I’ve written here about the on ramp, and how getting back into work, or even “finding your groove” can be difficult if you start to merge professional or business life with parenting. (And all apologies up front to parents who have always blended these things smoothly- you have my undying admiration.)
Doing project-based work, whether it’s been as a volunteer, an employee, or as am independent contractor, has frequently been part of my life. But because it’s been project-based, it’s been episodic. It’s been on again and off again, and it’s given me the flexibility to be the rudder and manager of our family life, fitting the projects in around the sides, so to speak.
Recently, I started thinking about what it would be like to go back to work “full time”. What would this mean? What would I have to give up? What would I gain? How would this affect everyone else in the family? What about the other things I do- how much of that will have to change as well? And as I talk to other moms this summer, many are going through the same thing.
Sometimes, it’s because our kids are in school full day for the first time, or because our kids are getting old enough we can “see” the endpoint coming, when they graduate and go off to school, and our daily importance in their lives diminishes somewhat. Even part-time jobs require giving up some things you currently do for the benefits and burdens of a workplace. What factors tip that balance and make a return to work a want versus a need? What makes it worthwhile, both emotionally and financially?
All of these questions are set against a background of knowing myself better than ever before. I know who I am, what I am good at, and where I have weaknesses. I know what I can do and what I can’t, and that’s both good and bad. It means in some respects, I can be rigid. We can work together, or not, and I am quite fine with either- the lines seem a little more black and white than they used to be. I am okay with being who I am, and whether it fits other people’s needs or expectations feels more like a business decision on their part than a critique of my overall worthiness. My “worth” is judged by the strength of the job I do and performance, and I pride myself on doing whatever it takes to get the job done. But I’m no longer as affected by things like “I’m not sure she likes me” anymore- while I’m not impervious to those things, they matter so much less than they did even five years ago. I know I can’t please everyone, and I can accept that as a fact, not something to try to change.
This has put me in a very weird position. I know what I want and what I can do. It makes me very confident. But the prospect of applying for a job, which is essentially all about courting and seeking the favor of someone- almost a business flirtation, where you try to figure out in advance whether or not the job, with its duties and expectations, are going to be a good fit, or is it doomed from the start, like some of those early dating relationships you had where it was fun, but destined to go nowhere long term? Being married for a long time now, my skills at being coy and flirtatious are a bit rusty.
I know how to be appropriate, but I have a hard time turning up the volume on people pleasing, for the sake of the dance, and instead devolve straight to “What you see is what you get, plain and simple.” I like transparency. I like the honesty. I like feeling like everything is clear, and decisions are made based on facts, not fantasy. But how much of this seems weird to people who expect more of a dog and pony show? How much of this seems like ennui? How much of this seems like take it or leave it, and not sincere interest in the position or work?
And then there’s the inevitable “Why are you looking for a job now?” The answer for me is straight forward- I’m not really looking for any job, but if the right job came my way, it might be hard to resist. It would mean less hustling for clients. It would mean a consistent schedule. It would be predictability, but likely at the cost of flexibility. Kids who forgot their homework would have to deal, rather than being rescued. Appointments and meetings would have to be scheduled and juggled and be less spontaneous. But the trade-offs seem to come down nearly even in terms of benefits and burdens.
I love my small business, and setting my own schedule. I love what I’m doing and how I manage it with my duties and Chief Financial and Logistics Officer for the household. But I know if I decide I want to work for someone else, I will need to meet their schedule, their requirements, and their needs. And balancing what its worth, in terms of finances and in terms of sacrificing freedom for more security, to have a place to be every day instead of a never ending list of tasks…That’s a hard metric for anyone to work out.
One thing I would suggest for anyone considering a transition- take a look at the following calculator:
Freelance Calculator- figure out your business costs and how much you need to make an hour to afford your overhead, expenses, etc. This works really well for consultants, but even for parents, consider what the costs are for daycare, etc. as business costs associated with your job, taxes and the like, and you get a sense of what you need to make if you go back to work to both break even as well as get ahead.
Surprisingly, there’s not a great one for parents to decide if the cost of going back to work is worth it, but this can work pretty well to give you an idea of both what you would need to charge for your time if you consult, or what you would need to make hourly to meet your needs- and that will help you make a better decision about whether that part time job for $12 an hour really is beneficial for anything other than mental health or not, or is it really costing you money.
Knowing what your time is worth is central to these decisions, so don’t forget the analytical as well as the emotional in your decisions.
by Whitney Hoffman
Photo graciously provided by hans s, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved