How can a mother with tiny kids make a living?
December 27, 2009 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Brainstorm with me. I've got two babies, a failed life plan, no resume, and I need to build a future. What would you do?

I'm a 31 year old woman with a degree in Writing. I have no work experience save my writing clips. I have a toddler and another baby on the way.

I anticipated raising my babies myself, and being a freelancer. I am those things, but my freelance work only totals about $300 a month. My husband is a good man. But he only earns about 1900 a month. I can't force him to earn more.

I have recently decided that my feminist friend was right all along. That despite how I was raised, 'it isn't a man's job to take care of me'. If I'm the one who wants more money, I'm going to have to be the one to find it. Though it is technically possible, it feels like defeat to sentence my family of four to live on 2200 a month. Our mortgage is near half that (one of the cheapest houses in town, I swear).

Please understand that this wasn't the plan. We were cautious people with a plan that didn't work. We wouldn't have started a family if we knew we'd hit the wall at $2000 annual over the poverty line.

I thought about getting an online MLIS (librarian's degree). Its up my ally. I have connections to three of the 10 libraries within commuting distance. The time to get the degree would allow me to see my kids to preschool before I started work. Median income is twice what my my husband makes. Maybe he could even stay home with the kids. But my husband, who works in the field, says it's a bad investment, that he knows people with that degree who have been looking for years for work.

Any low end job will be all but negated by the price of child-care. (No family lives nearby to watch the children).

I do not know what to do. I have two babies that I desperately wanted to raise myself. I feel hobbled.

What would you do if you were me? With these details? How would you take responsibility for your life?

Thank you for your time.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (39 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Can you ask your husband to make more? Is he pursuing a dream too? Maybe you can both step up.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:09 PM on December 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

What about head start or another reduced cost child care so you could at least get a part time job? It sounds like you would really like to work as well as have time to be with your children. I know, it's really tough. Another option would be to live as frugally as possible while your kids are young, get benefits that you qualify for, if any (food stamps, etc), and then plan as best you can to go back to work when they get into elementary school. But I don't know if that would work with your monthly bills, etc.
posted by Rocket26 at 5:12 PM on December 27, 2009

Could you possibly babysit other people's children during the day along with caring for your own? There are probably a lot of working families that would love to find a comparatively inexpensive and loving environment for their children while they are at work.
posted by Edubya at 5:17 PM on December 27, 2009

For many years, I used my own degree in writing to teach part-time at my local community college. They are always looking for part-time faculty to staff the required freshman composition classes, because every incoming student has to take them. My college offered as many as 70 or 80 sections of Comp I in the fall semester.

The pay was poor compared to teaching full-time, but good compared to other part-time work. I usually was able to get classes that met in the evenings or at 8 a.m., so that my partner could watch the kids before or after work and I didn't have to hire a babysitter. Most out-of-class work, except for an hour or two of office hours a week, was done at home. When the kids were tiny, I sometimes took them with me to office hours or faculty meetings. Normally I was out of the house no more than two evenings per week.

Eventually, I trained to teach on-line, and that was great--worked entirely from home except for a few times during the semester when I would schedule one-on-one conferences with students to go over their work. I had control of the conference schedule and, again, could do it when my partner could watch the kids.

Another thing I liked about it was that my work load could change from semester to semester--if we needed a little extra money, I'd teach three classes. If I had a brand-new baby and needed to be home more, I'd teach one or two.

The money wasn't fabulous--I think I usually made about $15,000 year. But it felt like a good part-time wage and was very compatible with being home with my young kids. And it's something you could start without doing additional school. Heck, you might even be able to start next week, though they are more likely to be short-staffed right before fall semester, when most students are starting.

