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Moms and careers: a new way forward

Full-time work or dependency on a husband is a false choice. Moms today can opt out, then relaunch a career.

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Women who leave the workforce to stay home with kids are not only committing career suicide, but are intentionally "choosing economic dependency." That's the disturbing message women are getting from "The Feminine Mistake," the new book by Leslie Bennetts.

But are women today really locked into two bleak options: juggling a full-time career while raising a family, or choosing a lifetime of dependency on a husband who might leave her or die?

Thankfully, despite Ms. Bennetts's scare tactics, they aren't. There's a third option: taking a career break and then resuming a career. "Relaunching," as we call it, has emerged in recent years because more employers are looking to replace a soon-to-be record number of retirees. They're also more willing to accept nontraditional career paths, flex time, and working remotely.

Bennetts's negative view of opting out assumes that all mothers can easily work and raise young children simultaneously. Why succumb to economic dependency when you can have it all, all at the same time?

Maybe Bennetts makes this blithe assumption because she's a journalist who has been able to work from home since her children were born, while employing the same fabulous nanny for 18 uninterrupted years.

But what if her job required tremendous face time in the office or two babysitters left in one year or her children had problems that required full-time care, or what if she simply wanted to spend a few years at home full time with her children? Might Bennetts have a different opinion? Maybe she would grasp why women are so drawn to a career path that allows them to be the full-time moms they want to be, but without giving up work forever.

Opportunities for this "relaunch track" are accelerating quickly. Employers and universities are rolling out programs to identify, update, and recruit from the at-home pool, and the media have started portraying relaunching moms more positively. In the face of a looming talent shortage, companies are beginning to recognize this group as a "fourth legitimate hiring pool" says Anne Erni, chief diversity officer of Lehman Brothers, the global financial powerhouse.

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