Working part-time as a mom, part two

7 November 2022

Well, 40 comments later on my first post about working part-time as a mom and – if nothing else – I think we have answered the question of whether or not this topic is interesting or helpful for anyone :) As always, you are my people: here for a thoughtful discussion, generously sharing your own experiences, and offering up insightful questions.

Today we are going to chat about why we chose me over John to shorten a work week, why we chose shortening a work week over other solutions to our pain points, and a bit about how we handled the financial impact.

Part One: Background on my work history and some reasons (or not) for shortening my work week

A mostly-unrelated photo of my beautiful Catherine loafers on a recent work day at the office!

Why did we choose me over John to shorten a work week?

Per usual, there are some very simple and straightforward reasons, and then there are some squiggly ones :)

First and most pressingly, John’s job adds significantly more to our family’s budget than mine does, so cutting back on his hours would have taken a much larger chunk out of our family budget. He has not always made more than me: for our first year in North Carolina, he was unemployed, and then he made less than me, then we made about the same, then he made more than me, and now he makes way more than me, ha. This discrepancy is almost entirely a reflection of choosing jobs in very different industries at very different companies – though both, thankfully, jobs we love. It does not bother me, and it doesn’t change how we spend our money: for us, all money coming into our family is funneled into the “income” side of a single budget for which we make joint decisions based on our shared goals and dreams.

Second, there is no one in his role at his company that works part-time (that we know of). And he works for a very large company. Is it possible? Anything’s possible, but it would have required far more hurdles to jump and novel permissions to receive to even get to the starting gate – whereas at my job, the organization is far smaller and all kinds of special arrangements and flexibility already exist (including in my own role).

Third, my role lends itself to our reason for shortening a work week. John spends his days meeting with clients, so his schedule is an interesting combination of fairly flexible in advance (he can block off, change, or add available appointment times as needed) and fairly inflexible on short-notice (i.e. we try to avoid having him cancel on clients without ample notice). My work, on the other hand, can generally flex into the evening as needed without inconveniencing anyone. Now, if I need to switch my day off to accommodate a sick child at the last minute, that’s generally not a problem.

Fourth, not only my role but I, myself, am better suited to our reasons for shortening a work week – I am both more skilled and more interested in the type of work we want done: I am a noticer. A recorder of stories and history. A browser of gifts. A decorator of surfaces. A maker of lists.

I am also the social connector in our family. As a duo, John and I live with a tension-filled reality: we are both introverts, and yet we value community. Part of the way I spend my time on my days off is maintaining and deepening connections with friends. It is a joy, but it also takes time and energy: delivering meals to families with new babies. Texting people to check in. Hour-long phone calls. Meeting up for a walk. Choosing a date to have friends over for dinner and then preparing for that meal. Buying and shipping birthday gifts. All of this is both work and fun for me in a way it wouldn’t necessarily be for John. The actual socializing? Sure, in most cases (ha). The planning and much of the relational building? No, not as much.

Finally, though it’s fair to say these things were all reasons to have me cut back, it’s also not complete to end this section without saying I wanted to do this. It sounded like a delight to me. I enjoy my job and believe it brings value to the world, but offer me the chance to have a day where I get to decide how to spend it? Doing things that bring me joy, make me feel productive, and serve my family? All while listening to podcasts along the way? :) What a dream! John, for his part, does not have the same interest.

As the very smallest of tangents, I think it’s valid to recognize that as a girl and then a woman, I was likely encouraged to find value and grow skills in these areas. Some might view that as unfair or wrong, but I do believe it’s helpful to have specialization in a marriage partnership. The specialization doesn’t always have to line up along “traditional” gender lines; to me, it’s also okay when it does.

Why did you choose to drop a work day over other solutions to your pain points?

First, I will say I feel like we already maxed out many possible solutions over the last several years. I dropped a few hours at work. We hired a monthly cleaning crew. I haven’t written here as much. We’ve resisted buying a bigger home. I’ve optimized our grocery shopping. A robot vacuum cleaner zooms around our downstairs every night. We’ve simplified and systemized all kinds of things in our life, from gift buying to budgeting to kid sports to socializing.

The next obvious tier to access is more tech-forward, and predictably, that’s where I balked – for two reasons. First, because technological or outsourcing solutions require their own time and maintenance, and two, because they don’t always lead to the kind of life I value living.

Let’s take the example of grocery shopping. Could we opt to do grocery pick-up? Yes. However, there would still be a need to meal plan, to place the order, to text with the shopper, to receive the groceries when they arrive home. And besides, as strange as it might sound, I enjoy and value the warmth, texture, and even the occasional grit of pushing my cart up and down the aisles. I like smiling at people, and responding to a fellow shopper’s quip about what’s in my cart, and chatting with the check out clerk. I like seeing what other people in my community are buying and what they’re wearing and how they’re acting.

