Part-Time Perils

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

I'm closing in on kind of a weird anniversary: Next month will mark five years from the time I walked away from the full-time workforce into the wild world of part-time work, part-time-at-home-fatherhood and full-time angst.

I've since rejoined the professional rat race, but you've probably noticed that I still spend a lot of time writing about the magic of part-time work. I'm not the only one -- this blog is full of tales of do-it-all parents whose work arrangements make it possible to get some sort of rudimentary balance between work and family (Tuesday's wonderful guest blog on equal parenting is only the most recent example).

As I think back over my days as a part-timer, I'm realizing that it was no picnic. And though I don't have a moment's regret about my arrangement, no one ever warned me about any drawbacks. So, in the interest of equal time, I'd like to take a minute today and shine some light on the other side of part-time work.

The biggest drawback is the inability to reach your potential in any one area. At work, I was playing a dangerous game of trying to see how much work I could cram into the limited time I had to devote to my professional life. There wasn't time for exploration or continuing education or socialization or networking. The goal, every day, was simply to hold the line.

The time with my daughter was wonderful, but it, too, was never enough. I was claiming to be an at-home dad and probably doing a passable job, but I knew that I could be giving her more. More attention. More books. More trips to the park. But -- once again -- the time just wasn't there to be the parent I thought I could be.

The times when work and family overlapped were the most stressful. I remember those "crucial" phone calls on my days off, feeding the baby with one hand, toggling the mute button on my phone with the other, unable to focus on either.

I don't want to discourage anyone from part-time work ... I remain convinced that it represents a great tool for achieving balance. But it's not a cure-all, not in a work-obsessed culture. Fair warning.

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  February 22, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Childcare , Flexibility
Previous: A Flight of Independence | Next: The Blessing of A Skinned Knee


Add On Balance to Your Site
Keep up with the latest installments of On Balance with an easy-to-use widget. It's simple to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry to On Balance.
Get This Widget >>


Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



I'm preparing to return to work in six months and for the reasons you mention I never even considered part-time or jobsharing. I simply don't think my job is well-suited to that arrangement. It's hard to imagine any more stressful situation that that of constantly feeling you are letting your child down or your boss down. Thank you for a pragmatic blog on this topic.

Posted by: Denkpaard | February 22, 2007 7:03 AM

I never really considered a part-time work arrangement in part due to the reasons you mentioned. In my profession, the general view of part-time work was that you actually got paid part-time, but were expected to be available full-time. Don't know if this was more fiction than fact, but I did hear a good deal from my part-time colleagues that they felt that they were doing cr*p jobs at both work and home. I think they felt too stretched.

I think part-time works well in some professions, but in those that are completely client-driven, they are hard to manage.

Posted by: londonmom | February 22, 2007 7:50 AM

I will be ending part time on June 1st. Personally, I love it. You do the same amount of work for less pay. But there is less time to socialize and less time to network. And it is almost a clear sign that you do not wish to be promoted any time soon. But I loved having this extra time with DD. It was worth the loss of income. You do always feel you are letting your kid down and your employeer. But I felt that way when I worked full time too.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 22, 2007 7:54 AM

Brian, what you say is so true. When I worked part time, I felt like I wasn't able to give 100% to ANYTHING. It was so frustrating. At least when I stayed home full time, I could feel good about what I was doing there because I gave it my all, and now that I work full time, I feel reasonably good about the job I'm doing (though of course it's tinged with guilt because I miss my children).

I'll tell you what I else I miss: I miss the professional me before I had kids. The one who could work 12 hours a day if I liked (and I did like) and who steadily climbed the ladder. I care about my job now, but I miss the freedom to own it like I used to. Most days, I'm flying by the seat of my pants around here, terrified that I'm going to be found out!

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 22, 2007 7:55 AM

I will be ending part time on June 1st. Personally, I love it. You do the same amount of work for less pay. But there is less time to socialize and less time to network. And it is almost a clear sign that you do not wish to be promoted any time soon. But I loved having this extra time with DD. It was worth the loss of income. You do always feel you are letting your kid down and your employeer. But I felt that way when I worked full time too.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 22, 2007 7:57 AM

no First today? I am sad

Posted by: First Comment | February 22, 2007 8:04 AM

WorkingMomX - I couldn't agree with you more! I absolutely love being a mom, but worked hard to get to where I am in my profession and want to be successful. I enjoy my job and miss the days when I could work late without remorse or guilt. Alas, trying to find the balance in this profession is impossible and ultimately heartbreaking.

Posted by: londonmom | February 22, 2007 8:10 AM

Thanks for bringing up the pitfalls of part-time work. And the other writers are right that for some jobs, it just doesn't work very well. In my field, a good number of women go part-time, but are disregarded as "not serious" about their careers. Some tend to be given the less desirable work. But some women tell me that they feel they have "more control" over their lives. It is a trade-off.

I have never considered part-time work because I know that I will be expected to put in full time work, get paid less and not be respected or considered for promotion/better work. It seems to me that even if more men considered going part-time, that still wouldn't make part-time work respected.

And I know this has been discussed before, but another pitfall is that when you want to go back full time (just like if you took time off), it is nearly impossible to come back where you were before and it can be a struggle to be taken seriously. Of course this could depend on the field and where you got off the track, but for most people, it's a struggle to be taken seriously.

