This Marketing Mom Found Her Unicorn Position: Part Time, With Benefits
Ruth grew up thinking that the only way to be a good mom was to stay home with kids. However, when the time came for Ruth to start her family, she had a thriving career in marketing that she wanted to keep in her life. Consulting with the management at her company, Ruth was able to work out an arrangement in which she could work part time from home. While she was expecting to lose benefits when she went part time, she was able to retain health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid time off, thanks to a manager who advocated for her (and a supportive leadership team). Ruth says, “Recruiters have come to me just this week with offers, and I haven’t considered a single one. There’s no beating what my company has given me.” Ruth’s story proves an important point: when companies take employees’ family responsibilities seriously, everybody wins.
Please introduce yourself and share what work and motherhood look like for you.
My name is Ruth Ray. I have one baby boy, and I am the senior marketing manager at a neuroscience company. Prior to giving birth to my son, I was employed full time at this same company. About four months before my son was born, I spoke to my employers about going part time after maternity leave. They were extremely supportive of that move, and now I work from my home office 80% of my previous hours.
I was raised in a large family—I’m the youngest of eight kids—and I’ve been an aunt since I was five years old. I’ve always loved being surrounded by kiddos and have basked in the joy of watching tiny humans growing into full-size humans. So the hope of having kids has always been my dream . . . and now I feel really grateful to have my sweet little guy.
What are some things that you’ve loved about being a mom, and what are some things that have been challenging for you?
Even though I’ve always adored my 33 nieces and nephews, I didn’t anticipate loving being a mom so much. It is a total pleasure getting down on the floor with my little guy and watching him discover how his toys make noise or [seeing him] take everything out of one bin and put them into another. I love just watching him and his curiosity and the way he drinks in life. And I also really love watching my husband be a dad and sing songs about changing diapers and read stories in animated voices. That’s been something that’s brought me a lot of joy.
I guess the difficulties for me have come in learning I can’t control everything. . . . I can’t control the father my husband is, although he really is such a thoughtful dad and co-parent. He has different views than I do, and I’ve had to learn that that’s okay. And I can’t control the feelings my baby has or the things he will like or dislike. I can’t control how the lack of sleep or worries around keeping my baby fed and healthy and such seep into the other areas of my life.
But, generally, I’ve been happier and more fulfilled by motherhood than I anticipated. I’d always been told about the exhaustion and the weariness of motherhood, so I expected that to be my primary emotion. And as a person with anxiety, I’m really good at looking to the future and seeing all the hard things that could come. So, honestly, it’s been a huge relief to feel real fulfillment as a mom.
Did you always anticipate keeping up a career while having a family?
My plan for having kids and work has been a roller coaster. I grew up believing that the only proper way to approach kids and work was to drop the “work” part of that equation. My parents absolutely emphasized education for all in our home—male and female—but seeping through the religious and cultural settings that surrounded me was the notion that it was expected for a woman to stay home and raise her children.
As time went on, I realized I wanted work in my life, but I had no idea how to manage that. I wanted a situation in which I could work part time, but opportunities for flexible part-time work in a good work setting are so hard to come by. I feel extremely fortunate to be at my current company. The opportunities to keep working and in a flexible at-home way [were] a game changer for my perceptions of what combining work and motherhood could look like.
I’ve certainly felt both ends of this stick—the shame for wanting to go to work and the shame for wanting to stay at home—and, luckily, I don’t feel that conflict anymore. Now, my circumstances are very supportive of my finding the balance I want, but the roller coaster has been real.
Did your thoughts about work-life balance change after you had your son?
Prior to having my son, I was worried if my plans to go part time would be feasible or if I would feel miserable in either setting—either taking care of my son or being at work. And it turns out the opposite is true. I’ve never felt happier or more focused at work. I ride that energy and give it to my son and my husband. They, in turn, fuel me with energy and joy, and I’m able to push that into my work life. It’s been a wonderful, virtuous spiral, and it was not what I anticipated.
What helped you find the balance that you wanted? Is there anything that you would change in your circumstance?
What did I need for this to work? First, I needed someone who could watch my son while I worked—whether it were a nanny or babysitter, husband, day care, or whatever. I also needed a company and a manager who could be flexible with my schedule. I needed my husband to have flexibility and be an active co-parent, co-caretaker, co-cleaner, co-bedtime-story-reader and bath-giver—the whole nine yards. And I needed a situation in which I wouldn’t be paying more for child care than I was making. I was so lucky to get all of those things.
What I have lost is feeling like I’m able to connect with other mothers, because I don’t allow any time for that, and that’s on me. Working makes it hard to do this, as most activities with kids and playgroups happen during morning hours, and that’s always when I’m working. However, I do need to be better about taking advantage of those types of situations and looking out for my own self care.
