How does one freelance with a baby in the house?
April 27, 2014 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Our first little one is due in November. I previously freelanced and now work a full-time, very time-consuming corporate job. I would like to return to freelancing after baby's born to give me more flexibility and to avoid massive daycare costs. How do I do this while also acting as the primary care-giver for an infant?

I previously freelanced in the translation and writing fields. Then I went to work in the technology sector and gained quite a bit of knowledge there (a QA/SDET skill set with ever-improving programming skills).

I would like to quit my job after my maternity leave ends, which will be 8 weeks after baby comes, so probably early 2015. This is because:

-My job and commute require me to be out of the house 50-60 hours weekly, which would require us to get at least that much childcare.
-I do not particularly like my job. It's not a great fit for me and does not pay spectacularly well (2/3s of my income would be eaten up if we decided to get full-time infant care, if not more). I don't want to trade baby time for this AT ALL.
-I want to be a very involved parent and spend lots of time with baby. I also want to take over some household tasks to make our lives run more smoothly. I want to have the ability to do things like cloth diapering, making meals from scratch, DIY projects with baby, etc. (I am well aware that in reality, not all of these things will happen regardless of my work situation.)
-My husband is the breadwinner, quite happy at his job but also highly employable should anything happen there, and works 12-14 hour days during the week (and we need that to stay that way). I would like for him to be able to come home and bond with baby and I at night.
-I am well-suited to freelancing and independent intellectual work.

We can survive fine on just my husband's income (at least in baby's early years), but I would like to supplement this by freelancing again. I would also like to avoid a significant gap on my resume as well to ensure I'm more employable if/when I decide to re-enter corporate life.

The work I do ranges from moderately challenging to requiring a large amount of focus to complete. Some of it can be done in tiny chunks, but some projects will demand larger amounts of time to work.

So... how do I do that when I have a teeny-tiny, 8 week old baby to care for?

As far as childcare resources, we will have:
-Grandparents in the area that desperately want to help with babysitting. They will be available a lot, but they may or may not be able to be available on a schedule. We also have some other family in the area that will be less available for sitting.
-Various facilities and providers in our area, which range from cheap (and often less trust-inspiring) to very pricey (and well regarded)

What kind of childcare do I realistically need? Could I possible do something like hiring a cheap-ish college age sitter to be in the house while I work? Is trying to work a little here and there while baby sleeps a lost cause?

I will be exclusively breastfeeding for at least 6 months if not a year, if that matters.

Thanks in advance for the input.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Is trying to work a little here and there while baby sleeps a lost cause?
Yes. You will be so much happier if you don't try this. When you try to work when the baby is around, you don't do either job very well and just feel awful the whole time.

The best way I've found is to have a set schedule - a Mother's Day Out can give you enough time to get started and they are usually relatively inexpensive. Then the grandparents can help as much as they'd like as well.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:38 PM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

As far as I'm concerned, teeny-tiny infants are a dead easy phase for doing digital work, and especially since you plan to breastfeed. This was my setup:

Recline on a sofa with your feet up. Put a Boppy around your waist, and another pillow on your lap beyond that. Hold the baby on the Boppy. Put the laptop on the other pillow. One elbow goes under the baby's head and you can still use both hands to type. You get snuggle time, you can even nurse, and continue working at the same time.

Keep food and drink close to hand, because when you're starting out it's a little tricky to get in and out of this setup by yourself. Take your own bathroom breaks at the same time you need to get up to diaper the baby. Go to bed at like 8pm if you're tired, don't be a hero, and you can manage to be passably well rested. Don't sweat cleaning (folding laundry, frequent vacuuming) or cooking full-fledged three-course meals.

Once they're into a phase where they don't sleep 80% of the time and need more active entertainment, it gets a little trickier. Then, yeah, you could even have a responsible middle school kid in to play with the baby while you work. Since you're there to keep an eye on things, you don't need someone you'd trust with the baby alone for an extended period.

