Keeping a foot in the office door can ease mother's anxiety

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In her practice as a divorce lawyer, Margy Klaw sees many highly educated, middle-aged women who wish they hadn't left full-time work after having children. Faced with the prospect of failed marriages, she said, they are terrified that they won't be able to support themselves.

Her advice? Don't "opt out" of work after you become a mother — at least not entirely. In a recent opinion article for the website DailyWorth.com, which offers career and financial advice for women, she advises professional women to continue working at least part time after they have children. That way, she said, they can keep their skills current, stay abreast of trends in their field and maintain contacts they can draw on when they are ready to return to full-time work.

Her article is the latest entry in the debate over the potential drawbacks of "opting out." The New York Times Magazine recently featured a cover story on women who had opted out of full-time work 10 years ago, and the hurdles they faced re-entering the job market.

Klaw argues that the benefits of working part time make it a smart move in the long term — even if you are just breaking even, or perhaps not quite breaking even, on child care costs in the short term. Quitting and relying entirely on a spouse's income, she said, "is shortsighted to me, in every way. It's so obvious that it's a good investment, to keep your skills up and your contacts."

(She added one caveat, which is that working part time at a net "loss" makes less sense for women who are hourly wage earners — say, retail cashiers — because their potential to earn more money after they return to work isn't as great.)

There are other reasons to stay connected to the working world, besides planning for a possible divorce. Leaving work contributes to the persistent wage gap between men and women. And stopping work reduces not only your current earnings, but also your overall long-term retirement and Social Security earnings.

The institute's research over 15 years shows that the longer women stay out of the workforce, the more their income drops when they return to work. For instance, if you take a year off, your income when you go back to work drops 20 percent from when you left; if you're out two or more years, the drop is 30 percent.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

How can I justify paying money for child care if I'm not earning enough to cover the cost?

Anna Beninger of Catalyst, a nonprofit group focused on women in the workplace: Why should the cost of child care get "deducted" from your income alone, rather than the combined earnings of you and your spouse? By working, you are maintaining your economic viability, which contributes to the long-term financial stability of the family.

Are there any tax benefits available to help cover my child care costs?

The Child and Dependent Care Credit can help if your children are under age 13 and the child care allows you to work. The credit can be up to 35 percent of your expenses, depending on your income. The maximum credit is $3,000 if you have one child, and $6,000 if you have two or more.

Are there other options besides part-time work that can help me manage my career after having children?

Most big employers continue to offer flexible arrangements, such as compressed workweeks or earlier arrival and departure times, in addition to part-time options, according to a recent Catalyst report. "There is a sense that flex is the exception," Beninger said, "but it has become the norm."

Keeping a foot in the office door can ease mother's anxiety 11/15/13 [Last modified: Sunday, November 17, 2013 7:23pm]

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