Three is the magic number

She went back full-time after baby number one. And then this happened…

Sometimes the world officially affirms what you know for sure. A recent study from the Australian Institute of Family Studies  found that mums who work part-time – 15 to 24 hours, or two to three days, a week – are the happiest. ‘There is a bit of a tipping point,’ says senior researcher Dr Jennifer Baxter. ‘There needs to be enough hours that parents can see there are some benefits to the family, but not so many hours that work has a detrimental effect on their home life.’

I could not agree more.

After having my first child, I returned to work full-time. Truthfully, the idea of going back part-time never even crossed my mind – I knew what I was doing at work, and I had no idea what having a child involved. (I had, much to the amusement of friends and family, only ever held one baby before and, upon discovering its head was covered in angry-looking scales – which I now recognise as harmless cradle cap – had hastily handed it back.) And so, when it came time to fill in the return date on my maternity leave form, I happily, unsuspectingly, indicated I’d be returning on a full-time basis.

From the get-go, the weeks were a flurry of racing to pick up my son from childcare, getting home at 7pm, frantically shovelling dinner into him before giving him a super-quick bath and a story and propelling him into bed. And those were the days when I could actually get home in time for the bedtime routine – it’s not uncommon, in my role as a magazine sub-editor, to still be putting the finishing touches on stories as the cleaners empty the bins beside me. By the time the weekend rolled around, not only were we all exhausted, but the enormous laundry pile was smirking at me like some sort of well-fed corner monster, the cupboards were barer than a French tourist on Bondi and, worst of all, there was a growing nagging feeling that my son’s daycare workers knew him better than I did.

Cap, Sophie and Jack.

And here’s the kicker. Not only is working part-time working for us on a sanity level, it also makes financial sense. We've done the maths (or, more accurately, my accountant husband has). If I were to work full-time, with the additional costs of two children in daycare and the limit in place on childcare rebate, I would ACTUALLY BE MAKING LESS MONEY THAN I AM WORKING PART-TIME. Sorry to yell, but that’s crazy, right? If I worked five days a week, at the end of the year I would bring home less money than I do working three days. (This clearly raises questions about women in the workforce, but that’s a whole other issue!) That’s nuts, but that’s how it is.

So, with no financial guilt, with time to properly enjoy my kids and with the career I thoroughly enjoy seemingly unaffected, this is what works for my little family. Part-time working is full-time awesome.

Have you solved the work-life balance puzzle. How many days is the perfect number for you?

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