Gender & Identity, Life

My mom used to have an amazing job. Then she took time off to raise us, and the job market punished her.

Older women who return to work have their own set of hurtles to overcome.

Prior to giving birth to me, my mom worked at a law firm in downtown Chicago.

She worked in a fast-paced environment, serving as a secretary for several attorneys at an established firm. My mom never earned a college degree, but she is smart, better at numbers than I’ll ever be, meticulous, and good at dealing with stressful situations. With these skills, she thrived in the legal field and gained praise and recognition from her employers.

When I was born, my mother decided to become a stay-at-home mom to raise me, and eventually, my brother.

We were fortunate enough that we were able to survive on my dad’s paycheck, and commuting more than an hour each way to Chicago every day with two small kids was not realistic. Even as we got older, my mom chose to stay at home because there were always medical appointments, after-school activities and sports, cooking, laundry, cleaning, school projects, and finances to manage.

At the time, it simply wasn’t practical for her to keep the household functioning while working outside of the home.

My mom had given up the best years of her life to raising us.

She has always supported me when it comes to higher education; her mantra that she’s passed down to me is: “Get an education so you never have to rely on a man for financial support.”

She wanted, and still wants, me to avoid ending up in a situation similar to hers: living in a family where the husband makes all the money and decides how the money is allocated.

After 23 years, my mom is finally able to pursue a part-time job.

She knew when she started applying that she wouldn’t be able to go back to a law firm, at least without some sort of legal training. For one, technology has exploded and evolved drastically over the past 20 years; my mom doesn’t have the experience to return to that environment. She was rejected from many potential jobs because she doesn’t have a degree, but almost equally as troubling to potential employers, she has an employment gap that spans 20 years. She’s not incompetent or unfit to reenter the workforce; on the contrary, she’s very smart.

But as I’ve learned throughout this process, an older woman who never went to college and has been a stay-at-home mom for two decades does not have very many options to return to when she has the time and the energy to start a career.

This is terrifying to me.

If you are a woman and you take time off for children, sickness, or taking care of a partner or family member, your odds of making a living wage are drastically cut when you are finally able to return to work.

Age discrimination has been proven to be worse for women. Women already face discrimination and wage inequality in the workplace; if you are older and/or don’t have enough experience, you will be further barred from employment. You will be passed over, ignored, and rejected because employers don’t think you have the necessary skills.

You can never stop working.

And maybe you legitimately don’t have the needed experience.

If you’ve been taking care of your kids for 10 years as a stay-at-home mom, how much exposure to new technology, laws, and developments in your industry have you really had? If you make the choice to raise your children because it makes more economic sense than hiring a nanny, how many networking events can you really attend?

It’s a frustrating intersection to find oneself. It perpetuates male violence and women’s dependency on men, since it’s so hard for women to restart their careers later in life.

The thought of not being able to secure my own economic freedom scares me.

I don’t plan on having children, but what if I need to take significant time off to care for a relative? What if I end up in an abusive relationship and I’m unable to work for whatever reason? While I have a college degree, I realize so many young women struggle to make ends meet or even get a job in their chosen industry. What if I find myself stuck in my 50s, needing a career change but unable to find work because of my age and possible lack of experience?

My mom was recently able to find a part-time job near our home at a grocery store. It is a position that pays too little given what she’s actually capable of. It’s a far cry from assisting attorneys at a high-powered office.

It makes me sad to know that my mom is highly intelligent but is locked out of many career prospects.

I never want to rely on a man for financial security. Hopefully, I never have to.

But my mom started out with a stable job, industry connections, and exceptional skills and is now back at square one. I worry about my mother and I worry about navigating this sexist culture we live in where women already have to work twice as hard as men to support themselves.

I’m afraid to get to the age where I should be beyond financially independent but instead find myself struggling to break into the workforce or keep my job because I’m an older woman.