Posted by: working mother | February 22, 2007 8:14 AM

Could this guy be any more dramatic?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 8:16 AM

Am I the only one that really enjoys part-time work? I've previously posted about the frustrations on turning down promotions and money - but all in all I am quite happy. I am not a type A and definetly not mourning my "career." In a couple years I'll assess my situation again, so who knows if I will get back in the game. And yes, some jobs are not inclined to successful part-time work - but thankfully mine is.

Posted by: cmac | February 22, 2007 8:18 AM

Brian,

We agree with almost everything you say - great idea to focus on the challenges of part-time work today. Every decision has a cost, as you outline here.

For us, the key to part-time happiness has been establishing ourselves in our careers before reducing our hours. Once we could reach a level in our careers that would be satisfying to us, we could ramp down and not lose as much. Also, we don't have to mix work and parenting at the same time.

We believe that personal satisfaction comes more from a job well done (either at work or at home with the kids) than from any external measure (e.g., promotion, raise, kudos from colleagues, more projects checked off). As long as we know each project is done to the best of our abilities, we can be satisfied.

If we can stay in the moment, we don't have to feel that we should be somewhere else or doing more of this or that. It also helps tremendously that both of us are in this game together - that way, we know the kids are getting plenty of our attention and love (the sum of both of our efforts) and we can also spell each other if one of us needs to devote a bit more time to work on occasion.

By the way, a huge thank you to everyone for a great discussion on Tuesday. We loved the day, and look forward to chatting more with you either here or at our blog (http://equallysharedparenting.com/blog/blogger.html) if you are interested.

Posted by: equal and equal_too | February 22, 2007 8:26 AM

As a european mother of two (and stepmother of yet another two), I regularly read this blog and totally relate to the issues being discussed, but sometimes I'm not sure how it "translates" to my own experience.
For instance, I would like to know to what part-time work really ammounts in the US in terms of hours per week.
I would also appreciate some clues regarding the typical daily schedules in the US (at what time does the working day begins and ends for most jobs).
Thank you in advance!

Posted by: Euromom | February 22, 2007 8:45 AM

cmac -- Thanks for your post, and the reminder that there is certainly a place for part-time work (if I could afford it, I'd consider it again). But I wanted to inject a note of reality here ... I feel like I often post on balance solutions with rose-colored glasses.

Posted by: Brian Reid | February 22, 2007 8:46 AM

How true! Workig part-time, I also often feel that I can neither truly focus on my kids, nor on my job. I also have a hard time "transitioning" between the two, switching from efficient work-mode to the more flexible, chaotic child-care mode.

That said, every situation has its drawbacks, and for me, working part-time is the best solution I have found for my family. I am grateful to be able to do it.

Posted by: Ajax | February 22, 2007 8:46 AM

Two data points:

1 - my wife went to part-time status as a Fed. She was fine with that; she wasn't looking for promotions/more money/more status. She was treated well by most co-workers, but poorly by a few (in almost all cases, women who were anxious to build their careers and looked at her as a traitor to the cause). However, she wound up as the pawn in one power struggle too many. It turns out that there are only so many dedicated part-time billets, and two chiefs were fighting over ownership of hers. So she was working one job, that she liked and performed very well in, only to come to work one morning and find she'd been transferred because the billet had been returned to its rightful owner. She was told to report to a new office, doing a new job she didn't know anything about and didn't like. The winning chief told her to quit if she didn't like it. After two months, she managed to get higher-ups to transfer her and her billet back to the original place, and was happy again. Three months later, the power struggle ensued again, and she lost again. In to work on a Wednesday morning to find out she's working for Barbara over in that office instead of Nancy in this one. Barbara repeated the offer to quit if she didn't like it, so my wife took her up on that offer and became a SAHM for a few years. That's the wrong way to handle part-time work.

2 - I now have an engineer working for me who has gone down to one day a week. She's a highly-valued employee who worked full-time here for ten years (long before I came). She has three young children, ages 5, 3, and 1, but the Executive VP in charge of our group has made it known that he wants her to stay long-term. So, she works one day a week and is paid on an hourly basis (with no benefits). But it keeps her technical skills up to snuff; it keeps her in the loop regarding the office and company; and when the kids are old enough that she wants to return full time we're all set for her. Yes, it's sometimes hard to come up with meaningful tasking that she can do in one day a week, but we make it happen. This, I hope, is how to handle part-time employment the right way.

Posted by: Army Brat | February 22, 2007 8:49 AM

I don't understand those folks who say, well I would still have to work full-time hours....you shouldn't have to. If you have an agreement with your employer, keep your part and expect them to keep theirs. Part-time work, in my experience, has allowed me to remain in the workforce, keep the hours my daughter is in outside care to a minimum and to have a little time all to myself. I don't expect to advance quickly right now, but my daughter won't ever young again either. One caveat, I don't live in DC anymore and thank my lucky stars everyday that I don't have to deal with the work culture there.

Posted by: NC Mom | February 22, 2007 8:49 AM

I don't understand those folks who say, well I would still have to work full-time hours....you shouldn't have to. If you have an agreement with your employer, keep your part and expect them to keep theirs. Part-time work, in my experience, has allowed me to remain in the workforce, keep the hours my daughter is in outside care to a minimum and to have a little time all to myself. I don't expect to advance quickly right now, but my daughter won't ever young again either. One caveat, I don't live in DC anymore and thank my lucky stars everyday that I don't have to deal with the work culture there.

