Everybody’s Working for the Weekend

I almost never talk about work on this blog. Honestly, I try to avoid the subject of work on the Internet as a whole. I’ve never been comfortable talking about my job on a medium in which anyone can access my word vomit. The thing is I’m at a bit of a funky crossroads right now and it may help to put some words down about my thought process.

This just seemed like an appropriate image for this post

It’s not a surprise at this point that I’m pregnant and generally at the end of that condition one takes a baby home from the hospital. For me a new baby is followed by about 12 weeks of maternity leave at the end of which I would return to work. Here is where I am met with my dilemma. I have the option at this current job to return to work on a part time basis or a full time basis. Full time would obviously be 40 hours a week like it is right now. Part time is something I could make the rules about but it would likely be three days a week for around 9 hours a day, i.e. 27 hours total.

The truth of the matter is that the number of hours I work is not what matters. The financial difference for us is not insignificant but it could easily be compensated for. We aren’t dependent on every penny we both make to get through our months. What really matters in this situation is a combination of how I view myself and how I am viewed by others.

When I work full time I feel like I am fighting a constant uphill battle with myself. I spend a great deal of my time either feeling like a terrible mother, because I don’t spend enough time with my son, or a terrible employee, because I miss work or am distracted for any number of reasons. There is just so much talk about working mothers finding “balance” when in reality that doesn’t exist, or at least not in the way people mean it.

When people refer to balance in the context of a working mother they imply that it is possible to be good at your job, a good mother, a good wife, and a good homemaker, all at the same time. The real truth is that just isn’t possible. No woman is a robot and no one is perfect. When I think about balance what I am trying to achieve is simply to end the week/month/year with an equal number of moments where I feel like a bad mother/wife/homemaker as moments where I feel like a bad employee. I suppose in my head if I can strike even in that regard then I’m doing alright.

The thing is sometimes we give everything we have to our jobs and that leaves us stressed, tired, frustrated and as such home life suffers. Sometimes we are up all night holding our sick children and giving everything we have as a mother and wife. In those situations we go to work a tired husk who takes longer to accomplish a task than usual, accidentally zones out on a meeting, or misses a deadline. There is not enough coffee in the world to be everything, all the time. That is not what being human is about and that is not what the expectation should be.

When I think about this decision to choose full time or part time work I’m faced with a matter of perception. Like I said when I work full time I perceive myself as not being a good mother, not giving enough to my kids. If I choose to work part time I’m dealing with a different perception, that of others. The truth is there will always be a stigma associated with part time workers in my field. Working less than 40 hours a week (or sometimes exactly 40 hours a week) means you aren’t as motivated as others, you aren’t as dedicated, you are giving up on your career.  It’s hard to do your job in that situation. In the full time scenario I am fighting an uphill battle with myself, in the part time scenario I’m fighting that same uphill battle with the perceptions of others.

I should make it clear that I didn’t write this to ask for advice. Ultimately I need to decide which uphill battle is right one for me to fight and that choice will likely change as my children get older. I’m mostly writing this to shed a little light on this idea of working parents and “balance.” I want folks to understand the struggle, to understand why this is hard, to understand that we battle with ourselves as much as we battle with others. If you’ve ever been met with similar feelings I want you to know you aren’t alone. We all struggle and this working parent business isn’t easy for any of us. Hopefully you can find the right battle to fight and hopefully you’ll win.


About Elaine

Mom, engineer, writer, gamer, gym rat. Ain't nobody got time for excuses.
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7 Responses to Everybody’s Working for the Weekend

  1. Carolyn says:

    At the law firm, we have a lot of people who work less than full time – 3 or 4 days per week – and there’s no stigma. I guess it all depends on the culture of your workplace.

    On the flip side of how nothing is fair for anyone, I *used to be* expected as a childfree woman to “pitch in” when the mamas are out of the office, not minding the fact I was already pulling my own weight (and then some), Solution: I got another job. 🙂

    Not that I know you super well, but you always seem to do the best for you and your family. You’ll make the right decision when it comes.

  2. Elaine says:

    Carolyn, yeah some workplaces seem to have that opposite stigma where the non child having folks are the ones expected to do more. I feel like if everyone can pull their weight it shouldn’t be an issue but what do I know. I don’t ever expect anyone to do more when I have to be out because my kid is sick or whatever. That is just as unfair to you as judging me for my choice to have kids would be to me.

    The difficulty comes when you work with a bunch of young and very motivated people who are eager to please. Those are the people who tend to push the stigma out there.

  3. atc1982 says:

    Good luck on the choice ….

  4. barbex says:

    Just think about if you look back one day what will you regret more? Having stalled your career or not being with your children?
    Being a mother and shaping your children into good human beings is a job too and of those two jobs one will be the main one and the other won’t. That’s just the way it is.

  5. Elaine says:

    Barbex, that is an entirely valid point. One of the fears I have about going part time that I didn’t voice in this post is that it will put me in the crosshairs to get laid off. The economy is phenomenal right now and while things are good for our business that won’t last forever. Engineers are more of a luxury item than they are a necessity.

    • slignot says:

      I think you’re in quite a sticky situation, and I completely understand feeling stressed and frustrated.

      What you’ll regret most is a strange thing and probably impossible to predict. My mother regrets that she worked full-time, my mother-in-law regrets that she stopped working when her sons were little. I think any time you are dealing with long-term career paths against spending time with your family, there are hard choices and no matter what you pick, you’ll wish you’d been able to do a little more on the other side.

      If I were in your shoes, I’d very much fear moving to part-time work. I see too much about high stress positions seeing women choosing to prioritize their family life as lesser and hear about employers simply place them in a “mommy track” with little chance of future promotion or advancement. Since you work in a male-dominated field, that seems even more likely.

      I know you didn’t mean for this to be a call for advice, but to be honest, I can’t say what I would do in your shoes. I sometimes feel like I barely have time for anything anyway, and my family consists of me and my spouse; it’s far less time consuming than yours. Just want you to know I’m rooting for you.

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