From Full-Time to Part-Time
Job Title: Clinical Nurse Educator
Length of Maternity Leave: 12-weeks
Temporary or permanent part-time situation: Permanent
Child's name: Grant
"Ultimately, I want to tell someone (because I felt like I didn't hear it enough) that no matter what your decision is regarding your status at work, that you're doing the best that you can and that it's OK to not only make the decision to work full-time/part-time/full-time parent/flex schedule, for your baby but for you, too. You were already a complex, beautiful human being with needs before you were a mother. If you need those spaces like I do to eliminate having to make time for you in those fringe hours, it's also OK to advocate for yourself in that way."
Tell us about your experience returning to work from maternity leave
Returning to work after maternity leave, in retrospect, seemed to be more traumatic than I had anticipated. Looking back on my time, I had a lot of postpartum anxiety-- a lot of what I described to my husband as just "not feeling right" or just feeling "off." There was so much emphasis about identifying the signs of postpartum depression that I was never really educated about the possibility of having postpartum anxiety. I was extremely anxious about going to work, stressed over the fact that my baby wasn't sleeping through the night before I went back, and overwhelmed at the prospect of leaving him five days a week to the point where I would catch myself zoning out in the middle of a worst-case scenario I had conjured up in my head. I was overwhelmed with feelings that no one could take care of him better than me and I was obsessed and ritualistic about how I did things, badly enough that it affected my relationship with my husband. Prior to returning, I was asked to be a part of a project team over a new system I was asked to be a super user for and my supervisor and I weren't really fully aware of the scope of the project when it started. She had asked me to be a part of it knowing my calendar was still somewhat empty when I would return. At that point, I wish I would have said no, but I wasn't fully aware of how overwhelming my emotions were at that point and the project seemed to grow in breadth without our awareness. It turned into a very high stress time, doing double duty of my regular job and a new project team member for a large project and a mother to a newborn. My husband traveled a ton during this time leaving me to do a lot of home routines by myself while learning my new schedule as a full-time working mom. I battled feelings of trying to prove myself as a dedicated employee despite having a complete overhaul on my changing brain and novel emotions as a new mother. While my supervisor was very protective of me, extremely open and supportive, it was still overwhelming to return and I'm thankful that season is over.
What motivated you to explore the opportunity of a part-time work schedule?
I heard so much advice from so many well-meaning people and mothers -- wait until you're finished breastfeeding to make a decision, you won't really know how you feel until a few months in, and so on. But I knew me and I had an idea in my head of what was truly going to make me feel balanced. Despite how much I adore my job and the people I work with, I ultimately couldn't shake the fact that I spent over 40 hours a week with my co-workers and maybe 34 waking hours with my newborn and husband (if I was lucky and could get home on time) between the weekends and the 1-2 hours he was awake after I got home from work. I researched and read and tried to find support to alleviate the overwhelming amount of mom guilt I had, and it wasn't until I had a breakdown at work one day in-between facilitating an event that I knew I had reached the tipping point. And because of the nature of the industry I work in, I knew the demands were only going to increase as time went on. A big part of the decision to go part-time was also to carve out intentional time for my partner and for me. I viewed work as a strict dichotomy and struggle between societal/financial obligation and motherhood when my husband and me also needed to live in that space. I just didn't feel like full-time work was giving me those spaces to spend focused time with my husband and to also take care of myself with exercise and proper nutrition-- something I know that I desperately need consistently for my own sanity and self care in order to be the mother I've always wanted to be. At the same time, I love the challenge and mental stimulation of my job and so, part-time was a really great solution for the kind of life I wanted to lead in this season. I read somewhere on The Returnity Project that mentioned a mother stating that you can have it all, just not at the same time, and that really struck a chord with me. I wanted to be able to prioritize my time on my terms on what felt right for my family and for me. And really, I think we all should evaluate what "having it all" really means to each one of us. Having it all can be interpreted in so many ways: working from home, dominating as a full-time parent, crushing it as a corporate full-time employee, working part time... it all can be "having it all" if our lifestyles give us joy and the kind of harmony we are seeking.
Describe your work situation - the industry, culture, and whether or not part-time work had been historically available at your company.
I work in the healthcare industry as a clinical nurse educator in a hospital and because of the nature of healthcare and my role specifically, part-time was not traditionally available and it felt like "all" or "nothing" since I am in a leadership role. However, just about 4.5 years ago, one of my colleagues had approached my supervisor about not being able to fulfill her role in a full-time capacity, and luckily, my supervisor and upper administration saw the value of retaining talent by utilizing flexible scheduling and created a part-time opportunity for her through job sharing. There are now 3 sets of us doing this!
How did you approach making the ask for part-time, and why do you believe you were successful?
I was really lucky to have leadership that was already so supportive of these elements, but I did feel that the move was made because of my tenure and experience at work. It helped greatly that I had several years under my belt and had proven my solid work ethic earlier on, otherwise, I'm not really even sure if it would have been a possibility for me to negotiate it. Positions in my department are hard to come by. However, because the process to job share half time positions took a long time to get approved, conduct interviews, etc., I assured my boss that I would wait as long as necessary to find the best fit for job sharing. We all know that it's all about who you work with, and I wanted to make sure we secured a candidate who matched not only my values, work ethic, and vision, but also valued work/life balance and had great time management to make it work for everyone. I also wanted to assure that I was patient with the process because ultimately, the person I would job share with would affect our entire team dynamics and ultimately be my boss's direct report. I actually think the hardest sell was trying to convince my husband that the financial cut would be worth it. What helped in this area was being very objective and data rich with my proposal both financially and personally. I explained my expectations for the support I needed from him in order to keep making full-time work with a set deadline. This would give us an opportunity to go to dinner to see how well it was or wasn't working. Ultimately, that date came and went and I arrived at the conclusion to go part-time. As soon as I had vocalized the decision out loud to him and, eventually, my boss and my work partner, I was met with immediate relief that I was doing what I felt was best for my family and for me.
What are some of the best and most difficult elements of your new part-time work situation?
I'll let you know as soon as we're further into it! My partner will start in about two weeks.
What advice would you give to someone considering making a request for a part-time role?
It's hard to know the right amount of time to give working full-time a try. I think the best advice I could give someone is really spend some time reflecting on who you are and the kind of vision you had for your family life long before you were even pregnant. What were your values regarding children and family life and what did you envision? How does that vision align with your reality now? I think it's so important to really give it an adequate amount of time, because so many things are at play-- hormones, pumping (if that's the decision you've made), and more. But that's not to say that if you know that a more flexible work schedule is what you want, act quickly and develop a plan to propose to your supervisor regarding the benefits to your company of you going part-time. At the very least, inquire about the possibility and what the process is for the status change (if it's at all possible) so you can get an idea of timing if it's something you're considering. You're the only person that knows what's right for you and your family and only you can dictate how you spend your time. Ultimately, I want to tell someone (because I felt like I didn't hear it enough) that no matter what your decision is regarding your status at work, that you're doing the best that you can and that it's OK to not only make the decision to work full-time/part-time/full-time parent/flex schedule, for your baby but for you, too. You were already a complex, beautiful human being with needs before you were a mother. If you need those spaces like I do to eliminate having to make time for you in those fringe hours, it's also OK to advocate for yourself in that way.