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What About the Part-Time Working Mom?

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We hear—and read—a lot about working moms and stay-at-home moms. You can find blogs and online communities devoted to each sector. Some parents feel so fiercely about the role they’ve chosen, they fuel the so-called Mommy Wars in defense of their path.

But what about moms—and dads—who fit neither description fully? Those of us who are hybrids, wobbling between the two worlds, with one foot in our career and the other in our home? We care for our kids two days a week and head to the office the other three days. Or we work from home part-time. We shut down our laptops just before the school bus pulls up in the afternoon, trying to shift our mental gears away from the essay, report or data entry project we’ve been hacking away at.

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While being home with my kids was always part of my plan, a few years into parenthood I realized I wasn’t happy parenting full-time. After several rounds of tinkering with different part-time jobs, finding part-time childcare, and deciding it was finally time to take the plunge and pursue my dream of being a writer, our family etched out a path that works for us.

My son is in now in Kindergarten and my daughter attends preschool three days a week, allowing me time to write, take care of household chores and cram whatever else that I can into those precious hours.

Most of the time, working part-time feels like the best of both worlds. I get to spend more time with my kids than if I was working outside of the home full-time. And I also reap the benefits of kindling my creativity. I fully expect my work-life balance to shift over and over again as my kids grow—I’ll take on more or less work, depending on the ever-changing needs of our family and the arc of my career.

The flexibility of my arrangement provides both pros and cons. I set my own schedule. I write as little or as much as I please. If one of my kids is sick, I can easily leave my work behind for the day. If I want to volunteer in my son’s classroom or catch a yoga class, it’s no problem.

I’m grateful to live in a time with choices. We can pursue our careers full-throttle. We can put all our energies into nurturing our families. Or we can straddle the line until we find something that works for our family.

But that same flexibility can feel like my downfall as well. If I have an essay I need to finish and one of my kids wakes up sweaty-skinned, my writing probably won’t get done, even when the words are pounding through my head, aching to slip onto the page. My husband is the breadwinner in our family, and I’m the first line of backup childcare. In that respect, I sometimes feel like my paid work is expendable. Like parenting, my work often succumbs to Plan B, E or X.

Many of the moms I know also fall somewhere on the continuum between being stay-at-home moms and full-time working moms. One friend, who used to work full-time as a lawyer, scaled back to devote more time to her young children. She loves having the freedom to volunteer at her kid’s school and the local hospital, being able to hit the gym and make play dates with friends, and still contribute financially to her family. In her words, “Everything that was supposed to be fun used to feel like a chore or cause stress because of the amount of time it would take away from when I ‘should’ be working. Any desire I have to earn more money or use degrees is totally overridden by the flexibility my balance affords.”

Other moms who stay at home while tucking part-time work into naps and evenings, as I once tried—and failed—to do, struggle. I remember feeling that while I was trying to “do it all,” I wasn’t doing any of it well, because I was exhausted and torn between the blurry boundaries of work and home life. These parents often don’t get even the simple privilege of going to the bathroom in peace, the way most people who work at jobs outside of their homes enjoy. They are truly burning the proverbial candle at both ends.

As it was for me, the ability to have childcare plays a crucial factor in balancing work and home. For those who are working but have no child care because it’s too expensive—which is indeed a driving force for many, many parents who are home with their families full-time—there’s little relief. For those whose children are in public school or can afford part-time childcare, balance seems to come easier.

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As for the mommy wars, I’m not interested. I’m grateful to live in a time with choices. We can pursue our careers full-throttle. We can put all our energies into nurturing our families. Or we can straddle the line until we find something that works for our family.

Like so many, I’m just muddling around in the middle, trying to be present for as much of it as possible. I’m not sure any of us can “have it all,” but I have so much, and for that, I’m grateful.

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