Part time work, full time mom: five years later

by DaniGirl on March 19, 2014 · 3 comments

in Working and mothering

I‘m listening to a call-in show on CBC radio about workplaces making accommodations for parents, and in between grinding my teeth and rolling my eyes I’m repressing the urge to call in myself. Conveniently, I have another medium through which to vent my opinions on this subject, and I’ve been thinking about blogging about this topic for a while now anyway. Every day I count my lucky stars that I have an employer that allows me to work part time, and on the days I do work, allows me to schedule hours early enough in the day that I can be home in time to pick up the kids after school.

"What I dream of is an art of balance." ~ Henri Matisse

It’s been just a wee bit over five years since I made the decision to drop down to part time hours at work. When I came back to work after my maternity leave with Lucas, I switched from working full time to working four days per week. I kid you not when I say it was the best decision I ever made with regard to my career and work-life balance. People often ask me about my experience and how it’s working out, and I am always happy to rave about what a difference it has made in my life.

I love working part time hours. LOVE it! My weeks have a delicious, predictable rhythm. I take most Wednesdays off, which means that no matter whether things are nuts at home or at work, I only have to get through “tomorrow” at latest until there is a change of scene. Kids climbing the walls? No problem, the serenity of my little corner cubicle awaits. Work files overwhelming? Just get through today and tomorrow for a respite.

And best of all, no more of that Sunday evening dread, when you look at all the tasks you never got around to doing on the weekend (I’m eyeballing YOU, teetering pile of unsorted and unfolded laundry!) because you can likely take care of it in a couple of days instead of tripping over it all week. Wednesdays off are when I schedule all the kids’ (and the pets, and my) medical and dental appointments, the day I am free to volunteer in the classroom or on class trips (hello ski trip!) or deal with life’s minutiae, like furnace tune-ups and overdue library books.

I’m lucky to have an employer that respects my need to balance life at work and life outside of work, and a job that allows for it. There are times when I switch off and work a Wednesday to accommodate a meeting, or call in from home for a conference call, and I think flexibility on both sides of the fence has been key to making this work. I do think that maybe I’ve hampered my own progression into a more senior position by working part time, but that’s a sacrifice I’m more than happy to live with – for now, at least. While I love my job, I love my sanity more, and I have never been particularly career ambitious. I just want to be happy, yanno?

There is, of course, a cost to working only 80 per cent of a week – I lost 1/5 of my income. (Worth! Every! Penny!) Conveniently, the same month I dropped down to part time hours was the month I launched my 365 project, which has turned into a nice little photography business on the side. I sometimes wonder if I would have had enough stamina to manage the photo business working five full days a week. While I’m not bringing in the full amount of my lost wages through the blog and the photo business, it’s gone a long way to bridging the gap.

There’s a cost beyond 20 per cent of my salary, too. For every five years I work 80 per cent of full time hours, I will have to delay my full-pension retirement by one year. Rather than retiring at age 55, I now have to delay that by a year to account for the last five years of part time work. I may well resent myself at age 55 for the extra years I’ll have to put in before retirement — but I probably won’t. Heck, Lucas will only be in high school by then — I’m probably delusional about the idea of retiring before I pay for three university educations anyway!

The initial plan was for me to work part time until the kids were in school full time, and then hop back into the game full time to maximize my salary for that last decade before I retire. You know what, though? Even though Lucas has been in school full time since September, I feel sick to my stomach when I even think about going back full time. On the rare weeks when I do have to work five days in a row, I am frazzled and exhausted and whine wonder aloud how anybody manages to live life like this. I’ve become accustomed to both the restricted salary and the relaxed pace, and from here an extra couple of years until retirement doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world. I know my bosses would be delighted if I decided to come back full time, but I can’t imagine how I’d make it work.

How do you make your life work for you? Do you work from home or flexible hours, or trade off with a spouse who does? Are you staying at home until the kids are done school – or permanently? Or do you compensate by hiring out menial chores? (I would so love to hire a cleaning service, but just cannot justify it when I am supposed to be cleaning on my day off! Five years later and I’m still waiting to work that one into the schedule!) Would you want to work a lesser work week and if so – what’s keeping you from doing it?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lynn March 20, 2014 at 7:20 am

I “work from home” in that I have a number of home-based businesses that keep me busy, but don’t really bring in anything other than “fun money” type income. But here’s my biggest secret: despite basically being a stay-at-home mom, I do have a cleaning service. When the kids were babies it absolutely kept me sane to know that I could focus on the cooking and laundry and kid-classes and naptimes and take just one thing off my list. Now that they’re older I have thought about cancelling, but truly, they also keep my marriage in good shape – already almost all of the burden of running the house falls to me (which is okay, and understandable, and works for us), but if I also did all the cleaning, I think there would be many more fights around here. Harmony first!

2 Sarah McCormack March 21, 2014 at 7:52 am

sounds like the best idea you ever had! and one you will certainly never regret!

3 Peady March 24, 2014 at 11:35 am

The financial “hit” of choosing to be a stay-at-home-while-actually-doing-a-heck-of-a-lot-outside-the-home parent is definitely worth the priceless benefits of being here for my Things.

That being said, I worry about the future. I have two little humans to educate. One who is torn between attending Oxford or Hogwarts (I’m not telling him!) and one who is either bound for science or the stage. (They’re young. I’m sure it will work out.)

I think you *really* have struck an amazing balance. It is inspiring. You have what many wish for. Plus, you do good things with the time you have carved out for yourself and your family!

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