Childcare strategies for work-at-home parents?
January 4, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to work at home with a nanny and 2 kids and actually get anything done? If not, can you suggest alternate strategies?

I am getting ready to return to work after the birth of Baby Architeuthis 8 weeks ago, and I'm second-guessing our childcare plans. We have a 3-year-old who is in half-day preschool, and we had initially thought that it would make the most sense to hire a nanny who could take care of the baby full-time and also pick our son up from preschool and care for him in the afternoons.

However, since shortly before I started maternity leave we've had a babysitter come 2 afternoons a week for basically this purpose, and it hasn't worked well. The main issue is that my husband works at home, and due to the size and layout of our 2-bedroom apartment, his desk is in the living room--there is no separate office space. This has meant that our 3-year-old gloms on to him as soon as he gets back from school and rejects the babysitter. This in turn means that my husband has to leave the house to go to a coffee shop to work or he gets nothing done. This is really suboptimal, as he can't take files with him, can't work on anything confidential, etc. It's OK for now since it's 2 days/week, but not once I'm back at work.

I had initially thought it was due to the babysitter--she has a tendency to throw up her hands and let my husband take over without putting much effort into reorienting the 3-year-old, and they haven't really bonded with one another. Given the short-term nature of the gig. though, we didn't want to find someone new, and otherwise she's fine--but now I'm thinking that perhaps working at home without a door to close is just impossible.

Other options I've been considering, all of which have other drawbacks:

1) full time daycare for baby--this is what we did with #1, but I honestly didn't really love his daycare (Frosted Flakes as snack for 2-year-olds? Really?) so we'd need to find a new place, and we would also have to find something for #1 as well as getting him there in the afternoons. Since we don't have a car, this would present some logistical challenges.

2) moving to a larger apartment--unaffordable in our current neighborhood. We may end up moving out of the city entirely, but that is a long-term possibility.

3) finding separate office space--possible, but the finances may not work out.

4) just ask the nanny to keep the kids out of the house for most of the afternoons--probably not a viable long-term strategy, especially in winter.

A few more details--I am gone at least 7:45-6 and usually longer, M-F, and I work 45 minutes away, so once I'm back at work, I will not be able to help with any drop-offs/pickups.

Has anyone successfully managed to work with in-home childcare without a separate office? Are there options I'm not thinking of here, or strategies for making things work better?
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Start looking for an out of the home day care that you like, close to where you are that takes infants and toddlers.

You've had the opportunity to test out the nanny at home and it's not working. Nanny's work better when the office is in a separate room AND when there's a play area for the children. Your apartment just isn't conducive to the purpose.

It's okay for everyone to be in daycare all day. If you can, daycare/pre-school can be all rolled up into one enterprise. Or your day care provider can transport your three-year-old to and from daycare.

It will be nice to have both children at the same place, and it will be so much easier for you and your husband.

I suspect that you feel some guilt about not keeping both kids at home with a nanny. I want to tell you that it's fine. Really.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:44 AM on January 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I wonder if there's somebody in your neighborhood with a spare room that your husband could rent more cheaply than regular office space--sort of an airbnb for freelancers. Or are you in the middle of an expensive city where even that is a fortune?

Alternatively, people sometimes rent a big space together and split the rent with office mates. One of my kids is doing that now--sharing a space with other like-minded young people who can't afford a solo office. That would be cheaper than moving the whole family. Good luck!
posted by Elsie at 11:45 AM on January 4, 2014

My desk is in our family den, and it's totally suboptimal for my work. So when the deadlines loom I retreat to our bedroom. It's not the best solution - I lack a proper place to sit, and the bedroom is small to begin with so I don't have a lot of options. But I make it work because for me it's the best solution at hand. (Kid BlahLaLa is older now, but this goes back to when he was little, too.)

Have you well and truly sussed our your bedroom as a work space? It doesn't have to be pretty, but maybe you can make it work.

Also, it sounds like you have the wrong babysitter. Being outside for the entire winter isn't going to work, obviously, but you need someone proactive who can manage the situation. It's an integral part of the job, so when you interview be sure you talk specifically about what you need and see what potential nannies have to say about it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:51 AM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Either the kids or the husband will have to give up the living room. Even if somehow a child could be convinced to leave daddy alone for half a day with him sitting right there in plain sight (a heartbreaking proposition and definitely not the sitter's fault), daddy's still going to have to contend with noise and activity all around him while he's trying to work. Several of your listed non-options actually sound viable.
1) full time daycare for baby--send his own snacks if you don't like what they serve, or find another daycare. Switch 3yo's preschool to one daddy can bus to/from.

2) moving to a larger apartment--find a more affordable nearby neighborhood.

3) finding separate office space--your most viable option. He has to be willing to commute though.

4) just ask the nanny to keep the kids out of the house for most of the afternoons--this will end up being very expensive, what with coffee shops and museum fees and the like, plus when do the kids play and sleep?
posted by headnsouth at 11:53 AM on January 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

The woman I know who does this makes a big show of leaving the house for the kids so they think she's left and then she sneaks back into her office, which is on the other side of the house from where the kids are and tries not to make too much noise so the kids don't know she's still there and go running to her.

