Professional Moms Quit Work for Motherhood

March 15, 2004 -- Cheryl Nevins, who is eight months pregnant with her third child, loves her powerful, lucrative position as a labor lawyer for the Chicago Board of Education. But she is about to give it up.

After giving birth, the 34-year-old mom plans to take an extended leave of two or three years to devote herself to motherhood. It doesn't mean she is permanently out of the work force, though, Nevins said.

"I definitely want to go back. I love my job and what I do and I'll miss it," Nevins said. Still, she enjoyed spending time with her two younger children, and looks forward to the opportunity to do it again. Her husband, a finance manager for Kraft Foods, supports her decision to stay home with their two sons, ages 2½ and 11, and the new baby.

Currently, Nevins works between 50 and 60 hours a week and spends time checking e-mails and juggling phone calls at home.

"I just want to spend more time with my children," Nevins said.

Not Quite June Cleavers

Nevins is part of a growing trend, featured in a Time magazine report, in which more professional women are opting out of the rat race, at least temporarily. For the first time, the percentage of workplace participation by married mothers with children less than a year old fell from 59 percent in 1997 to 53 percent in 2000 — a significant change, even though it impacts only a small group, experts say.

There are various reasons for the move toward old-fashioned motherhood, but for many, it is a sign of some women's new, non-linear approach to their careers.

"In the woman who can afford it, there is an increase," said Claudia Wallis, who reported the story for Time magazine. "They don't want to re-create the lives of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. This is just a new approach to their career," Wallis said. One of the reasons women are ducking out of their careers is because the workplace has become more unfriendly toward those who want to have a family life, Wallis said. New technology, such as cell phones, e-mail and wireless devices allow work to intrude on family life more than ever, so that many mothers find their attention is divided at home, after the work day is over.

No Regrets

Marilyn Montgomery, who worked in advertising and public relations for 17 years, quit her job at Commerce Bank about a year ago to devote herself to being a mother.

"When I was working and taking care of one child I was in an amazing race, running from day care to work, getting everything done," Montgomery, 39, said. But a month before her second child was born last year, she felt as though she was not able to give either her job or her family 100 percent, so she quit.

Though it can be difficult at times, she has no regrets.

"I couldn't be happier," Montgomery said. "I have adjusted so much that I've decided never to go back to work again. I love being with my children."

Though she sometimes misses her career, two children keep her busy, she said. Financially it has been harder than she and her husband, a salesman, anticipated, but Montgomery still does some freelance work from home.

Given that women now make up such a significant percentage of the professional labor force, Wallis says that it does not appear that women will lose ground in the workplace, even if more leave to devote time to motherhood. She is optimistic that companies will have to start responding to the demands of women who are juggling motherhood and family duties.

Both Montgomery and Nevis said they would both be happy to return to the workplace sooner if on-site day-care and more flexible hours were available.

Wallis says the workplace will be forced to respond as more and more baby boomers retire. Wallis says female professionals will soon be in great demand.

"They already have a name for them: the 'boomerrangers,' and companies want to lure these women back into the work force a few years down the road after this recession, and as the boomers retire," Wallis said. Some companies are staying in touch with mothers who left the work force, and are calling the process "alumni relations."