Working part-time as a mom, part three

21 November 2022

When I started writing this series, I was mainly focused on my reasons for transitioning to part-time work, which were personal, not professional. I was surprised, then (but delighted!), by your many wonderful questions about the work side of this transition, and so it was an easy decision to dive into this angle with an extra post. (We’ll look at how I’m spending my Fridays in the fourth and final post.) Let’s take your questions…

Part One: Background on my work history and some reasons (or not) for shortening my work week
Part Two: Why we chose me over my husband to make this change, why we chose going part-time over other solutions, and the financial impact
Part Four: What my days off have actually looked like (so far)

Annie’s first visit to the Cultivate office earlier this year

Was your decision influenced by Cultivate’s acquisition?

Those of you who have followed closely may be aware that Cultivate was acquired in June of this year. My decision to go part-time was not in response to the acquisition, but it did put a point on the process. After I went back to work following my maternity leave in late fall 2021, the squeeze at home became more and more apparent. By the spring, I knew going part-time was the right decision, and I was eager to confirm my new schedule before the acquisition closed, knowing that negotiating with a brand-new boss could be far more challenging. The new owners agreed to my hours as part of my signing on to their company despite not having many part-time employees, for which I am grateful.

How did you negotiate this arrangement with your boss?

I remember so clearly the first time I broached the idea of reducing my hours – I was standing in my boss’s kitchen, heating up my lunch :) This was in 2016, when I was pregnant with June, and she had mentioned several times that we should talk about what my maternity leave was going to look like. I was nervous to have the conversation, because I worked for a small company with no clear blueprint for leave – I wasn’t sure where we’d land, and it felt like there was a lot riding on the outcome. I also knew I wanted to ask for a shortened schedule (9-4 versus 9-5) at the same time, and I had NO idea what the response to that request would be.

My boss met my requests so graciously, which should not be a surprise to anyone who knows her. With that first change of hours, my promise was basically that I would continue to produce the same amount of work with five fewer hours by trimming “fat” anywhere I could throughout my days – and that’s pretty much what I did.

When it was time to arrange this most recent transition of my schedule, the situation was very different. I did not feel nervous about approaching my boss – we were both in new places in our lives and in our relationship with each other, and I knew she would immediately support this change, which she did. I also knew that if for some reason my request was turned down, I could walk away and our family would be fine – it wouldn’t be what I wanted, but we were in a very different place financially and in our lives than we were in 2016, and so the outcome did not feel as pressure-filled. What did make me nervous, however, was breaking the news later to the rest of the CWM team, as I worried they might feel I was abandoning them in the midst of the upheaval of the acquisition (they, too, were very gracious).

I recognize that my situation is unique: I’m a key (though not indispensable!) cog with a very niche role in a small business. I had major longevity at the company and had demonstrated long-term loyalty. I work for a business whose purpose is to help customers live out what matters most, and wants that for their employees, too. And most importantly, I had a boss who cared deeply about me as a person and is a woman of great compassion, integrity, and love for God. (I know you’re reading, Lara – what a gift you are to me!)

Is anyone watching the fifth season of The Crown? Towards the end of the first episode, the Queen requests funds for refurbishment of the royal yacht from the Prime Minister. He initially balks at the expense, which prompts a forceful response from Her Majesty: “I hope we can agree that as sovereign, I have made very few requests, let alone demands, in return for the service I have given this country. Perhaps the reason I have held back is in the hope that when I actually do, people don’t just take it seriously, they do as I ask without question.” Wowza.

I’ve talked about this before, but staying at Southern Weddings and Cultivate for as long as I have is not an accident – among other reasons, I hoped my tenure would allow for exactly the flexibility, trust, and latitude it has when I needed it most. Though I would never have spoken with such imperiousness (yipes!), I did recognize a bit of my situation in the Queen :)

What had to change in my role, or what has changed, for this to be possible?

