Some years ago, when I was working at a different publication, we had a watercooler conversation about a study that had come out showing that professional women were leaving the workforce in their 40s. (The particular study is long gone from my memory, but this article gets at it.) It was kind of a head scratcher. Why, after working so hard for so long and being at peak earning power, would women walk away?
We have lots of debates in this country about paid leave and the value of having one parent at home with young kids. But even as young adults these days are delaying both marriage and starting families, the average age of a first-time mom is still about 26. That doesn’t explain women walking away from work in their 40s.
I have a hunch. The early childhood years are physically demanding and exhausting. But in at least one respect, they are easier. You can be confident you’re doing a good job if you keep them fed, clean, rested, and entertained or enriched. Read them bedtime stories, build some block towers, schedule playdates with their buddies, teach them their ABCs. It’s time consuming and exhausting, yes. And you look forward to the days when they are a little more independent and think it’s going to be less work.
And then adolescence hits. Sure, some things are better. You can have real conversations and common interests. They dress themselves (not necessarily well) and groom themselves (again, not necessarily well) and you can take them to restaurants without worrying about them having tantrums or running around manically (good luck getting them to put down their phones).