That’s the problem facing one reader who wrote to me recently. She’s a self-employed single mother of a 10-year-old. He gets home at 3:30 p.m. from school. Some days he has sports, or therapy appointments for specific needs he has. This mother didn’t think she could afford after-school care, but a 9-3:30 schedule was “too short a day for me to work.” With some scaled up demands from her biggest client, she was wondering how she was going to make this all work — without losing a big chunk of her business.
So what should she do?
My first response was that if I were in danger of losing my biggest client, I might rethink what I could afford. It will be more expensive to lose a big client than to pay a sitter for a few hours. If you are a working parent, childcare is a cost of doing business. We don’t necessarily think of it this way, but even in families with stay-at-home parents, there is the opportunity cost of what the SAHP could be earning.
That said, I know paying for extra care can be a huge leap of faith, and sometimes the cash flow isn’t there, particularly if you’re in the start-up phase of a business. I also know that a number of self-employed people with older children rely on school hours as their primary childcare, yet still need more time to work. Being a single parent, like this particular reader, makes that quest to find time harder.
But it is not impossible.
So here are a few solutions if school hours don’t cover work hours.
1. Work at night or in the morning. Most kids go to bed earlier than adults — or at least can be required to stay in their rooms after, say, 8:30 p.m. If you enforce this in your house, then you can be back to work at 8:45 p.m., and score another 2 hours or so. If you’re unable to focus in the evening, you can work in the early morning. If a child wakes up at, say, 7 a.m., you can work from 5-7 a.m. Even if you don’t do this every day, doing it 3 days a week will give you an extra 6 hours. You may need to reshuffle how you tackle projects to schedule ones that don’t require getting people on the phone during these times (though many people do still answer emails at 10 p.m. And I did a phone interview the other night at 10:30 p.m.!) Get up before your kid on weekend mornings and you’ll add more time.
2. Trade off with friends. If you have a good relationship with your kid’s friends’ parents, you might be able to trade off play dates on weekends. You get 3 hours one day, they get 3 hours on another. You can do this on weekdays after school, too. You take the kids one day, the other family takes them the other.
3. Be creative about after school activities. My 6-year-old is in two after-school extra-curricular activities at his elementary school. That stretches the day to about 4:45 p.m. twice a week, and the activity fees are cheaper than regular childcare would be. I know not all elementary schools offer clubs, sports, drama, etc., but if yours does, there is a major lifestyle difference between enrolling your kids in school-based things and non-school based things. There are a lot of activities out there. Choose the ones your school does.
4. Teach independence. I’m not sure precisely what this reader’s child’s special needs are, so that may complicate this one. But the average 10-year-old can definitely be charged with entertaining himself for half an hour or more at a stretch. Check out some books at the library. If you get him hooked on a good series (Harry Potter if he hasn’t read them!) you won’t see him for weeks. Maybe there’s a hobby he’d be into and capable of taking on. When I was about 12 or so, I built a doll house on my own. My parents could have worked a full 8-hour shift during the time I was ensconced in the tool room. When the weather’s nice, send him outside if you live in an area where that’s possible. Hopefully there are other neighbor kids around to shoot baskets with, kick a soccer ball with, ride bikes with, etc.
5. Learn to love screens. People sneer about parents using television as a babysitter, but you know what? Sometimes it’s not a bad one. After a kid has done his homework, let him watch a few shows and score yourself that time to work. Especially on weekends, you can do something fun together in the morning (or do sports practices), then have “downtime” in the afternoon that involves TV or video games. Or have him watch movies in the evening. The point is, 2 hours of screen time is 2 hours you can work. We used a combo of Elmo DVDs on the family computer and Power Rangers on the living room TV when our sitter was snowed in last week, and we could work for 30 minutes at a stretch. And that’s with a 2-year-old!
6. Use bits of time. Many kinds of work have aspects that can become mobile 15 minute tasks. Have a list of these ready to go so you can tackle a few while waiting at soccer practice, at the therapist’s office, etc. You can return emails, submit an invoice, edit a pitch letter.
What time have you found to work outside your normal childcare hours?
Photo: What to do when the backpacks return to your house too soon…