The 5 Types Of Part-Time Working Mom Guilt

After I found out I was pregnant with my third child, I decided to approach my boss about reducing my hours at the hospital where I work as a labor and delivery nurse. Her reaction, after subtly and offensively also quizzing me on my age? (27, in case you’re wondering.), was as follows.

“I don’t care if you go part-time,” she told me. “But I want you to know that if you do this, everyone will hate you. People will say you’re not a team player…”

According to the U.S. Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, over 35 percent of part-time workers are mothers. Mothers who work part-time often enjoy the benefits of added time with their families, while still staying present and engaging their passions in the work force. They may choose part-time work as a way to solve the “having it all” dilemma by striving to find a solution of work and family that works best for them. Or, they may find that many companies, in an attempt to save financial resources, offer more part-time work without benefits, such as health insurance.

With the benefit of my husband’s insurance, (a luxury I am well aware not everyone has) working part-time has worked well for me in this season of my life when my children are young. With kids aged five, three, and 11 months, I have dedicated myself to being home with them as much as financially possible, supplementing my income as a part-time nurse by working at home as a writer. I’ve found that the mix of part-time work and flexibility has been perfect for me, both financially, and to preserve my sanity.

But working part-time has also come with a price.

 1. The co-worker guilt.

angry coworker

First of all, I struggle with major feelings of guilt when it comes to my co-workers at the hospital. Although I can’t say for sure if any of them hold my part-time status against me, I definitely feel guilty for not working more to help them out. The very nature of working as a nurse in a hospital setting means that basically, they are always working short-staffed and there is always an emergency of some sort. So when I can’t—or won’t—work any extra hours, I feel like I am hurting my co-workers. And taking a day off or switching hours for myself? You can forget that.

(photo: fifthconspiracy)

2.    The boss guilt


It’s hard to work up the courage to have a conversation with your superior about going to part-time hours. Women, especially if they are mothers, who wish to go part-time are often viewed as slacking at their jobs or not being dedicated. Clearly, a lot of bosses feel the same way, as my cousin found out the hard way. After listening to Jacquelyn present the assets her part-time hours could provide the company (same amount of work from her, less money paid in benefits, less paid sick days), she also mentioned the importance of more flexibility to spend time her family.

“I’m sorry,” her boss, a man whose own wife stays home full-time with their son, replied. “There are just times when you have to put work before family. Period.”

(photo: markleggett)

3.  It’s not “real” work guilt

cat on desk

Women who work part-time, again especially if they are mothers, are often readily dismissed by other mothers. The old, “Well, you’re not really working” sentiment definitely feels true here. My part-time work, whether at home or at the hospital doesn’t take priority—I am still viewed by my peers as a stay-at-home mother without a “real” job and with all the free time in the world.

(photo: cbowns)

4. Time management guilt

toddler crying

Part-time doesn’t mean part-time hours. As any part-time working woman knows, part-time in hours doesn’t exactly translate to a part-time work load. More often than not, working part-time simply means fitting a full-time job into part-time hours. I guess that’s one way to look at having it all, right?

(photo: clujulcopiilor)

5.  Marriage/partnership guilt

dogs fightingIt can be hard on a marriage. I tread this topic lightly, because obviously every marriage is different. But strangely enough, I have found that when I was working full-time, doing the kid and marriage thing was actually easier. Why? Simply because my husband had no other choice rather than to pitch in, whether that be taking care of the house so he’d have something to wear to work or driving the kids to the sitter’s if I had to be in early. Without me and the kids home all day, every day, there was less cleaning and grocery shopping to do as well. (Do anyone else’s kids eat all day long? No? Just mine?)

Although I have an amazing and supportive husband, I’ve found that when I work part-time, it really is harder on my marriage because I lose that support from him, simply because I’m at home more and he’s not. It feels like more to do with less help.

(photo: izzydv)

Working part-time has presented challenges that I never anticipated, but I definitely feel like I have made the choice that works best for me — right now. I like to know that the decision of working part-time when I have young children at home is not a life sentence. Situations change and I may very well enter the world of full-time work someday in the future again.

But for now, you will find me slogging along, cobbling together hours spent at home, writing, and in the hospital while trying to avoid my guilt and counting the days until my next paycheck.

I still consider myself a team player. I’m just playing for a few sets of teams these days.

