Want to Freelance So You Don’t Have to Pay for Childcare? Why This Can Be a Bad Idea — and 3 Things to Do Instead

kidwithmoneyBy Linda Formichelli

You decide to become a freelance writer so you can stay at home with your little one — and you envision yourself tapping at your keyboard and sipping java while your precious angel plays quietly with a set of blocks at your feet.

Then, when you attempt this, you’re slammed back to reality: Your kid won’t nap, keeps you up at all hours, and blocks? Really? His favorite pastime is to tug at your pants leg and scream while you’re trying to do an interview.

The hard truth is: If you have kids and want to freelance, you need support. Becoming a successful freelancer takes dedication and a lot of work. It’s not something you can fit into a few minutes here, a few minutes there.

Sure, you may be able to whip out a very quick assignment during naptimes. But if you’re serious about making money as a writer, you have to have help.

I learned this the hard way. My husband and I both freelance, and we had trouble getting anything done while our son was at home when he was a toddler. We eventually moved to North Carolina, where my parents watch the kiddo 16-20 hours per week.

I know what you’re thinking: Childcare is expensive — and we don’t conveniently have retired grandparents in the area!

You’re right about the cost of childcare: Before we moved to North Carolina, we tried a fancy daycare. It cost $600 per month for two days a week. If you’re a new freelancer, prices like this can be daunting.

So, what to do? Here are some ideas that have worked for Babysitter Exchange. (You may also be able to find an already-established co-op in your area through these sites.)

Again, you’ll want to be confortable with the other parents in the group before you trust them to babysit your child. Join the group and start getting to know the other parents, and schedule play dates with the other kids before graduating to full-on babysitting situations.

3. Hire a Mother’s (or Father’s) Helper

Another option I’ve tried: Find a neighborhood teen who’d like to make a few bucks, and hire her as a mother’s helper — someone who watches your child in your home while you’re there. She can keep your child entertained and out of your hair while you get a few hours of work done.

This works best if you have a separate room in your house where you can shut the door and work. For example, our mother’s helper kept our son occupied in the living room and sunroom while Eric and I worked in the office. She also occasionally walked him to the local park in his stroller.

The benefits: It’s cheap (we paid ours $5 per hour), and it takes place in (or near) your home so you’re around if anything goes awry.

Sadly, freelancing and taking care of a little one often don’t mix. To get serious about your writing career, you need blocks of uninterrupted time — especially for interviews and phone meetings where you don’t want a kid wailing in the background. Be creative about your childcare options, and you can get your work done without childcare costs eating up your profits.

How about you: How have you handled the childcare situation while you freelance” Let us know in the Comments below!

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36 comments… add one
  • I didn’t start freelancing until my daughter was grown, and I honestly don’t know how I would have done it. Major props to anyone who can.

  • Oy, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I used to try to fit as many phone calls/interviews into naptimes as humanly possible. I also may have, on occasion, nurse a baby and conducted an interview over the phone at the same time.

    I would add a No. 4 to the list: consider part-time parents’ day out or preschool programs. Both my sons did a couple of mornings per week at a church program, and it was invaluable to have that time every week. It was well worth the money I paid for it, and you can deduct that expense from your taxes, too.

    • That’s a good idea for when they get a little older! Preschool is definitely cheaper than daycare. Thanks for your insights!

  • Great ideas above!

    I decided to finally go freelance when I had my daughter, knowing I’d only be able to do it part-time. But as more regular work was pouring in and she became a toddler, getting help was absolutely necessary.

    I get occasional help from my sister or mother, but it’s not regular help I can count on. I did find a unique and inexpensive daycare option in my area that’s only three times a week for 2 1/2 hours at a time (9:30 am to 12 pm), which gives me some morning hours for writing or interviews. It’s a win-win for us because she gets to be around other kids and learn in a new environment, while I get stuff done. As I earn more, I’ll increase the hours I have her in daycare.

    My other tips include getting up early to do phone interviews before she wakes up, especially with East Coast sources because I’m in CA. I also make the most of nap times and often work late after she’s in bed, which don’t cost any money. I admit there have been a few times where she was milling around while I conducted a short, last-minute phone call, but this is only when I have no other option. I wouldn’t recommend it when you have an in-depth interview that requires serious focus. This lifestyle can be super exhausting, but I’m determined to make it work.

    We’re about to have our second child, so that’s going to be a whole new challenge. I’d say you might be able to manage without help the first six months of your baby’s life, when all they need is tummy time and a baby swing or the occasional walk while strapped to you in a sling (so you both can get outdoors), but once they’re mobile all bets are off!

