By Amanda Beeler
Photo by Frank Pinc
Alena Murguia and her son Connor Uphues of Berwyn.
Before she became a mother in October 2001, Kristyn Terpinas expected to take four months of leave and return part-time to her job as a marketing manager for United Airlines. Thanks to her in-laws, she even had free childcare available.
But Terpinas, 35, never took advantage of the free babysitting. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate a part-time schedule at the troubled airline, she chose to stay home with her daughter, now 1.
"I really enjoy being home with her," Terpinas says. "Now that I’ve been home I couldn’t imagine going back."
She isn’t alone.
Whether they choose to leave the workforce to be with their infants, are unable to negotiate a flexible work schedule, or are unemployed, more women are staying home after their babies are born.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50.6 percent of women with children under 1 were working in 2001 compared to 53.6 percent in 1988. And in 2001 the unemployment rate for mothers with children under 1 rose to 7.7 percent compared with 6.6 percent in 2000.
While more women return to work as their children get older, the number of households with one parent at home continues to inch up. In 2001, about 42 percent of families with children under 6 included one married parent who did not work. In more than 91 percent of those households, the mother was the parent who stayed home.
"Barring crises, what women first think they will do and what they end up doing are different," says Joanne Brundage, an Elmhurst mother of three who 15 years ago started Mothers and More, a national organization for mothers. "We see a lot of women not going back as soon or as full force as they thought they would."
Secrets to winning the flex-time game Do you dream of returning to work with a schedule that lets you see your baby when he is awake? Searching for a balance between making money and reading "Pat the Bunny"? Here are some things you should know and do before you head to the boss’ office to request a flexible work schedule: Soul Search "More self-examination is probably the best thing you can do before you can go back out there," says Joanne Brundage, executive director of Mothers and More. "Ask: What do I really want? What do I really need? You can’t let the external environment tell you what you’re going to do. You have to feel centered and focused and self-confident." Know your worth "You have to understand what you contribute and the value you bring (to the company)," says Sharon Larkin, a vice president at Abbott Laboratories and the mother of two boys. "Discuss your plans with your manager with that as your foundation." Do Your homework Research your company’s policies regarding flexible work schedules and tap into work-life resources. Many companies have departments devoted to work-life issues with people who can help map out proposals and find solutions to potential hurdles. When developing your proposal, include success stories of other employees in similar work situations. Know the barriers Think of the potential problems a manager might have with your request before you’re sitting across from her. "One of the biggest challenges for managers is how to integrate varying schedules to meet individual needs and still meet business objectives," Larkin says. She suggests having solutions or recommendations for overcoming the possible hurdles before you start your discussion. Be realistic "You cannot walk in cold to an area where you have no experience and expect the moon and the stars," Brundage says. "The people who get the work most often have a great deal of experience in the field or with the employer." Know the lingo Compressed work week:Putting in a full week’s work in four days with the fifth day off. Telecommuting: Working from home via phone and computer. Job share: One full-time job split between two part-time people. Time share: Two different part-time jobs for two people, equating to one full-time employee. Flex time: Changing the starting and ending time of the workday or working just a few days a week. Be flexible Offer a trial period to prove your plan can work and be willing to try a variation of your proposal. "One thing that is really important with flexibility is it’s flexible on both sides—not only for the manager but also for the employee," says Ruth Henry, an assistant vice president at Bank One Corp. "Typically, an employee will do anything to make the arrangement work." Be above avarage "You need to sell yourself and be an above-average performer," says Erica O’Malley, a partner at Grant Thornton and the mother of five. "If you can’t do it full-time, you can’t do it part-time." Assure managers that there will be no loss in productivity. Most employers find that employees who job share or work a reduced schedule put in many more work hours than required. "They end up doing whatever it takes to get the job done," Larkin says. "In return for this flexible schedule, people are committed." Find a mentor Before heading back to the office, find a fellow parent who already is working an alternative schedule. Find out all there is to know about making a part-time or flex schedule successful. Once you are working again, don’t forget to go to your mentor when the baby sitter’s car breaks down or the children are sick. "It’s hard not to quit unless you have a mentor," says O’Malley. "And you have to go to them when things come up. Supportive people help you think how to work through your problems."
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