After a Baby, Full Time or Part?

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008

I love my new job. It was absolutely the right choice for me.

But -- isn't there always a but? -- when I come in to work, I have to leave a little guy at home who has just learned to wave bye-bye with his chubby backwards wave. So even though I feel excited about being back at work, I also feel guilty about not having more time with my 9-month-old, Sam. I wonder, what would be different if I worked 80 percent of the hours I do now?

The idea of working part time entered my mind off and on throughout my six-month maternity leave. Many of my friends in similar situations worried about the same things I did: What would a part-time job do to my career? Would work continue to be gratifying, or would it just be a job where I punched a clock? Would working fewer hours save money in child-care costs, or would I actually earn too little to make ends meet? And really . . . does Sam even care?

For those of you who don't remember, I wrote the Life at Work column for The Post's Business section. I've come back to the paper in a completely new job -- as an editor for the Weekend section. The job allows me to work more predictable hours than I did as a daily reporter with a weekly column. That helped me easily make the decision (for now, at least) to work full time.

But the decision isn't so easy for many women. For those who have a choice, family, finances and career success are all major considerations when settling on a work schedule.

Julie Ingoglia considered working part time after Matthew (2 1/2 ) and Giovanna (14 months) were born. But the family's insurance was covered through her job, and if she cut back on her work schedule, her insurance would also be cut back, as would her salary and her leave.

"I returned full time after both kids and pondered it a lot and still do," said Ingoglia, a senior analyst at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Ingoglia, 33, said she might eventually decide to work part time. Before her children were born, she went to graduate school to prepare herself for a job that could let her consult and therefore have a more flexible schedule. She hopes that when the kids are school-age, she can reduce her work schedule so she can be around when they get home. "The decision was, I'd stay working full time now and reduce hours then," she said. She and her husband hope that at that point, he will have a higher salary to offset her pay reduction.

Stepping off the linear career path has become so common that it now has a trendy vernacular. It's not called "going part time" or even "quitting." It's "off-ramping." When it's time to go back to work and pursue a direct career path, you're said to be "on-ramping." Words aside, the way we work is being redefined, even if the changes are not universal.

Women are "redesigning careers to be a lattice instead of a ladder," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. If you view your career as a ladder and you jump off, Galinsky said, it's hard to get back on. The idea of a lattice implies more flexibility.

Patricia Fuentes works a 60 percent schedule in public relations at Freddie Mac. She decided to take that route after her first daughter (now 3 1/2 ) was born. Nearly half of the employees at Freddie Mac work a nontraditional schedule.

"It's happening so much more, I think because there are more women in the workplace," said Debi Gay, human resources senior director at Freddie Mac. "Companies want to keep good people and have to be creative." More than half of the company's employees are women.

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