I’m living the freelancing work-from-home parent dream… sort of

Guest post by Katie

Yep. This is pretty much how it goes. Photo by medigerati, used under Creative Commons license.
Apparently Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, and Deepak Chopra were all in Harvard Square on February 29th for the launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation. I was in Harvard Square, too, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of them. I was there just for the fifteen minutes it took me to FedEx a book back to a client. Then I got home and discovered that a chunk of the proofread I had just mailed was still sitting on my desk. My desk isn’t even very crowded (for me, anyway), but I had cleverly separated out the last section of the book to cross-check against the earlier sections, and that turned out to be a bad plan because no one wants their proofread back with the last 20 pages missing. I couldn’t believe it. I had never done anything like this before. How could it have happened?

In a nutshell, this feeling — the bottom-dropping-out-of-your-stomach uh-oh moment — sums up what it’s felt like to work from home since having a kid. Before the blessed event, I naively thought I’d have the best of both worlds. I could be home with him and just squeeze my work time into nap time, right? Babies sleep a lot. And when he got older, he’d play by himself sometimes too, so there would be some more work time then.

At this point, you’re probably asking if I even knew what a baby was, and the answer is that of course I did not. Babies and kids were just an abstract concept to me then. I did not know that a baby might want to spend all of his time napping right on you, making it possible to get trapped in one uncomfortably contorted position for a couple of hours, with nothing to do but discover that there really is an episode of “Law and Order” on at every hour of the day.

I did not know that a toddler might not like playing alone and furthermore might take great offense to you being on the phone for even five minutes, leading to conference calls in which your clients politely assure you that your child sounds adorable, and you somehow manage to keep from saying, “I’m sending him to you for our next meeting, then.” I did not know that, even when you do get work time in, it is likely to be in ten-minute bursts that leave you with about five minutes to figure out what you were working on that first needs attention and five minutes to actually work.

Right now, this is my freelance life because Boston — and the entire state of Massachusetts — is the most expensive place for childcare in the United States. The cost of daycare here is seriously ridiculous, especially for someone who doesn’t know what her income will be from month to month. I feel at times like I shouldn’t complain; at least there are two incomes in our house, I’m not in danger of getting evicted or having no health insurance, and I’ve found a way to cover a small amount of childcare each week.

I need to feel like I’ve accomplished something with my day, and it needs to be something other than successfully getting my son to eat carrots instead of cookies as a snack (not that this is any small feat).

But the fact is, I like to work. I need to feel like I’ve accomplished something with my day, and it needs to be something other than successfully getting my son to eat carrots instead of cookies as a snack (not that this is any small feat). I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. I have friends who are and who are happy with that choice, and I have wished sometimes I could be happy with it, too. But I’ve tried that route, and it makes me seriously crazy. I feel impatient when I hear or read anything about the guilt of working mothers — I don’t feel guilty about working at all.

I just feel frustrated that there isn’t any affordable way to do it. Either I spend all my money before I get it by putting my son in full-time daycare and hope to make up the difference, or I take on projects, scramble for extra daycare coverage, and end up working at night and worrying that I’m forgetting something vital. My husband does a lot, but he can only do so much — he has a full-time job too.

What we’ve recently come up with in my house is our own attempt at equally shared parenting. We divide the chores, cooking, and free time in half so that, despite the fact that all of my work happens at home, I’m not also doing all the housework. Obviously this doesn’t help with daycare coverage, but it allows me to hold on to my career while we wait for school age to hit. Here’s hoping this plan works… as a fourth body is about to drop into our little equation!

Comments on I’m living the freelancing work-from-home parent dream… sort of

  1. As a pregnant freelancer working from home… Well, now I’m a bit bummed. Everyone I know told me it’d be hard, but I thought “yes, but doable” because they were not in my position. But now, reading about your situation I’m re-considering so many things… The only difference I see is that my husband works from home too, so hopefully we’ll be able to set schedules where one is 100% on kid duty and the other works… right? right? Argh, now I’m sad.