This is an astute question. It’s not possible to go part-time in every role, and even if it is, many roles (and individuals, and company cultures!) are just not suited to it. Though I have worked for the same company my entire life, my role has changed several times over the last decade, and when I look back, I can see the ways I consciously and subconsciously nudged it toward a shape that is suited to part-time hours. Here are a few of those ways:

  • I am an individual contributor with long-term projects. My main responsibility is devising and writing the content for our printed products (PowerSheets, conversation cards, Reading Journal, etc. – almost everything!). I interface with designers, editors, and occasionally higher-ups, but it’s largely just me at my computer, writing and thinking. I have very few daily deliverables, as most of my projects take several days or weeks to complete. Since the projects are more long-term, I have more choice over how I structure my time each day.
  • My role is not driven by immediate metrics and generally does not require immediate responses. This is very different than, say, a job in marketing, which has daily data points that might require pivots, changes in strategy, or new initiatives. I also receive almost no email. (Seriously – probably fewer than five emails a month that require responses. I do have Slack to keep up with and chatter in our project management system.) In my Southern Weddings role, by comparison, email was a HUGE part of my job and I responded to (and sent!) hundreds of emails a month.
  • I have bowed out of managerial responsibilities. Over the years, by choice (and sometimes not by choice!), I have shed my more unpredictable responsibilities – namely leadership and HR roles. This has given me more autonomy and control over my time at work, since I am less buffeted by the needs and whims of other people. It also means I have very few meetings.

And here are a few things I have had to accept to make this work on my end:

  • I have to look WAY far ahead in our project management system to see what’s coming down the pike for me. I work on big, long-term projects that can’t just be dashed off in a few hours if I didn’t see them coming. With fewer days and hours, I don’t have as much room for error in planning my time.
  • I live and die by time blocking. At the end of every week, I look ahead at my calendar and in our project management system and block my time in half-hour increments. This is the only way I can be realistic about what I can and cannot accomplish in a week. As I adjust due dates in the project management system, it helps others with expectations, especially since I’m not always available to answer questions. Time blocking also helps me stay on task and avoid distractions during the day, which is always important, but even more so with shorter hours.
  • I have had to release control. As my hours have shortened, I have had to give up projects to other people. I can’t weigh in on as many decisions. I just don’t have time to have my fingers in all that I’d want to, which can be hard. (But it has been good at the same time!)
  • I turn off notifications and don’t check Slack (or anything else) outside of my hours. This is counter-cultural in our world and in many workplaces, but it’s a key to actually enjoying the time away from work I have carved out for myself.
  • I have sacrificed being a star. Though I play a key role and am respected, I am outside the power structure. I’m not a manager, I’m not on the leadership team, my employers know I am not interested in “moving up the ranks,” I have limited hours, I’m not the first one tapped for new opportunities. I don’t think I will ever be the most beloved employee. All of this can be hard, but it’s a trade-off I’m making with open eyes.

How do you structure your six hours on days you work?

I generally block off the first and last half hour as “check in” and “wrap up,” respectively. Because I work shorter hours, there’s usually chatter that I need to catch up on (in Slack, email, and our project management system) that happened while I was out. If a small, last-minute ask comes up, I’ll usually tackle it in those windows, too.

I currently have a one-hour meeting on Mondays, and will occasionally schedule one-off meetings as needed – but other than that, it’s largely up to me how I schedule my time. Depending on deadlines and what I’m working on, I like to have a 2-3 hour block of deeper work – writing a chunk of a longer product or writing curriculum for a class – in the morning, then a break for lunch and a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood with John. In the afternoon, I schedule shorter blocks for blog posts, teaching emails, product descriptions, scripts, and similar tasks. I might use my final wrap-up half hour to finish a task I need a little extra time on, respond to messages, or take care of admin tasks.

I hope this sheds a little light on the other half of this transition! I’d love to hear how our work days are similar or different – it’s always interesting to learn about different experiences than your own!

Part One: Background on my work history and some reasons (or not) for shortening my work week
Part Two: Why we chose me over my husband, why we chose going part-time over other solutions, and the financial impact
Part Four: What my days off have actually looked like (so far)

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November 21, 2022 9:30 am

This was so helpful, Emily! Even as someone who currently doesn’t work outside of the home, it really demystifies “having it all” – something that no one has. ;) I appreciate your humility in recognizing the sacrifices it takes to choose what matters most to you and your family.

November 21, 2022 11:13 am
Reply to  Rachel

I agree!

