Many parents—mothers especially—see work-at-home as the perfect blend of work and child rearing. Because you’re at home you can both earn a living and be close to your children. Additionally, you can save the substantial cost that comes with daycare.
But is that how it will work? It could, but it will depend on a number of factors and how you’ll handle them.
The type of work you’ll do from home
As a rule, the less customer contact your job entails, the better you’ll be able to combine child rearing with work. Even if it requires significant email communication—but little phone calling or face-to-face contact—you should be able to make the blend successfully.
By contrast, in a sales position, or any job that will involve heavy customer contact, having your children at home will be a tough juggling act. While many clients may be sympathetic with your attempt to create a better blend of work with parenting, others—often the higher paying ones—may consider it to be an unacceptable distraction, and your income could suffer as a result.
The age of your children is a MAJOR factor
Infants and very young children can make work-at-home hard to accomplish no matter what kind of work you do. Children at this age need constant supervision and might compete for your time simply because you’re at home. In addition, young children can have “bad days” that can sabotage a whole day of work despite you’re best efforts.
If your children are in this age range, you may have to consider a part time work-at-home arrangement or plan on greater reliance on childcare, which we’ll cover in some detail in the next section. Failing all else, it might be necessary to put off a work-at-home arrangement until your children are a little bit older.
School age. Once children reach school age, regimentation sets in and the situation becomes more favorable. It isn’t just that they’re out of the home much of the day, but also that school gives them a life beyond you and will create responsibilities in their lives. This isn’t to say that they’ll cease to be concern in regard to your work-at-home arrangement, but they definitely will be less of one.
At this stage, you can generally work around any child/work conflicts through efficient scheduling. For example, you can schedule your day such that the most intense part of your work day occurs when the kids are at school.
Once they come home from school you can block out an hour (maybe in lieu of lunch) where you can dedicate some time to spend with them at what is often their most active time of the day. Once they settle down, or even later in the evening, you can go back to work to finish your less challenging assignments.
Middle and high school. You might think that you’ll be home free once your children reach middle school or especially high school, but this isn’t nearly the case. True, they don’t need as much direct supervision, but this is also the time when they get involved in extracurricular activities and need to be chauffeured all over town. Try these when this phase hits:
- Introduce them to the joys of self-reliance through walking and bike riding
- Work out car pooling arrangements with other parents where ever possible
- Be flexible with your scheduling to allow time to give a ride—it often comes up unexpectedly when an event is scheduled suddenly or another parent backs out of providing the ride
- Have one or two Plan B drivers who can offer a ride in a pinch—even if you have to pay for it.
As you can see, everything concerning children and work-at-home involves creativity and juggling. But you have to be prepared to juggle in different ways at different ages.
Budget childcare options
In an ideal situation (and they’re out there!) you can work full time from home with your child(ren) nearby occupying themselves quietly. But for the more common situations where that isn’t the case, you’ll have to make some use of childcare.
The key with childcare is balance. A major reason you want to be home is so that you can be there for your children, but at the same time you have a job to do to earn an income that will enable to afford being there.
Earlier we talked about scheduling your most productive/high stress periods of the day for when your kids weren’t home so you’ll be able to complete your most important work. If your children are pre-school age, or out on summer break, you’ll have to create those quiet times, and that will most likely involve some sort of childcare.
Let’s take a look at some options that will make that less expensive as well as minimize the time your children are outside the home.
Part time daycare. Many daycares offer part time care, either a few hours each day or two or three days a week. On an hourly basis, the rates are higher than they would be for full time enrollment, but it can still save you money. Not only will this give you the quiet time you need to work, but a regular routine of your children being out of your home will help to regiment their lives when they’re home.
You watch mine/I’ll watch yours. It’s no longer difficult to find other parents working from home, and you’ll probably find a few right in your own neighborhood. By joining forces, you might be able to spell each other for a few hours each day by taking the others children along with yours.
Let’s say you do your best work in the morning, and you’re new partner works best in afternoons. Your children go to the other parent giving you quiet time in the morning, then you swap and you go on childcare duty in the afternoon to provide her quiet time to get her most important work done. Ideally, both of you have flexibility to wrap up unfinished business in the evening.
At home babysitter. If the idea of having your children being cared for outside your home doesn’t work for you, hire someone to watch them in your home. The arrangement can be part time or full time, depending on need and affordability, but it can give you the time you need to get your work done each day. The sitter can handle the routine care, but you’ll be close by in case of emergencies.
Shared babysitter. Again, there probably are people close by who also work from home and need some form of childcare. Join forces and hire one sitter to watch both sets of kids. You can alternate homes, or go with the one that has a more advantageous layout for children. Whether this is full time or part time, you’ll save a lot of money over going solo, and have the knowledge that a parent will be nearby if there’s an emergency.
Keep in mind that no childcare arrangement will be perfect. Either your children will be away from you, or they’ll be close by in which case you’ll have less time to get your work done. But think of it as a transition—as they get older the options will get better.
Work-at-home is about work, and the minute you lose sight of that you’re in danger of losing the arrangement. It can give you more time with your children, or at least put you closer to them, but success or failure—ironically—is largely determined by how well you’re able to keep work and parenting in separate boxes.
Have you ever done work-at-home with children? What strategies worked? Which ones didn’t? What advice would you give to a parent who wants to work-at-home?