new things.  Is this not what a parenting sabbatical does?

What’s different about a sabbatical is that you must prepare to rejoin career.  That means you keep up your network.  You refresh your skills regularly.  You invest in your savings and retirement. You read business magazines related to your field. You take classes (maybe even get an MBA).  You do special projects.  You may strategically volunteer to build your resume.  You could even start to explore what you want to do next. You don’t do this full time but you schedule it like you would a playdate; a workdate with yourself to invest in your career.  And you invest in resources such as housekeeping and childcare so you can make this happen. You retain space for your career an important aspect of your life.

Also importantly, in a sabbatical, you don’t lose your sense of self.  While “opt-out” moms may tend to do it all, over-parent, and essentially switch the control they had at work to controlling everything and everyone at home, “sabbatical” parents use their time to expand their life, learn and grow.

Taking a break from work to parent doesn’t mean “opting out”.  By investing in yourself and your career during the sabbatical, it’s much easier to go back when you’re ready and resume the pursuit of your passions with gusto.

© Jodi Detjen