Excerpt: 'The Comeback'

Even in Europe, where countries like France have strictly regulated hours and the thirty-five-hour basic week remains the standard, many employees work well in excess of forty hours a week. The U.S. government doesn't define full-time, believing it to be a matter for individual employers. But at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where some kind of breakdown has to exist, workers are classified as fulltime if they work thirty-five hours or more in a week; part-time if they work up to thirty-four. If that's the case, what qualifies for parttime work can actually be more like full-time work for part-time pay?with little or no benefits.

While part-time and what is now commonly referred to as "flextime" both have their own elastic definitions ranging from a day or two less a week, to an hour or two less a day, to working a few intensive months a year and then being at home full-time, one aspect of this kind of employment is pretty constant: the compensation isn't as good. If you work full-time, you are four times more likely to get health insurance than if you work part-time and three times as likely to be given some kind of a retirement package.5

I know from my own experience?and from the experiences of the women in this book?how hard it can be to be your own advocate, especially when you are coming back to work after a long time away. Mothers who have accomplished the impossible in finding places to live, or getting their children the right medical care or into a decent school, have faltered as they described their own negotiations about pay or benefits. The tone and substance of their conversation was admirably powerful when they talked about what they did on behalf of their families. Yet they sounded insecure and uncertain as they considered their own professional prospects.

I didn't end up getting a job as such, I ended up with the assignment that is this book. I worked for several months on spec (without pay) putting together a proposal that I eventually felt confident enough to show to agents and publishers. As the proposal took shape, my confidence grew. I noticed that as I became more confident, I relaxed more as a wife and mother. Previously I had felt I had to be there for the girls, come what may. Now I don't feel guilty if Bill takes the kids to school instead of me. And since I've had my own projects to work on, I don't spend much time thinking about how to be Mrs. New York Times. I go to events I am interested in (even without Bill!) and don't show up to those I don't care about. Contrary to what my friends may believe, I don't edit the paper each day. But I feel comfortable in telling my husband my opinions as well as acting as his sounding board. I have finally found a way of taking Carolyn's advice and becoming myself.

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