My Request To Work Part-Time Was Unfairly Denied, And I'm So Angry

by JoAnna Reeves
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To all the moms (and dads and parents in general) out there who wish you could be home with your kids and you can’t, I feel you. At the beginning of the pandemic when things shut down, I know that a lot of people — as much as they love their children — realized they did not prefer stay-at-home parenthood. I totally get and respect this, but I was not one of those people. Instead, for the first time, I got a taste of what it might be like to be home full-time with my son, and then my daughter too when she was born in June 2020, and I loved it.

It was hard being home full-time, don’t get me wrong, and there were days when all of us were crying by the afternoon, but I also loved it. I loved being there to make lunch, passing out with my kids at naptime, coming up with ridiculous crafts, and spending hours looking for critters in ditches as our “school” for the day. It was a time I’d never imagined I would ever get, and I also never imagined how much it would hurt to leave my children again.

Ever since returning to the office, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get back home again. Unfortunately, we depend on my paycheck to help pay the bills, so flat-out quitting is not an option. But I can’t help but feel like there must be some solution I am missing. That if I just looked at things differently, tilt my head at the right angle, and squint, an answer will present itself.

Recently, I’ve been thinking that maybe part-time work could be that solution: I’d still be bringing home a paycheck, but I’d also have more time with my kids (not to mention much lower daycare costs)!

Of course, switching to part-time sounds a lot easier in theory, and the self-help articles you read on the internet make it sound a lot simpler than it is. The reality is that on top of having fewer hours and no benefits, most part-time positions also pay much lower hourly rates than full-time work. I’ve had to turn down some otherwise perfect jobs because the pay is significantly lower than what I make right now (and I don’t even make that much)!

I finally worked up the courage to play my ace card (and maybe do what I should have done in the first place): I asked my supervisor about moving to part-time in my current job.

It seemed like the perfect solution. I’m generally productive and often find myself with downtime at work. I also did the math, and with the amount of money we would save on childcare, our finances would come out as a complete wash.

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I had prepared a speech about how this would be best for my family, but I could still be just as productive — if not more productive — in a shorter amount of time (look at how productive everyone was in the recent study in Iceland)! I figured I would explain that our department could save money on my salary and still get the same amount of work completed. Win-win for everyone!

It didn’t seem completely out of the realm of possibility, considering we already have a part-time profession-level employee in our department, and that our institution as a whole has several part-time professional employees in various departments. They also have policies in place for part-time pay and benefits. I knew the answer might still be no, or no for right now, but I thought my request would at least be considered as a means of retaining a valuable employee.

Boy was I wrong. All I managed to ask was whether moving to part-time would be a possibility in the future before I was completely shut down. My supervisor launched into claims that all I would have to show for my request was that my contract would not be renewed next year and that my position might be eliminated completely. I was, however, told that I was welcome to find work elsewhere, and if I did find something else, just leave. End of conversation.

Instead of reciting my well-prepared speech, I ended up crying in my office, hoping no one needed to do anything but email me for the rest of the afternoon. Sooooooo embarrassing.

It’s great to feel valued as an employee…as a mother…as a person…isn’t it?

Again, I knew that getting no as an answer was a distinct possibility, but to have my request be shut down without even the slightest consideration — not because they were worried about coverage, productivity, or any of those bottom-line considerations, but because my supervisor refused to even broach the topic because of some hypothetical scenario where my position gets eliminated altogether — is just inconsiderate of my concerns, and maybe even a little bit paranoid.

I think that the way this all went down is a telling sign that, despite all of the discussion in the media, and all of the grandiose statements about support for working parents (and appreciation for mothers specifically), nothing is going to change post-pandemic. Employers are not going to embrace flexible schedules. They are not going to implement policies to help working parents, and if they do have policies in place for part-time work, they are not going to apply them fairly.

Maybe tomorrow things will look brighter, but today, I just feel angry and sad and embarrassed and let down. Today I lost hope that I will ever get more time with my children while they are small. Today I realized that all of the work I’ve put in toward my career — thousands of dollars in debt for a master’s degree, hours and hours spent away from my children, finding the motivation to get up every day trying to do my best, to prove my worth in my profession — means nothing. They don’t even care about me. They care about a warm body in the position. It can be any warm body, as long as it works 40 hours a week rather than 20 or 25 or 30.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll find some freedom in the fact that it’s pretty apparent that no one cares at all about me or what I do. But for today, I’m going to feel all the sadness that all of the other parents who want to be home with their children feel. Because I get it, and I know you get it, and I know you feel it too.