Carly and her two young daughters
When Part-Time Work Isn’t Working
Written by Carly Gioia
I’ve always been an all-or-nothing type of person. I’m not great at multi-tasking – when I try to do several things at the same time, I feel like I’m not doing anything well.
When I became a mother in April 2018, I was determined to change this. I was convinced I could work full-time and care for my daughter. I had recently started at a fully-remote company that was pretty flexible. If I got my work done and met deadlines, they weren’t too prescriptive about when I was “online.”
I told myself I’d schedule calls around her nap time and she’d happily play on her own while I worked. As you can imagine, this wasn’t the case. Even though she was a fairly “easy” baby, she was still a baby – she didn’t nap on cue or around my schedule. I found myself working primarily in the morning and late into the night, something I now realize probably contributed significantly to my postpartum anxiety. Several months into this arrangement, I felt defeated. I wasn’t the mom or the employee I wanted to be. Though I was giving my all, it never felt like enough. We made the decision to put our daughter in daycare and while I missed her, we both thrived.
I finally felt like we had things figured out. Don’t get me wrong, there were bumps in the road – the constant daycare illnesses, days I cried after drop-off, and nights I still had to work late. But we were in a good rhythm. She was getting excellent care and I was able to focus on work when I was working and on my daughter when she was at home. I was beginning to feel more like “me” again.
Cue the pandemic. My daughter’s daycare closed, we moved to the suburbs, and I got pregnant with our second daughter within a few months. My husband and I were able to work remotely with our daughter at home while so many others were on the front lines in healthcare or other essential positions. But it still wasn’t easy. Like so many other parents, we began the day already exhausted at the thought of caring for a child while fulfilling our job duties.
It got even more difficult when my husband was required to go back to the office. As much as I loved spending time with my daughter and knew others were in much more difficult situations, I was jealous that he could go somewhere to focus solely on work. When he got home every night, my workday basically began. I had little time for him and no time for myself.
So, we pivoted again. After a lot of thought, and with the pandemic surging on, I asked my company if I could go part-time and eliminate the client-facing portion of my role. I was terrified they would see my request as a lack of commitment. They were extremely supportive and we worked on a plan to make part-time happen. Despite their encouragement, I was still nervous. Was I sidelining my career? Would I be able to teach my daughter everything she needed to learn at home? Was this sustainable in the long term?
My first few months part-time felt like there was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Without the client-facing responsibilities, I didn’t feel as tied to my computer. I worked before my daughter woke up and then again in the afternoon while she napped. I rarely had to work late and didn’t feel torn all the time. I knew things wouldn’t be quite so simple with a new baby in the mix, but I went into the birth of my second daughter knowing that we could handle whatever the future held.
After she was born, I was excited to get back to work part-time but scared about how we would all adjust. Following a difficult birth, a NICU stay, and the death of a family member – on top of helping our toddler adjust to a new sibling – I was doing my best to stay above water.
My husband told me not to worry, that we would just see how things went. By this time, he started a new job that allowed him to work from home. In my mind, this was going to solve everything – I’d have extra help and be able to fit in work during the day.
This didn’t quite match up with reality. While my husband helped as much as possible, he was on calls nearly all day. With two kids to care for I quickly fell back into the pattern of working off-hours. Even though I knew my husband was doing everything he could, I started feeling resentful. After we put the girls to bed every night, he’d usually get to relax while I finally got to focus on work.
Despite all this, I told myself that it had to work because I made a commitment to working part-time. I felt immense guilt for not appreciating the flexibility I know is such a privilege. I also felt like there was something wrong with me. So many people in the world were dealing with much worse – why couldn’t I pull this off? I’d shove the feelings back down only to have them bubble up and come out in a snippy comment to my husband or losing my temper with my daughter.
One night over a glass of wine with my husband and our best friends, I let it all out. I couldn’t keep going like this. While I was only working part-time, I felt like a full-time failure. This arrangement wasn’t the best for me or my family. It was cathartic. I had been afraid to admit it to anyone – even myself – because it felt equivalent to admitting I was a bad mom. They encouraged me to ask for more help when I needed it and think about what I really wanted to do, not just what I thought I should be doing. After several emotional discussions with those closest to me, I ultimately made the decision to return to work full-time and thankfully my company was excited to welcome me back.
Please know that this isn’t written with the intent to dissuade anyone from working part-time. It’s a great option for so many families. It just wasn’t right for me – or my family – based on my personality and this stage of our lives.
From what I can tell, most parents feel like they never really achieve a “perfect” balance, whether they work full-time, part-time, stay at home, or something in between – I think that’s just part of the game. (If you don’t feel that way, please let me know your secrets 😊) We are always wondering if we are making the right choices for our kids. But as I head back to work full-time this fall, I’m confident that I’m making the best possible choice that I can right now. With the current state of our world, isn’t that all we can do?
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