A mother's dilemma: Stay at home or not?

Successful women quit to stay home with their kids. Have they changed their minds?

Just 10 years ago, 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl and producer Shari Finkelstein reported on a growing trend of women "opting out" of their careers to stay home with their children. The women profiled in the story were some of America's elite. They attended Ivy League universities, held down some of the most coveted, high paying and prestigious positions in the workforce, and shattered the metaphorical glass ceiling in the process. But once they had a family, these women chose to stay home with their children to the dismay of some feminists around the world who'd fought for access to power and influence just a generation before.

Today, some of these women have chosen to opt back into their careers, and perhaps due to their education and ambition, remarkably they've all been able to find work. Others, however, have chosen not to return. Nearly a decade later, here's where the women are today:

Amy Cunningham Atkinson:

A former 60 Minutes producer, Atkinson attended Yale and worked for 20 years in news production, spending 11 of those years at 60 Minutes. An Emmy-award winning journalist, Atkinson worked closely with 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley for years before she decided to leave her job at the age of 40.

"When I left my job at 60 Minutes it was not because I had some sort of rose-colored view about what it meant to 'opt out' and be a stay at home Mom. I loved my job," she said.

But a series of life altering shifts in her life made work almost impossible. She had a mother on the verge of dying of metastatic breast cancer, as well a 4-year-old daughter, and a husband who was starting his own company with a busy travel schedule. She was also undergoing IVF treatment so she could have another baby. It had been a long summer and it was on the cab ride back to work she had a realization.

"Handing my beautiful sun kissed daughter off to the nanny to go to some ratty playground, I decided something had to give," she said.

Leaving work to stay home was not a foreign concept for Atkinson. Her mother had done it too. Atkinson's mother was among the first classes of women to graduate from Harvard Business School and she went on to work at Proctor & Gamble, one of the first companies to hire women. But she put that all to the side to raise her four children.

"I have always identified with my mother psychologically and her love and care were so profound in my development," Atkinson said. " I wanted to be more present for my daughter."

And Atkinson was satisfied for nine years, but in 2011, she was given the opportunity to organize and lead a documentary team into Afghanistan. Atkinson agreed and went on to help produce a film on women's education in the region.

"Part of me going back to Afghanistan was I wanted my daughter to see me like that," Atkinson said. "Her mom can read her stories at night and make dinner for her, but after not working for nine years, her mom can also assemble a team and go to northern Afghanistan and do a good job."

Atkinson called the decision to stay at home or work an extremely personal one and dissuaded women from engaging in "scare tactics."

"It hasn't been my experience that opportunity disappears because you're not in the game 24/7," Atkinson said. "It's not true and I certainly don't want it to be true for my daughter. I want her to know that if she steps off, she can get back on."

Lisa Frelinghuysen:

A Stanford Law School graduate, Frelinghuysen served as the President of the Law Review, clerked at the Supreme Court for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and worked at a top law firm in D.C before she decided to stay home and raise a family.

In the 2004 interview she said she never thought she'd give up her career, but after the birth of her first child and the launch of her husband's medical career, that all changed.

"I know myself, and I know that when I'm working at something I work hard," she said in 2004. "I was afraid that if I was working, there would be no parent there with the children. And I wanted to experience getting to know my children, being there in a consistent way."

Today, Frelinghuysen is working full-time in a completely new industry: Jewelry. For the last three years, Frelinghuysen has been working in the legal department for David Yurman.

"Had I never opted out to be with my family for a few years, I probably would have continued in the law, as a first amendment lawyer, professor, or perhaps a judge," Frelinghuysen said. "Stopping out, I think, allowed me to explore other interests. I've always had an interest in business and growing a business."

Nevertheless, Frelinghuysen acknowledged that "opting out" can certainly slant your chances should you want to opt back in later down the road.

"When you take off a few years, it's important to recognize that you are giving up the chance to build those years of experience and expertise in a certain field," Frelinghuysen said. "That's not to say you can't return and achieve great success in that field, but you may have to accelerate your learning to make up for lost experience and expertise."

Frelinghuysen said she has no regrets, but the transition going from full-time parent to full-time working mom has meant finding balance.

"When I can, I walk to school with my kids and try to be home for dinner and reading with them," Frelinghuysen said. "But I also miss a lot. It's not easy, balancing a demanding job and four children, but with the right spirit, and humor, it's fun."

Ann Geldzahler:

Before Geldzahler had children, she was voted the most likely to succeed, attended Yale and Penn Law School and worked at a D.C. law firm as well as PBS. Though the plan had always been to hire a nanny, Geldzahler said she couldn't bring herself to leave home as she neared the end of the three-month maternity leave.

Today, Geldzahler is still a stay-at-home mom to her three children, but she keeps busy in the non-profit world. Geldzahler is currently serving on the Denver Advisory Board of Facing History and Ourselves, an international organization that works with students on issues of human rights. Without this kind of work, Geldzahler said she'd go crazy.

"It's still some intellectual stimulation for me and I have been able to have a foot in the interesting works that related to what I used to do in some sense," Geldzahler said. "It's been a great balance for me."

And though Geldzahler is no longer working in the legal profession, she said her education and work experience are still valuable today.

"I think the education I've had has enriched my life, and made it interesting, and it has given me great connections and a platform to continue to do interesting things," Geldzahler said. "It has given me a lot of self-confidence, I don't have an issue of what my identity is now and the work experience and the education I've had has contributed to that."

At the end of the day, Geldzahler is grateful that she's been able to make her own choice and she hopes the same will ring true for her 15-year-old daughter.

"I tried not to ever say anything other than this has been my choice," Geldzahler said. "For me I loved staying home and you may choose a different path."

Sheilah O'Donnel:

O'Donnel was once a top sales representative for Oracle before she left to stay home with her children. In her first six months at home, O'Donnel told Stahl in the 2004 interview, she had doubts and even tried a part-time position for three months. But even that compromise presented too many challenges.

"I couldn't say, 'OK this is a $3 million deal. I have a mommy and me play date right now with the music class, so sorry, can't come.'"

A self-described "go-getter", O'Donnel kept busy at home, filling her extra time with non-profit volunteer work and training for marathons, but without a paycheck, she said she still felt marginalized at home.

"I had outlets to satisfy my self-esteem, but the bottom line is I would have been happier in my years at home had I been working, and had something to keep me in the game," O'Donnel said.

Today, O'Donnel's life has taken a drastic turn. She is divorced and has been working full-time for the last two years in a mid-level sales position at Monster.com, the employment website. Though she said the position is a step down from the senior job she left at Oracle, she felt the option was better than dependence.

"Being able to make decisions about what was going to happen to me was very empowering," O'Donnel said. "Being in control of my future was more important than receiving money from my ex-husband."

O'Donnel described applying to jobs after a nine-year hiatus from the tech industry as the most frightening time of her life and if given the chance, she said she would have taken a different approach--perhaps considering earning an MBA or a part-time position rather than focusing on her children 100 percent.

"Had I continued working at some capacity or stayed more closely aligned with the high tech industry, I probably would have some more options available to me when I did step back in," O'Donnel said.

Since making the leap from stay-at-home mom to a full-time employee two years ago, O'Donnel said maintaining that work-life balance can be difficult at times, but she is still happy to be back at work.

"I am fulfilled when I work and I like working," O'Donnel said, "When you're home all the time, sometimes it takes months or even longer to see the efforts that you're putting into your kids and the good that you're doing, and I know I did a lot of good, and I'm glad I did, but I also think having those short term milestones is something that's very important to me."

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