Posted by: NC Mom | February 22, 2007 8:51 AM

There are so many factors that come into play on whether part-time work and parenting mesh well together:

1) The age/s of your kid/s.

2) The type of job you have.

3) The corporate culture you work in--do a lot of people work part-time, do they value family life...or do people put in extremely long hours?

4) What your spouse does--and how much of a contribution he/she makes to parenting and running the household.

5) Whether you HAVE to work...or WANT to work.

6) What your professional aspirations are.

And lastly--what is your personality like? Are you very "type A" and agonize over every little thing...often blaming yourself? Or, do you tend to be laid back and let things roll? The more you can step back, relax, and let things roll...the less agonizing you will do...and the more "successful" you really will be at your job and as a parent (although, if you're really laid back...you won't even give that too much thought...instead you'll live in the moment!).

Posted by: It depends... | February 22, 2007 8:51 AM

Thank you for such a thoughtful blog entry today. As Mom to a 9-mo old I am reminded every day of the compromises, joys and disappointments I could not predict before becoming a mother. I have opted not to work part-time for many of the reasons above-- a feeling that I would do the same work for less pay, and that a transition back to full time work would be difficult.

I would like to add to the mix a note that another challenge for part-time work is the lack of part-time daycare for young children. Despite the blow to my career, I believe I would consider part-time work more seriously if I could have part-time daycare-- but frankly it was hard enough to find infant daycare at all, much less part-time care. Paying for full-time care on a part-time schedule just doesn't make sense financially.

The compromise at my home is that I work from home 2 days a week-- a wonderful benefit for which I am intensely grateful. But telecommuting doesn't resolve the guilt and sometimes makes me feel even more stretched because even though I'm at home, my daughter will either have to go to daycare for awhile so I can work (the guilt meter goes up...) or I will scramble to finish work while she naps or plays (more guilt, and more guilt). There are times when I think my husband is the lucky one because he can go to the office 5 days a week and not try to juggle so many responsibilities-- but I would guess he thinks that I'm the lucky one.

Posted by: pumpinMama | February 22, 2007 9:02 AM

"I knew that I could be giving her more. More attention. More books. More trips to the park. But -- once again -- the time just wasn't there to be the parent I thought I could be."

I hope that deep down inside this isn't really how you felt. How many books, trips to the park, and attention does one kid really need? If you were able to do even some of this...you were doing plenty!!!!

Think back to years ago when people lived on family farms and every part of the family worked. When mom sewed for a living out of the home...and the kids just were kids. They played. How did we somehow turn parenting into a "job"? Our presence in our children's lives is all they really need. They WILL grow up just fine. And yes, they'll have fond memories of time with their dad.

Posted by: To: Brian | February 22, 2007 9:02 AM

"I knew that I could be giving her more. More attention. More books. More trips to the park. But -- once again -- the time just wasn't there to be the parent I thought I could be."

I hope that deep down inside this isn't really how you felt. How many books, trips to the park, and attention does one kid really need? If you were able to do even some of this...you were doing plenty!!!!

Think back to years ago when people lived on family farms and every part of the family worked. When mom sewed for a living out of the home...and the kids just were kids. They played. How did we somehow turn parenting into a "job"? Our presence in our children's lives is all they really need. They WILL grow up just fine. And yes, they'll have fond memories of time with their dad.

Posted by: To: Brian | February 22, 2007 9:04 AM

That is a really good point about day care. I pay full time day care, even though DD is not there every day. When she starts going to preschool 5 days a week, I will still have to pay full time day care for half time. But it is the reassurance if there is a snow closure, teacher work day, school holiday, all summer that DD is in a place she loves and feels comfortable. But your right at 1300/month it does seem strange.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 22, 2007 9:17 AM

I'm still fixated on Leslie's discussion about the Valentines, but I think this observation relates to Brian's column today as well.

For me, one of the key lessons I had to learn in order to make peace with my current situation (working part-time, home part-time) was:
You can either do one or two things exceptionally well, maybe even perfectly
OR
you can do a lot of things pretty well.

By choosing to take on a lot of different types of responsibilities, maybe you are ultimately saying "I will never the best at any one thing." And yes, that's tough to take, if you're used to being 100 percent prepared at all times.
(In other words, the lady with the homemade Valentine's may have had no other obligations for that day, whereas chances are Leslie had a lot of obligations other than the valentines. Therefore, Leslie shouldn't have tried to compete with the Valentine lady.)

It's a lesson I have to keep reminding myself -- by trying to do a lot of different things, I will probably never be able to give 100 percent to any one of them, and most of the time there will be someone else doing the same activity with ALL of their energy, and yes, they'll be better at it than I am. But I'll still have lots of other activities that are iportant to me that I am still pursuing. Does that make sense?

Posted by: Armchair Mom | February 22, 2007 9:17 AM

That is a really good point about day care. I pay full time day care, even though DD is not there every day. When she starts going to preschool 5 days a week, I will still have to pay full time day care for half time. But it is the reassurance if there is a snow closure, teacher work day, school holiday, all summer that DD is in a place she loves and feels comfortable. But your right at 1300/month it does seem strange.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 22, 2007 9:20 AM

I'm still fixated on Leslie's discussion about the Valentines, but I think this observation relates to Brian's column today as well.

