20 April, 2013

Career and parenthood: is part-time working the answer?

Work and parenthood, as we all know, can be hard to combine successfully. However, talking to friends and from my own experience, there is a very specific issue surrounding part-time working and parenting.

I, and several of the people I know, work part time. In this way we are able to keep our careers going (or at least keep one foot in the world of work) while being around for our kids. This situation sounds ideal--not only are we still working, but we can also be there to deliver and pick up from school and, with any luck, have enough flexibility that we can be around for those occasional events that demand parental attention such as sports day and parent meetings at the end of the school day.

However, this kind of part-time working does present problems in itself. For a start, by the time you've taken into account travelling to and from work (if you don't live on your work's doorstep), you are looking at working pretty part time -- probably fifty or sixty per cent of full-time hours at most. And secondly, these kinds of jobs are few and far between. Almost all 'decent' jobs (reasonably high level and fairly well paid) are full time. The result tends to be that you get highly-qualified, highly-experienced individuals working in part-time roles that are well below their capability levels. This situation may be alright for a while, but in the end it can lead to employee frustration and poor job satisfaction.

There is therefore also an issue surrounding how long it makes sense to work part time for, before going full time again and taking your career forward. My oldest child will go to secondary school in September, but my youngest won't move to secondary for another two years after that. And even when they're both there, will I really want them home alone for significant periods of time before my husband and I get home from work? And what about school holidays...?

I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to work part time at present, but it certainly isn't a panacea. It introduces a whole new set of issues--especially for the parent who works part time. Combining work and parenthood just is tough, it seems, particularly if you are aiming for some measure of fulfillment and happiness for the whole family.

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