Before I had kids, if I needed more money, I was a "freeway flier" and taught at two colleges. You might put together a resume and query community colleges and any small private colleges in your area--universities will likely have graduate students to cover those same classes, so no point in querying them. Contact the communication or English dept. chair directly.
posted by not that girl at 5:17 PM on December 27, 2009 [11 favorites]

Can you provide more information about your freelance work? What kind of freelance jobs do you do, and how long are you spending on them?
posted by sninctown at 5:19 PM on December 27, 2009

Have you thought about adding an employment job to your freelance work, during hours that your husband is home, so that there is always one person taking care of the kids?

Even at minimum wage, it would help boost the total family income. Let's say you work 40 hours per week, with 2 weeks off a year. At minimum wage, you would bring home $14,500. You currently make $3600 freelancing, so the two together is $18,100. Plus, there's your husband's $22,800, which brings the household income to $40,900.
posted by Houstonian at 5:24 PM on December 27, 2009

Absolutely do not get an LIS degree in this job market, especially if it's an online one, because you'll be going deeper into debt for a degree that, as your husband says, is currently in oversupply. If you do see libraries as a field you'd like to work for in the future, find a part-time job in the type of library you want to work in (public, school, etc.) That way you'll be building your resume, figuring out if you really like the field, and poised to get the degree if you decide you need it to move your career along a few years from now.
posted by MsMolly at 5:28 PM on December 27, 2009 [12 favorites]

Wow. Sounds tough.

If I were you, I'd start applying for jobs on the off chance that you could get something that pays enough to make daycare worthwhile. It couldn't hurt.

Honestly, as a grad student parent, it is extremely challenging to consider doing an online (or offline) degree with small kids in the house without childcare. (Unless you considered getting a teenager to come after school or something where you'd be paying very very little.) And from what I hear, MILSes are getting pretty popular these days. (I'm sure someone else could speak to this.) ALTHOUGH, if you got into a PhD program and got a TAship/RAship with a stipend, I find that living on loans and the stipend is doable as a Mommy. It is tight, but would probably be better than you're at right now. Getting a fully paid PhD TA/RAship nowadays is harder and more competitive though. (You'd need a high GRE score and good undergrad GPA.) It might be an avenue worth pursuing though.

If you're looking to make some money somewhat quickly, there is a huge community of WAHMs (work at home moms) that do all sorts of stuff - sewing, crafts, etc. And, like in today's previous post about quick money, if one is good at what she does, there is profitability on etsy. Same goes for eBay. Can you watch your local Craig's List for things that re-sell well and polish them up and sell them on eBay? (Buying kids' clothes at garage sales and then reselling them on eBay, for example). Or watch coupon sites (slickdeals, etc.) and learn how to buy things like laptops when they sell for incredible deals, then re-sell them on eBay and Craigslist. One could make some good money this way, but there is a learning curve with this as well.

Also consider taking in an additional child as a sitter once the one on the way is a bit older? Might be worth it. Around here, that sort of arrangement would pay $12/hour.

A totally different direction -- if your husband could take a slightly lower paying job, you would qualify for state support. If you're really that tight, it'd be worth it for the WIC benefits.

Or in the other direction, is it possible for your husband to take a second job?

And also, see about other ways to cut costs (I would assume that you do this, but just in case...): BabyCheapskate has all sort of baby gear/diaper/formula/food deals and ways to cut costs. Tons of savings to be had this way. (Although a possible resale outlet.) What about getting your kids on state health insurance? It is cheaper than private insurance in our neck of the woods. Also, cloth diapering is cheaper than disposables.

I feel for you. Hope that this thread is helpful.
posted by k8t at 5:33 PM on December 27, 2009

Textbroker is a marketplace for freelance writers... it's not entirely unlike the Mechanical Turk, except that the standards and payouts are quite a bit higher, especially once you've turned in a few decent pieces, and can start taking higher-rated assignments.

I know more than a couple of full-time moms who make a few hundred dollars a month writing during naptimes. Most of them were professional writers prior to becoming moms, so I suspect that their writing quality and speed is quite high.

But, if you've got the time to add a few thousand words a month to your existing freelance work through textbroker, you should be able to put a little more in your pocket every month.
posted by toxic at 5:34 PM on December 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

Well, you have lots of time. With a baby on the way you are going to be focused on that for the next year at least, so get used to living on 2100 a month.

