Many women would opt for time away from the traditional “9 to 5” work life to remain home with children — and a growing body of research supports this. I reached this inflection point a short time after finishing my degree. Happily entrenched in a growing HR consulting firm (with a fair amount of career momentum on my side), it became obvious that my best laid plans for melding home and work life weren’t going to materialize. At the time, my decision to “lean out” may have appeared ill-advised — but as time would pass, it became clear that it was truly for the best.
Our young son didn’t sleep nights. He couldn’t tolerate formula. He seemed particularly distressed when we left him with a sitter for even a few hours. When I compared stories with other working mothers, things just weren’t adding up to a “lean in” scenario. The guilt and compounding stress were overpowering. I was torn between two disparate worlds that just weren’t meshing. My instincts told me to stay at home if at all possible. Luckily, after weighing both emotional and financial concerns, the option to complete some project work at home came into play. I happily chose this option — too exhausted in the moment to even begin to evaluate the long-term ramifications of that decision.
Knowing what I know today about work life integration, I would have sought a more permanent part-time solution (with an option to return when home life became more predictable). A recent article in The Atlantic, Moms Who Cut Back at Work Are Happier, explores the often difficult quest for women to find balance with their ever-evolving roles. The piece discusses research which reveals that many married moms would indeed, rather work part-time at specific points or “seasons” in their career — “leaning homeward” instead of “leaning in”. Furthermore, many who have the opportunity to embark on such a career “sacrifice” are happier overall. A recent CBS/New York Times survey echoes this sentiment, where it was found that nearly one-half of working women with children under the age of 18, would prefer an option to work part-time.
The fact remains, that it is challenging for many women to carry on their careers after children, as if nothing has changed. Dialing down the pressure should be a viable option — but keeping meaningful work in plain sight should also be part of that equation. With women making a significant investment in both their education and career, this has become a growing necessity — as we should have the opportunity to continue to contribute in a manner that remains fulfilling.
We are indeed making progress in this area. However, widespread acceptance of part-time options will likely not materialize until we acknowledge the need for a pervasive change in mindset. If you have had the opportunity to read, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter — you’d know exactly where I am going with this. We have to step up and vocalize what we really need to remain both happy and productive. With a healthy dose of transparency, these changes may come sooner than later. We should discuss the realities of melding work and career life, openly and often — because the essence of being truly happy at work, might lie just as much in being honest about what we cannot do — as much as what we can.
Suffice it to say, that my instinct to remain at home was on target. I needed to be there for a variety of reasons. Years later, it is apparent that I’ve had a fair amount of explaining to do in reference to the gap in my career. However of late, I no longer feel the need to either hide the reason — or the fact that I did so without hesitation.
I would like to think that in the future — working women won’t have to make these decisions bleary-eyed and exhausted.
Have you shared a similar experience? Were you able to adjust and work part-time? Share your story.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.