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Opting Out? Working Moms Want the Same Thing: Flexibility

Originally posted on Workflexibility.org. Written by Stefanie Boucher.

Several months ago when I started Opt-Out Revolutionary, a blog about the much-discussed (and often misunderstood) opt-out revolution, I set out to interview stay-at-home-mothers and working moms alike with one key question in mind: How can today’s women build satisfying, joy-filled careers and raise healthy, happy kids without constantly feeling like they are sacrificing the success of either?

Why Parents Opt Out of the Workforce

In conducting these interviews, I expected that the answers to this question would be as unique and varied as the women themselves. They weren’t. In fact, with each new woman I speak with, the answer is almost uniformly the same.

What is it? It’s simple, really: if a parent is to have a fighting chance at accomplishing it all—and performing well in each area of her life—she must be allowed some control over her time.

But exactly how difficult is it to control one’s time in a corporate culture that is still deeply wedded to the twentieth century model of work and life? Is this a reasonable expectation?

Finding a Flexible Job

According to Vera Gavizon and Linda Singer, co-founders of Canada-based flexible employment website Workhoppers.com, the answer is a resounding, “Absolutely!”

“Everyone is moving towards flexibility,” explains Singer, who along with her business partner has set out to change the way our society views work.

The two women started the website in response to their own specific challenges—in this case, the challenge of finding that elusive flexible “dream job.”

“We wanted to work but it was very difficult to manage kids and a traditional job,” explains Singer. “Over the years, we continually noticed all these incredible moms around us who would love to work, but there were so many barriers to being inside the working world while trying to maintain your family life. So we created this website to help moms find professional work—initially, anyway. It ended up encompassing a much bigger market than we first thought about. Forty-five percent of our freelancers are actually men.”

Hitting the Work-Life Balance Wall

Like many women of the opt-out generation, Gavizon and Singer are no strangers to issues of work-life balance. Each of them chose to leave their traditional, corporate career paths behind when attempts to adequately balance career and family came up short.

“I spent my life working incredibly long hours and flying from one side of the world to the other,” recalls Gavizon. “When I had my first baby, I continued working—and for the first year of so I succeeded. But, it was badly managed. I always felt like I wanted to run home at the end of every day to be with him. This simply was not the best way to manage a high profile career.”

Gavizon left her demanding job, but eventually went back to work again at a small boutique firm—a job that was very different from her prior experience because it could be done within a 9 to 5 timeframe. Since it didn’t require many extra hours, it seemed like the perfect solution. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Vera had a second baby, and once again she began feeling the strain of raising her children while spending the vast majority of her waking hours in an office or commuting.

Embarking on a Flexible Career

“I started to look for things to do on my own,” cites Gavizon. “I did consulting work and took projects when I could. Of course, I made a lot less—but at least my life felt more manageable.”

Like Vera, Linda also found balancing career development with family needs more difficult than expected. During her time in the MBA program at McGill University, Singer recalls being the only pregnant woman there. “After the birth, I remember that my mother would call me to say the baby needed milk. I would literally have to leave class to breastfeed. It got to be too much, so I had to stop.”

Of course, flexible work options have multiplied since Gavizon and Singer first jumped into their core child-rearing years. This is due, in part, to organizations like those involved with 1 Million for Work Flexibility, those that are working to carve out a path towards a new employment paradigm—one where the needs of each individual are recognized as unique and are respected.

“It’s not that I want to work less,” explains Singer. “I just want to work when it makes sense for me.” More than likely, that’s the work-life mantra of the future.

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