Once you accept that, then use the time to your advantage and retrain. If you can't afford to retrain, do some market research - who needs your skills? If no one will pay for your skills and you can't afford to retrain, try volunteering in your targeted career to build experience and a client list.

But you have time. Plenty of it. Make the most of it.

Make a three-year plan (with the end being earning more money) and then execute.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:36 PM on December 27, 2009

Agreeing with not that girl about the community college idea. I have a co-worker who has done that and said it was a pretty decent gig. Otherwise, some cities have subsidized child care - there are often waiting lists, but that may be an option that would allow you to take a lower-end job. Or could you add proofreading or tutoring to the work you offer as a freelancer to increase the income there?
posted by dilettante at 5:38 PM on December 27, 2009

Think about this quote: "Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit."

A great example of this is the guy who invented the HeadBlade.

He started losing his hair at 23. Most people might have gotten depressed about something like that. Not him. He simply decided to shave his hair off completely.

One day he finds himself wishing there was an easier way to shave, so he develops the HeadBlade. Against all odds, with no money and with everyone calling him crazy, he managed to start the business and sell his product. And now, of course, he's a millionaire.

The point? If you have a vision, pursue it. Don't listen to naysayers, because they don't share your vision -- find things out for yourself and make your own decisions.

If something is telling you to get your librarian's degree, do more than just think about it.
posted by Theloupgarou at 5:43 PM on December 27, 2009

I'm in a public library and agree you should get a job in a library first and then consider the mls - they may pay for it. I know, the first years are tough, but your children are relatively cheap at this age and in a few years you will find it easier. Memail me if you want to hear about my online mls.
posted by saucysault at 5:46 PM on December 27, 2009

Other money makers - service to put people's CDs onto iPods.
posted by k8t at 5:55 PM on December 27, 2009

But my husband, who works in the field, says it's a bad investment, that he knows people with that degree who have been looking for years for work.

I'm sorry, this is correct.
posted by moira at 6:02 PM on December 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

It's not high brow, but I often do work for people who make infomercials. They need research and writing, and they will pay good money. And often the products are not that bad, a lot of times it's something the promoter believes in, but it never makes it to the market. However, they still need people to research things, write the books/material, type transcripts of testimonial interviews, etc. Also, they need book editors to fix the books that are already half written or written poorly. You'd be perfect for that!

Contact all the video production companies in your area and offer your services, if not them, try telemarketing companies, who often sell/promote these services. You already have a degree, but you don't need experience, you just need a willingness to be flexible. But please, put your payment terms up front. The smaller companies are often working on a budget and you need to be clear that you are paid upfront and not waiting on their clients/next big thing to come along before you get paid. Cash or check up front!!! Seriously. This is not like graphic design or other work, you need to get paid on time and not a dream so be firm. I only say this from experience of chasing well meaning, honest, but poor planning people.

Also, look at transcription by itself. It's pretty good money. I just made $20/hr. doing it for a local consultant who was researching for a book for one of his clients and wanted someone to type up his phone interviews. Make sure you charge by the recorded minute (I charge $2.00 per recorded minute, and if someone sends you an MP3 file, you can figure out how much that would be for your invoice in advance), and again, get paid up front or on delivery, no excuses. I just open a Quicktime file next to my Word doc, type it, then format the interviewer voice in bold and the answers in plain text, a quick readover and spellcheck, and wah-la! It's done. You can start and stop and do bits and pieces around your family life.

Just a few ideas. Memail me if you want more.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:10 PM on December 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Consider training in a medical field. There is always work, you can do shift work or part time and the pay is OK. Look around locally and see what they are hiring for.
posted by fshgrl at 6:45 PM on December 27, 2009

I have no advice to offer except for that which I wish someone had given me: An MLIS, online or otherwise, is no guarantee of anything. Well, anything except for student loan debt if, like me, you make the mistake of going that route.

