The Best of Both Worlds: How Mothers Can Find Full-time Satisfaction in Part-time Work

The Best of Both Worlds: How Mothers Can Find Full-time Satisfaction in Part-time Work

by Beth Brykman


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How can mothers bridge the gap between the worlds of "mom" and "career woman" to find work-life balance? By working part-time. This informative guide tells both stay-at-home and full-time working mothers how they can reengage or redefine their careers while still having time to care for their children. The author—a mother and a former business executive, entrepreneur, and self-employed writer—provides all the information moms need to find the ideal employment solution in today's job market. For some women that means returning to the job market, while for others that means reducing hours with a current employer or changing jobs to obtain part-time work. The author also offers suggestions for defining personal objectives, networking, approaching job-sharing, and starting a business to help land part-time jobs.

Based on interviews with over one hundred part-time working women from a large cross-section of vocations, the book is rich with examples of what women in a variety of careers did to gain part-time employment. A majority report that working part-time gives them the "best of both worlds." By retelling their stories, the author has created a book that is realistic, useful, and an excellent reference.

This is the perfect starting point for mothers who want to learn how they can fulfill family needs, earn income, and gain self-satisfaction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633882478
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 11/08/2016
Pages: 260
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Beth Brykman is the author of The Wall between Women: The Conflict between Stay-at-Home and Employed Mothers and Second Wind: The Resilience of Women. She has also written for the New England Journal of Public Policy. She has managed her own part-time consulting business, Brykman Consulting Services; has held senior marketing positions at Kraft General Foods and Pittsburgh Brewing Company; and has worked in product management for Ralston Purina, HJ Heinz, and Frito-Lay.

Read an Excerpt

The Best of Both Worlds

How Mothers Can Find Full-Time Satisfaction in Part-Time Work

By Beth Brykman

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2016 Beth Brykman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63388-248-5



"It made me feel good about using my skills, earning some money and still caring for my daughters."

— Dianne

Two days working in the office and one day at home, leaving two weekdays for errands, appointments, and being with the kids. Good, right? What about working five mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.? Not bad. Or how about working four days a week, getting every Friday off? Pretty nice. This is the world of part-timers. And no one wants to enter that world more than mothers.

What drives women to move into part-time employment? Is it to relieve stress in the family? Is it for a paycheck? Is it for peace of mind when considering a prospective job in the future? Or is it simply the emotional draw that mothers have of wanting to be with their children? It's all of these reasons. Mothers see part-time employment as a way to obtain a sense of balance in their lives by bridging the gap between the worlds of "mom" and "career woman." According to the Pew Research Center, 47 percent of mothers prefer part-time jobs over staying home or working full-time in 2012, up from 44 percent in 1997.

With all the recent talk of leaning in and breadwinner moms, most mothers still work two jobs instead of one. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, director of the Gender/Policy Program at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, "Even when women are highly qualified and highly paid, they routinely pick up the lion's share of domestic responsibilities — typically 75 percent of the housework and child care." No wonder these women are struggling for balance.

And stay-at-home mothers have traded their professional identities for one that holds little social status in most people's eyes. In our society the lowest form of work, in terms of status and finances, is day-to-day childcare. Even domestic cleaning work pays more. So a stay-at-home mom feels much less empowered than when she was employed, often losing a strong sense of self.

Most women feel they fall short of their own self-imposed standards to do well simultaneously in the professional world and on the home front, bringing us to the issue of balance. Balance is full of compromises. For Michele Bolton, author of The Third Shift, balance lies with having part-time flexible employment, a lack of willingness to relocate, only a few children, and limited involvement with school and community activities. She advises others to ease up on themselves, realizing that nobody's perfect. While the women I interviewed may not agree with Bolton on exactly how to attain balance, they do agree with her on letting something "give," not trying to attain it all, all at once.


Women become part-time employees for a combination of three major reasons: children, professional identity/personal fulfillment, and income. Being able to spend time with their kids while pursuing either a career or obtaining self-satisfaction was, hopefully, going to bring balance into the lives of these women. While income is obviously part of the total picture in part-time employment, surprisingly, it is a secondary or tertiary reason to work outside the home for the majority of women interviewed. Women say primarily that they "want to grow as a human being and give back to [their] community" or "desire to be back in a professional environment" or "want to use [their] education."

The tugs of family life and income bring full-time workers into part-time employment. For stay-at-home mothers, self-satisfaction combined with income bring them back into the workforce on a part-time basis. Surveys dating back as far as the early 1990s show that up to 80 percent of mothers, employed or not, consistently want to work part-time.

Ingrid, an air force captain at the time, says regarding her son, "I had very strong motherly instincts and couldn't fathom leaving him with someone else for five days a week. I felt like I needed to be with him to raise him. At the same time, we needed the income."

"Sure, I wanted the money, but I wanted value in my own world," adds Julie, a garden center salesperson.