    • It is totally doable! I actually think that’s the point of this piece. I’ve worked at home since my son was born almost 3 years ago, and my husband has had a variety of jobs — for a while, a traditional 9-5 at a non-profit, then he went back to school and started working part-time at the university, which gave our family a LOT more flexibility. Having experienced both, I’ll say that the flexible schedule is by far my preference. We lucked out in that Sean mostly worked his 9-5 in Jasper’s first year, before I started working at Offbeat Mama and while my photography business was slow. When I started working here and my photography business started really picking up (all around the same time, Spring 2010), our son had just turned one. Sean wasn’t happy with the organization he was working for, so he decided to go back to school and make a switch that May — it really lined up fantastically.

      So yes: I think if you both work from home, you’ll probably have a bit more flexibility. It is important to note that even though we have a really flexible situation, we’ve still had many tense moments over deciding who “needs” to work when and that kind of thing, and one of you will most likely (but not definitely, depending on what you two decide) end up being the primary caregiver. Your schedules will change, but the demands of your jobs won’t — and you’ll also have a child to care for.

      In my experience, things get trickier as my son gets older (I have a “how to get shit done when your kid stops taking naps” post coming soonish — applicable to stay at home and work from home parents), so you have to always be willing to change your schedule around. For a long time I could only work on Offbeat Mama at night from 8:30pm-1am, and it was exhausting — but I loved my schedule and flexibility I had from a result of the jobs I do. Now my son is older and it’s much easier for me to go work somewhere else during the morning 2-3 times a week, or to work from home while my husband takes our son out.

      BASICALLY: don’t let this make you sad! I really like it. I identified with parts, particularly the “I like to work” section. It’s nice to read another mom saying that she loves her kid and being with her child, but also really likes to work and is glad she can without expressing any guilt.

    • I have a 9-month-old and work as a contract copyeditor from home. I do, indeed, work while the baby’s napping (about 1-4 hours per day), while my husband is home, and on weekends. It’s working out great for me, though I don’t do as much work as I’d like. My baby is not content to play by himself, but I’ve found over the months that I just need to start working the instant I put him in his crib.

    • Also, depending on your jobs, I’m not sure the 100% idea will ever be clean cut — but I’m not sure what you do. In the case of Offbeat Mama, sometimes I’m hanging out with Jasper but a comment comes in that needs to be moderated immediately, or a big issue happens and I need to be part of the discussion with Ariel. While it will LIKELY be easier for you two since you’re both working from home, it’s impossible to know if you’ll always be able to split it up that way. What WILL happen is that you’ll figure out an awesome way that works for you — and you’ll learn you have to change it as your child gets older.

      OH MAN. Totally writing a post about all of this.

      • Thanks! We’re both translators, so while usually we need bigger chunks of time to work, it’s easy for us to do just 20 minutes here and 20 there. That’s actually what I’m doing right now, since I need to lay down every 30 minutes or my back will kill me. The good thing about it is that most of the time we can help each other with projects. If I’m too close to a deadline he can help me catch up, so hopefully we’ll make it work! I hope so anyway, because unemployment rates are at a 46% in our country for young people, so finding alternatives would be next to impossible… VERY scary! But hey, we don’t have any kind of debt so we make do with very little… Actually, the post about having a child in this economy was sooo good to read! 😀

    • I didn’t mean to be discouraging! I think you can do it – I’ve done it for 3+ years now. It’s just easier if you realize upfront how difficult it can be, if that makes sense. That is what I didn’t anticipate going into it, so at first all the changes were a shock to my system. Anyway, I agree with Stephanie that you are in a better position than I am since your husband works from home too. And you will find a way, even it means working off hours (which I do all the time) or getting a babysitter in just a few hours here and there when you have a big project to finish.

      One last thing – it has helped me to know other moms in the same position. We can have play dates when we’re not as busy with work and commiserate over the problems unique to this situation when our busy times hit.

      Good luck!

    • For the first year of my son’s life my husband was in school (so had a pretty flexible schedule). I was able to run and grow my own business. In general it’s worked great.

      Babies sleep a lot the first few months. At 6 months we started getting a babysitter who would come to our home for 3 hours 3 days a week. For $12-15/hour this is a reasonable expense. Then I would go to a coffee shop around the corner and work.

      Having my own work over the past year has made me much happier than without it. Best of luck!

    • As someone else has already said – it’s totaly do-able! Don’t be discouraged 🙂

      I have 3 children under the age of 5, one of whom is only 1 year old, and I also run my own business plus writing books, and my husband runs his own business too.