I got my MLIS in 2006, mainly because I was brainwashed into believing that there were a ton of jobs about to become available. There weren't. I have yet to work in a library. There are no library jobs, at least not in major metropolitan areas - we're in a recession and guess what gets budget cuts first? Arts and education.
posted by chez shoes at 6:54 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Let me chime in here to say that yes, yes your husband should think about ways to earn more himself. You are very correct in noting how much child care would eat up if you went back to work, and the truth is if you did what I did (go work third shift) your family life goes in the crapper.

Keep writing, and keep thinking about ways to market what you write. Sell stuff on Ebay. Babysit. For that matter, do a blog and figure out how to monetize it. (There are ways. )

But either your husband has to step up to the plate and do a major chunk of childcare himself or he needs to figure out how to maximize HIS income because right now you have an important job to do that isn't tied to a paycheck. Because you'd dang well be having to pay someone ELSE to do it if you were working a paid position!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:54 PM on December 27, 2009 [8 favorites]

Honestly, in your situation, $200 or $300 a month would make a big difference to your family income. I think from the suggestions here, that's probably an achievable goal while your babies are young and at home. I'm not saying it won't be hard to run a small home business or to hold down a part-time job, but I think were I you I would find it worth it.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:02 PM on December 27, 2009

Seconding the suggestion that you look into in-home childcare. That way you'll be with your children. It's not easy but you get to stay home and your children get a playmate!
posted by kathrineg at 7:11 PM on December 27, 2009

You and your husband could do opposite shift work, if you're really serious about your financial stability and don't want to use daycare. You work early mornings, something like 6am - 2pm, he works the swing shift, from 2pm - 10pm, and you alternate childcare when you're not working. Tough, but could get you through until the kids are in school. Generations of blue collar families have done it this way.
posted by yarly at 8:00 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're a writer.

Instead of looking for a job, or freelancing, why not just write a how-to book?

Do an inventory of what you know about, and figure out if there's something you know a fair amount about, that others would like to know about. If you know of nothing like that, find out what you can quickly learn about, that others would like to know about-- then quickly research the topic and write a how-to book.

Consider Clickbank, and the ebook marketplace that has sprung up around it; note that the ebooks offered are highly, highly variable in quality. Most are dreck, some are useful, a few are brilliant. Write a short book, spend $50 on a Clickbank merchant account, spend $50 to have someone build you a simple website... and you're in business. This way, you've no editor, no boss, no publisher; you have quick turn-around time on payments; and you can stay home with your kids.

Here's a convenient way to sell what you write:

Here are some places to discover what's popular, and what, therefore, some might be willing to pay to learn more about:
posted by darth_tedious at 8:03 PM on December 27, 2009 [8 favorites]

I have two babies that I desperately wanted to raise myself.

This isn't advice about how to make more money, but it is advice about how to feel less stuck -- please know that, whatever you do, whether you use paid childcare or not, you and your husband are going to raise your children yourselves.
posted by escabeche at 8:14 PM on December 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Lots of women find that going to school is the best answer to this problem. If you can get grants and foodstamps and maybe some healthcare it would be a way to have a flexible schedule. And a way to spend more time with your kids. The grants and fodstamps may end up more than a minimum wage job. This scenario does not require you to get a usable degree although I would recommend getting a 2 year community college degree in something useful. And if you can take online classes that's even better - more time with the kids.

If you do this you should not take out loans!

It's working the system but in my opinion I would rather see you raise healthy kids than see them in a crappy daycare and later a burden to society.

You asked what would I do and that is what I did when my husband died and I had two little kids to raise. I wanted to spend more time with them so I went back to school even though I got a liberal arts degree that was useless after graduation. At least I was able to be around more when they needed me most. And some years later I actually am working in the field I studied in college. I took a lot of telecourses and only had to be on campus for about 20 hours a week.