Much, much later, the secret is to keep Oreos on hand for those times when you just really need them to be quiet for your conference call.

This is totally plausible, and in some ways the best of both worlds. Good luck, and congratulations!
posted by Andrhia at 8:40 PM on April 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

Sooo much of this depends on your baby. I am self employed and have a three month old. My productivity is currently about one third of what it was, and the type of work I do can be picked up or dropped at any time. And my baby is a really good, chill baby who sleeps for 9 hours straight a night! But it's taken me about fifteen minutes to type this response because she started fussing in the middle.

If you can, a mother's helper one day a week, switching off scheduled grandparent care, that sort of thing will help enormously. Though personally, coming from a similarly crunchy mindset (we cloth diaper, entirely breastfeed, babywear, that sort of thing), you might want that help to be in your home, and not elsewhere, so you don't have to pump. You might mind the pump less than I do, though.

All that being said, the other things you want to do--home made meals, cloth diapes, fun projects with baby all will be more doable and less onerous than you might think. I totally garden with my baby in a ring sling!

Mostly I'd just be prepared to roll with it, generally, and feel things out about how you feel about the whole thing. Those first eight weeks go superduper fast. I feel like I'm only coming up for air now!

Must be off to tend little snorty face, but feel free to MeMail me. I'm totally into talking about work/life balance with other moms.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:41 PM on April 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

I do a bunch of my work from home and have found that to be severely impaired since having a baby. I think what you need will change over time. For example, at the earliest stage, while you're breastfeeding exclusively, having a sitter in the house while you work sounds like a good idea (whether it is grandparents or a different sitter). However, assume your productivity level will be low, based upon my experience it can be very hard to focus on work when you can hear your baby crying. It would have sounded stupid to me before I had a baby, but hearing your baby cry just makes you want to go fix it if you are within earshot, regardless of the context or who's caring for them and how competent they are (because you know your baby so well and you know what they need and all that jazz).

Then, once your baby starts developing separation anxiety (i.e. a little less than 1 year onwards maybe), you may want to work away from home. My baby got this relatively late, but now it becomes difficult whenever I want to leave because she starts wailing and trying to follow me.

Regarding Andrhia's comment, I really hope that does work for you because it sounds amazing, but I found nursing such a struggle that I absolutely could not do any digital work while I was doing it. I even found it hard to do work while pumping using a double electric pump with a handsfree bra, because pumping was distracting and uncomfortable and so un-fun that it made work feel like a drag - I always wanted to just read something mindless while doing it. So yes, it does depend a lot on your baby/situation, and also what sort of sleeper they are - because if they can sleep from 6pm onwards until your bedtime, you'd have a good chunk of time to work with there in the evenings, but a lot of babies don't end up doing that for a long time, and some babies are champion daytime nappers for 2-3 hours like clockwork, but my baby doesn't do that on any predictable schedule.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:44 PM on April 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would like to quit my job after my maternity leave ends...

Just watch out that they don't come after you for repayment of your 8 weeks of maternity leave. I don't know where you live, but in some places they can do that if you don't come back to work for X amount of time after your leave ends.
posted by thatone at 8:48 PM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, also tablets are awesomely useful for one-handed computing while nursing. I get a ton of work done on mine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:56 PM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, you can work from home. It just depends on when you want to work from home. I would work when my husband got home in the evening, then after dinner, then after the baby was down for the night. I'd sneak an hour in during nap time and then 2 hours in the afternoon. When they got bigger, I put them into a preschool (around 2 years old) and that plus nap gave me 4.5 hours and then I'd do some work in the evening. Having my kids around meant I could do laundry, groceries, cooking and other tasks during the day, rather than at night. For a while, I also had a nanny come a couple of days a week for 2-3 hours.

Since your husband works such long hours, have you considered moving closer to his office? Also, get him to look at whether he could change his work hours. Those are long hours and you will be under a lot of pressure if he's gone all day.