      There are two things that make it work really well:
      1) setting firm, clear boundaries with your children and not raising them to expect you to orbit them like a little moon – the continuum concept helps here, children are not meant to be the centre of life, they want to watch you live life and learn how to do things for themselves through watching.

      And 2) Let go of all the stuff that gets in the way. Like TV – really, how much time to we need to spend watching re-runs? I work a few hours in the day while they play, spend some time with them going for walks or planting the garden or doing housework, and then spend an hour or so working 3 or 4 evenings a week. And the other evenings I spend doing ‘me time’ – having baths, reading books, having chats with my husband.

      So please don’t be discouraged! It’s a wonderful way to live – so wonderful infact that we’re not planning to send our children to school but to homeschool them instead – then we can all be ‘working’ together at the same time 🙂

  2. While I don’t work from home I totally identify with this piece – “Either I spend all my money before I get it by putting my son in full-time daycare and hope to make up the difference, or…”

    I live in the city with the highest childcare costs in the country. We realized early on that we’d spend more on daycare for our twins then my husband or I make in a year. That math just doesn’t make sense to me. It actually turned out to be more economical for my husband quit his job and stay home. childcare is so friggin expensive.

  3. Oh, yes-it’s totally do-able! I’ve lived “the dream” since my girl was about 3; working a part time job from home. Babies come with advantages (feeding and napping offer some quiet) as well as challenges (“hah! you thought I was asleep but I’m a-waaaaaa-ke”) but so does every other stage of a child’s life.

    At first my strategy changed almost on a monthly basis-I hired a 10 year old mother’s helper during after school hours at one point. My preschooler and I made a reward system and communication cards together that minimized noisy interruptions during phone calls (the majority of my work). Our cards included nouns and verb phrases-starting with can I have a snack/I need to pee and evolved from there.

    As kids get older they can enjoy some screen time during work hours, and you’ll all learn together what makes for a good working environment/routine. I would never discourage anyone from working home just because it seems difficult. It is tough, but it’s also tough to leave your baby at day care/pay half of your check to a babysitter.

    That’s not to say that it’s for everyone, though! I found that I always expected that my daughter and I would be spending more time together than we did. During the summers once she started school, I gave her school work to do while I was working. Looking back, I was constantly looking for ways to distract her/keep her occupied away from me. She did sit with me coloring and drawing, but for the most part she was busy with the things I gave her to do. I had control over what was going on, but there were times that I wondered if she wouldn’t be better off with a sitter who could interact with her more fully.

    Now my kid is almost 11 and sits in the same room and texts me to let me know what’s up with her. She still bursts thru the door shouting “MOM” without thinking that I might be working, but for the most part she knows the routine.

  4. I don’t work at home but work 12 hour night shifts that obviously require me to sleep in the day between shifts. My husband couldn’t find work so he decided to stop trying and just be a stay at home dad since my line of work makes it possible to support us and baby solo. Then while pregnant the marriage died and here I am with an infant begging my parents every week to watch her so I won’t have to quit my job. I love to work. Being a stay at home mom is torture to me, no offense for those who love it its just not my cup of tea. Not only is the scarce availability of overnight daycare an issue, plus price, but I just can’t imagine leaving a baby so young with strangers. Its tough.

  5. The woman who hemmed my wedding dress (two years ago) told me that she got into doing dresses because with her kids in daycare the money she made that didn’t pay for daycare was $50 a week. To her family it didn’t make sense to pay someone else to watch the kids when she was hardly making more than what it took to cover that cost.

    Of course this would be the case for us when we have a kid, so I’ve been hoping that I can find some sort of arrangement when we decide to pop one out.

  6. I’m always happy to read articles about baby-raising logistics. I’m due in June and trying to figure out my work situation, weighing the cost of daycare against how much I actually make. I ignorantly thought “working from home will solve all my problems, but how does one get a cushy work-from-home job?” I’m glad to see work-from-home jobs are far from cushy and still require a lot of finagling. In a weird way, knowing that parents struggle but survive, even thrive, despite the situation, allows me to forgive myself for not immediately coming up with the perfect solution to solve all of our problems.

