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The Baby Un-Penalty

Updated: May 13, 2019

It’s a tricky crossroads that many new parents come to. Okay, it’s a crossroads that every single new mom comes to:

Option 1: I quit my job, lose years of income and advancement, and walk away from work I love. But I get to spend time with my kids.

Option 2: I keep my job, likely increase my income and potential for advancement, and continue to receive satisfaction from work I love. But I don’t get to spend as much time with my kids.

One choice is no better than the other, and both are equally painful, albeit for different reasons. When I had my first baby six years ago, I agonized over my choices, and I ultimately opted for Option 1. I made my choice with the awareness that my choice meant sacrifices. The loss of income was a struggle. Returning to work has only become more challenging with each year away.

At a conference for professional writers and writing teachers last year, I attended a session about the “Baby Penalty.” A panel of academics discussed this sociological phenomenon in which working mothers—or mothers who choose to step away from the workplace and return later—face systematic disadvantages. They’re paid less, perceived to be less competent, and receive fewer benefits overall than women without children. Their babies become a professional and financial penalty. A liability.

But opting for Option 1 was not the noble, sword-falling act of a mommy martyr that I assumed it would be. In fact, I experienced the opposite: the “Baby Benefit,” or the “Un-Penalty,” if you will.

When I decided to stay home with my kids, I did so with no other plan than to do just that: be wholly present with my young children. But that got really boring pretty quickly. Babies are cute, but they don’t offer a lot to conversations. So I started to explore. And I started to write. And I learned that other people wanted to read what I wrote, and still others wanted to print it. I thought I was sacrificing a career, but staying home with my kids allowed a new one to emerge.

I spent years—decades—convinced that writing wasn’t a real job. It was right up there with being a professional actor or musician. But now I’m busy. Really busy. I’m a really busy working writer. And I have my kids and the Baby Benefit to thank.


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