Have you ever wondered, “What kind of work schedule can I have that allows me to enjoy a career and still be around as much as I want for my kids?”
If you’re here, I’d wager you likely have. Many times.
It’s no secret that I don’t love working 40 hour weeks. Even before kids I thought that was lame. I have a lot of other things I’d like to spend my time on.
However, I think we grow up and go through college thinking career schedules are either 40 hour weeks or nothing. In my experience working with female college students, it’s not uncommon when I ask about future career plans that they’ll say something along the lines of, “Well, I want to be a mom, so I’m not too worried about it.” While there is a LOT to unpack there that I won’t get into right now, I really try to reinforce the concept that a career does not automatically equal 40 hours a week.
There is a lot of variety and room for different types of schedules, each with different benefits. Today I’m sharing some common schedule situations with pros and cons of each in relation to family life.
Full-time Work Schedule
This is your typical 40ish+ work schedule. Frequently is a Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm situation, though there are variations, like four 10’s or three 12’s (many nurses have this).
Most likely to have benefits! Good employer-sponsored healthcare and retirement plans are so nice to have. There are also frequently other benefits available, like discounts! We’ve benefited a lot from discounts on our car insurance, gym membership, local partnerships, events, and my husband’s work had a partnership with a national childcare center where they got a discounted rate. Being a salaried employee with PTO is also a relief when it comes to sick kids. Not having to worry about losing income while taking care of my sick kids is huge.
Most likely to have to work a full 40 hour week to be considered full-time and get those benefits. Some careers you’ll work even more than that. If you and your partner both work, you’ll need to figure out consistent childcare (check out this post for what we look for in a great daycare). Forty hours a week is a lot of time and it takes away from your own life. We’re made for more than just work and bedtime routines with our kids! Working so many hours can make us feel like robots.
Part-time Work Schedule
This is typically anything less than 32 hours a week, so you have a lot of options working part-time.
Not working 40+ hours a week! Shifts can have more flexibility to accommodate the rest of your life more easily. This is a great option if you want to have more time with your kids, but also keep your foot in the door so you don’t lose your skills. You would likely have less hours to need covered by childcare. When Ryun and I were first married after graduating, my big kid job was a ¾ time position and I loved it. Didn’t have benefits, but I loved the schedule. I had fun at work for 5-6 hours, then got to hang out with my husband and spend time on my interests the rest of the day. If you’re interested in creating your own business venture, working part-time for someone else can give you the extra hours needed to devote to your other interests.
Most places don’t offer most/all of their benefits for part-time employees. If your kid is sick, you go on vacation, or take off a few hours to attend a child’s event, then you’re out the pay. That can be stressful if your part-time work is “needed” household income. A lot of part-time jobs are paid less per hour than their full-time equivalents. Many childcare centers don’t take kids on a part-time basis–it’s either a full day or nothing–so finding reliable childcare may be more difficult.
A night shift is when your work schedule typically runs between 10pm and 6 or 7 am.
You and your partner can alternate who is home so you can minimize the amount of outside childcare needed. A lot of nurses work three 12 hour shifts a week and that’s their whole week! A lot of the time night shift employees get a higher pay than the day shift employees. Depending on the job, sometimes the night shift can be a lot less stressful than the day shift.
You will have a pretty screwy sleep schedule; it can be hard to sleep during the days while your family is awake for half of the week and then switch to a regular day on your off days. You may not get as much time with your spouse since you’re doing a lot of hand-offs as one gets home while the other leaves. Night shifts can have a big impact on your social life, when you’re working and your family and friends are out doing fun stuff together.
These schedules have you work while your kids are at school, so roughly in the 9am-2 or 3pm range. These can be jobs in the school system or just lucky enough to have those hours.
Great hours! You get to see your kids off to school in the morning and be there close to when they get home, greatly reducing the amount of childcare help needed. You can be there after school to help them decompress from the day, do homework, and play together with a lot less of a rush than if you got home after 5pm. If you work in a school, you’ll get all or most of the same holidays off as your kids. Helloooo summer pool days! Keep in mind you don’t have to be a teacher to work in a school. Think of all the services that schools offer: occupational therapy, speech therapy, social workers, psychologists, counselors, food services, IT, etc. There are many opportunities to work in the school!
Unless you work at a school as a full-time employee, you’re probably getting paid as a part-time employee without benefits. If you work at a school, you’re probably not getting paid as much as you could in other settings. If you are not in a school, you will need to find summertime childcare options (though there are a lot of cool summer day camps for kids).
This stands for Pro Re Nata, or “as needed” and is used mostly in healthcare settings. Basically, you’re like a substitute teacher, but for healthcare. You’ll frequently see nursing, technicians, and physical/occupational/speech/respiratory therapist PRN job listings.
You can provide your availability and then choose which shifts you take. You could work 8 hours a month or 40 hours a week. If you work at a location you didn’t like, you don’t have to go back! You get a lot of exposure to different settings and facilities, which is pretty cool and can be a benefit if you ever want to find a more permanent position. Also, PRN employees are paid more per hour than regular employees because they’re not paid benefits. My husband’s last fieldwork supervisor told him he doesn’t take a PRN job unless it pays a minimum $60/hour! That’s helpful if there’s a reason you need to save up money quick!
Finding last-minute childcare is a pain, so make sure you know your options on the days you’ve made yourself available to work. It would stink to turn down a high-paying shift because you couldn’t find a sitter. The hours are not stable, so there’s no guarantee you’ll get work. You may be offered a lot of typically undesirable shifts, like nights, weekends, or holidays. You also likely won’t get any benefits doing PRN work. These shifts can be very fast-paced as you learn the ins and outs of a new setting.
What is the best work schedule?
Whew, that’s a lot! And it doesn’t even cover everything. If you have a work-from-home job or are a small business owner, that can change the pros and cons of each of these options. This post also doesn’t take into account how these work schedules can impact career progression and advancement. Maybe early in your career it makes sense to invest in the 40 hour work week to gain advantages that later lead to a more flexible work schedule. Maybe gradually adding more hours to your schedule as kids gets older will be easier for you and your family and still give you time to progress in your career. This post is specifically about schedule options.
Remember, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to what is the best work schedule. It’s all about what’s right for you and your family–with the understanding that the situation can change. I’ve worked part-time with a newborn and full-time with a newborn and toddler. My preference is part-time, but the need for quality benefits and good income while my husband has been in school has taken precedence. In the next few years I hope to either be working part-time or in a school so I can still make full-time money on a more preferred schedule.
I really want women to stop seeing their career in terms of full-time work or nothing. There are different seasons of life, but if we only see those two options, then we could be missing out on so many opportunities to develop the family life and career we want!