At the risk of extrapolating too far, I believe these tiny interactions have an outsized effect on the knitting together of a community. Yes, they take more time. Yes, they can occasionally be annoying. But joking with my post office clerk and exchanging pleasantries with the crossing guard at June’s school and smiling at the Costco receipt slasher makes me feel connected to my community. It makes me care more about my community. It makes me act differently toward my community.

In today’s world, these are all things that could be hired out or outsourced. And to be sure, we choose the less personal or the tech-forward solution in some cases! All of us here will make different decisions about what is valuable, what is possible, where we want to go analog, and where we choose the fastest, easiest solution. Please don’t feel any judgment if you’ve chosen differently than us in some way (basically all of my friends think I’m nuts for not doing grocery pick-up, ha!). It just took me awhile to put all of the pieces together about why I felt the way I did about certain mundane tasks that brought me into the community (it was really COVID and the loss I felt during shut-downs that brought it home!), and I wanted to share.

What has been the financial impact of one parent working part-time?

Because we were able to make my progression to part-time over several years, the financial shock was greatly lessened. The lessening of my income also coincided with increases in John’s income. And with a few of my reductions in hours, my boss kindly kept my same salary and considered it a raise, for which I am very grateful.

Another factor is childcare. Reducing my hours from 9-3 coincided with June entering public elementary school, and so before Annie began daycare we enjoyed a few months with reduced childcare expenses. She will also be moving in the new year from daycare to Shep’s preschool, which has shorter hours and is less expensive. All of these things have helped to balance the budget through these transitions.

Finally, and humbly, we strive to be in tune with what is “enough” for our family – in both saving and spending. We have had seasons of sprinting (like paying off debt, when splitting a Chipotle burrito was a treat) and we are also grateful to recognize when it would be better for our family to collectively walk at a more leisurely pace. Basically, it is really easy to always want or feel you need more, more, more or need to save more, more, more. Consciously recognizing and resisting that urge in different ways over the years has helped us be able to take this time in this season, and for that I am grateful.

Whew!! LOTS to discuss in this installment, so please, join me in the comments! Thanks to your excellent questions, next time we’ll talk about a few work-focused things: how I negotiated this arrangement, the challenges of working part-time and how I manage them as an employee, how my job has changed over the years to make this possible. As always, please leave your comments below, too!

Part One: Background on my work history and some reasons (or not) for shortening my work week
Part Three: My role, negotiation, and how I structure my time at work
Part Four: What my days off have actually looked like (so far)

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November 7, 2022 8:14 am

Love this inside look into y’all’s decision making process!! A fun blog post for the future could be expanding on concrete examples of where you choose to “go analog, and where you choose the fastest, easiest solution”. I loved the example of grocery pick up (I feel the same way about getting to go in person!) and would be super intrigued to hear more examples on both the analog and the efficiency sides of the equation. Thanks for wonderful writing, as always!

November 7, 2022 9:44 am

This is a great post. Well done. To address your first point: Yes, of course we are interested in this topic. The magazine I work for (and several other pubs) did a trend piece on the history-making number of women who left the workforce since the start of the pandemic, and the impact of this exodus on their families and future generations of women. Given that data, yes, we are interested in what you have to say! And then a second point: Similar to your situation, I would be the one in my marriage to adjust my schedule if was necessary. This is reflective of a broader problem in our society, where overwhelmingly women who work find themselves in jobs that are lower paying and more flexible, while men who work are in jobs/industries that are higher paying with fewer parental benefits (paid leave, flexible scheduling and hours). Eden King, an I/O psychologist who specializes in women and work, would call this lack of pay for women and lack of flexibility for men one of the many “insidious societal messages” that has forced some women completely out of the workforce. And on a lighter note :) I loved what you said about grocery shopping. I still prefer to go in person because Wegmans (our local store) is basically my happy place. Not sure if that’s the “societal messages” talking or just my love of food LOL But I don’t care. I love it.

November 8, 2022 8:00 am
Reply to  Jewel

Interesting viewpoints Jewel! One thing I see not addressed in any articles is the many myriad of reasons to stay home with kids and the many myriad of reasons for women to work full-time/ part-time. Sometimes it’s the exact same reason for both! What I often see neglected is that men, overall, have a bigger risk taking attitude when it comes to asking for raises and seeking higher paying jobs above their current one than women. My husband went for a job that he wasn’t entirely qualified for and yet went for it anyhow and got it, muddled through, and succeeded very well. Unless I had felt 100% confident I wouldn’t have risked it and applied for it. Those are also factors of women’s pay and roles too. Support networks too. If both parents have high paying roles (which comes with greater responsibilities that doesn’t include flexibility depending on the role) who picks up the kids? It’s a very interesting and complex topic!