"I wanted to do both things and do both well. I wanted to keep my foot in my professional life that I had for so long before my children came along and not to miss anything with the kids," agrees Noel, a lobbyist.

"My intent was to stay home full-time, but then after several months, intellectually I needed more," says Doreen, who then became a human resources consultant.

These women voice what Sylvia Ann Hewlett learned while researching her book Off-Ramps and On-Ramps. In order to find balance in their personal and work lives a third of highly qualified women work part-time during their careers.

Best of Both Worlds

For a majority of women who trade full-time employment for part-time, their primary reason for working less hours is to have more time with their children. Secondarily, either they want to continue with their careers, holding onto their personal identities, or they need the income. Not surprisingly, 40 percent feel the best aspect of being a part-timer is having the "best of both worlds." These women have integrated raising their children, being intellectually stimulated, having adult interaction, and having control of what is happening in their homes.

Three things have increased pressure on work-life balance since the 1980s and early 1990s: technology, globalization, and increased workloads.

• Technology has blurred work versus home boundaries. It's a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. On the positive side, mothers can work from home when a child is sick or telecommute one day a week. On the negative side, we can work from anywhere, anytime, invading our personal lives and turning our homes into "satellite offices."

• Globalization is another trend putting pressure on work-life balance issues. Now we work in a 24/7 environment, e-mailing each other across the globe at all hours, every day of the week. And since many holidays vary by country, we even get work sent to us on Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. This is one more contributor to the excessive work hours, adding to our already heavy workloads.

• Organizations have been attempting to "do more with less" for the last three decades. When profits are squeezed and stock prices drop, downsizing occurs. Many times three jobs are folded into two or, even worse, two jobs folded into one, causing excessive work and stress. Add globalization and technology on top of that and employees have enough work to labor around the clock making work-life balance issues even worse.

The desire for women to succeed professionally and raise a family in conjunction with increased technology, globalization, and "doing more with less" has driven women to pursue part-time work. Kim claims switching from full-time to part-time employment was simply the "guilt of not spending time with my own children. I would go two whole days with just getting my children out of bed, dropping them off at daycare, and then getting home in time to put them back to bed. Other people were raising my children."

Many others feel like Kim, that they are being selfish in fulfilling their own professional wants at the cost of their children's emotional well-being. Mother after mother reiterates, "I wanted to make sure that I could spend adequate time with my children" or "I felt that I wasn't giving my family enough time."

Margo, formerly an English teacher, says, "This decision was based on how I wanted to feel as a mom. I was a very high-energy teacher, and I never wanted to feel as though I spent so much of my energy on other people's kids, that I came home and I didn't have enough for my own. I had always wanted to have a ton of kids, so from the very beginning I thought about teaching as a great career to have kids. I'd be on their schedule, everything would be great. And once I started teaching, I realized how much energy it required every day to do it well. And that's when I realized that I can't do this and be the kind of mom I wanted to be."

So she started working as an SAT/academic/college tutor. "I knew that I had a skill that could make a lot of money, even more money than teaching with no homework and no grading. It enabled me to do swim class, music class, and all the fun classes I wanted to do with my daughter.

"When I was working every weekend and holding many weekday classes, I more than doubled my teaching salary. That's when I sent out postcards and worked with the math tutor at the local high school."

Jane, who had worked in nonprofit management, also wanted time for her family. "The big thing was quitting full-time work. I said, 'Oh my God, I have one life to live and this job is eating me up. I have no time or energy for my family or myself. I can't do this anymore.' So I quit. I never intended to work part-time. I just woke up one morning and I knew I couldn't keep working full-time. I woke up — it was 5:30 a.m. — I couldn't sleep once again. I was writing in my journal, and just found myself realizing as I was writing that I actually could quit my job. The YWCA would not fall down. I would not go to pieces. I played around with the idea for a little while, gave them a whole lot of notice, and it worked. I told myself I could have the summer off.

"I knew we could not make it financially without me working at all; plus I would lose my mind if I wasn't working. But I didn't want to jump back into full-time work." Leveraging her past experience, Jane now consults for nonprofits. She facilitates groups, leads board retreats, and trains others on nonprofit programs at locations such as local universities.

It is all about balance.

Balance — having time for ball games and school parties, being home after school for the kids while also bringing in a paycheck, and using the education/training/skills that women have worked so hard to obtain — that's what makes part-time employment the "best of both worlds." Working part-time keeps women from getting in a rut by challenging them, keeping them up-to-date, giving them a sense of being out in the world, and expanding their knowledge base. Then, because it affords them enough time to manage home life, it helps them maintain a balance that is elusive for full-time employees.

"What I like about it is that I can have an impact, I can make it challenging, but I can be there for my family with the flexibility," says Missy, a law firm researcher.

Jane adds, "It leaves me time and energy to come home and be present for my children and husband. They get off the bus, and they have my complete attention, time, energy, and emotional space when they need it."

