5 Mothers On Making Part-Time Work Actually Work

When Bodie was 5 months old, I went back to the workplace in a two day a week brand director role.  I credit the founder for making that work.  Not every company or person is a fit for the part-time or flexible work situation but if you can make it work, it can be an amazing way to stay in the game while giving yourself more time for family life.  I asked five women what works and what doesn't about their flexible work arrangements.  

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Lauren, Mother to two, therapy & Education

Communicating boundaries took me a while and it’s shifting often but I had to get a sense of my life at home in every phase and what works for me to work remotely. Then I try to give realistic expectations to my employer and patients’ parents regarding my availability. If I can’t be present (electronically or in person) I try and let people know. 

You should expect that it’s not always perfect. I don’t like when I don’t meet my own expectations and that disappointment makes me question myself and my choices. Sometimes I can improve and sometimes I have to accept that I can’t do it all perfectly. 

I am probably not the best person to comment on e-mails. I try and answer work emails when I get them even if I’m not working....sometimes I respond at midnight if that’s my first second to work on work. 

Your choice in care situation is most important in my book. My kids are my top priority full stop so I am constantly checking in with teachers & other people in my caregiving village. When something is not right in that area, work life shifts and we make changes to fix any issues. That [priority] is one thing I am really clear with regarding work - and the people I work with are really understanding and supportive which is also incredibly helpful 

Zoe, Mother to Two, real estate

I think finding the right employer is the most important thing. I needed to find an employer that was going to give me flexibility. Both the companies I worked for last year did just that. 

At a production company and also working in real estate marketing, they were both output focused as opposed to time focused. They didn’t care whether I was in the office or working all my hours, just that I was delivering on the requirements of the job. This is becoming the [norm] but prior to having kids I’d never worked this way before. 

It gives the employee a greater sense of responsibility and at the same time offers flexibility. It’s amazing. I feel like I work better this way because I’m also my harshest judge. So, I know if I’m not delivering. I don’t need someone to tell me that, and by putting the responsibility back on me, I feel like I did a better job. 

For me a nanny has been the best option. It means that we can work together and I get to see my daughter as much or as little as I liked. If she was in daycare I wouldn’t have that flexibility. 

Victoria, mother to one, advertising

I think all work is full time whether it’s 1 day or all days. It’s about what’s occupying your brain so even if you are officially working less days, your brain can still be on it all days. For me, balance is and has always been about boundaries. Work out what matters to you and stick to that like glue - it is your responsibility to stick to them, it’s not other people’s responsibility to respect them - necessarily. I am very clear that when I am out of the agency I am not checking emails and can only be contacted by text if something is on fire. That allows me to focus on my little boy and not be an iPhone parent. It’s always important to be flexible when you can so if you don’t mind having a gentle look at emails and having a few calls after your kid is asleep then say that’s what you will do. I don’t mind doing that as it helps me keep some semblance of control and I’m sure helps people know that I will be checking back in. 

Marissa, Mother to two, Previously Education, Currently Photography

I have found that as my kids have grown, I have grown with my voice and ability to communicate boundaries. I am constantly trying to remember that my time is valuable and it is okay for me to say no. It is not easy and it is most definitely a work in progress but I have found that it's become marginally easier over time. I think setting "working hours" and being very clear about when those times are is very important but is also not always possible. I do my best.  I also use this as a way to be present when I am not working. 

I can't do it all. I was recently approached to do a very major project however finding the time to devote to it so that I can do it right has been insanely challenging. The end of school brings its own set of challenges coupled with a lot of other things we have going on as a family and I just can't seem to find enough time. Deciding to work part time was a decision I made so that I could always prioritize my children and their schedules however that means that sometimes I have to say no to my own stuff and that can be very disappointing.

I don't really have off days so much as I have off times. My work isn't really a M-F type of thing, I tend to do more work on weekends than during the week (which comes with other challenges) so I have to be accessible. I will often flag an email to come back to it if I am with my family and it is not a work time. I try to keep to a 24 hour response time to all emails so sometimes I will have to stay up a little later or wake up before the kids to address something. I am generally up very early to exercise so I try to make the most of my time.

Our child care needs have changed as our children have gotten older. When my first was born, we started with part time help and as my work picked up we gradually added more and more hours to our nanny's day. Now that both of our children are in school, we no longer need as much help. We also no longer needed a nanny so we now have a babysitter that helps with some afternoon pickups but I generally try to schedule my day so I am working when the kids are in school so that I can be with them after school.

Anonymous*, Mother to One, Marketing

In a lot of ways "part-time" was an incredible set-up - I was much more confident negotiating pay as any time away from my child had to be worth it. I was very able to get done what I needed and more in the three days I had negotiated.  I think this also had to do with it being a smaller company (20 people) and a very specific role within it.  I found tracking key deliverables in a shared document to be really worthwhile though tedious at first. It let my boss and I be always on the same page about priorities and probably gave her peace of mind that I was getting things done.  I would caution that the one thing, no matter how big or small the company is, there's always going to be interdependencies with other teammates so it's not just about setting up a clear understanding and productive flexible working relationship with your direct manager but making sure your availability, preferred communication style on off dates and core responsibilities are crystal clear and reiterated often to the broader team.  What worked well was doing check ins with the team on my third and last day in the office each week to "close the loop".  In my situation there was very rarely anything pressing that trickled onto later days but team-mates knew to get in touch via text if something came up and that I might not respond until naps or night-times.  

*name with-held for privacy

Have you considered or had a part-time work situation?  What was your experience?