What’s going well with your part time schedule, and what could be improved?
I have never felt quite so whole as a person than this time in my life working and caring for my son. I was married at 28 years old, and I had my son at 31. I’ve lived in many cities across the United States and in various countries. I’ve held several wonderful jobs and been very fortunate to have many experiences in my career, but none of these has made me feel as balanced as having both motherhood and work has.
Fulfillment doesn’t exclude exhaustion, however. I’m always pushing myself to work any opportunity I can squeeze in, as my responsibilities at work are not that of a part-time individual. It is absolutely the amount of someone [working] full-time. I’ve had many moments of burnout where I’m worn thin from constantly going on both sides of the candle and in the middle of the candle and all around the candle with home, work, religious life, friends, self, and extended family responsibilities. But thus is the life of mothers and women everywhere.
How much did the support you received from your employer factor into your decision to continue working after your son was born?
My company’s maternity leave policy and flexibility in allowing me to move . . . to a part-time employee [position] was massive in my decision-making process. I didn’t know what I was going to do if my company said no to letting me go part time.
My company offers two months of paid leave for mothers and then the option to use personal and annual leave to extend the period of time [off with pay]. There was zero hesitation by my company when I asked to take off [a total of] four months with part of that being unpaid time.
Also, to my shock, during my maternity leave I was offered a promotion, even though my company knew I would be returning part time. My shock only deepened when I learned that even as a part-time employee I would still be a salaried employee with benefits. My manager had advocated for me to have this arrangement, though I had expected to become an hourly employee and lose my benefits when I became part time. Our executive leadership team is extremely committed to flexibility in our work policies, and they immediately approved my manager’s suggestion. For this reason, and so many others, my company has won my loyalty. Recruiters have come to me even just this week with offers, and I haven’t considered a single one. There’s no beating what my company has given me.
Working part time, what does your typical day look like?
I get up and take care of my son for a couple of hours. He goes down for his morning nap, and then our babysitter comes to the house. I am usually in meetings from about 10 to 2, and then I will come down and say hi to [my son and our babysitter]. Frankly, it’s really nice to have that interaction in a work-from-home environment, too, because it’s another person to get to talk to! And it’s wonderful because I know that if anything [were] really necessary to have me address immediately, I’m there. I don’t interfere with my babysitter, though. If my baby’s crying, I know she can handle it.
At about 3 p.m. I will trade off my babysitter, and she heads home. [My son] and I will go on a walk, and then I’ll put him down for a nap, and then I’m right back at the computer. Then my husband will come and take over in the evening hours because I work some Australia hours to catch up with my team members there, and then I’ll call it a night!
What additional policies might be helpful for you and your family?
Being really happy where I am, I’ll elaborate on some of the policies my company has. We’re now a “virtual first” company. I know not every company can do that, but I feel like, where it’s possible, it’s so supportive of working parents. Generous maternity leave and parental leave make a big difference. Our CEO is very invested in employee well-being, and he both talks the talk and walks the walk with the policies. I’m not the only employee who has moved from full time to part time; this is accepted and encouraged, where feasible, and I just wish more companies would take this track.
If you were queen for a day, what would your highest policy priority be to address the challenges of new moms?
I am embarrassed to say I know so little about what our country even does for parents, and I really ask this question: what does the government do to support families like mine? Frankly, I haven’t felt any governmental support in my work-family choices at this point.
But if I [were] queen for a day, I would particularly like to see policies that allow for parental leave for both parents. My husband is a graduate student, and his university has a wonderful parental leave for fathers: two months. That was massive for my mental health and for his, especially as our baby was born premature and spent the first two weeks in the NICU. So I am a huge advocate for institutionalized requirements for parental leave, not just maternity leave. I’d also like to see more support for child care that would allow child care providers to earn more money and also allow families to access funds to subsidize child care so that parents can afford to have part-time working scenarios.
What words of encouragement do you have for young moms who are trying to figure out work-life balance?
I would say to those who may have a voice in your head that says, “I can’t let someone else raise my children,” at a crucial moment I came across the truth that just because you have a nanny or babysitter or your child is in day care does not mean you are not the one raising your child. You are absolutely still raising your child. The beauty of expanding the community your child has from which to learn and grow is incredible. I adore our babysitter, and so does my little guy. She teaches things in different ways than I do, and it expands my little guy’s horizons. It’s truly beautiful to involve more hearts and minds in the growth of our kids, and I wish that that was something that was shared more, especially in my faith community.
Editing credential to Bethany Bartholomew.
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