"When people ask me about it, I always say, 'It's the best of both worlds,'" claims Tessa, a Michigan teacher who job shares. "My sister dropped out of the workforce. She had been a paralegal and then dropped out. She was a house mom for ten years; then she tried to go back. She had a hard time so she didn't know what to do. She wound up being a teacher's aide for a while. She wanted the same schedule as her kids, having the summer off with them. Now she's a substitute teacher. I was always glad I did it the way I did it. I still have lots of time with my kids. When I was working afternoons and the kids were little, they slept in the afternoons. I was never out of my profession; it kept me in the loop. I really recommend it, especially for teachers. The job share is really nice for kids and teachers because we both get to teach the things that we love the most. If you do have a difficult class, you get a fresh teacher, not one who's tired and impatient midday."

As a part-time purchasing agent for aircraft engine parts, Kelly agrees. "It's the best thing for a woman who wants to do it all, still keep a career and raise her babies. I wouldn't have been a good stay-at-home mom. It's good for [my children], and it's good for me."

And for Cheryl, working part-time gives her the balance she needs for herself as contributor to the family income. After Cheryl and her husband purchased their new home, she had stopped working, but something was missing. "It was not like I could be out of the labor force and then be hanging out at the country club and hiring a nanny at the same time," she says. "So ... living in a place like my town where there are a lot of people who don't [need to] work and [who] spend a ton of money, I felt like getting back to work gave me back some financial independence. I was staying home, but I spent very little money on myself, and I felt I wasn't contributing much. It's okay to stay home. There's such a difference between being a stay-at-home mom and a stay-at-home mom with a lot of financial resources. We were down in income. I don't know how much of that was self-imposed versus reality, but it's what I felt. The community of stay-at-home moms I was in was not in that position."

Additionally, two women cite that they can earn income to pay for hobbies without encroaching on the family's finances needed on a day-to-day basis. And as a bonus, they actually have time to enjoy these hobbies because they aren't working a forty-hour workweek.


Balance includes the flexibility of being able to work the hours women desire. For some women, this means working the exact same hours every week so they know their schedule and can work the rest of the family around it. For other women, it means total flexibility with no set hours at all. This enables them to react to family issues on a weekly basis without cancelling meetings or irritating customers. A quarter of the women interviewed feel that flexibility is the best part of working part-time.

Sanity and balance, not only for herself but also for her husband, was Lorrie's reason for moving into part-time work. Her husband worked the night shift at the airport, and she worked during the day. "I would have to scramble at five in the afternoon from work and get back home so he could get in the car and get to the airport by six. It was a major hassle all the way around because the job I had at my level wasn't one where you could punch a clock at five. There was lots of stress. We really talked about 'How do we do this?'

"Both of us agreed we didn't want to put our children in a daycare situation; we didn't want to get an au pair. We wanted to be the best caregivers we could be. The option was if I could go part-time, work a couple of days from home, a couple of days in the office, then it would work out. That slight change made a huge difference in our balance.

"Then he changed his job because he was running on empty. He was able to move into a weekend position. We both work thirty hours each. We won't be wealthy in monetary ways; we made that choice. Our priority is our health and the happiness of our children. We need to make money to provide for them, but they come first. That's not always accepted in an employment setting."

Job Itself

Whether women were moving from full-time to part-time employment or from staying home to part-time employment, the single best part of working part-time is the job itself. No matter what type of job, whether tutor, doctor, sales representative, engineer, lawyer, interior designer, nanny, banker, artist, lobbyist, secretary, computer programmer, or food stylist, women like being employed. These women enjoy being out in the world, continuing with their careers, being intellectually challenged, contributing to society, and using their training/skills/education. Providing a valuable service, making an impact, feeling a sense of accomplishment, connecting with wonderful people, these are reasons half the women cite the work itself as the best aspect of part-time work.

Over half of the women who left the workforce and stayed home for some time returned to the workforce primarily to regain an identity, interact more with adults, meet a challenge, and gain intellectual stimulation. They have spent time with their children. They have gone to the parks, read stories, and colored with their kids. Now they want something for themselves. Simply stated, they like working outside the home.

"I had an intense desire to work, to get back in the saddle," says Lisa, an attorney.

"I needed my own time, my own space, my own interests for my own mental health. That will benefit my children to have a happy mommy," adds Kim.

"When you're the mom and have children that young, you're around them all the time and immersed in their world," says Heather. "With my husband working his busy schedule, I didn't have a lot of adult interaction. I felt like I had lost a piece of myself. Even though I had become a mom and I was very happy with that role as a wife, I had worked all those years very hard, so part of my identity was missing." Heather returned to work as a registered nurse case manager in a Mississippi acute care hospital facility, reestablishing herself in a field where she had worked prior to stepping out of the labor force. She adds, "It wasn't money; it was purely an intrinsic motivation: something I felt within me that I needed to do."


Excerpted from The Best of Both Worlds by Beth Brykman. Copyright © 2016 Beth Brykman. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments, 241,
Appendix, 243,
Notes, 247,
Selected Bibliography, 253,
Index, 259,

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