Laura’s note: This week, I’m answering some of my Frequently Asked Questions — questions that I often hear from readers. As I email my answers, I sometimes think, hey, that would make a reasonable blog post! So here we go. If you have a question to add to the series, please email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.
Q. I’m thinking of starting a freelance/work-from-home business. Do you think you can have a successful career without regular childcare?
A. Well…maybe. If you have very young children — ages 3 and under — and your partner or another household member is not available to care for the children regularly, you will really struggle with doing any significant amount of work. Caring for young children is exhausting. Yes, you may technically be able to work during nap times and at night after they go to bed. You can get up early to work. You can certainly work on weekends if you have a partner who can care for them then. Many parents do this. But again, caring for young kids is exhausting, and you will need a lot of discipline to work during your hours “off” when all you want to do is drink a beer and read a magazine (at least that’s all I want to do on the days I am solely responsible for my kids!).
So if you have young children and want to make a serious go at starting a business, I’d turn the question around: why are you averse to childcare? Is it the cost? It is certainly difficult to pay for childcare when your business is not yet producing revenue, but many entrepreneurial ventures have start-up costs. You’re not building a factory, you’re just paying a babysitter, but it kind of goes in the same bucket. There may be ways to reduce costs, like trading off with a neighbor or friend, but then you’d need to know that your friend can be completely reliable in this situation. Because here’s the issue: it’s really hard to build a business if you don’t know, with 97% certainty, that if you schedule a client call at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, you’ll be able to take it with no one screaming in the same room. I’m not saying it can’t be done. Maybe your kids are much better sleepers than mine. Maybe all your clients love listening to screaming babies! I worked through the newborn phase with all three of my kids, and divided the world into People I Can Call With A Baby On My Lap and People I Cannot Call With a Baby On My Lap. But building a business is hard enough as it is. Doing it with one hand metaphorically tied behind your back is even harder.
Now, if your kids are in school regularly, this is a different matter. For some reason, people often consider preschool to be in a different category than daycare, even though they’re pretty much the same thing. I won’t bother going into this, but once your kids are 3 years old or so, it’s quite possible to put them in some sort of regular preschool program for 5 mornings a week. Some schools have afternoon hours, too.
At that point, you can start getting some pretty significant work time. Even more important, from the perspective of building a business, they’re regular work hours, so you’ll probably be able to plan for a 10 a.m. call. And once the kids are in official K-12 school, all kinds of time opens up. My 1st grader gets on the bus at 8:42 a.m., and gets home around 4 p.m. When all three kids have that schedule, that will be a bit over 36 hours per week available — more than the usual definition of full-time — for 9 months of the year. And that’s without having to resort to the usual tricks for finding more time (working early in the morning, after the kids go to bed, on weekends, etc.). If you do resort to those tricks, you can get yourself up over 40 hours pretty easily.
So yes, many people I know who freelance or have home-based businesses do fine with building their businesses once the kids are in school. It’s not perfect, of course. You have to arrange for summer care, so figure you’ll be paying for a lot of camps unless you can figure out a way to make your business hibernate during the summer. There are random half days and kids can get sick. If you have regular childcare arrangements, there’s a back-up for school — the person who takes care of your 2-year-old can also keep an eye on your 7-year-old if he’s home. If you will need to travel for your business, or go to evening events, you’ll have to figure something else out. But you will at least have a fair number of hours to work without the cash outlays associated with full-time childcare.
If you work at home, what kind of childcare arrangements do you have? How have these changed over the years?
Photo of ridiculously cute baby courtesy flickr user ambernectar 13