I’m no stranger to full-time work. Before I had my first child, I spent years clocking in 10-hour days at the office. When my oldest was 3 months old, I resumed my full-time gig and maintained that schedule until the fall of 2014, at which point I was very pregnant with twins (and miserably so, I might add).
Once my daughters were born, I knew that going back to work full-time wouldn’t make sense from a financial or logistical standpoint (between childcare and commuting costs, the majority of my salary would’ve been wiped out, and I’d be turning myself into a perpetual basket case in the process). I therefore made the decision to stay home with my children and squeeze in work as my schedule allowed.
These days, I work part-time as a freelance writer. Some weeks, that means working five or six hours. Other weeks, it means working 12 to 15 or more. I’m extremely grateful for this arrangement, challenging as it may be. But recently, I had the opportunity to do something I haven’t done in a long time: work a full eight-hour day.
See, my husband had saved up a bunch of vacation days for a summer road trip that didn’t end up happening. (We thought we’d drive cross-country with the kids to visit his family in California. Fear and logic kicked in a few months later, and we scrapped that idea in favor of a much more relaxing beach house rental with friends.) As a result, he had a few extra days to take off at random within a certain timeframe, and so I decided to take advantage by having him stay home and look after the kids so that I could actually work.
At first, I was skeptical about my ability to really be productive. After all, even with my husband at the helm, I was bound to get distracted by screaming children in search of food, attention, or a much-needed diaper change. But then we had a brilliant idea: clear everyone out of the house. And so my husband did.
By 9:15 a.m., my husband and children were out the door. While my son went to preschool, my husband took the girls to the playground, ran a bunch of errands, and kept them out of my hair for a good part of the day. During that time, I wrote, researched, edited, and got more done in a single morning than I often accomplish in a week’s time.
When the gang got back home, things got a bit louder in the background (though not too loud thanks to an overpriced pair of noise-cancelling headphones), but even that didn’t stop me from plugging away until it was time to stop and prepare dinner. All in all, I clocked in my first eight-hour workday in a long time, and in many ways, it felt great. But while I did enjoy the feeling of having accomplished a lot that day on the professional front, a big part of me felt tired and drained in a way I haven’t experienced for about two years.
It’s true that taking care of young children is tiring and draining in its own right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled to keep my cool while my daughters are screaming and my son is demanding my attention and I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to prepare dinner, get my laundry done, reply to emails, check in with my editors, and keep the peace all in a limited span of time. But after a full day of working at my computer, I couldn’t help but come away feeling like something was missing.
I happen to really enjoy what I do, even though some of my writing is a bit more—OK, I’ll say it—on the boring side. But if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think I’d want to do my current job—or any job, for that matter—full-time right now. That entire day, while I was sitting in my office working, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I was missing out on something far more important and satisfying.
Maybe it’s that I’ve been out of the full-time workforce for too long. Or maybe I’m just incredibly blessed to have the situation that I do.
Working part-time is tough when your primary job is to take care of your kids. There are nights when I’m up late to meet deadlines and afternoons when I’d rather enjoy some downtime during my girls’ nap than spend the hour writing and doing research. But working full-time for a day showed me that overall, right now, I really do have the best of both worlds.