Office parenting
January 19, 2006 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Parents with home-based businesses -- how do you do it?

I've been a home-based, self-employed consultant for many years. I've got a toddler now and I'm starting to ramp up my business again. I'm wondering how other self-employed parents work from home with a toddler at their feet. I'm not planning to work a lot of hours. I can schedule the work during naptime or in the evening. I can do a little bit of work when my toddler is awake, but childcare is the primary focus at that time. The biggest things for me are how to handle new clients who want to meet in person and unscheduled phone calls. I'm not really in a position to go to a meeting for more than an hour, given my childcare arrangements. And I typically only do phone calls during nap time -- but there's the risk my toddler will be in the background.

Hiring someone to do childcare is not an option right now.

Any tips on how to handle this? What works for you and other people you know?
posted by acoutu to Work & Money (6 answers total)
I haven't done nearly as much work as I thought I'd have been doing, but when I do bother, what helps me (other than Noggin and Tivo, which I strongly recommend for the unscheduled stuff) is swapping childcare with friends. I do this at least once a week, more when my older child isn't in school, whether I need it or not.

It does mean a few hours a week with an extra kid or two, but they all keep each other busy and really, on that day, I am just making sure nobody dies and handing out string cheese. And on my day of freedom, I get an absolutely amazing amount done, and the kids are with their friends and a trusted adult.

I've done this as a swap with one other parent, and as a tag team, where another parent and I wrangle our kids plus the children of two other parents, who will watch all the kids on another day.

Also: it gets easier. My kids are 3 years old and 19 months old now, and they're getting better and better at occupying themselves, without needing my constant input. Sometimes I do have to break out a fancy toy or art project that they don't normally have access to, but for the most part I can say "Hey, go play in the bedroom" and I'll have bought myself a half hour or so.
posted by padraigin at 10:14 PM on January 19, 2006

sometimes the 11-4 trick (pm to am) works for me when deadlines are on. With daytime and kids bedtime naps ...
posted by singingfish at 5:43 AM on January 20, 2006

My aunt and uncle raised three kids while having a home-based business (both of them work at home). The only way they could do it is by hiring someone to watch the kids. When their kids got older and started school, it became much easier for them.
posted by elisabeth r at 7:48 AM on January 20, 2006

To avoid unscheduled phone calls, I just never answered the phone. Most of the time, I returned the calls within 5 minutes, once I got the kid settled, so I never seemed "unavailable." I also try to do as much by e-mail as possible.

I used to work really hard to make sure that no one knew I was working from home with a kid. Then I interviewed a woman who proudly stated that she had built her multi-million dollar company "with a baby on my hip." It made me realize how much energy I was devoting to "hiding" her. Now, on those occasions when childcare is impossible, I tell the person I'm talking to upfront, "I've got about 30 minutes until my 4yo's attention span runs out, and I apologize if we're interrupted for juice box requests." Most of the people I talk to have been parents at one time, so they understand.

Even before she could really understand what I was saying, I'd set her down and say, "Mommy has to do some work. I'll be done in a little bit, then we can play." She grew up understanding that I don't go to an office (like Daddy does) especially so I can be with her and that her cooperation was important. She's actually quite good about it and even asks, "Did you have a good interview?" when I get off the phone.
posted by jrossi4r at 7:52 AM on January 20, 2006

1. Find a neighbor/friend whose parenting style you like and see if you can set up babysitting trade.
2. Give your toddler activities that allow you to work. I'm a designer, and I will give my son home-made play-doh, markers and paper, paint and paper, etc. while I work -- I'll use my laptop and work at the table with him. Line up several activies and have them set up beforehand so you can move rapidly from one the next.
3. Wake before your child, and work. Work during naptime, and after bedtime.
4. Don't try to work for hours at a time. Instead, work in 30 minute bursts, and then spend 20-30 minutes giving your child your undivided attention. Kids will be naughty if they know it's the only way of getting your attention.
5. Try to create a work space that allows you to interact with your child, while at the same time ensuring that your child can't get at fragile/important papers, equipment, etc.
6. If you have to take a phone call while taking care of your child, most people don't mind. It depends on your business, but my clients tend to find my interactions with my son while I'm on the phone charming. Make sure you have "phone rules" that are consistently enforced, and make sure that if you know a call is coming to spend undivided time with the child immediately before and after the call. If you can't anticipate the call, then explain to your child that you're on the phone and promise to do something with him/her immediately after.

My wife works evenings (2nd shift) so my schedule looks like this:

6AM - 12PM: Work; meetings, phone calls, etc. Except for Teusdays/Thursdays, when I watch the neighbor's kid for 2.5 hours. In exchange, I can usually drop my son off if I have an evening meeting.
12PM - 2PM lunch, and Daddy time.
2PMish to 5PMish -- naptime/work
5PM - 9PM dinnner, Daddy time, household chores.

If your child is under 3, avoid TV except in small (20-30min) doses, only a few times a week. Studies have shown that kids who watch little to no TV before age 3 do better in school. (After 3, the same studies actually reccomend TV -- but again, 1 or fewer hours a day.)
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:58 AM on January 20, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I should have said "external childcare is not an option", rather than just "hiring". My son and I aren't ready for that yet. But I think the kid swapping thing is a good longer term objective.

I'm not planning to let my son watch TV or videos until he goes to kindergarten, so no worries there, eustaces.

The tips on managing calls are great. Perhaps I'm assuming my clients will be upset that I have a child when that may not be the case. I suppose it's just that, even after 8 years, a few people always think consulting is a cover for unemployment and I don't want them to think it is now a cover for being a SAHM. But I generally don't like those people as clients anyway and I can afford to be choosy now!
posted by acoutu at 11:35 AM on January 20, 2006

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