For me, one of the key lessons I had to learn in order to make peace with my current situation (working part-time, home part-time) was:
You can either do one or two things exceptionally well, maybe even perfectly
OR
you can do a lot of things pretty well.

By choosing to take on a lot of different types of responsibilities, maybe you are ultimately saying "I will never the best at any one thing." And yes, that's tough to take, if you're used to being 100 percent prepared at all times.
(In other words, the lady with the homemade Valentine's may have had no other obligations for that day, whereas chances are Leslie had a lot of obligations other than the valentines. Therefore, Leslie shouldn't have tried to compete with the Valentine lady.)

It's a lesson I have to keep reminding myself -- by trying to do a lot of different things, I will probably never be able to give 100 percent to any one of them, and most of the time there will be someone else doing the same activity with ALL of their energy, and yes, they'll be better at it than I am. But I'll still have lots of other activities that are iportant to me that I am still pursuing. Does that make sense?

Posted by: Armchair Mom | February 22, 2007 9:25 AM

Great observation Armchair Mom.

"For me, one of the key lessons I had to learn in order to make peace with my current situation (working part-time, home part-time) was:
You can either do one or two things exceptionally well, maybe even perfectly
OR
you can do a lot of things pretty well."

Posted by: Cali Esq | February 22, 2007 9:55 AM

RE: "I knew that I could be giving her more. More attention. More books. More trips to the park. But -- once again -- the time just wasn't there to be the parent I thought I could be."

I hope that deep down inside this isn't really how you felt. How many books, trips to the park, and attention does one kid really need? If you were able to do even some of this...you were doing plenty!!!!

AND

Think back to years ago when people lived on family farms and every part of the family worked. When mom sewed for a living out of the home...and the kids just were kids. They played. How did we somehow turn parenting into a "job"? Our presence in our children's lives is all they really need. They WILL grow up just fine. And yes, they'll have fond memories of time with their dad.

AGREED!!

My kids will also have fond memories of time with their lovely and loving nanny!! She loved doing crafts with them - one of those quintessential "mon things" that I really don't enjoy. Ditto for outings to Chuckie Cheese's. There's nothing wrong and lots right with quality daycare. It's a must even for part timers.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 9:55 AM

RE: "I knew that I could be giving her more. More attention. More books. More trips to the park. But -- once again -- the time just wasn't there to be the parent I thought I could be."

I hope that deep down inside this isn't really how you felt. How many books, trips to the park, and attention does one kid really need? If you were able to do even some of this...you were doing plenty!!!!

AND

Think back to years ago when people lived on family farms and every part of the family worked. When mom sewed for a living out of the home...and the kids just were kids. They played. How did we somehow turn parenting into a "job"? Our presence in our children's lives is all they really need. They WILL grow up just fine. And yes, they'll have fond memories of time with their dad.

AGREED!!

My kids will also have fond memories of time with their lovely and loving nanny!! She loved doing crafts with them - one of those quintessential "mon things" that I really don't enjoy. Ditto for outings to Chuckie Cheese's. There's nothing wrong and lots right with quality daycare. It's a must even for part timers.

Posted by: lindab | February 22, 2007 9:57 AM

Even SAHMs do not give 100% to their children. I am always amazed at the hand-wringing that goes on here. You deal with what life dishes out to you and why do so many people (WOHM/WOHD/SAHM/SAHD) second guess themrselves?

Euromom - the normal work week is 9am -5 pm, but most full time people put in many more hours than that. Most of my colleagues get to the office between 7:30 and 8:00 and leave around 6pm. I have some part-time colleagues who work 24 hours a week, but again, they are really doing more than that because they are also working at home.

Posted by: Penn | February 22, 2007 10:01 AM

Lots of thoughtful comments already posted here today, nearly all of which I agree with.

One topic not explicitly mentioned thus far is change of career. Much ink has been spilt in the media lately over the fact that today's workers are far likelier to switch not only jobs but also their entire field of work during their paid-working lifetimes (including returning to school for more training/education as necessary). This has been true for me -- and I wonder for how many other posters on this board as well. I recognize how lucky I am now to be in a situation where I can control the amount of work I do, and (to some extent) how much of it I can do at home -- I realize not everyone has that option, at least not yet. (But it certainly proved a blessing when I was seriously ill for months last year, and even after the worst was over I could still only work a very little). Of course, I'm fortunate to have a F-T WOH DH -- plus we've always lived more frugally than our peers, so economizing is pretty much second nature for us now.

Posted by: catlady | February 22, 2007 10:06 AM

Euromom,

Part-time is anything less than 40 hours a week and full-time is 40 hours or more week.

Posted by: John | February 22, 2007 10:07 AM

I found that working part-time had elements of piece work. You got some 'chunk' to something to do, and were supposed to do it in so many hours. Often the hour budget was tight, so if the work wasn't done you were working for free.

After awhile I started comparing my output to those full-timers, and it wasn't always so different. I was just missing things like being required to be there so many hours a week and paid holidays and leave. The plus was that on snow or sick children days I could stay home knowing that I wasn't chewing up my summer vacation. Of course I wasn't getting paid either, and sometimes there were deadline pressures. I did that for 15 years, so it mostly worked for me.

