5 Mums On The Harsh Realities Of Working Part-Time While Parenting

The days when they're not technically on the clock are most definitely not days off.
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The reality for many parents is that once your maternity, paternity or shared parental leave is over, it’s back to work you go.

With the cost of childcare being what it is (extortionate), some parents – often mums – are returning to work part-time after having kids so they can juggle both childcare and work.

Statistics from the ONS from April to June 2021 found women whose youngest child was aged between one and eight years old were more likely to be in part-time employment than full-time employment.

While part-time work is a key part of life for many parents, with the ability to spend more time with their kids being a huge perk, that’s not to say it’s all sunshine and roses.

Here, mums reveal to HuffPost UK some of the challenges they’ve faced along the way.

‘I was working full-time in fewer days’

“I worked as a fashion buyer for 18 years and returned to work part-time after having my first child,” says Sally Smy, who is 50 and based in London.

But she struggled because she found that, ultimately, she was still doing a week’s worth of work but squeezing it into fewer days.

“I found I was having to work lots of extra hours to get stuff done,” she says.

“They hived off a fifth of the money but not the workload. I would arrive at my desk early, leave late and still feel guilty.”

After her second child was born she realised it wasn’t sustainable to work this way anymore so she set up her own business, Queen Bee Styling.

“It was really hard to leave a profession which I loved,” she admits, “but I’m now a personal stylist and love what I do. So it all worked out OK in the end.”

‘Some weeks I’m doing five days work in three, making up the time in the evenings’

Even for those who are self-employed, the juggle is real. Emma Holgate-Lowe, 34, from Manchester, works three days a week, but does what she calls “skeleton hours” on a Monday as well, with Fridays completely off.

She works part-time to spend more time with her 18-month-old daughter Margot. Her second baby is due in July.

“I would say we are a combo of thriving and surviving,” says the PR consultant. “Some weeks I’m doing five days work in three, making up the time in the evenings.”

Prior to having kids she confesses she was a “workaholic,” working unhealthily long hours and struggling to strike a balance. Now she gives herself daily deadlines to get stuff done, which she says has stopped her procrastinating.

‘I felt like part of the team, but also a bit like an outlier’

Jane Griffin, 52, began working part-time five years ago after she had her daughter. At the time she worked in London for a business and communications consultancy, three days a week.

Griffin, who is based near Uckfield, East Sussex, recalls how her days would be long and exhausting. She would need to get up at 5.30am and get herself and her daughter ready, before leaving the house at 6.30am to get her to nursery – a 30-minute drive away.

She would then need to get a train at 7.20am to get to London by 9am. Then she’d do it all again in reverse at night.

“I felt like part of the team but also a bit like an outlier, as my colleagues didn’t have children – although my boss did,” she says.

“I didn’t really have time for chatting after work as I had to leave the office at 5pm on the dot to catch my train back, otherwise I would be late picking up our daughter from nursery by 7pm.”

During Covid, she decided to set up her own PR consultancy Positive Story, with the aim of working part-time for herself. She says this move “was a game-changer”.

‘There is a guilt of everyone else being full-time and feeling like I’m not pulling my weight’

For mum-of-two Imogen Partridge, who works three days a week as an interior designer (“which will increase to four once I’ve used up annual leave,” she adds), the biggest challenge is having to spend time on the first work day catching up on what’s happened.

“There is a guilt of everyone else being full-time and feeling like I’m not pulling my weight and a struggle with feeling out of control and out of the loop, which off the back of being on maternity leave feels like extra catching up,” says Partridge, who is 34 and based in Kent.

“I also do one day a week running my illustration business – Imogen Partridge Illustration – and juggling this with my day job and family life is very full on, but it brings me so much joy and helps gives me some autonomy I am determined to keep at it.”

‘While I only work three days a week on paper, in reality, I probably still work 40 hours’

Caitlin Gould, 40, is running non-profits Kensa Health and TECwomen CIC three days a week, while also juggling childcare. She made the switch after the birth of her third child, leaving her full-time role as director of a software company.

Gould, who is based in Cornwall, said “it’s hard” – with the reduced pay being a big challenge.

“I definitely work on non-working days. And nights. And any spare time,” she admits. “That is a part of the juggle. But I like to think I’m thriving – though my house might not agree as I definitely prioritise email over laundry.”

She notes the work she does now is more rewarding and she likes setting her own hours, which lets her be more flexible around her family.

“While I only work three days a week on paper, in reality, I probably still work 40 hours,” she adds.“At the moment I only pay myself for the days I officially work, but as I own the companies, I know the extra time I spend is me investing in the businesses.

“It is also really helpful that I can keep childcare costs down and I take summers off to look after all three kids. I never thought I would work part-time, but for me at the moment it is what works best."