Letter to a Part-Time Working Mom
Modern motherhood is universal and unique - even within our Mamas Circles we span diverse sets of circumstances. Some moms are living across oceans from their families and others have live-in grandparents. We are in long-term relationships, separated, divorced, and single moms by choice. We stay at home with our children, own our own businesses, and go to jobs we love (and hate). Everyone is trying to piece together a meaningful and satisfying life - while constantly being judged for all of our choices.
A few years ago, I came across a letter from working mother to a a stay at home mother and vice versa from an Australian blogger and have often shared it with my clients and in our circles. Recently, in one of our Motherhood Circles, we had a deep discussion about the joys and challenges of part-time work - an area not addressed by either letter. After the session, one of the moms composed the letter below about the unique position of working part-time outside the home. She kindly shared it with our group and her words resonated deeply with many of us. I'm so happy to share it with you here!
Dear Part-time working Mom,
I know you're stuck between a rock and a hard place, as they say. On the one hand, you are committed to your work-- either because you have to be or you want to be, maybe both!--but on the other hand you strongly desire to be a meaningful presence in the day-to-day lives of your children. You want to do mommy-and-me classes and bake sales, but you also want to pursue professional goals and support your family. You dream of doing it all with skill and grace, but more often than not you feel like you're failing at everything.
I know that "part-time" doesn't adequately communicate the balance of your work schedule. It's much more accurate to say that you are a full-time scheduler, a non-stop problem solver, an always-on organizer. You juggle daily changes between multiple point people-- teachers, babysitters, your partner, your colleagues, your clients-- and most people don't give it a second thought that you're the go-to coordinator because "you only work part time." "Only" is a word you wish you could eliminate from the English language.
I know you're most likely a 1099 contract worker -- most part-time working moms are -- which means you have to show precise accounting for your time. But the truth is you work way more than the ledgers suggest. The unpaid administrative components of your job are many, and they never seem to lessen. And as a contractor you have no medical, retirement, or vacation benefits of any kind. Your weekly take-home pay can vary depending on your current client or project load, and as such the perceived value of what you do fluctuates on a weekly basis, too. "Oh, you only have X clients today? Well then maybe you can..." ...there's that "only," again. And even if you've had a good week or month, your tax status serves as a constant reminder of how under-appreciated you are by society-- your "unstable" income, for example, isn't recognized by the mortgage lender. So you remain tethered to your partner for financial security and healthcare, and your job is regarded as less important, even if that's never overtly stated. But you don't complain because you're thankful that you can be at every one of your kids' doctor's appointments...after you rearrange the schedule.
I know that you strive to create firm boundaries, to not let the work life bleed into the home or vice versa, but this isn't possible. I know you rarely get to infant yoga, because much of your time at home with your kid actually looks like you on your laptop and the baby on an activity mat. And then once you're at the office, you anticipate a buzz from your phone. The irregular schedule means that inconveniences and surprises are more likely; instability breeds instability, and even though you do everything you can to bring structure to the day ("kids thrive on structure," they say!), the unexpected always seems to arrive. I know you try to anticipate everything you can-- you make lists while you shower, while you commute, while you sleep. You run errands every day. And I know that if something needs doing and the schedule isn't working, you look to what you can drop from your personal to-dos first.
I know you can't help but doubt whether it's "worth it" for you to keep working, as if the only measure of the value of your work is whether or not it covers the childcare bills. As if you are not also working when you're with your kids, performing the role of primary care giver. I know you wish desperately for a model of work and motherhood that isn't a zero sum game, and you usually feel like you're slipping backward...but you're not. Each day that you juggle, you're pushing things forward, you're recasting the roles, you're creating change. And, meanwhile, you're teaching your kids to value work both inside and outside the home so that they can gain a full picture of the choices in their world. Indeed maybe they'll have even more options by the time they get to choose. PTWM, you rock. I just wanted you to know :)
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