Keeping up in your field can be an issue. As a part-timer I was at the helm of older systems. My skill at old technology (which was current when I was previously full-time), was the hook that got me the flexible job. Over the years that old technology went away, and I wasn't always getting assignments that put me in touch with the new technology. This isn't unique to part-time employees, but since your hours are variable you can be first on the chopping block if things get tight, so you have to be sure you are doing something along the critical path of your business.

Posted by: RoseG | February 22, 2007 10:17 AM

Armchair,

What you say really rings true. I have just come to the realization -- aided by my ever-pragmatic mother -- that I am a bureaucrat who sometimes writes for pleasure, not a writer trapped in the life of a bureaucrat. Having children means accepting that creative dreams you had but didn't have the guts to fully pursue may be lost or at least delayed by a couple of decades.

I actually don't want to go back to work. Financially, I don't have to. My husband says he will take care of us. But it seems very selfish to now try to become a "Writer" when for the first time in my life I have concrete financial obligations to some one else and I believe, a responsibility to maintain my workforce viability in the event that anything should happen to my husband.

Sigh...spiralling toward depression. Now I think I should have lived more courageously before I got married.

Posted by: Denkpaard | February 22, 2007 10:18 AM

To Euromom,

I don't know where in Europe you are, but in the region where my father's parents came from, it's now the case in cities and towns that businesses either close down entirely for lunchtime, or remain open but stagger workers' hours so that many of them get 90-120 minutes for lunch (or at least 60 minutes at a bare minimum).

Parents often pick up their kids from school and take them home for lunch, then take the kids back to school and (if neccessary) return home to finish cleaning up after the meal before going back to work themselves. People without children at home eat sometimes lunch out at cafes, although many still go home. And in nice weather it's not uncommon to see people brown-bagging it in parks or plazas.

Of course, the other side of the coin -- and you just KNEW there had to be one -- is that offices and businesses routinely stay open till 6 or 6:30 PM. (Guess there's no such thing as a free lunch after all -- groan!)

Posted by: catlady | February 22, 2007 10:19 AM

Great observation Armchair Mom.

"For me, one of the key lessons I had to learn in order to make peace with my current situation (working part-time, home part-time) was:
You can either do one or two things exceptionally well, maybe even perfectly
OR
you can do a lot of things pretty well."

Posted by: Cali Esq | February 22, 2007 10:19 AM

Euromom - I disagree that the normal work week is 9am -5 pm for anyone other than secretaries and other administrative professionals. Factory and other blue-collar jobs typically offer three shifts: 7 - 4; 4 - 11; 11 - 7. Across most industries and job descriptions, the average non-administrative white collar worker arrives at the office between 7:45 and 8:30 and leaves between 5 and 6:30. If there's more work to be done, most people do their best to handle it from home after the kids are in bed. Many parents negotiate for different hours, particularly a 6 - 3 or 7 - 4 workday that allows them to be home soon after the school-day ends.

Part-time is whatever you negotiate and is highly industry-specific. For lawyers, doctors and top-tier accountants, p/t is 30 - 40 hours (because full-time is 60+).

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 10:23 AM

How did we somehow turn parenting into a "job"?

Answer: You started calling it "parenting"; that is, you made a verb out of the noun parent.

You made it into something you "do" -- that's what a verb is -- and it ceased being something you "are."

Sad.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 10:32 AM

How did we somehow turn parenting into a "job"?

Answer: You started calling it "parenting"; that is, you made a verb out of the noun parent.

You made it into something you "do" -- that's what a verb is -- and it ceased being something you "are."

Sad.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 10:35 AM

EuroMom, I have to disagree about 9-5 being full time. That's only a 35 hour work week if you're talking 60 minutes for lunch, and industry standard in many places is at least 37.5 if not 40 hours. I'm not saying it never happens, and I agree with the poster at 10:23 about the blue collar shifts.

I work 40 hours a week, so I start generally around 7:30 and finish around 4:30 with an hour for lunch thrown in somewhere. I'm lucky in that my commute is around 25 minutes (I don't live in DC), but all total, I'm looking at 10 hours every day. It makes for a long week.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 22, 2007 10:37 AM

EuroMom, I have to disagree about 9-5 being full time. That's only a 35 hour work week if you're talking 60 minutes for lunch, and industry standard in many places is at least 37.5 if not 40 hours. I'm not saying it never happens, and I agree with the poster at 10:23 about the blue collar shifts.

I work 40 hours a week, so I start generally around 7:30 and finish around 4:30 with an hour for lunch thrown in somewhere. I'm lucky in that my commute is around 25 minutes (I don't live in DC), but all total, I'm looking at 10 hours every day. It makes for a long week. But my weeks in DC were much longer!

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 22, 2007 10:38 AM

How did we somehow turn parenting into a "job"?

Answer: You started calling it "parenting"; that is, you made a verb out of the noun parent.

You made it into something you "do" -- that's what a verb is -- and it ceased being something you "are."

HOW TRUE!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | February 22, 2007 10:49 AM

Brian, great post.

I work full time, mostly from home, and my husband works part time; this arrangement is incredible and we are very lucky to have the flexibility. But by the end of last year, we both were feeling what Brian and others have described: like we weren't doing anything well. I personally felt like no matter how much I did, it would never be enough - my son would always want more time from me, my job would always need more attention, etc.

