We all have ideas about parenthood before we experience it for ourselves. One particularly widespread stereotype is that all working moms need a reduced work schedule in order to successfully meet both work and home responsibilities. This may be true for some moms, but others find that they can find work-life balance through a flexible schedule, a partner who carries his (or her) share of child care responsibilities or an extra pair of hands, such as a nanny or grandparent.
It's important not to jump into a reduced work arrangement before you consider whether it's truly the best fit for you. For one, your children will be minors for roughly two decades, and it's hard to predict at what stage they'll most need your presence at home or at school events. If you assume that you're most needed when you have an infant, and negotiate a reduced work schedule at that time, you may be unhappy to learn that your angst-ridden tween is actually the most demanding stage.
Moreover, there are important downsides to consider about reduced work. Let's explore the pros and cons. (Since so many people talk about the benefits of reduced work schedules, let's start with the cons.)
The Cons of Reduced Work
Less pay. The most obvious downside of part-time work is that you'll earn less. Even if you keep the same hourly rate of pay, because you're working fewer hours each week, your overall take home wages will drop. On top of this, many professions experience a part-time penalty, in which your pay drops even more than it should, proportionately, because reduced work schedules are considered a perk that compensates for a slightly lower hourly rate.
Less pay, same workload. Imagine the disappointment when you've finally worked out the perfect part-time schedule, only to find that your workload refuses to squeeze into the hours for which you're being paid. Not everyone on a part-time schedule experiences this problem, but many do. Unless your job can truly be compressed or pared down so that you can complete your responsibilities in the allotted time, you will be shortchanged by taking a reduced hour schedule.
Less responsibility. You may believe wholeheartedly that you're just as committed to your career on a reduced hour schedule as when you were working full time. But the sad truth is that many of your colleagues and managers will assume that you're not interested in advancing as quickly or taking on challenging projects because you've reduced your work load. Thus, you need to actively seek out travel and "stretch" assignments in order to counteract this tendency to put you on the mommy track.
Worst of both worlds. A final complaint from some moms on reduced hour schedules is that because they have slightly more free time, people will try to use it up. Maybe the school asks you to volunteer more often, or neighbors request that you help with package deliveries or home repairs because you're home one day a week. Or your spouse may even be guilty of cutting into this hard-earned time away from work, by loading you up with more household errands.
The Pros of Reduced Work
More free time. That said, it's undeniable that working fewer hours gives you more time for other things. Maybe you use that time to catch up on piled-up laundry or grocery shopping, or maybe you catch an exercise class. Either way, you'll end up with more time to fulfill the needs of your family or yourself.
Career continuity. For some working moms, reduced work is the best alternative to quitting a job entirely. If your spouse has a demanding work and travel schedule, you may have to work part time or not at all. In this case, reduced hours present an acceptable compromise between the full-time career you really want, and giving up any paid work.