November 9, 2022 10:10 am
Reply to  Sarah

Yes, definitely! In recent years there’s more data available reflecting the fact that more men negotiate for raises than women do. Knowing that, I’ve seen more women who are willing to jump into asking for increased pay/benefits, which is a big win for everyone! And re: support networks, I think Emily earlier this year shared an article that touched on why Western culture’s move away from community and the “it takes a village” concept wasn’t a great idea. My friend and her husband are doctors, and because of their cultures, both sets of in-laws (who are retired) take turns living with them to watch their children. Not a ton of families in America (particularly urban settings) still subscribe to that practice.

November 7, 2022 12:14 pm

“I enjoy and value the warmth, texture, and even the occasional grit of pushing my cart up and down the aisles.” I relate to this so much! This reminds me of the sentiments in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience with us! :)

November 7, 2022 12:25 pm

I love that you’ve created space for this, thank you for sharing. I recently made a career change from working in higher education to a K-12 counseling role to provide better balance for my family. I have summers and holidays off, but very few sick/personal days for emergencies, which feels tricky with a toddler in daycare and no family close by. My 10 year plan involves working towards a career in private practice when my kids are older, where I can create a schedule that allows for more buffer days for the family admin that I take on. I know I’m not meant to be home full time (nor could we afford it), but keeping up with all the things is so hard.

November 8, 2022 1:43 pm

Long time follower/reader, first time poster! Just had to say thank you so much for your insightful blog posts on this topic. It is not talked about enough and your honesty and clearly thoughtful approach to this change were refreshing to read about. As a soon to be first time mom, I am encouraged by your balance and inspired by your words. Thank you! :)

November 9, 2022 9:14 am

Your writing style in this post is even more delightful than usual! I loved it! The line about pushing your grocery cart. :) So well-written.
Is anyone else dying to hear more about the introvert/relationship-building stuff you mentioned? I know that was such a tiny piece of this post, but that jumped out at me! What you described is SO me, and I’d love to hear more about how you live in the tension of valuing relationships/being an introvert. I struggle with this so much! I feel like I give so much of myself to invest in relationships because I’m worried I’ll regret it someday if I don’t, even though in the present I would almost always rather NOT be doing a social/relational thing because I find alone time soooo much more energizing and refreshing and healthy. As a Christian, I feel like I’m broken! Like something’s wrong with me because the idea of things like living communally sounds absolutely dreadful to me. :D I do value community like you do, though! We walk to public school and purposely live in a very walkable urban suburb so that we can know neighbors and see people we know everywhere we go (which we do). But it definitely takes a lot for me to invest in relationships. :) It’s not something that I intrinsically find joy in–in many cases.
SUCH a good post, for so many reasons! Thanks, Em!

November 10, 2022 6:03 pm
Reply to  Diana Kerr

Diana, you don’t know me, but I am also a Christian and a hardcore introvert, and I just loudly said YES out loud when I read your line about living in community sounding dreadful. So there are at least two of us ????

November 18, 2022 1:26 pm
Reply to  Diana Kerr

I feel you, Diana!! I think about this all the time. Sometimes it helps to think outside of our current culture to realize what expectations are from societal pressure vs. actually what God expects of me. For example, I just finished reading Jane Eyre. Almost no one in that book has a bigger network on a daily basis than the people they live with – and that was totally fine!! They weren’t expected to have close work relationships and see friends every other night and Marco Polo everyone they know every week. That helps me feel more free to lean into loving my family and feeling less pressure to just be doing “more” with people.

Laura Briz
November 11, 2022 2:21 pm

As always, very insightful and relatable. I find myself in the same situation when it comes to grocery shopping. A few dear friends have suggested grocery delivery as a why to reduce the load and I find myself resisting the idea. You basically explained my thoughts. I like to see what I buy, what’s in season, and even take the kids sometimes to make them aware of where things come from and the time and effort that goes into it!

November 16, 2022 3:29 pm

Thank you so much for an insightful and thoughtful second post in this series! I am so appreciative of your openness and honesty in sharing these sorts of details of your life, both because they are thought-provoking for readers like me…and also because it is just so fun to catch a glimpse into the inner-workings of another family’s life. It’s kind of like when you walk past a lit-up house on a darkened night and catch sight of the family eating around a table…just delightful! :)
Something that strikes me about this post, and the topic, is that you are actually the first parent whom I have EVER heard of reducing working hours without reducing childcare. As I write that, I’m baffled by it, but it’s true! I’ve known lots of parents (usually moms) to cut back on their out-of-the-house-work hours once children entered the family, but it always came with a decrease in childcare hours. The goal of part-time work, in other words, was for more time with kids. It’s so interesting and fun to see a different approach, which is one where the decreased hours are meant to address other household/family/relational needs (of which there are many!).
If my family’s circumstances were different, I think I would really thrive in a set up like the one you and John have. I related a lot to your comments about how you enjoy household management, and even as I don’t have a specific day to devote to the tasks of maintaining traditions and family life, remembering that I thoroughly enjoy this kind of work helps me to feel good about using my leisure hours to work on them (I’m talking things like ordering Christmas cards…not paying bills, ha!).
Thanks again for this lovely post!