  7. Oh man, I could have written this! I have a 2 year old, a second son about to be born (any minute now), my husband works full time, and I own a small creative business working from home. My 2 year old’s naps are very sporadic but I do enforce a quiet hour if he doesn’t nap – still, it’s hard to be productive. I have temporarily scaled down the amount of work I’m doing, but I always have this itchy feeling that I want to be getting more done every day. Overall I’m happy with the arrangement and it’s what we can afford right now, but someday when the kids are at least in preschool I will be relieved to focus more on my business.

    • My son didn’t really get “quiet hour” until he was older — between 2 1/2 and 3. He’s also way more into playing on his own now, so if I’m like “Hey, let’s have quiet time!” he’s totally down. He pulls out his Legos and toys and will play and/or color for 45 minutes or so on his own, coming to me with random questions or asking me to look at what he’s doing, pretty well. This REALLY helps for the days where there are very important things I need to do.

  8. I am a ‘work at home mom’ or freelance work at home parent, too. I thought it would be challenging but doable.. It’s honestly been a lot more challenging than I thought it’d be. It’s actually VERY difficult right now, because at her age (14 months) she basically won’t let me sit down without being in my lap. I can be up around the house doing something else, and she runs around but the second I sit down.. in the lap she must go. It makes it VERY hard to do anything computer related, and unfortunately, that’s most of what I have to do. I haven’t figured out an answer yet, but I might eventually consider a mom’s day out 2x a week or something like that. Until then I just do the best I can.

  9. *Raises hand* Also a work-from-home mom combined with self-employed and primary breadwinner. I love my life and our family’s arrangement, but I think it’s definitely important to recognize the challenges in this kind of situation — it’s easy to romanticize it, and ultimately work is work is work, and working from home brings those challenges into the same space as your kid challenges and your marital challenges and your house challenges. I love it, but a good reality check is important.

    For me, a CRITICAL key to success is working outside the home one day a week. I work at a coworking space called Office Nomads, and HIGHLY recommend coworking every once and a while as a way to get out of the house. Their are coworking spaces all over the world: http://techvenue.com/CoWorkingMap.htm

  10. We used a family daycare near Alewife that was ‘affordable’ by comparison to daycare centers and other places as ‘only’ $1100 per month for 8 hours a day. It was still a good chunk of my take-home post-doc salary, but was necessary.

    Have you considered looking into a daycare co-op or a babysitting co-op? Might allow your little one some play time, and then allow you some child-free work time.

    • I haven’t tried co-ops, but he does go to daycare a couple of days a week. Some weeks, that is enough time and other weeks, it isn’t even close. But it has been really good for him to hang out with other kids his age, and good for my sanity.

      When the second one comes though, we are in a bind – two in daycare, even part time, is going to be really tough or maybe even impossible. Still not quite sure how we’re going to handle that, but looking into a co-op is a good suggestion – thanks!

  11. It’s interesting to read about people who really like working. I am doing grad school and baby at the same time, and I would so love to only be managing one of them. I would happily clean a little and then veg out at nap time instead of scrambling to squeeze in homework at every hour. I imagine it would be the same if it was paid work (instead of debt creating work!). I would superheart not working ever again, though I do feel lucky I can take the time to go to school. I guess I was just born lazy 😀

  12. I worked more or less part-time from home (and part-time at the office to round out a full-time job) in my son’s first year and a good bit in his second year, though in that second year I took him to daycare one day a week to work at home without him (plus he went the days I had to go in to work). So, overall, because we use childcare, my situation is different from yours. (We also live in an affordable part of the country.)

    I will say that I have loved having flexibility in my schedule and being able to not hurry him off to school in the morning if not necessary (usually not), etc. Also, in that first year and thereafter, I often got a lot of work done during his nap and after bedtime.

    I did, however, make one big mistake. When he was still under a year, I sometimes put him in the Exersaucer at my computer and put on youtube videos so that I could go clean or something. To this day, my computer means youtube. I simply cannot work on the computer when he is around and awake. I can now do work-based book reading and grading while he plays with his toys, but computer work is out of the question, alas.

    So, I often offer this warning to other new parents. Be careful about how you use your computer if you plan at some point to be working on it!

    GOod luck with number two!

    • We specifically got a Kindle for that kind of media, haha. I’m glad we did now! I hadn’t thought of our baby thinking of our computers like toys, but now that you mention it, that makes sense!

