Did You Off-Ramp or Take the Access Road

(This post was originally published 5/5/2011.)

The first time I visited my husband’s home state of Texas, I was baffled by the roads running parallel to every major highway.  Imagine building two of the exact same road right next to each other, one with six lanes, one with two, one moving quickly, one not as quickly.  He explained that they’re called Access Roads, which led to a discussion about Congress and pork barrel spending…

Fast forward to today when I participated in yet another discussion about stay-at-home moms vs. work-at-home moms vs. working away from home moms vs. women who call themselves DINKS (dual income no kids).  It appears that the Mommy Wars have expanded to include women who do not have children. Great.

While much of the chat replayed the same old points with references to Betty Friedan, vajayjays and women clawing their way to the top by climbing over one another, an interesting point was made that with more educated, professional women than ever off-ramping to stay home with their children, the movement to advance women in the work place has been set back twenty or thirty years because of the number of women who have to “start over” to return to work. They’ve exited the main highway and went home to their suburban cul-de-sacs, making the journey back to the fast paced professional road a tough one.

Only I disagree. I think that women have actually exited the main highway on to the access road and are, in fact, moving at a slightly slower pace, always parallel to their professional peers, able to return to the main highway at any time.

Think about the moms that you know who do not work full time.  How many of them work part time out of the house?  Of those who stay home full time, how many work at least part time from home?  I’d bet it is far more than you realize.  In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 60% of all women are in the work force in some way. Take for example my friend Laura who just happens to have a PhD in a science field.  Between teaching her daughter to play the piano, picking her children up at school every day at 3:30, and singing in her church choir, she works from home as a geneticist for a nationally recognized agency in the DC area.  She is cruising along on an access road that has provided for her family financially, for her employer as a resource, and for her professionally.  Within the first few months of my first child’s birth, I was already utilizing my teaching certificate to grade online testing essays and continuing to build my skill set with online courses.  My off-ramp looked much more like an access road as well.

So why all of the fighting? Perhaps there is tension between those working full time out of the home and those who have found a way, often due to their parenting status, to create a situation where they can leave the commute and pressures of office life behind while continuing to earn money.  Maybe in the current economic climate, it is difficult for the unemployed to watch their full time, full salaried with benefits job being sent not to a far away country, but instead divided up among five contract workers who work willingly without insurance or retirement.  Maybe people are unnerved because they can’t label and compartmentalize those of us using social media, telecommuting, or flex-time to work from home.  It must be terribly frustrating that I cannot be boxed in.  Whatever the cause, the fact remains that with so many women working from home, cruising along on a professional access road, the tensions will continue.

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  • Everyone just feels so threatened. Young girls out of college are threatened by older women who, even if they’ve been off the career highway, can still come back in and get hired first because experience and wisdom count for something. Older women feel threatened by younger workers who don’t need a higher income and insurance to make ends meet and protect a family. And when we feel threatened, we get our backs up. When we feel more secure, either in the workplace or with our finances or just with ourselves, then we’re less likely to lash out at others.

  • Very well said. I never understood the need to argue and play the “I’m better because….” game. We are all individuals and we all find what works for us. I love how diverse women are and we should embrace that!

  • I think there is just some stigma attached to being able to juggle work from home and family life. Like it’s somehow less work (when in reality it’s usually more)

    The bottom line for me is that everyone should support each other no matter what our choices are. I know I have a very ‘kumbaya’ attitude about it, and I didn’t always think this way, but with age and experience I’ve learned that lifting each other up is way more fulfilling than beating each other down.

    Someone has to raise the kids, someone has to do the bulk of the income earning in families, but the dual income parents thing is TOUGH. I think the 80 and 90s were all about having it all, but it’s just not possible to have it all, all at once (unless you have serious help).

    I’m hoping we’re starting to see a new era where everyone, whether parent or not, can make more choices about doing what they love as work, and balancing family and work life better.

  • Amen! Wow… it’s a perfect view! I worked outside of the home for some of my mothering days but the majority so far was an at home Mom. Just because I’m not working outside of the home does not mean that I’m not educated enough, professional enough and good enough to be a mother and working! It can be done!

    • Amy

      Chele, I love that you highlighted that you’re professional and educated and that that has nothing to do with whether or not you work outside of the home. Perfect point.

  • I work PT because it is the right choice for me and my family. The does not mean I took the off ramp for my career, that means I’m making the right choice for me.

    I’m kind of over the Mommy Wars. (And that is not said to criticize this post. At all.) Wasn’t feminism about choices, and the fact that we all have choices?

    Can’t we all stop criticizing each other?

    • Amy

      Don’t you think it’s interesting that those without children have thrown their hats into the Mommy Wars? I’m afraid it won’t ever stop.

      • Yes. It’s kind of like when men want to talk to me about my breasts.

  • I think it all goes back to comparison. We are programmed from birth to be the best. Even growth charts push us to compare our babies with terms like “average size” or “below average”. Then we go through the education system where we are rewarded and disciplined based on our skill strengths and weaknesses. That continues and we are thrust into the world of body image and sexuality clawing for a way to be the best. And now that I am typing all of this it occurs to me, why WOULDN’T we have mommy wars? Like Kelly said, our culture lives by a have it all/have it all RIGHT NOW mentality and it is killing us physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally. Bloom where you are planted, live below your means and love what really matters are the mantras I try to live by, yet I get sucked in just as much as the next person. Only when we can be secure in our own choices instead of defensive, will we be able to come together without titles and definitions.

  • They’re also called feeder roads, and they are one of the *few* things I’ve enjoyed about our relocation to Texas. 😉

    But about your post – I love it. I live my life on those access roads, and I’ve shown my kids that they don’t have to fit a mold when they get to the point of wanting to juggle family and career. Did somebody say revolution? Because, yeah, I think we’ve started one. 😀

  • I like your access road method. I got off the “off ramp” and am preparing to go back to school for another degree to hopefully make my way back on but secretly I’d prefer the access road.

  • Laura

    I’m Amy’s friend Laura mentioned in this post… obviously I’m slow with social media since I’m posting a comment 4 days late! Anyway, the only postscript I would add is a future return to the highway is a big question mark for me. I am — rightfully — considered a dilettante in the scientific field by almost all my peers. Although this smarts sometimes, it is justified; I knowingly allowed many doors to close for my career because of the choices I made, and the only doors that remain open also require that the person at the door take a chance on me… like my current boss who is one in a million!

    However, science will always be around, while my children will not. Therefore I don’t question my choices; the benefits so outweigh the costs that, in my mind, they are simply not comparable. If it turns out that I can never re-enter the highway, I will be okay with that.

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