November 21, 2022 1:12 pm

So interesting! Thanks for being so open about all of this. I work for a Christian organization (humanitarian aid) and recently interviewed for a team leader position even though my hours are pretty limited right now as a new-ish mom (~8-20 hrs/week). That position wasn’t the best fit for me but I am hoping to work towards creating a new position that would be a similar director role, but still part-time. I‘m thinking about what you said about giving up “being a star.” That’s very realistic, but also I wish that wasn’t the case that part-time workers and/or moms necessarily need to give up the dream of moving up the ladder. I do realize my organization is VERY flexible and one of the main reasons we chose to work there knowing one day we’d start having kids. Anyways, just thinking!

November 21, 2022 2:27 pm
Reply to  Sydni Jackson

I loved that part as well. Even as a full-time worker I’ve had to accept that I may not become the “star” or advance as quickly in my organization right now, for many years, or ever. My company is wonderful and flexible and understanding, but even those in leadership positions feel obligated (and some are required) to work longer hours and give more of themselves to their positions. As someone who has been climbing for a while, this was a painful realization for me. I fully embrace it now. I’d much rather give more of myself to my friends, family and personal life, than to my work-life, no matter how much I like my job.

November 21, 2022 4:53 pm

Many grateful tears reading this, as you know. And yes, faithfully reading every word since Peach and Pearl. I praise the Lord for you always.

November 21, 2022 9:07 pm

It was so refreshing to hear you talk about “not being a star” because I feel like so many women are encouraged to move up up up up the ladder. Thanks for your transparency and vulnerability!

November 22, 2022 7:01 am

This is so fascinating. I’ve loved all three posts.

I have basically just taken a decision at the other end of the spectrum. I have just accepted my first partner role in a City law firm! That said, it is a female led firm, which allows flexibility and a huge part of my decision to accept was wanting to lead other women, in making career choices that work for them and their families.

I am nervous and excited to begin, and thoughtfully carve out something that works for my little crew.

Jessica C.
November 26, 2022 9:22 pm

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences here! I really appreciate your point on being ok not being the star. I don’t think switching to part time is in my immediate future (not right for my employer or my family), but I have had some swirling thoughts about my job/role in my company. I have long been on a promotion track and have moved into different roles over time as I’ve grown. I’m right on the cusp of possibly pursuing the “next rung in the ladder” on my path and lately I’ve been assessing if that really makes sense for me as a whole person. If I was just looking at my career, maybe. But when I consider my role in my family and what we desire to have for our family/household/children it may not make sense for me to be in a growth phase of my career. My current role is really challenging, yet doable. I find a lot of satisfaction in and and can do a good job without a lot of extra struggle. I have a lot of flexibility that allows me to do a lot of the household manager type things I’d do if I was part time or be able to tend to our kid’s appointments or needs as necessary. However, I have been a bit of the “star” for awhile and choosing a slightly different path feels new and foreign. I also don’t want to pursue a promotion just because I think it’s what you’re supposed to do. Thanks for letting me process this aloud in this space! Mainly just want to say thank you for acknowledging some of the balancing a working parent will need to do when considering priorities and how it may look different over time.

Kristen M
November 30, 2022 7:43 am

This is so good! I especially like how you manage your work schedule and blocking out time. The point about being with one workplace long term leading to more flexibility is so true – that helped me be completely comfortable stating what I would like to shift my hours to (essentially 30 hours in the office and 10 hours from home) more than asking as we shifted into a hybrid environment post COVID which lined up with my oldest starting K. Having a great boss who is also a mom helps immensely with these sorts of things!
As someone who does manage others I try to really think about how I can model a flexible supportive workplace for other women (and men really!) by encouraging the folks who work for me to create schedules that best work for them – mothers or not! I have a lot of students who work for me and I hope I’m showing them what a good supportive family friendly work schedule can look like so that they can demand more of their future positions. I work in a profession that is female dominated but has not historically been mother friendly and I am slowly finally seeing a shift in that (and not just moms need flexible schedules – folks taking care of older parents or partners or even just doing life need flexibility too. One of my staff bought a house this year and we shifted her hours for a few weeks to make that transition easier for her to manage while continuing working)
All to say thank you so much for this series – it’s such an important thing to talk about!

December 5, 2022 9:09 pm

Your words always give me clarity and wisdom. Love you dearly and grateful for your leadership!!