  13. Reading articles like this, I admit makes it very tempting to ‘brag’ a bit about our system here in Quebec. Public daycare is 7$ a day for everyone. The daycare actually charges more obviously but you only pay a whole 140$ a month and the government covers the rest.

    Sounds crazy right? The best part is… the system actually makes money. Yes, you read that right. Since parents are able to return to work if they want, they pay income tax which overall more than covers the gap.

    I know it`s not the main topic of the article and I don`t want to derail the conversation but despite this successful program and a year of paid maternity leave, I`m always having to defend our ‘evil socialist’ government to my US friends haha.

    I do work from home on occasion, as does my full-time student husband, mainly when our son is too sick for daycare. It is hard but feasible. I find it helps to make a conscious decision of accepting a messier house and that you’ll never get everything done, just focus on the essentials. Oh and my son naps much longer (a whole extra 90 minutes) when the room is pitch black. Also too much juice gives him belly aches and keeps him awake.

    It`s funny, the tips and tricks we develop as parents!

    • I wish the rest of Canada would do what you guys are doing in Quebec! Here in BC I’m looking at 1000/month for daycare for my daughter, who’s less than a year old, and an additional 2-3 hundred for my son for after school care. It’s absolutely ridiculous and pisses me off.

  14. it’s not really fair take the lower salary and subtract day care and then say that is what the person made for the week/month. If two people are working consider 1/2 the day care is coming out of each salary. There are also serrious long term advatages to continueing to work.

  15. The idea of working at home sounds so simple before you actually have a kid. I fell into the same trap – We barely saved anything, because I assumed I could just work while my newborn slept. (Duh, right? Because I won’t be exhausted or anything or end up falling asleep while nursing and get stuck there.) We ended up really struggling financially; my son is 18 months now and we’ve just barely caught up. We are hoping to add another baby soon but not until we have a better safety net! Still, I definitely don’t regret our timing, just wish we’d planned a little better. I still wouldn’t trade working at home, even if I had the option of childcare or simply staying at home.

  16. THANK YOU KATIE! You are speaking my language. I was reading this post while breastfeeding and nodding my head to everything you said. As a new mom who spent her “maternity” leave working from home or the occasional office visit with the little Godzilla it is nice not to feel alone in this work with baby chaos. I work for a non-profit on the verge of funding loss, so I have been trying to work when I can and full time childcare is not an option as I have no idea if I will have a position on a month to month basis. I have learned how to do financial reports while bouncing a fussy baby on one knee, breast feeding while emailing, and changing big messy diapers while on a conference call. In short it is EXHAUSTING! I had no idea how hard this would be and working on top of it adds a new layer of multitasking. I am so tired by the end of the day I can barely keep my head up. Working with baby duty is overwhelming and draining, but being a stay at home mom was never in my cards. Plus more time with my little man is awesome.

    Thank you Katie for this post because reading it before a day in the office with baby made me feel better.

  17. Talk to some of your stay at home mom friends or work from home mom friends. It can be so much easier than you think to trade a day with someone else, so they can get their errands done and you can work. You’d be amazed at how you can get 2 days of work done in the day your kid goes to visit a friend.
    I run an in home daycare and even I do it. I have only one baby on Mondays, so I ship him off to a woman I provide care for on another day and it opens up my Mondays for getting the paperwork for my husbands company (and fb and OBM)

    Everyone finds their rythym 🙂

  18. “But the fact is, I like to work. I need to feel like I’ve accomplished something with my day” describes me perfectly. It’s cool some are happy being stay ay home parents but I pride myself on my work. Even if I do a lot less than before I had a newborn, it leaves me feeling satisfied to see “Hey, I made enough to buy x baby item” or “6 people read my new article today!”.

  19. Wow – I’m finally getting around to reading this article, but thank you to the person who wrote it. I work from home on a fulltime basis, have a 9-month-old son and another one on the way (in 4 1/2 months!). I could not function without the person that we have come into our house every morning from 8 until noon. I was also fortunate that my husband could be flexible with his work hours and he usually gets home around 3. There are days when I think I’m a terrible mother (“if I turn on one more YouTube video, I’ll get about five minutes worth of work done while he’s in his Exersaucer!”), but I know how lucky I am to be able to spend so much time with my sons. Hats off to all of you! It’s nice to not feel alone. 🙂

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