The Undeniable Appeal of Working Part Time

Why do more moms say they'd rather be working part time than full-time? Are we getting lazier? Less ambitious? Or just more honest on surveys?

Fewer moms see full-time work outside the home as the ideal than 10 years ago, according to a new Pew Research Center study. While the numbers from the study were interesting (at least, to geeks like me), the lack of explanation for this mental shift bugged me.

So let’s analyze it, WMAGers. Why do more moms now say they’d rather be working part time than full-time? Are we getting lazier? Less ambitious? Or just more honest on surveys?

My personal theory is that the Supermom ideal has been tarnished by reality. For years, many moms have been slogging away at the full-time fast-track, while still spending quality time with their children and doing the bulk of chores and work at home. It’s hard, and it sucks. They don’t feel like anyone’s getting their best effort–not their employer, not their family, and not themselves.

But staying at home isn’t the ideal for many working moms, either. It’s tough to balance the household budget on one income, and even tougher to get back into a career after a long hiatus. We don’t want to completely remove ourselves from the professional lives we’ve built for so long.

Hence, 60 percent of today’s working moms see part-time work as the perfect balance. Make some bucks, stay in the game, and still have a little more time for family and household stuff. Too bad only a fraction of us can actually swing it. But that’s another story.

OK, there’s my theory. What’s yours? I’m all ears.

Update: I’ve seen lots of articles written about this study, but just today I caught a Q&A on BusinessWeek’s Working Parents blog that gives a good overview of part-time work for moms.

11 thoughts on “The Undeniable Appeal of Working Part Time

  1. BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) says:

    After five years as a working mom I think I have finally found scheduling nirvana. I am telecommuting half of my 32-hour work week. I work 16 hours a week from home and I just go in to my office four mornings and I LOVE it.

    I was starting to experience major burn out and was tired of not getting home until nearly 6 every night after picking my girls up from daycare and trying to figure out what to do for dinner. My husband is a small business owner and he doesn’t get home until after 6. It was chaotic to say the least.

    Telecommuting part of the week “feels” like a perfect fit so far. I am also trying to not be so hard on myself to try to be super mom.

  2. That does sound pretty sweet. You are living the “dream” of 60% of us!

  3. Me too. Mondays from home, Tues-Fri 9-1 in the office and 1-5 from home. I fought for it. I knew I needed some time working, but 40 hours was not something I was willing to endure, so I proved myself.

    I think the difference today is we are more willing to say what we want or perhaps more to the point, cop to the things we are sacrificing or compromising on. It’s cruel how expensive life is and how fleeting infancy and toddlerhood are.

  4. Liam's Mom - Gina says:

    I work from home in the mornings and go to the office from noon to 5pm. I hate working from home, but I can’t imagine not being with my baby for longer than 5 hours a day. He gets ignored a lot because I am trying to work AND.THAT.SUCKS. But we are together and I don’t have to pay a sitter for that portion of my work day and my employer allows it.

    I hope one day to find the “nirvana” that Jamie has found. I feel like my professional life and home life are both half-ass (sorry there is no other phrase for that). I am just barely starting to get normal human sleep, so that is helping my energy and abilities as an employee and mother.

  5. Part-time is ideal exactly because of what you wrote–working full time and trying to take care of the bulk of the household and child responsibilities is hard and it sucks! There’s no balance, and I feel like I’m failing everywhere. My boss is disappointed with me because I “only” work 8:00-5:00 (not 7:00-7:00 like he does), I don’t spend as much time with my family as I’d like and my house is a disaster! I would love to reduce my work hours, but it’s awfully hard to find a job that allows it in my field.

  6. I must be an alien. I like working Full time and I think I spend quality time with my family. I do a lot of travel with my job, so I also have a fair amount of flexibility when I am in town, which is nice. I am at home everyday by 5:30, and I have a husband who is also home at that time and helps me out around the house. I still cook dinner every night and bath the kids twice a week, and put them to bed with stories and milk by 8pm.

    How do I do it? I have a full time, live-in nanny. She is worth every cent. I probably save 2 hours a day by not having to get the kids ready, fed and driven off to day care, then picked up at the end of it. It costs more than day care, but the solution works for us.

    Staying home was not an option for me. I love my kids but I spent a lot of time and effort to get my degrees and I felt I owed it to society that I work off that fellowship money that paid for them! I love my field of work, and I love my family.

  7. I agree with your theory, Susan. I think people think part-time work seems to be the best of both worlds.

    But, working part-time also brings new challenges. I think a lot of moms think a part-time gig will give them more balance. But in some instances, the mom has to become better at balancing.

    If you work from home, the line between work and family are blurred and it becomes challenging and draining to balance both at once. Like liam’s mom said, being able to work from home is great, but if your kids are home with you… what’s getting your full attention–work or the kids?

    If you’re able to turn your once full-time job into a part-time job you have to be good at managing the work with less time in the office, knowing your limits, and not letting extra work creep onto your reduced hour schedule.

    And even though you’re at home more… the house is still a mess. At least when you’re gone at work, you know the mess you already have isn’t getting any messier.

    Not that I’m complaining. Ha! I do love my 30-hour a week schedule. And I wish more moms had a part-time option. Whether you’re working part-time or full-time hours, schedule flexiblity is really the key.

  8. I agree that it’s flexibility we want, not so much part time hours. The challenge then becomes boundaries – separating work from home. But I begin to wonder whether that’s possible for anybody who has a family, male or female. It would be nice to see ourselves as whole people instead of having to put on so many different hats for different venues all the time. The best workplaces, I find, are the ones where people recognize and respect that others love their families and their jobs. It is possible to do great work both at work and at home. Though I think if you’re expecting a clean house on top of all that, you’re going to drive yourself nuts…

  9. Flexibility is key. I work in an area of a large company that has flexible hours, so I come in at 6:45, and leave by 3:15. While I still don’t have a clean house, and it’s still non-stop until kids to go bed, I do appreciate the extra time at home in the evenings.
    I think the next hurdle to cross is vacation/sick time. With both dads & moms working, the standard vacation & sick policies need some revamping. Summers off, anyone? 🙂

  10. It’s funny, because I’ve tried every scenario. When my first daughter was born, I worked 4 days a week. Then with two daughters, I worked 3 days a week. With each scenario, my employer didn’t reduce the work load proportionally, and it was very stressful. I also felt guilty, because occasionally I missed a deadline or did lower-quality work.
    Next, I freelanced full time from home. This went well for a while, but the money wasn’t regular enough, so we adjusted our expenses for part-time wages. Then, I worked part time, and eventually I didn’t get enough work because I was out of the game.
    Now I’m back to work fulltime. My daughters are both in elementary school from 8 to 3. I can afford a cleaning lady twice a month and aftercare, so it’s working pretty well.
    I still miss my daughters a lot, and I think the ideal would be going to the office from 9 to 2:30, then working from home until 6. Who knows if I’d ever be able to convince my employer, or if I’ll try. A colleague was talking about a part-time colleague with children the other day and said “She’s so sprinkled with sugar, she gets Fridays off!”
    That’s part of the problem — a part time schedule can seem like we’re getting favors instead of doing our fair share.

  11. Moxie Mom says:

    For us, my husband stays home and it is a struggle to make ends meet each month.

    However, the cost of daycare was more then what he was making! Can you believe that? So it made financial sense for a parent to stay home. So that’s why I think you see that a lot of the time.

    If you can find the time and flexibility to work part time—more power to you. In my area, that kind of thinking hasn’t penetrated the “Good Ol’ Guys” mentality. Shitheads

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