    • Yeah, once they start crawling — and walking! — forget it. I’m glad to hear you’re making it work! Taking advantage of time zone differences in setting phone meetings is a great idea.

  • It didn’t work out for me, but you could try trading freelance work for daycare. If there’s a daycare in your area that might need help with their website copy, a blog or social media interactions, you can ask if they’d be open to a trade. New daycares and smaller ones may be more receptive. You can draw up a contract that outlines how many hours of work you’d exchange for ‘x’ amount of childcare.

    • That’s a great idea! I actually did some newsletter articles for the school T went to — the one that cost $600 per month — and they paid me $300 per article, which is a pretty good rate considering. I only did a few, but it did help pay off some of the costs.

  • I used to work on my husband’s only day off but eventually it became very stressful because we didn’t get to spend time together as a family. A personal coach set me straight one day and told me that if I wanted to grow a business, I had to spend more time on it. So now I have a wonderful babysitter watch both of my daughters each week while I work. I end up working during naps and at night as well but that structured time to focus on my writing and get my interviews done is a life saver.

    • Good for you! Did you find that the babysitter eats into your profits too much?

      • I pay her $38 for 3 hours so it’s not that bad. It’s a non-negotiable and it has actually pushed me to write quicker.

        • Not bad at all, especially considering how much you can earn in three hours if you work hard!

  • As a mother of a 22 year old, 19 year old, 3 year old and 4 month old (!) I know it’s hard to juggle freelancing with being a mom.

    My number one best tip, painful as it sounds, is to get up at 4:45 am whenever possible. Fifteen minutes to get coffee and mom going, and then 2 1/2 to 3 hours of solid, uninterrupted work time. No checking emails, no surfing social media, just fingers flying over the keyboard – good old fashioned writing.

    I get far more done in these early morning hours than I do when once the rest of the household is up.

    • Wow, I salute you! No matter how many times I try, I can’t stick with an early morning schedule. Which is why you see me up at 11:30 at night on my blog! 🙂

  • I agree … some kind of care is essential if you want to get anything done (freelance or otherwise!). There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel: Eventually, they will go to school! And while that brings about a whole new set of scheduling issues, you will get a larger chunk of time to work at a lower cost. Hang in there and keep writing!

  • I paid for daycare when I first started freelancing. It was expensive, but my kids were already enrolled in a program from when I worked full-time. I knew they wouldn’t be in it forever, and for a while, before my income picked up, at least half of my income went straight to daycare. That was OK because we’re a two-income family — I know not everyone’s in the same boat.

    Eventually my income improved, and my kids daycare costs decreased with preschool, and finally, they are in public school with a couple of days of aftercare thrown in. I always thought of those lean years as an investment in staying in the workforce and my career.

    • I love your attitude! It makes sense that things improve over time. It’s harder when you’re starting out with few assignments but big childcare costs.

  • I now work full time, and my husband stays with our daughter and works very part time on the side. We’ve only done this for about 2 months, before which I had been working 20-25 hours a week *and* doing full time childcare for our toddler.

    You’re right when you say that childcare and work don’t mix very well. Sadly enough!


  • Ha! LOVE this post. My kids are 10 and 12 now and are JUST NOW getting to the point where I could seriously get some real work done while they’re around.

    Even a couple years ago they were still screaming at me to print them out coloring pages anytime they saw my computer was on…or to look at My Little Pony videos with them…or whatever. Anything but work.

    I think it’s actually difficult for kids to understand that this typing and surfing and stuff we do pays the bills. Hard to make the connection.

    I did every type of solution — my hubby and I worked opposite hours at one point (he managed a movie theater at night!), I did swaps with other WAHMs, my mom came one day a week, you name it.

    But it’s a total fantasy that you will not need childcare if you work from home, especially with preschool age kids. My first did take these epic 3-hour afternoon naps…good times there, but the other two basically didn’t nap at all.

    Unless, of course, you’re the type who thinks 4 hours of TV for your 3 year old is fine. Since 30 minutes a day is our limit, that wasn’t an option around here.

    • Yes! Like you, we tried EVERYTHING. Our kiddo also took 3-hour naps, but even so it wasn’t enough at the time. And I probably spent those 3 hours decompressing and cleaning the house instead of working.

  • Just this week I lost my childcare providers for an undetermined amount of time–my in-laws (free childcare) had to return to their hometown, so now I’m staying up really late at night to get the work done.

