As I’ve experienced it, there are two basic camps in the “part-time working mom” arena today. The first is: if you can swing a part-time job that pays decently and fits reasonably into a mom-of-preschooler life, more power to you! (And why on earth wouldn’t you?) And the second is: little kids really need an at-home mom who’s focused on them in a full-time capacity, and it’s otpimal for them and (families in general) when mothers recognize and commit to this… So skip the work if at all possible.
I find myself in a funny place in the middle of these two worlds. And I think about it a lot.
Skinny on me: I’m a work-from-home mom who consults for for Christian nonprofits in my home-based office. Before I gave birth to our first child three and a half years ago, I worked full-time for eight years after graduating from college. About a year before our son was born, I became my own employer when I started my own small consulting business.
When I became a mom I faced the question we all face: would I continue working (for pay)? For me it was virtually a no-brainer to keep working and just do so on a part-time basis. I had loyal clients, I could choose my own hours, the pay was well worth the time (and important to our household finances), and I enjoyed it. I appreciated the break working gave me from household and baby-related tasks, and the mental stimulation it likewise provided. It kept me plugged in to the ‘outside world’ which I found valuable, and keeping my foot in the door in my work world seemed like a smart move for my long-term future.
Now in my fourth year as a work-from-home mom, my reflections on this life grow with each passing month. I work on a very limited basis – typically 8-10 hours each week (of my own choosing), with no travel. Just phone calls and computer time. Some days – and even some whole weeks – I don’t work at all. Because both my children still nap, I’m able to work mainly during their naptimes and hence have no need for outside child care. My set-up is optimal for a part-time working mom in my position. Since I’m a fast-moving, multi-tasking type of person – the scene seems ideal, right?
Yes… and no. The older our children get (and of course, the more we have of them), the more complicated life on the home front becomes. For one thing, the mental and emotionl energy that’s required to parent attentively and effectively seems to grow exponentially each year our babies age. For another, the amount of work that it takes to manage a household explodes as well. When our kids hit about 1 and 3 years old, I was shocked to discover that standard weekly life running our home seemed to suddenly take up all my time. Grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, bills, laundry, cleaning, doctor’s appointments for the kids, OB appointments for me… It looked nothing like life as a married couple — or even like life as a married couple with one child under 2. This description of a parallel situation from a Boundless article fits my own experience perfectly:
“I can still remember surreptitiously rolling my eyes when I’d hear other women talk about how to get a marker stain out of clothing, or a new recipe they tried, or how they organized their closets… It just seemed like useless information. At that time, I had a home and was maintaining it without much real effort. There were only two of us. We were both gone about 10 hours a day. He slammed a protein drink for breakfast, I slammed some oatmeal. We’d take turns cooking dinner and do some laundry and dusting over the weekend. Flash forward a few years and, all of a sudden, I had two precious creatures who needed me to feed them, clothe them, educate them and 24-hour-a-day-them. The house now actually got dirty, really dirty. Clothes actually did get marker (and sweet potatoes and grass) on them. Meals started to get bigger and needed to be prepared more often.”
In short: the mothering life suddenly became a huge time-suck. Could I continue to work 8 ish hours per week from home and also manage our household and mother our children? Yes. Could I do both well (and did I want to try)? Well… there I wasn’t so sure.