Another possibility is one I got from Dr. Laura - when her son was young she got up at 4 in the morning in order to have time to write. This is something I have been doing the past few years and I love it. Everyone is asleep, I drink some green tea and work in my home office. No one interrupts me!

Another thing you can do is become an expert at living on nothing. That could be your job. Saving a thousand dollars a month by using Freecycle, crazy frugal blog tips, renting dvds from the library, picking up the free bread that the foodbank offers, etc. - that's like making $1000 a month.

Whatever you do you should be keeping a log of every dime you spend. And don't look at that as drudgery but look at it as a key to how you are going to take charge of your life.

Me-mail if you need encouragement.
posted by cda at 8:27 PM on December 27, 2009

There are lots of other graduate programs in fields where there are actually jobs (education, international relations, environmental studies, etc). Some grad programs will pay your tuition and a stipend in exchange for teaching/research. You could probably take a class at a time online/evenings right now and then get more immersed in the program as your kids get older. I think with your household income, you might qualify for some financial aid.

I've had some friends with similar degrees as yours work as part time tutors, mentors for gifted children and para-professionals for the public school system. Maybe you could tutor high school/college students in writing and English? I know that there are ghost-writing opportunities out there, but you have to hunt and network for them. There are also some weirdly high-paying freelance writing gigs, ie. Alumni magazines, High Times magazines (!), specialty trade publications. I'd pick up a Writer's Guide and start looking around for new freelance opportunities.

You could sell used books on I recently went through my huge book collection, searched the ISBNS and found that some of my literature theory/history books were out of print and selling for decent prices on Amazon. I've managed to pick up an extra $25-$50 or so a week over the last couple of months doing this.

Good luck!
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:38 PM on December 27, 2009

1. My husband took the Johnson O'Connor aptitude test a couple years ago. It was pricey (~$600), but it gave him a clear direction for the first time in his life. They gave him a list of jobs that he would be good at, and he chose to pursue the one with the best job prospects. (Got a couple more years of school to get through, though, so I can't guarantee it will work.) Maybe you and/or your husband would find this helpful.

2. Is it possible to move to a place where you *do* have family support? Or, if you don't have good family, is there another community you can get tight with? Even if all your friends are as poor as you, it's easier than being poor on your own.

3. A few women I know clean houses for their wealthier acquaintances for some extra income. Others substitute teach. You could do both of those things and still freelance.

4. There may be some jobs around that let you bring your babies to work. I happen to work for a church/school, and the school secretary brings her 1-year-old every day and lets her toddle around the office. These jobs may be difficult to find, but I would suggest looking at churches and small, family-run businesses.

5. Come up with a gimmick blog, get a bunch of readers, and get a book deal. Everybody's doing it. ;)
posted by hishtafel at 8:41 PM on December 27, 2009

Depending on where you live, training as an IT business analyst for software design might be a good idea. Essentially, the job is writing exhaustive specifications for how a particular piece of (usually) corporate software will work. It's basically writing + knowledge of business + knowledge of how computers "think." The first is the real talent; the other two are acquired over time. You'd need some sort of computer science course work, but not necessarily a degree. The jobs tend to exist near large cities with a decent-sized software development community - NY, Chicago, LA, Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, etc. In my town, business analysts can make between $60,000 - $100,000.
posted by centerweight at 8:43 PM on December 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I know nothing about kids or having them or raising them, but tech writing does sound like a good direction to go in. Any kind of tech product or process needs to be documented and specified, and engineers typically hate doing that stuff.

Along the same lines, I've heard that SOX compliance has turned into a bit of a cottage industry, and they VERY BADLY need people with a strong writing background.

Both of these jobs are usually done from home, allowing you to spend time around your kids.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:48 PM on December 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, you might want to look into hard-sell online copywriting.

