The Elusive (Fulfilling) Part-time Job

by 2 October 18, 2011

In 2007, the Pew Research Center published a report in which only 21% of women with minor children (17 and under) said that working full-time was ideal for them, which was a decrease from the 1997 level of 32%. A full 60% of mothers working outside the home said that part-time work was their ideal. Yet anyone who has searched for a meaningful part-time position will tell you that they are not exactly plentiful. When I had my first child, I was torn. During my pregnancy I at first assumed I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Then my boss announced she was also pregnant and due about 8 weeks after me. Since we were the only two full-time staffers on the magazine we worked on (within a larger department), I agreed that after about 10 weeks of maternity leave, I would come back to work while she was on leave. My boss' mother-in-law, who had moved to the area with plans to help care for her soon-to-be born grandchild, was even going to be my babysitter four days a week when I went back, and my husband was going to use his remaining personal days to take Fridays off for about 2 months. I thought it was perfect! I was so lucky. And I was, really. But then when I went back to work, something I was actually looking forward to, I finished the first week thinking "how in the H-E-doublehockeysticks does anyone DO this FOR YEARS?!?" I was exhausted. It took every ounce of my strength to wake up in time to nurse baby, get dressed and get out the door and on the train to arrive to work by 8:30 am, get work done--including pumping twice (and I was super lucky on that count, because I had my own office with a door), and leave early at 2:30 pm, which was the arrangement we worked out. I'd go home and spend the afternoon with my daughter, maybe go to this post-partum yoga class I'd been doing, eat dinner and fall asleep at 8 pm with the baby. I went back towards the end of October and by mid-December I knew I had to quit. I liked my coworkers, I knew I was going to miss having conversations with intelligent adults on a daily basis, I worked in a low-stress, easy-going office in the nonprofit world (I can't imagine what it would have been like in a high-stress environment), but I couldn't do this. And there was no option to go part-time. So I quit. After about a month, I was looking for a job. But I really wanted a part-time job. But I knew that I needed something, because I wasn't happy being home 24/7. I was lucky to find a job working 2 days a week and the sitter I had before would now watch my daughter, with her grandson, in my former boss' home. But I barely made enough money to pay for babysitting and the work was not exactly what I wanted (though it was tangentially related to my background). It was during my time working part-time that I began making mei tai carriers and eventually started kicking around the idea of officially creating a business. I actually did start my business about 5 months after I began that job and continued to work 2 days a week outside the home while getting my business off the ground, quitting about 4 months after I launched my website. Flexibility is actually one of the biggest things that I now value about being an entrepreneur. I can go to soccer practice at 4:00 pm and volunteer in my kids' classroom in the middle of the morning if I want. You're sort of always thinking about business, though, and the weight of being responsible for juggling everything is omnipresent; but you are the boss, so you can make some choices about how to spend your days.  There's been such a growth in moms starting their own businesses the past decade and I'm sure this is directly related in part to a lack of meaningful employment that is less than full-time. Which is ironic, since starting and running a business is the equivalent of about 5 full-time jobs. The past few years of recession and double-digit unemployment, though, probably make it even harder for moms who may want to find part-time jobs. For those who have full-time jobs but would prefer to go part-time, they may be afraid to make any kind of change, knowing how hard it is to find any job right now. For moms trying to reenter the workforce, they are facing competition from people who may not have the "employment gap" that comes with the decision to stay home to be with children full-time. Job shares, reduced hours, flexible schedules--I don't hear about situations like these being available all that often. Maybe it seems like a crazy time to ask for these things; I'm sure a ton of people will tell you "just be quiet and be happy you have a job." I understand where that's coming from given the times we are living in, but I find it depressing that huge numbers of moms want to keep doing work that means something to them--intellectually, socially, personally--without having to do it from 9-5 every single day. I suspect that, along with the willingness of companies to consider breaking free from traditional employment arrangements, that for a shift to really take place we would need the ability to take longer maternity leaves and have better options for affordable childcare as well. And the prospects of that, in this time in our country's history, seem pretty well non-existent.



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