Like many Asian American girls, I looked to Connie Chung as an example that a daughter of immigrants could become a household name, trusted to bring the news of the day into homes across America. But no role model is perfect, and one of the places where Chung’s success didn’t exactly leave a trail of crumbs was in the area of work-life balance. She may have been the first female co-anchor of a national nightly newscast, but Connie Chung also famously leaned back from her career at age 44 in an attempt to have children. Many of the older women I met during my internships and early jobs were also single, or at least childless, and happy that way. But what if I wanted something different?
After working for nearly 10 years in broadcast news, I decided to opt out. First, by taking an office job, and then after the birth of my first son, deciding not to return back to work at all. It was meant to be for just three years—five at the most.
I was a bleary-eyed new mom when Lisa Belkin wrote her New York Times article “The Opt-Out Revolution.” My three-year plan to stay home until my baby was old enough for preschool turned into a five-year plan with the birth of my second son. When I dropped off my little one at preschool, I was ready to go back to work.
In choosing volunteer duties for my children’s school, I looked for ways to stay connected to the career world.
Some careers are easier to return to than others. In predominantly female career fields, such as teaching, it’s not uncommon for employees to take a few years off to raise children. They may lose seniority and accreditation, but they can safely assume their industry will still exist when they come back. The television news business, which I wasn’t even planning on returning to, had shrunk dramatically during the years I opted out. And the field that I had hoped to transition to—magazine or newspaper columnist—was possibly even worse off.
So I held loosely to my dreams, trying out many different avenues. For me, "Mom’s Night Out" wasn’t margaritas with the girls, but evening classes in all sorts of writing—magazine, memoir, fiction—as well as basic business management. Through one playgroup, I met a mom who was a Web designer and we worked out a trade: I would do some publicity for her business and she would build me a blog site. I took on communications consulting jobs, doing public relations and marketing for local businesses. In choosing volunteer duties for my children’s school, I looked for ways to stay connected to the career world—sending out press releases for school fundraisers and teaching kids how to shoot and edit video.
For the past two years, I’ve definitely considered myself a work-at-home mom. I sit in front of my laptop in my yoga pants from the time I drop off my kids at school until the afternoon bell rings. And I’m sure if you check back with me in another two years, my work-life balance will probably look different still.