I think Equal and Equal_Too have pretty much nailed it when they write: "If we can stay in the moment, we don't have to feel that we should be somewhere else or doing more of this or that." My husband and I have been working together and with a counselor to reach that point in ourselves, and it has made such a huge difference in our happiness. I'm sure some will be disparaging of going to counseling for something like that, but sometimes it takes having someone outside your life help you look in it.

For me, it's been a great process learning to see the ways that my own perceptions are the source of my stress and unhappiness, and how to change those. I guess the point of this tell-all is just to say that I think that the pitfalls Brian described are really at the heart of it all for me, even with working full time, and learning to make peace within myself is really the only solution.

Posted by: Megan | February 22, 2007 10:56 AM

Does anyone have any experience about job-sharing that they can add? I currently work for the federal government and might have the opportunity to job share within the next year or so. I plan on jumping on the opportunity so that I can spend more time with my DDs while keeping my foot in the door at work. Any insights?

Posted by: JL | February 22, 2007 11:01 AM

I've been working part-time since my older child was 1.5 yrs, and now have another baby who is almost 1. I think it's a terrific arrangement, but since we're focusing on the cons, here are mine:

1. Cost of sharing a nanny. Paying for full-time daycare when I only need 2 days a week isn't an option, but sharing a nanny isn't exactly cheap, either. The upside is that sharing a nanny is a terrific experience for my baby, and was for my older child, also.

2. Keeping up with the full-timers. Though my line of work is well suited to part-time status, I'm the only one in the office who works part-time, so it's hard to keep pace with the flow of the projects.

3. No downtime, although this complaint is hardly unique to part-timers. Some full-time office workers, though, do seem to have time for a quick lunch out with friends, the occasional online shopping expedition, etc., while at work. Some SAH parents may find some personal time during naps, etc., to exercise, read, whatever. As a part-timer, I have to check in with the office daily just to keep the work flowing so that I'm ready to go on my actual workdays (and yes, I do bill for that time), so that's what naptime is for, leaving no 'me' time at all.

Posted by: dc | February 22, 2007 11:01 AM

I've been working part-time since my older child was 1.5 yrs, and now have another baby who is almost 1. I think it's a terrific arrangement, but since we're focusing on the cons, here are mine:

1. Cost of sharing a nanny. Paying for full-time daycare when I only need 2 days a week isn't an option, but sharing a nanny isn't exactly cheap, either. The upside is that sharing a nanny is a terrific experience for my baby, and was for my older child, also.

2. Keeping up with the full-timers. Though my line of work is well suited to part-time status, I'm the only one in the office who works part-time, so it's hard to keep pace with the flow of the projects.

3. No downtime, although this complaint is hardly unique to part-timers. Some full-time office workers, though, do seem to have time for a quick lunch out with friends, the occasional online shopping expedition, etc., while at work. Some SAH parents may find some personal time during naps, etc., to exercise, read, whatever. As a part-timer, I have to check in with the office daily just to keep the work flowing so that I'm ready to go on my actual workdays (and yes, I do bill for that time), so that's what naptime is for, leaving no 'me' time at all.

Posted by: dc | February 22, 2007 11:02 AM

Good stuff - nothing majorly inflammatory yet!

I work full time for the feds. Part time is available, but, like others, if I took it, I'd be doing the same amount of work I'm doing now. My husband and I have discussed my going part-time, but since childcare costs are so high, the income hit would be significant. Also, it's not clear to me that the reduced face time/extra leisure time is worth the psychological burden that I'm doing the same amount of work for less. I just wish I could take a 2-months' sabbatical to recharge my batteries.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | February 22, 2007 11:10 AM

to 10:23 am:

Yup, I was once offered one of those "part-time" 40 hours/week jobs. No thanks!

That's why I sit in a fed job that not completely fulfilling.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | February 22, 2007 11:16 AM

I don't understand the thinking that in part time work you can't give 100% to anything- isn't the point to try and give 50-50 split between your kids and home?

Or is the point to only give 100% to work and kids can come 2nd or 3rd in line?

If you're giving more time to work, obviously- your kid(s) getting less of the pie. It's still the same size pie- isn't the question really what you want to devote more to?

Bottom line is that your kids are getting MORE of you by cutting back on work hours. Is it so bad that you don't get as much done as you used to?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 11:17 AM

Sure, I'd gain an hour with my kids, but the cost would be high. If I went part-time, and did pickup (and kids did beforecare), I'd gain about 1 1/2 hours a day with my kids, due to my commute into downtown DC. It's not a lot of extra time with the kids, and it would be a reduction of 3 hours of work a day (and 30% drop in pay). Also, given how much gets scheduled around here after 3 pm, I don't see how that schedule would work without having aftercare available, and those fees are the same.

Like others have said, before & aftercare and daycare are all set up for full-time working parents, and office hours are set for 8-5. I don't know anyone who gets to work 9-5.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | February 22, 2007 11:26 AM

NC mom posted: "I don't understand those folks who say, well I would still have to work full-time hours....you shouldn't have to. If you have an agreement with your employer, keep your part and expect them to keep theirs."

