When I joined my law firm a little over a year ago – working-mamaand my boys were 2 and 4 years old – I came into the position on a 60% schedule.  Prior to that, I had been working full-time (with one day of telecommuting per week) for a health care trade association.  Wanting to devote some of my daylight hours to Mindful Return, my family, and self-care, I decided I wanted a change and opted to try out the part-time option when I made the move from one employer to another.

I recently got asked by a new mama in the summer session of the Mindful Return course what my recommendations were around how to make a part-time arrangement successful.  This new mom was on her way back from maternity leave on a 75% schedule. And she was grappling with that tension between making a decision she felt was right for her and her family, while wondering what the reduction in hours would do to her hard-earned career.

Her question got me thinking about the sticky subject of part-time work.  Sticky, in part, because as professional women, we don’t want that “flex stigma.”  Or to be put on the “mommy track.”  Or to be paid part of a salary for what is, in reality, a full-time gig.  And let’s face it: all of these things do happen.  The intense commitment most women on reduced hours schedules have to their jobs doesn’t always make the news.

Mamas I’ve worked with have had all combinations of full-time, flex-time, and reduced-hours arrangements.  Where each woman lands on this dilemma seems highly-personal.  Whether to go part-time wasn’t this mama’s question, though.  What she wanted to know was: given that I’m going to give part-time a try, how can I make it work?  And still find my career relevant and engaging?

Specific Ways to Make Part-Time Arrangements Work

With a year of a part-time arrangement under my belt, here are my reflections on 6 things that can contribute to the success of a part-time schedule:

  1. Entering the arrangement with a spirit of curiosity. There aren’t a ton of great role models out there for successful, professional women on part-time schedules.  I was fortunate that at my firm there were some (probably helped attract me to the firm in the first place), but they’re far from being the norm.  Coming to the arrangement with gratitude for the opportunity to give it a try, and curiosity about how exactly it was going to work, helped me to keep an open mind.
  2. Building networking into your list of MUST-dos. In working parenthood – especially in the early years – there just isn’t enough time in a day to get the bare essentials done.  Which makes it easy for things like maintaining connections, networking, connecting with colleagues, etc. to slip down into the part of the list called “non-essential,” and simply never happen.  If you want your career to remain vibrant and interesting, you need to make it a priority to keep those professional networks healthy.  For now, with what little time you have, perhaps choose to focus within your organization.  Commit to setting up at least one lunch or coffee per month with a leader within your team or organization.  Not only does this keep your profile up and demonstrate commitment, but it keeps your wheels turning and knowledge of your organization fresh.
  3. Show up for things that matter. Whether it’s a several-day retreat that requires travel, a party for an office colleague, an in-person client meeting on a day you’d normally be “off”, or an all-day conference many of your colleagues will be attending, show up.  I’ve learned that having a flexible schedule means being flexible with my own flexibility.  It also means that client and employer needs sometimes come first.  Not always, of course, but sometimes.
  4. Know, define, and keep boundaries. I talked a lot about boundary-setting skills in this post, A Mama’s Boundary-Setting Tutorial, and I truly believe this skill is critical both to maintaining sanity and to finding a flow to your weeks and months that works for you and your employer.  Boundaries are especially important if you’re in a reduced-hours role that is more prone to “hours creep” than to boredom.
  5. Keep your eyes on your OWN game. Comparison is the thief of joy, mamas.  That guilt about not being “enough” tends to creep in – both on the home front and a work – when we take our eyes off our own plan and spend too much time worrying about what “everyone else” is doing.  There IS no “everyone else,” mama.  This is YOUR one wild and beautiful life.  I’m learning, little by little, to come to grips with what sometimes feels like a “baby pace.”  Knowing that this time in life will soon pass.
  6. Remember that nothing is permanent. So you wind up not liking how things are going on a part-time schedule?  Okay – you can make a change.  Re-negotiate a full-time arrangement.  Look at other employers.  You don’t like how things are going on a full-time schedule?  You can change that, too.  You may start off wanting part-time to be a temporary feature of your working mama life.  Then, you may come to realize you never intend to go back to full-time work.  Or you may start off full-time and figure out that’s just not working for where you are in your life right now.  The early years with babies and toddlers can be SO rough, mama.  Wonderful, amazing, glorious…and exhausting, challenging, and distracting.  Let yourself off the hook and make today be about today.

Like most things in motherhood (okay, so in life in general), my own part-time schedule is an ongoing, ever-evolving work in progress.  I try to be really public and transparent about my schedule (in hopes of normalizing such a thing).  And my goal is to keep the lines of communication with my colleagues open.  These early working mama years are tough, but I’ve found that coming to them with a spirit of open-mindedness, gratitude, and curiosity makes this whole thing less of an exhausting competition and more of an exciting adventure.

Have you had experience with a part-time schedule?  What worked for you and what didn’t?  Please share below.

Are you thinking about entering into a part time arrangement?  What’s drawing you to it?  What’s holding you back?  Would love to hear from you in comments.

Heading back to work after maternity leave?  Get help with the transition by joining the next session of Mindful Return!

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