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  • Amanda Low

    Hang in there! Although I’m a little closer to the full-time end of the spectrum, I can very much relate to this. That is so horrible what your cousin’s boss said to her. I sometimes wonder if men in power say things like this because they, too, hate the societal status quo — maybe he’s pissed that he constantly has to put work before everything else, and gets mad at the idea that anyone else could have balance. Or he’s just a chauvinistic asshole.

  • Raeronola

    Definitely identify with number 5. I am 36 weeks right now and I have about 2 hours of activity in me every day before i totally wank out and have to take a nap. I work part time (2 days in office and 1 day from home) so it really is a dream scenario, however it’s hard to balance the at home duties, especially since my husband usually works a 12-14 hour day. I feel TONS of guilt when the laundry piles up or the dishes sit for a few days.

  • Melissa

    Pretty much everything that the bosses were quoted as saying in this article should be brought to the attention of HR. A boss of course has the right to refuse to allow an employee to reduce to part-time hours, but the extra commentary is unnecessary, offensive, and discriminatory.

  • Emily

    Further evidence that there is no panacea to the work/stay home conundrum!

    Like you, I am working p/t – a few days in the office, and one out. Like you, this p/t heaven is really a f/t gig in disguise.

    I really think that this is the best situation I could hope for, but it still does not solve all ills. When I am playing with the kids, I feel like I should be replying to emails. And when I am at work, I feel like I am missing out on Activity X with the kids. No surprise there. Last fall, my boss asked how many hours I had worked that week. I was able to calculate seventeen hours in the office… and 33 at home. No joke. So, in the evening, the kids go to bed, and I work. Then I start dishes and whatnot. I am tired as cuss, and feeling like I am the Jack of all trades and master of none. However… working has allowed me to maintain some semblance of grown up-type brain function that just was not happening when I was home f/t.

    I’m lucky to have both a family situation and a work situation that allows this sort of schedule. I have no doubt that working f/t would be far harder on the whole family. I guess that the best I can hope for from any situation is feeling like “you take the good, you take the bad…!”

  • Blueathena623

    I wish I could work part time but I’m having a lot of difficulty finding it. I want to go up to employers and shake them and say “I am an anal retentive hard worker! You will be getting the same amount of work for less pay and no benefits! HIRE ME!”

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  • Jen

    Wow you hit the nail on the head here. Woman try to have it all but it is always a very tough balancing act. Part time still seems like the best option but it also takes a toll.

  • Frustrated

    I am a teacher and at a recent board meeting, the chairman of the board stated, “if you ladies just had some more babies, then we wouldn’t be in this situation (declining enrollment)” If I knew it wouldn’t cost me my job, I would have stood up and said, “You know that a cashier at Costco makes more than I do. I have 5 years of experience, 2 degrees and I’m laid off again. All I would like is a little job stability and then maybe I’d have a kid or two.” I am the bread winner so that my husband can do a job that he loves. But it’s really disheartening to work 70-80 hours a week for peanuts… Every day that I step foot into my classroom, I forget about the stress of my life and worry about how I am going to teach 90 kids that day, when they come from broken homes and are dealing with stresses that no kids should go through. I guess, I would have told the chairman, “I’ll have some kids, when I don’t have to parent other people’s kids. When I don’t have to spend my cash to feed and clothe other people’s children. When I don’t have to make up for the cuts that you have had to do so that more than over 100 people of a staff of 1000, can make over 125,000 dollars a year… Maybe I’ll have kids.”

  • Renee

    Interesting take on the working part-time vs. full-time question. I would not have guessed that working part-time would make things tougher, but the way you discuss it makes TOTAL sense!

  • lennon

    I work at a CPA firm and have been overjoyed to see how many female CPA’s are able to have a work/family balance. I am a single mom of three working 30 hours a week, my manager with 2 small kids works 3 days a week, and several other women only work during school hours or take the summer off. 30 hours/week is full time there and gives generous benefits. It is heartening to see women trying to do it all and a workplace giving them the flexibility to do that.

  • 3under3andaphd

    THIS…ALL of this in addition to resentment towards those who are able to be a) full time moms OR b) full time work/study

  • Sarah

    Thank you for your post, it’s so nice to know that we’re not alone in this!

  • It’s me.

    SO fabulous, wonderful, relateable (is that a word?), unbelievable, on point, and without a doubt the BEST description that there ever could be for a mom who is doing a pretty darn good job of being SUPERWOMAN. And I hope that’s what you were for Halloween…..XOXO.