In North Carolina, as in most states, most employees do not work under the terms of an employment contract requiring cause in order to terminate employment. I can be told to update my resume at any moment for any lawful reason, including because the wind blew north at 5 mph today. Just what sort of leverage do you think the employee has to say, "we made a deal, you keep your end of it"? Part-timers need to keep their employers happy, because they contribute proportionately less to the bottom line than their full-time peers. If a part-timer wants to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with his boss over some perceived back-tracking by the boss with respect to the details of the part-time relationship, he had best be prepared for the potential repercussions, including sudden down-sizing.

Posted by: NC lawyer | February 22, 2007 11:29 AM

I get to work 9-5 95% of the time. I also never take lunch breaks to accomplish this, but, hey I get "regular" hours and more time w/ my dd. My husband works 8-4. I do drop off and he does pick up. We both get time alone w/ our child and she doesn't have to be at daycare from 8-6. She's there from 8:45-4:15/4:30.
I see a big difference in her since we cut back. Up until a few weeks ago she was there from 8:15-5:30. Just 1 1/2 hrs less per day makes her much happier (and us too!)
BTW, we did take a 15% paycut (no benefits lost) for my husband to take this job- it's worth it.

Posted by: SAHMbacktowork | February 22, 2007 11:35 AM

My office has a day care in the building. Is this a rare thing? I don't have children, but my co-workers that do have their kids downstairs where they are encouraged to take at least one day a week and have lunch, and also for feeding (assuming it's the mom here) for the infants.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 11:51 AM

I work 3 days a week and generally enjoy it. So cmac, you aren't the only one. I don't get to network or take continuing ed courses, but that's a small price to pay so I can spend more time with my 9 month old daughter. I've only been working part-time for 6 months, so my opinion of part-time work may change. For now, I think I'm less stressed than I would be if I was working full-time and trying to juggle work and home. I've always been paid hourly and I'm not expected to work on my off days. I still have the same level of responsibility I had before I went part-time, but I take on fewer projects. I'm lucky I found a good, licenced in-home daycare provider that gave us a $25 break per week for part-time daycare. I'm still paying more per day than if I had my DD in day care 5 days a week, but a small price cut is better than no price cut.

As for spending more time with my daughter, I'm not convinced I would spend a ton more time with her if I was home full-time. I probably would choose to work-out more, clean the house more, cook more, etc. No situation is ideal, but I'm comfortable with mine.

Posted by: Leslie W | February 22, 2007 11:56 AM

It seems to me that there is a unique tipping point for each job - that sweet spot where you can cut back and still be productive enough, valued enough, connected with your colleagues enough.

For some jobs, unfortunately, that seems to be 60+ hours per week. Personally, I find that at around 30 hours per week, I have adequate face time, office time to accomplish projects, etc. in my current position. I actually suspect that if I were to suddenly increase my hours to 40 per week, very few people would even notice. I'm off on Fridays, which is the best day here in my office to be away from work - the fewest meetings and other reasons I'd be missed. Working reduced hours, I definitely don't have as much time (or patience) for chit-chat, but not so much that I don't bond with my co-workers.

By the way, I know this is a silly nomenclature thing, but I prefer the term 'reduced hours' to 'part-time' just because of the connotation to businesses that part-time workers are only 'partly' dedicated. I'd love to see the day when we abandon the 40 hour work week and fit the hours to the job requirements instead.

Posted by: equal | February 22, 2007 11:57 AM

Euromom,

I think the 9-5 business day only holds on the East Coast. In the Midwest, things seem to run 8-4-- I'm not sure if it's the front office matching up with 1st shift (which would be 7-3), or just that people want to get home a bit earlier and have a life.

I think the 60 hour work week is a regional thing too-- it's common around New York City, and DC, and some other cities I'm sure, but here lots of people work 40-45 hours and go home.

Posted by: YetAnotherSAHM... | February 22, 2007 12:07 PM

I don't think the term "reduced employee" offers much PC benefit over part-timer.

Posted by: Successfully Reduced | February 22, 2007 12:07 PM

"But it's not a cure-all, not in a work-obsessed culture." Perhaps that's the key, don't be work-obsessed. As my father likes to say - work to live, don't live to work.

Posted by: RockvilleDad | February 22, 2007 12:09 PM

I agreed wholeheartedly with "LindaB" - my kids have a great time with the nanny, especially the Chuck E. Cheese days. I did that with my kids this weekend for the first time and will henceforth leave that to the nanny. I also agree with the person who said it's fine to do a few things "pretty well" but not perfectly. This "perfect parent" mentality is ridiculous. Like one person said, if you had park time and reading time with your kids then you are being a good parent.

I am very lucky because I have a part-time job that 90% of the time, I can do very well within the confines of my part-time hours. I do get screwed on benefits, pay for full-time child care when I only use part-time, and have passed up applying for more interesting, career-elevating positions in my agency to keep my schedule.

But, I don't feel like my kids are getting short-changed at home. I find that when I come home from work I focus completely on my kids, playtime, homework time and spend the majority of my time on the weekends with them. I stayed home on an extended leave of absence recently and found I probably spent only slightly more time completely focused on my kids. They both go to school, have extracurricular activities and we had errands to run where they just tagged along.