So I wouldn't place too much blame on the nanny. I can't imagine pulling this off in a two bedroom apartment as she barely pulls it off in a house in the burbs. I've been on a lot of work calls with her where she's whispering to keep up the charade.
posted by whoaali at 11:57 AM on January 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, it's really hard for a three-year-old to understand that "Daddy's in the same room as you but can't play with you or even pay attention to you." Traditional office space can be expensive to rent, but many cities have places where you can just rent a desk or a cubicle in a place with wifi, and have more privacy than a coffeeshop. These often use the phrase "co-working space."
posted by lisa g at 12:16 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Does the city you live in have any co-working spaces that your husband could join? Because I think the only solutions are that he moves his office elsewhere, or the kids have to be elsewhere. Even if he moved his office into the bedroom so that he could shut the door, a two-bedroom apartment with a toddler and a baby will never be quiet enough to get any work done.
posted by MsMolly at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there literally no way for his desk to be in your bedroom? You can get desks that fold down from a wall and fold out of the way when they're not in use. Any chance something like that could be done to give him a work space that's behind a closed (and possibly locked) door from the children?
posted by jacquilynne at 12:30 PM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this is asking too much of your three year old. The only way my husband or I ever can work at home is in our respective offices with the door shut. Door shut means Working, Cannot Play With You. Without that signal (and taking parent out of line of sight) there's no way to make it work. So you need to either make your bedroom the workspace; or get the kid into daycare. No daycare should be offering frosted flakes as a snack. That is weird, and not at all typical of the daycares I've used or researched. Is there a Bright Horizons where you are by any chance? They're really good.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:54 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a much larger house than you do, but when I work from home, I do it in my bedroom, in bed. I have one of those pillows designed to sit back on and just use a pillow in my lap or rest the laptop on my legs. I don't think this would work with a 3 year old and a baby who need to somehow stay quiet and not interrupt, though, but ymmv. The office space seems like the best option to me as well.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:00 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My ex-fiancé used to work from home a couple days a week, we had a 2-bedroom apartment and a toddler and I was the stay-at-home mom. Even with MOM there, it was really, really difficult to keep my daughter away/distracted/off daddy enough for him to get much work done. I totally do not think this is the baby's fault. You need to AT MINIMUM get his "office space" in a bedroom behind a closed door, or you need either dad or kids to go somewhere else. This is the nature of the beast of parenting, really.
posted by celtalitha at 1:12 PM on January 4, 2014

Sorry, meant to say "not the babysitter's fault" but... either way.
posted by celtalitha at 1:15 PM on January 4, 2014

Do you or your children have friends in your apartment complex? Is it possible for you to come to arrangement for your husband to use their apartment as daytime workspace or for your nanny to take your children for regular play time with your friend's child(ren)?

Also is it possible for your husband to time-shift his hours to start at say 4 AM to allow for undisturbed work time?
posted by crazycanuck at 2:14 PM on January 4, 2014

You need to put your bed in with the kids or out in the living room or at least get your husband to have an office in your bedroom. Then the door stays closed (easier if you have ensuite bathroom!). With preschool and naps and a few activities for the kids, your husband could still roam around the apartment some of the time. You might also look into a nannyshare, where perhaps they could go to the other home some of the time. Also, some preschools will take 2yos, even just 2x a week for 1.5 hours, and that might allow your little one to eventually be somewhere else too, once they stop napping in the morning. And time shifting some of your husband's work might help.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:03 PM on January 4, 2014

Can you experiment with screening off the part of the living room where your husband's desk is? I think Ikea has cheap screens, or you could hang curtain panels from the ceiling around the desk. I think you might be able to train the child (with reinforcement from the nanny) that you don't go into the screened area, and that Daddy is off-limits when he is there. But I think you'd also need to combine this with asking the nanny to keep the children out of the house as much as possible. Maybe just plan for one scheduled excursion at the same time every day, so your husband can schedule work that needs lots of concentration for exactly then.
posted by lollusc at 5:36 PM on January 4, 2014

Response by poster: Seems like the universal message is that we were deluding ourselves about the feasibility of this plan. Thanks for the very wide range of suggestions! I had not thought about coworking spaces and as it turns out one just opened about a half mile from us, and they seem to have very reasonable fees. So we will look into that as our first option and if it doesn't pan out, we'll think about rearranging the bedroom (suboptimal, since the crib is in our room, but we can probably deal with it until the kids are ready to share a room).

To clarify, the plan has always been to hire a new nanny for full-time work. Our current babysitter has another job that would prevent her from working more than she does now, so our arrangement with her was always explicitly short term.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:48 PM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would it be possible for the nanny or babysitter to watch the children at her or his home instead? (Please note that this is relatively common in some countries and I don't want to offend anyone.)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:08 AM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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