After literally months of painful deliberation, second-guessing myself, and tons of changing my mind, I made the decision to go from full-time work to 20 hours a week. It was not an easy decision by any means. It meant a lot of changes in my life, some of which were not so great. Going from full-time to part-time meant losing my health benefits, which meant a change of health care providers for the whole family. It also meant losing a number of other things, which I had worked long and hard to achieve. I lost the scholarship that allowed the University to pay for 75% of my graduate tuition, which meant putting a master’s degree on hold for the foreseeable future. I lost my parking spot, which puts me back on the bus for an hour or more each day, a small but significant thing when you consider that I still juggle childcare and work three days a week. I lost a lot of new responsibilities, many of which I was at one time incredibly excited to take on upon my return from maternity leave.We felt strongly that the benefits far outweighed the potential loss. My husband had insurance which ended up costing us less, I can always go back and finish my degree, and riding the bus will give me more time to read and less time to scream at bad drivers. I was OK with these changes. What I was not prepared for was by far the hardest thing I had to lose, the respect of my friends, family, and especially my coworkers.When you make the decision to stay home, even part-time, with your children you suddenly become the women who couldn’t make it all work. You become the woman who can’t separate her work and home life. People no longer look at you with esteem and respect. Suddenly you become just another employee. You are no longer a part of their “team”, because they know your “true loyalty” lies at home.
Sure there are a few women who really get it, but let’s be honest they have been frozen out too long ago. They are simply used to it by now. Even the people who don’t really get it will say things like “I totally understand!” or “you have to do what’s best for you!” to your face, all while secretly thinking in their heads that they would have done (or will do) it differently.
Anyone who truly gets it wouldn’t look at me like I am a part-time anything. In my mind, I am full-time everything. Everything except sleep, and time for myself. I didn’t “give up” anything. I simply made a decision to reallocate my resources. There are only so many hours in a day, and when your paycheck barely covers the cost of childcare, you are forced to reevaluate how you spend those precious hours. Do I work 40 hours a week, simply to spend my entire paycheck on paying someone else to spend those precious hours with my child? Or, do I give up (what feels like) everything I have been working towards at this point in an attepmt to balance my work life, my home life, my sanity, and irreplaceable moments with my son? For working moms, it always feels like lose-lose. I guess I chose part-time lose.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand fully that the proverbial show, as they say, must go on with or without me. I don’t expect the world to fall apart because I work 20 less hours than before. I respect that the work I did before in those 20 extra hours (sometimes more!) must still get done, and the fact is I am no longer able to do all of it.
It’s the attitude that hurts. The freezing out, and the stepping right on and over. As if my presence is simply a technicality. As if those precious 20 hours that I still do give suddenly mean nothing. Well I can tell you they certainly mean something to me. They mean 20 hours away from my home, my son, and my family. They mean 20 hours I still choose to dedicate to a career that I still care about. Believe it or not.
I don’t regret my choice. I feel strongly that my place is at home with my son, as much as I can afford to be there with him. Both financially and emotionally.
I still care about my work as much as I did before (although I often times feel like I don’t). I simply don’t have the same amount of time to commit to it anymore. My son and my family will always be my first priority. As much as I loved my job, I will always love them more. Now, more than ever, I understand that the world we live in will never accept that.
When will there be a middle ground between working mom, and SAHM? The day when women can finally have both? Passion for their children first and foremost, and still have room for a career that allows for that. More importantly, when will we start respecting women enough to accept that being a loving and devoted mother does not in any way make you weak, it actually makes you incredibly strong?
In this lifetime, probably never.