You'll find some notes here:
posted by darth_tedious at 12:12 AM on December 28, 2009

A spin on the childcare idea is eldercare. There is a growing need for people who can provide companionship and care for frail elders and early/mid stage dementia sufferers. They need some basic grooming, dresssing, and housework help, but mostly they need companionship, something to do, and someone to provide them with a bit of the mobility they've lost (take them shopping, to church, to the hair saloin, etc.).
posted by cross_impact at 5:56 AM on December 28, 2009

MsMolly is, sadly, quite correct. This is a terrible time to be looking for work as a librarian. For that matter, even if you could get work quickly, it wouldn't offset the preposterous costs of getting an MLS.
Depending on where you live, there may me one exception (sort of): Around here, school library media specialists make more money than other kinds of librarians, and get some of the teacher perks: summers, winter breaks, holidays, decent benefits. This varies widely from state to state (the state where I grew up, for example, has almost no school librarians), but it may warrant a look.
posted by willpie at 6:22 AM on December 28, 2009

I don't know where you live, but depending on the local market, you might want to look into temp agencies that specialize in editorial services. In the DC area, for example, with your background you could probably get plenty of work doing proofing and editing on contract proposals and deliverable documents paying in the $30 an hour range. (Example from my short temp life after moving back here: company was contracted to produce a report on public health issues in the US/Mexico border region. About a dozen chapters from different authors on various topics. I proofed and edited for clarity, made it all conform to editorial style, did some basic page layout in InDesign, wrangled the graphics, etc. This was full-time for about five weeks, and the agency also came up with occasional weekend hours for other clients - usually proposals that just needed another set of eyes for proofreading.)

This kind of set up would give you some flexibility to help work around child care scheduling - take a job if you can and pass if you can't; the agency understands how this works - and it would get you some more substantial work experience to add to your resume. Best, it's not at all uncommon for these to turn into real job offers, in a pay range at or, more likely, higher than, your husband's. If I hadn't found the job I have now, the place I did that project for was very interested in me for a full time gig they had coming up.

There are plenty of things you could start working on now to prepare yourself for that, resources for editors, etc. that go beyond the scope of an AskMe reponse. Memail me if you'd find any of that useful.
posted by Naberius at 7:15 AM on December 28, 2009

If you do this you should not take out loans!

I agree. I noticed that in your story you didn't mention what I consider the two most deadly form of debt -- credit cards and student loans. If you really are debt free (except for the mortgage, which in your situation sounds like it's about equivalent to rent) then you're better off than a great many people, even those making lots more money. There is nothing wrong with debt per se, except that it's too attractive to people (consumers, investment bankers, ...) with a blind faith in their ability to predict the future. So be very very cautious about any plan that requires more debt.
posted by lex mercatoria at 10:18 AM on December 28, 2009

You could look for an internship in a speech recognition company like Nuance and eventually become a speech user interface designer. Writers who have a good feel for dialogue are great at this type of work. The pay at entry level is about 60K.
posted by Dragonness at 12:38 PM on December 28, 2009

PM me.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:27 PM on December 28, 2009

Totally different idea: bartend twice a week when your husband is home to watch the little ones. I realize this probably isn't the "life plan" you're looking for, but it might mean an extra $125 each week.

More ambitiously, the physical therapists and nurses I know seem to make good money with flexible, part-time schedules.
posted by salvia at 11:44 PM on December 28, 2009

I have 3 little kids (4 yrs, almost 2 years, and 3 months) and am a freelance writer and SAHM. This year sucked, I did no marketing of myself at all, and still cleared $20k. This included a broken foot, a terribly rough pregnancy with hyperemesis and depression, and an awful economy that closed down all my major magazine work. Mostly I did copywriting -- less sexy than magazines but paying better this year!

You can do it -- if you can't afford childcare, get up at 5am to do your writing. Write for a couple of hours til the kids get up. Write for another hour during their naps. Chill at night. Don't go into debt -- instead, work with what you have and see where it takes you. It could take you to another job that will pay for school, if that's what you're looking for.

Good luck. It will get better.
posted by mdiskin at 7:31 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I recommend this website, No Job For Mom. In her most recent post, she talks of how she made $100 a day.
posted by VC Drake at 6:06 PM on January 2, 2010

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