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
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 mentoring clients of mine:
1. Trade Off
One of my clients teamed up with another local freelancer to trade childcare duties: She would watch both kids two days per week, four hours at a time, and the other freelancer would take them another two days.
That’s only eight hours per week. But if you can add in some hours after your child goes to bed during the week, and get your spouse to take the kiddo out for a few hours on the weekend — you can make it work. You’d be surprised at how much you can get done in a few 4-hour chunks every week. (As I mentioned, I work 16-20 hours per week — and even less many times — and I’m very productive because I know if I don’t get project X done NOW, it won’t get done at all.)
Of course, you need to find someone you trust with — well, with your child! But chances are, you know other local freelancers and can explore this setup with them. For the first few sessions you could even watch all the kids at the house of the writer who’s working that day (assuming the writer has somewhere to work away from all the noise), until you both feel confident with the situation.
Don’t know any other freelancers? Now’s the time to start cultivating local relationships. Find groups through sites like meetup.com or your local bookstore or library — or you can even start a group of your own. Having a local network of writers has benefits that go well beyond childcare help.
2. Start a Babysitting Co-Op
When we were living in New Hampshire, I started a babysitting co-op for my local mom’s group (which I also founded!).
The way it works: You get a bunch of other local parents to join, and earn credits by babysitting for people in the group. You can then spend those credits on babysitting for your child.
You can find websites that will make this easy for you, like 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!