It takes time to build a business. If you can call on grandparents and they are respectful of you working make sure you get out to network and do professional development.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:42 PM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by MeghanC at 9:43 PM on April 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe during maternity leave also think about negotiating to work from home or with flexible hours or reduced hours? As a plan B.

If your workplace offers extra insurance or your baby has a personality that requires you to get out of the house (My daughter exhausts me and I am a much better parent with her at playschool or in childcare at our house when I am outside working for at least 3-4 hours break each day. I wish I had started that earlier than been her main caregiver the first year, but she had health issues.), you might find that working at home is not viable.

A friend of mine renegotiated to work at home part of the week, with a home office and a nanny, when she realised during maternity leave that she would quit if she had to work fulltime again, and her office somewhat grumpily worked around that.

Both my husband and I work from home. When they are not mobile, it's pretty straight forward if you set boundaries with another caregiver present - you will work three hours and take a break to see baby, then go back to work etc. It's much easier with a home office space with a door that can be closed.

Once they're mobile and can find mummy, it gets way harder.

My advice would be to only take work with looooong deadlines for the first part, so that you can break it into smaller deadlines and have some flexibility when the baby is teething etc. to delay or get ahead.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:42 PM on April 27, 2014

As a young teen I used to babysit after school for a mother who worked from home. I'd occupy the kids' time from around 3 to 6, so that she could have some uninterrupted time to work. I don't remember what she paid me, but it was less than a nanny would charge, for sure. (However, the youngest kid was around 3 or 4 at the time.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:53 PM on April 27, 2014

Carefully, and with full disclosure to the people you're working with - it's a great way to filter out the workplaces that culturally suck, plus you can discuss situations that might happen up front.
posted by SakuraK at 12:02 AM on April 28, 2014

Don't plan on it. Babies are different.

The best thing to do in this scenario is keep a mental list of what to ditch so you can work. Then cut that activity out of your life ruthlessly and with no regrets if you need to. If cloth diapering means you don't have time to work, for example, be prepared to ditch it. Or maybe gardening is less important to you, or whatever.

I've worked for multiple mothers of small babies who attempted this. The mother who insisted on doing everything got nothing done, work-wise. Her roses are singular and she's an incredible cook, but those admirable achievements don't pay the bills. Now she's unexpectedly a single mother and missing dearly that year+ of work product, connections, and pay.

Single mothers are at a high risk of poverty for many reasons, but one is our willingness to prioritize everything but our financial health. However, our financial health is our baby's financial health! Our ability to leave a bad marriage is key to the well-being of our children. Don't underrate the importance of paid work.

Try this. How would you complete this sentence: "My financial well-being--apart from that of my husband--is more important than [activity]." Is it home cooking? Canning? Cloth diapering? Prepare to cut it out of your plans. If you can do it, great, but let go of any emotional attachment to it.

Tl;dr: don't give up your financial independence unless you absolutely have to. Independence equals stability for you and your baby.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:31 AM on April 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

When they are not mobile, it's pretty straight forward if you set boundaries with another caregiver present - you will work three hours and take a break to see baby, then go back to work etc. It's much easier with a home office space with a door that can be closed.

Something a friend warned me of, and I'm glad she did, was to keep in mind that you will be Mommy, and that your baby will prefer you, especially if you are breastfeeding, and that closing your door and your heart to your baby when you can hear them will be hard, especially early on. Take it from someone who got distressed by the sound of a newborn crying on last night's Game of Thrones. It's a skill that I haven't learned yet, thirteen weeks in, at least.

As for whether it's frivolous to work on other domestic projects, those early weeks are a time where, if you can, it's great to protect your sanity. For me, these things (which I had no time or energy for while pregnant) have been key to that. Balancing a baby, work, and life is HARD, and I wouldn't feel too guilty about maximizing your own happiness during this time.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:40 AM on April 28, 2014

Your Mileage May Definitely Vary.

