I am considering going part-time after the birth of my first child in a few months. My husband makes more money than I do and with a little belt-tightening, we will be able to make ends meet. My concern is that it will be tough for me to recover my earning potential long-term. I don’t want to derail my career. What do you think?—Future Mom in Illinois
Generation X Perspective: Magan Crane
First, congratulations on impending motherhood. Getting ready for such a dramatic change is so exciting, but there are lots of difficult decisions and they all seem terribly momentous. And of course, none seem as momentous as working. Full-time, part-time, stay home? Sometimes the luxury of choice seems like a burden, right? And any choice seems to thrust you right into the middle of the dreaded Mommy Wars. Ugh. But fret not. The right solution for your family (not your sister’s family, your neighbor’s family, or your boss’s family) is out there and you will find it.
To your question, I think the idea of working part-time is a great option; you are lucky to have it. There is not that much meaningful part-time work out there and if can find a position that allows you to keep your skills fresh and maximize your Mom time, that’s great. You are right that your long-term earning potential will be hurt. But it might be worth the hit to spend more time at home during the precious first few months or years of your baby’s life. You can minimize the impact by proving yourself committed to your career by giving work your full attention while you are on the job. Let your boss know—both in words and actions—that while you are at work, your mind is at work. Dress for success. Try to keep personal responsibilities, like doctor appointments and errands, to your days off. Also, if you intend to return to a full-time schedule in at some point, let them know. That is probably the best way to avoid ending up on their “Mommy track” forever.
Boomer Perspective: Marilynn Mobley
Dear Future Mom,
Congratulations on your first baby! I hope you enjoy being a mother as much as I have for the past twenty-two-plus years.
You didn’t indicate what line of work you’re in, so I don’t know how realistic or practical it is to work part-time. Still, I would certainly encourage you to be creative. Ask whether it’s possible to work at home while your child is young. Many companies are open to this idea, especially for their best employees. Also, look into job sharing or perhaps even consider how you might continue your career as an entrepreneur, rather than working for someone else.
I worked for IBM for fifteen years, and then started my own company specifically because I wanted to spend more time with my children. Owning my own company enabled me to be an involved mother and still satisfy my financial and professional goals. Then when I did decide to rejoin corporate America nine years later, I was actually more valuable than if I had stayed at IBM all those years.
If you do decide to stay home full-time for a while, make it a point to keep your skills up-to-date so when you do want to reenter the workforce, you will be more marketable. Many managers would actually welcome the opportunity to hire a woman who has the maturity, patience, discipline, and multi-tasking skills often associated with stay-at-home moms. So don’t just assume staying home will reduce your long-term earning potential.
When I consider how much the workplace has changed since the birth of my first child, I’m optimistic that you can benefit from continued progress.
Millennial Perspective: Traci Tsai
This one’s a tough one for me—as I haven’t been in this situation yet or had many people seek my advice on this topic. However, I have had a number of co-workers go through this process, so I’ll do my best to share some of my limited insight and some of the thoughts I’ve had when thinking about it in the context of my own future.
Investigate with your boss as well as your company if there are flexible, work-from-home options for you after your maternity leave is over. This has worked out well for a number of people I know. They are able to work more hours and therefore keep their income at (close to) a full-time level and their career on track. With help at home during working hours, they also are able to be with their children during the early years.
I know that personally, I want to be able to maintain a strong work/life balance when the time comes for me to start a family. I am not close enough to the situation now to provide any personal experience-based advice, but one option that I have seen a number of people explore is to go the consulting route. This is something that I will definitely explore when I find myself at this juncture. With this option, I feel it’s possible to continue building a base of contacts and work experience, but in a flexible manner that allows time for family. I will (hopefully) preserve my earning potential and keep my career on track so that whenever I am ready to return to full time work, I will be in a good position to do so.