People often say it's not the quantity of time you spend with your kids but the quality. I agree with this to a point. I think you need to have a certain critical mass of time that you spend with your kids, which is why I choose the part-time over full. I'm not saying a full-time schedule can't work but I think people need to be honest with themselves - you will miss things. I definitely noticed when I was home that, particularly with my youngest, some of the most interesting, touching, wonderful moments with him happened just out-of-the blue when we were just hanging out. And, with the little ones, you just can't get that time back.

So, I'm all for part-time schedules, despite the negatives. I think those that think they are not giving anything 100% are either being too hard on themselves or don't really have a part-time schedule. They have a full-time job they are cramming into part-time hours.

Posted by: Part-time working mom | February 22, 2007 12:11 PM

I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when I arranged with my employer to allow me to work PT in the office and PT at home (working around school and bedtime schedules). While it benefitted us financially to not have daycare costs, and I know the kids liked coming home to Mom, I was surprised to find that I really hated it--I felt like what I had to give was not enough for anyone. My employer tried to be understanding, but ultimately needed me in the office more. I don't think my kids realized how stretched I felt since I saved all the work for when they weren't around, but instead of being the perfect solution, it was the worst of both worlds for me.

Now DH and I have worked things out so we manage work and family more like Marc and Amy described. We both still work FT, but I do the traditional 9-5 M-F and he works four ten hour third shifts Weds - Sat. He's home for the kids after school each day, we're both home all evening, I'm home all weekend, and we divide household responsibilities equally. It's still not perfect, but it's as near to perfect as we can get at this point. We always try to keep in mind that this is just one chapter of our lives. Right now we're happy to put our careers in the slow lane while our family life is a priority. I have 30 years until retirement--plenty of time to Achieve and Succeed if I choose to do so.

Posted by: Sarah | February 22, 2007 12:21 PM

Timely column, as this has just come up at my firm. We are (like many other law firms) trying to figure out how to better retain young women associates, who tend to drop out of private firm life in pretty high numbers, saying that the need for more flexibility drives them to government or in-house jobs. The problem is, a lot of our young women don't really see a good path in front of them -- from the examples they see, they think if they want to build a really strong practice, they have to remain single or not have kids; if they want to have kids and truly work part-time, they think they will not be able to develop a solid practice; and their third alternative, I was told, is "to run around like crazy all the time like Laura and try to do everything."

I laughed, but I was kind of surprised to hear that, because I always thought I set a reasonable example -- I work at 80%, which as a practical matter for lawyers means about 40 hrs/wk, but it allows me to leave at 4-4:30 most days to pick up my kids, and not work most nights and weekends. I think the problem is that they see things when they get hard -- they notice the days I'm in at 7 AM and the days I'm there at 7 PM, and don't notice that those are almost never the same day; they notice the 10 PM e-mail, but don't notice the lack of e-mail at 5:30 PM.

But I also think when people talk about part-time work, they can be talking about two completely different things -- do you want flexibility, or do you want certainty? Euromom, I think this relates to your question a little bit. I know a number of people who have moved over to the government saying they wanted "flexibility," but what they really wanted was the certainty of knowing that they could come in at 8:30 and leave at 4:30 every day, and have every Friday off. But that's NOT what I want -- yes, I want to leave at 4:30 as a general rule, but I also want to be able to take off for my daughter's school party or doctor's appointment, or work at home, etc. But flexibility goes both ways -- which means I also need to be prepared to stay until 6 or 7 and do work a weekend if the client needs me to. And I feel really, really lucky to have found a firm that allows me to do that.

There are times when I feel I'm not doing any of my jobs well -- there was one particular week in January where I messed up on two projects and my daughter started acting up because she hadn't seen me much, all at the same time, and I felt like I was failing everyone. But then the very next week, a client e-mailed to tell me that a document I wrote was the best thing he had ever gotten from a lawyer, and I got to spend an afternoon helping my daughter bake cookies in her Easy-Bake oven, and it all seemed worthwhile again.

Posted by: Laura | February 22, 2007 1:05 PM

I have worked part-time my entire working life. I never viewed work as anything other than a chance to do something that I loved while being available for my kids. I knew it would not be a career but a balancer that had financial benefits.

Many people see part-time as a way to keep their fingers in their field. That sometimes is a great benefit. However, it was never the issue for me.

Posted by: OLDER MOM | February 22, 2007 1:08 PM

Thank you all, your explanations have been most helpful in understanding the meaning of working full & part-time all across the US.
I live in a Southern Europe country (Portugal) and though the number of hours put in per week depends on the particular job you hold, I get the general impression that the threshold is much lower than in the States - which surely accounts for the very small number of part-time workers, either with or without children.
All in all, the mainstream work culture doesn't seem to be as aggressive towards the amount of hours you're expected to put in (call it the French influence if you like, with its 35 hours-week).
As to schedules, much to my regret we're definitely not early risers - the average working day starts between 8,30 and 9 a.m., and yes the lunch break seems to be too long (1 1/2 to 2 hours) so the afternoon stretch ends rather late, and most people I know (but not my family) only get to have dinner around 8 or 9 p.m.
(Out of curiosity, statistics show that not only adults but also children tend to suffer from endemic lack of sleep in a much higher degree than in other EU countries - but I would blame it on too much evening TV as well...)

Posted by: EuroMom | February 23, 2007 12:41 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2007 The Washington Post Company