Our baby was colicky. It was darn near impossible for me to focus on work from home even with my door closed while my wife was the full-time caretaker.

Don't make any decisions you can't take back until your life has settled into some semblance of routine... or failed to.
posted by rocketpup at 7:11 AM on April 28, 2014

Look, as someone who has seen past the first few months--take a long-term perspective when it comes to finances. That doesn't mean work 90 hour work weeks. It does mean that unless you have a trust fund (and a husband is not a trust fund), you absolutely cannot afford to put working last on you list of priorities. Yes, working can be stressful. Being out of work and unable to go back is also stressful. Having to ask your husband for money when you used to be independent is stressful. Having all your eggs in one career basket is stressful. Your husband developing stress-related health problems because his new boss hates him and having no options because he supports all of you is stressful.

Think long term. While you're still relatively well-slept and able to plan, think long term. And remember that you have economic value to your family beyond your unpaid labor.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:31 AM on April 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Wanted to chime in to say, since you can easily afford it, I would start with the assumption that you won't work at all for the first 6 months or so, and then after that pursue freelancing. Having a babysitter in the house while you are there working is a huge help, and then later when you are more trusting of them and/or more OK with it, you can go elsewhere, or have the baby in daycare. I can't imagine 6-12 months off to raise a newborn would impact your career significantly. It sounds like baby is the priority for you, and how fortunate that you have the resources to do this.
posted by ravioli at 11:02 AM on April 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I did this. Resumed freelancing from home after a couple months off. Found a project that was essentially full time and hired a nanny who stayed with the baby while I worked. (She cost a quarter of what I billed, so financially, it made sense). My son liked to nurse a LOT so I took a lot of breaks, which was ok with my client - I just billed them a bit less than 8 hours and they were happy.

A few random thoughts that you will hopefully find useful.

1. Point already made but worth repeating: you will get the baby you will get. Some get a laid back, chill baby, and others get an active, needy, loud baby. Mine was the latter and there was NO WAY he would have let me work while he just chilled on my lap. He was cool with me being close by and nursing and the nanny doing most of the holding and entertaining but someone had to be paying attention to him at all times.

2. Likewise, you will get the post-baby body you will get. Some people get baby blues, others get baby rainbows - I got the latter and had tons of energy, even though I subsisted on two hours of sleep most nights for 13 months straight, but I understand this to be unusual. Listen to your body and don't be afraid to nix your plan if you don't have the energy to work!

3. I LOVED going back to work. My husband was really supportive and our nanny was really great and my mom was super helpful and I still found the new mother experience incredibly isolating, not sure why. Getting back to work was a relief.

4. I also LOVED nursing so I would recommend against working and breastfeeding at the same time. Yes you can do it - but why ruin possibly the nicest thing about having a baby? Also, in order for the milk to start flowing, you have to relax, and at least for me, that feeling was very akin to, errr, being stoned. Not exactly work-conducive.

5. Again, this very personal, but I found it easy to nurse but nigh impossible to pump and I have since heard that it's quite common to have abundant milk for the baby but nothing for the pump. Just something to keep in mind if you get pressure to be available to come into the office for Important Meetings. (I personally got a lot of pressure).

6. Find a project where people have children, at least your direct manager. The childless simply can't relate, not through any fault of their own, they just inhabit an entirely different universe. Be clear from the get-go what your deal is and all will be well. Try to find a project through an agency/recruiter as they usually get the larger corporations where you will get less off-hours or otherwise odd requests.

7. Find a nanny that you like as a person. A baby doesn't require particularly skilled handling so just find someone that you vibe really well with. Our nanny had no qualifications beside a kind and sunny disposition and it made such a difference.

Good luck!
posted by rada at 11:43 AM on April 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older new tattoo and hair dye allergy test   |   I spy on I-5 a...bunch of orange bags Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.