Since having my son, like lots of mums, I've changed to part-time work. When you're a mum to young children* part-time work is often seen as the best of both worlds, but the reality is a lot more complex.
1. It provides a good work-life balance. I think this is the one benefit everyone expects to see here and it's true. Well, as true as can be for any life that involves working and toddler in the same day. Working part-time has meant I haven't given up my career, and I get a break from constant toddler demands (even if that is instead replaced with my boss's constant demands). All this, whilst still getting to spend more time with my little one than if I was working full time.
2. It's just about financially manageable. (Thanks to Nanny day-care!) Without a salary coming in I'd struggle even more than I do. If I worked full-time I wouldn't actually take much more home due to childcare costs but I'd certainly feel the extra burden in terms of work/commute and dealing with sick days etc. Part-time work helps me to provide for my son without work stress taking over my life.
3. You realise just how important the older generation are for working mums. See point two. I know I'm super lucky and many parents don't live anywhere near their own parents or even still have them around. For me, without Nanny daycare (in addition to nursery) I wouldn't be able to work three days and still take home enough money to make it worth all the stress involved. One in four families now rely on grandparents to provide childcare (and I suspect it's a higher figure for single mums and those on low incomes)**. They really are what's keeping the country going.
4. You have no idea what's going on in the office. Despite spending half my time in meetings, cue never having enough time to actually do any work, I still rarely feel on top of what's going on. It's a strange conundrum where I simultaneously don't know organisational developments, yet get annoyed with all the random meetings I am 'encouraged' to attend.
5. It makes it hard to build relationships at work. I'm relatively new at my place of work and being part-time makes it really hard to build friendships. Of course I'm not around as much as the others so I miss out on what's happening. Even when I am there, I don't have time to stop for a cuppa and a chat, I rarely have chance to go for a drink after work and I'm sure the efficient approach I take (due to work pressure demands) can come across as brusque to say the least. I certainly don't have the time and inclination to deal with internal work politics... let's just get the job done, right? Only it seems that internal politics help you to forge friendships and allies in the workplace.
6. It makes it hard to build friendships with the mums brigade. The importance of having a 'mummy pack' to belong to is well documented. As a part-time worker I'm not at enough of the toddler group activities to build meaningful friendships. On my days off I occasionally make it to some organised mayhem, but I'm equally likely to just congratulate myself if I get us both dressed and put a wash on. Other friends who are part-time work different days to me, so that only leaves the weekends for catching up and for most parents in a couple that is sacred family time. Finding and joining one of these mummy packs really is harder than it might seem.
7. You work your ass off. My current job is in the charity sector, where part-time work rarely means part-time workload, it just means part-time funding. I don't suppose it's much better in other sectors either. Part-timers are often seen as a way to squeeze out the same work for half the cost. I know that on nursery days I have to leave on time, come rain or shine. I have no flexibility, so I must always work to my maximum, and a little bit more, just to make sure I meet that deadline. I could get the dreaded nursery call at any time so I can never think I'm on top of things as that could suddenly be taken from me. I work late/start early on days childcare allows, just to help get on top of things and sometimes I take work home for after little one is asleep. Those are loooooooooong days.
8. You dare not complain about the workload. I often feel like I am doing a five day job in three days. My to-do list seems to be longer at home-time than when I arrived in the morning. I feel like I spend most of my days trouble shooting and re-prioritising over and over to the most urgent things only. But dare I complain? Hell no. I need this job, I need it to be part-time. I don't want to show any signs of what could be perceived as weakness or an inability to cope. I want to prove to others at work that I can do it. I want to prove to myself that I can do it. I dare not even risk that the powers that be are 'nice' to me and offer to increase my hours if they see I am overloaded. Although working this way is hard, I don't want to lost my part-time status which allows me that 'extra' time with my son.
9. It's easy to get stressed. When you realise the budgets are all out and you need to get an answer from Tim*** but he's been ignoring your messages and you have two hours till the nursery shuts, then you won't be in again for four days - its easy to panic. Or when you realise someone has messed things up and you need to rectify it in the next thirty minutes. You feel like screaming. It's a mixture of knowing you have so little time to finish everything before you knock off for the week, paired with the exhaustion of being the (in my case) only carer, or (in most part-time working mums cases) the main carer, of a little one or three. The long days and lack of sleep mean you just don't have a buffer zone to absorb other peoples extra work stresses.
10. You know that promotion is almost impossible. I'm new to my current role so I'm not angling for promotion just yet but I know that as a part-timer I'm not seen as one of the core team. I know that opportunities will pass me by because organisations don't like employing part-timers, especially as you climb up the career ladder (or in my case try to scrabble up it hanging off by my finger nails). Out of the numerous jobs my organisation advertises every week I would estimate less than 1% are part-time. What does that tell you about their attitude towards employing working parents (or others) who want (need) to work part-time? We aren't seen as serious or dedicated, despite much evidence suggesting that part-time working mums are some of the most efficient employees****.
Despite all these challenges, I'm glad that part-time work is available. I'm grateful that I managed to secure this post and I hope that one day we will face a bit less discrimination and a lot more support in the work place. When that day comes, not only will we continue to be some of the most efficient workers about, but we will also be able to build our own careers within a supportive and friendly environment.
*I'm not even going to go in to the issue that it invariably seems to be the mums, not dads, who change their work pattern... that's best left for another day.
**According to the Guardian.
***I don't actually work with anyone called Tim.
****According to the Daily Mail (so it must be true).
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