Many working mums opt for part-time work. But instead of giving much-craved balance to life, it can lead to the exact opposite. When my daughter was born, I was confronted by the same dilemma so many working mothers are: how to balance my professional ambitions and new daily challenges of being a young mum?
Launching my own business and only working part-time seemed like an ideal solution. I could work from home, so no time wasted on commuting. I would work shorter hours than my full-time working mom friends to avoid extra-long days in the nursery. And I would only work four days a week, so Fridays would be filled with mother-daughter excursions and activities.
Part-time can be a trap
Then my company started to take up speed the “Balance” I had imagined started to look more like this: Irritated mornings, when I wanted to get to work early but had to get everyone else out of the house first. Skipped lunch breaks and frenetic afternoons, when I tried to keep up with my unrealistic nursery pick-up schedules and provide high-quality work for my clients at the same time. Bedtime battles and a lot more shouting than I would like to admit, when my daughter refused to go to bed early enough so I could open my laptop again. Fridays spent on a park with my phone on one hand and swinging my daughter on another, when project deadlines were not aligned with our Friday outings. Not exactly the encyclopedia definition for “work-life balance”.
Michelle Obama struggled with this, too
Then Michelle Obama came to the rescue. In her autobiography Becoming, she describes her time as part-time working mom like this:
“The only difference was that now I made half my original salary and was trying to cram everything into a twenty-hour week. If a meeting ran late, I’d end up tearing home at breakneck speed to fetch Malia so that we could arrive on time (Malia eager and happy, me sweaty and hyperventilating) to the afternoon Wiggleworms class at a music studio on the North Side.
“Part-time work was meant to give me more freedom but it mostly left me feeling as if I were only half-doing everything, and that all the lines in my life had been blurred.”
Back to full-time
If Michelle Obama couldn’t manage it, why should I keep struggling? When her youngest daughter was born and an interesting professional opportunity showed up, she jumped into it and took on a full-time position (which she interviewed for balancing her 3-month old on her lap).
So it was decision-making time in our family, too. First I started working eight-hour days with proper breaks and signed the little one up for a playgroup on Friday mornings to gain a few more hours to my week. The biggest decision was this: when my daughter goes to school next August, I’ll go back to working full-time.
In addition to Michelle’s encouraging example..
These action steps helped me make the decision:
1. Set a deadline
The change doesn’t need to be imminent. Set a deadline which gives you time to figure out daycare arrangements and other details but is still precise. “One day” is probably just cheating yourself but “next August” will be okay.
2. Start with small changes
If hopping back onboard of the full-time train doesn’t seem possible, start with something smaller. For me, going back 100 % would probably have been too big a step but working a little bit more every day was feasible.
3. Keep your eyes on the price
It’s easier to make painful changes, when you know what you get out of it. For me, the goal is to give my business an opportunity to flourish, so I want to be sure that I really use the extra time for that purpose. That is why I have dedicated all Fridays to work on my passion project: launching an online course for beginning entrepreneurs. Now giving up family time doesn’t feel like a sacrifice but a conscious switch.
4. Let accountability set you up for success
Despite our best intentions, sometimes willpower isn’t enough. This is where accountability and support step in. Driven Woman’s monthly exercises and action plans have helped me stay on path on difficult days. Now that the whole community knows about my goal, I know who I can turn to when I need support.
For Michelle, there was a lot more balance in sprinting through the mall on her lunch hour to shop clothes for her growing girls and eating take-away in her car afterwards. For me, balance means coming home later but feeling fulfilled and ready to unplug for an undisturbed evening with a family.
Pauliina Rasi is a Driven Woman member and communications entrepreneur with a mission to empower female business owners to show up to their audience with confidence and without fear.
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