    We homeschool our five year old who will leave me alone for up to an hour at a time if he’s really focused on his work, but the 18-month old only takes one 1.5-2 hour nap and is into EVERYTHING. I was writing an email this morning and she came walking in with a 1-lb can of cocoa powder crying, “heavy! heavy!” I never realized how much I got done in the four hours they went to their grandparents’ home each morning!
    We live in a part of China where babysitting is unheard of…unless you’re sending them off to preschool at age 2 which many parents do…so there’s really no option. Teens are too busy with school and have no clue what to do with a child, so that’s out. Thankfully my hubby is great about putting the kids to bed and helping out as much as he can so I can get my work done too. This has been a lesson in not knowing how good things really are until they’re gone!

    • I’m sorry you lost your childcare! That sounds rough. And homeschooling — I know how that is! I hope your 18-month-old soon gets to the stage where she plays on her own for a little while — without getting into everything. 🙂

  • Ella

    all good tips. i’m fighting my toddler now! lol when you are in the home working it is definitely harder and especially since they get older and need more and explore more. my daughter cmes with me on freelancing assignments, conferences or meetups, etc. she’s cute and people don’t mind much. but i know i would get so much more done and paid a lot more if i could get her to school… she’s ready, but potty training AND freelancing. only one pays the bills.

  • Thank you for this post (and all the comments)! I *survived* summer number one with our first child (he’s 9-months-old now). We had some grandparent care one day per week, but somehow I always wound up having to conduct a phone interview with him in my arms fussing. Amazingly, I got through the summer and fall getting all my work done, but I clearly need to do something differently moving forward.

    One positive that has come out of the experience (other than the joy that our little guy brings us!) is that I learned to take advantage of what time I did get. When he does finally go down for a nap, there’s no hesitation, procrastination, or time-wasting going on; I get right to work. I have to — otherwise things don’t get done. Having a baby has done wonders for my time management skills.

    • Good for you for learning to write on a dime! I think that happens to all parents. But I hope you can round up some more childcare…it gets tougher as they become more mobile!

  • Maria

    Amazing tips for us, parents who are always thinking of our children. I happen to value health care above all. It’s the single most important factor when I make plans for the future.

  • Just wanted to pop in and say thanks… this is very useful to bear in mind! The whole freelance/full-time mom thing is sometimes made to sound so romantic, especially in the blogging world!

    Good wake-up call!

  • Chantelle

    I can totally relate to this article. I used to swap babysitting with a friend who worked until I realized how much watching her kids wore me down! I am lucky to live close to my parents and in-laws who are always willing to take the kids off my hands when I ask. I’ve tried getting up early and staying up late…and honestly my mind shuts off after 11 p.m. I’ve learned that early morning, before the kids wake up, is the best time for me and my husband doesn’t feel neglected at night. I’ve done many interviews with my kids at home and more often than not they end up finding me and trying to interrupt my conversation. It just does not work to have kids at home, awake, when you are working. And yes, TV only lasts so long and then the guilt of ignoring your child and purposely putting them into a “My Little Pony” coma adds to the stress of meeting a deadline.I know it will get easier someday.

  • Anna

    Love the tips. Never thought I’d need them since my husband and I don’t have children. However, we have just “acquired” (through guardianship) our 14 year old niece. We’ve relocated to a new city over a thousand miles away. And we have stuffed ourselves (and some of our stuff from our 4 bedroom house) into a 3 bedroom apartment. We’re waiting to get to know the area and for my husband to finish grad school before finding a more permanent home situation.

    And I am typing this as my niece is on her third day home from school due to “snow days”. The Minnesotan in me is shaking my head as this just about equals one day for each inch of snow that hit Raleigh. I’m not sure how work-from-home will pan out when she’s off for summer!

    We do have some relief as my brother lives close by and she will visit him. And she will likely spend a few weeks in the summer with grandparents and other relatives. But I will need to do some serious research into things to occupy teenagers!

  • Great perspective, Linda! I’m currently a full-time copywriter, but I have had to work from home on occasions. Lucky for me, my 5- and 3-year-old kiddos are finally at an age where they can entertain each other for a little while. I do use some Netflix to get things done (I’m building my freelance empire on the side, and looking at leaving my full-time position for myriad reasons), but we are also fortunate to have a finished basement that’s their play room. They can throw balls, blow whistles, play games, whatever down there and I can barely hear them from my office (read: closet. It’s literally my closet. 🙂 ) I know it’d be hard to full-time freelance, but when you make peanuts at a full-time gig after being loyal for years and then having more than half what you make go to childcare, you realize something has to give sooner or later.

    • Glad you liked the post, Anna! I get you on the Netflix…with us it’s the iPad when we need an hour to work. 🙂 Good luck with your freelancing endeavors!

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