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)