Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Part-Time Possibilities
by Melissa

There’s a myth out there that you can’t work part-time if you have a “real” job. I am here to dispel that myth, because times have changed. It is possible to have it all: a great career and a great family life.

It used to be that having a “real” job meant being in the office 40 hours a week at the very least, and “hard work” was equated with long hours. Working through dinnertime and on weekends was a sign of dedication and a sure-fire way to move up the ladder. 

These days, though, companies are becoming more flexible and family friendly, and are starting to realize that if they want to get good work out of their employees, they have to keep them happy and satisfied at work. And one way to do this is to let their employees work reduced hours, from home, or a combination of the two. It also helps that we are living in an era of cellphones, conference calls, laptops, and remote email access, because people can virtually work from anywhere.

Real life situations
My husband Richard and I are blessed with two daughters whom we'll call A (age 7), and V (age 4). They are the center of our lives. As soon as A was born, we knew we wanted to spend as much time as possible with her, and couldn’t fathom the idea of putting her in someone else’s care. We decided that we wanted our focus to be on our family first, and on our careers second. It took a lot of persistence, but we both managed to find part-time jobs, so on any given day, one of us is at work and one of us is at home. Richard, a pianist and music teacher, is the Director of a piano academy, where he teaches piano and manages a staff of several teachers. He works about 20 hours per week, spread over 3 days. I work at a software company, where I started as a Project Manager, and have since been promoted to a Director position. I also work 30 hours per week spread over 3 days. We’ve been tag-teaming for 7 years: Richard works on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings, while I stay home with the girls. I go to the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays all day, while Richard stays with the girls.

We have several friends who also work part-time or have flexible work schedules, all in the Boston area. We know a Public Schools Literacy Specialist, an Investments Analyst and a Software Engineer who work 30 hours a week or less. We know an Environmental Engineer, an Attorney, a Software Sales Director and a Project Manager who work full-time, 30 hours per week in the office and 10 hours a week at home.

Pros and cons
We definitely feel that we have the work-family balance down to a science. Since there’s not too much of one or the other, we seem to have more energy for each. I am thrilled to come home at the end of my workday, after having missed my kids, knowing that I get to spend the whole next day with them. We get together with friends, take walks in the woods, read books… you name it. On days that I go into the office, I am fully absorbed in my work, and enjoy the contrast to home life. I love the challenging work, professional atmosphere and interaction with coworkers.

Of course the best part of the balance is that we have rich and wonderful relationships with our girls. Because of our setup, I feel like a part of their daily life and not just their weekends. We are extremely close, and I feel like I know my girls so much better than if I were away from home every day. Children pass through our lives so quickly, and before we know it, they’ll be all grown up. These are the years where it counts, where we have the chance to foster a solid, life-long relationship. Not to mention the fact that it’s so much fun! Although I don’t think I’d like to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, I adore being with my girls, and wouldn’t trade the play-doh, trips to the zoo, playground excursions, coloring… for anything in the world.

True, we don’t make as much money as we could if one or both of us worked part-time. Again, it’s all about priorities. We don’t have piles of disposable income, but what’s a fabulous vacation, fashionable wardrobe, second home or fancy car next to the relationship you have with your kids? We figure we’ll have plenty of time to work later. Right now, we are family-focused.

And isn’t a full-time worker more likely to be entrusted with more responsibility, promoted or recognized? Maybe. But it’s still possible to distinguish yourself even if you’re not in the office 24/7. Here’s where I pat myself on the back in order to illustrate this: personally, I am very productive at work because I’m committed to working 30 hours a week, and so I do all I can to fit my work into that amount of time. I feel I accomplish as much as someone working full-time (and by the way, it’s a bargain for the company). I also do my very best work, since I want to be able to keep my job and its part-time arrangement. I am willing to go the extra mile for my company because they have gone the extra mile for me. This productivity and quality was apparent enough to my supervisors that they promoted me to a director position, still working just 30 hours per week.

How do you do it?
So how do you find these great part-time “real” jobs? First of all, they are never advertised. The way to do it is to parlay your current full-time job into a part-time one. Talk to your boss – you may be pleasantly surprised at the response. Or look for a family-friendly company and apply for a job, even if it’s advertised as full-time. If they can really use your skills, you may be more valuable to them as a part-timer than not at all.

It takes longer to find a part-time arrangement than a full-time one. One friend of mine (the part-time software engineer) spend 6 months looking for a part-time job. He got plenty of offers, but as soon as he said he wanted to work part-time, they weren’t interested. Finally he found a company that was willing to hire him at 30 hours per week. Another friend (the attorney) was a pioneer at her firm. It’s almost unheard of that a lawyer works one day a week at home, and no more than 40 hours in the whole week. It took lots of negotiation, but in the end, she was able to do it.

And once you have a part-time position, it doesn’t just neatly all work out. I’ve heard too many stories of people in a part-time arrangement, but taking on so much that they end up working full-time anyway, and still only get paid for part-time. You have to make it work, and that means putting boundaries around your time and responsibilities. Define the boundaries, then work at 110% within them.

A must for all flex-workers is to be very handy with high-tech communication tools. Thank goodness for cellphones: part of the agreement I have with my company is that I have my cellphone on when I am out of the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. More than once, I’ve had to excuse myself from a phone-in meeting (once with a client!) to go wipe a bum. I have made make-or-break decisions at the playground, one hand holding the phone and the other making a sandcastle. And what would I do without remote access to my work email account? I get an amazing amount of work done during my younger daughter’s afternoon quiet time, and late in the evening when kids and dinner dishes are all tucked in for the night.

So for those of you with dreams of a part-time “real” job, our culture is slowly moving over to your side. Now you just have to believe that you can make it happen. The rewards are tremendous!

©Copyright 2007 Marc and Amy Vachon

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