Consulting vs full-time work as the parent of a toddler?
August 24, 2017 1:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm still struggling with how to balance work and home as the parent of a toddler. An update on my options is inside -- I could move ahead with a full-time job or become a consultant. It's a nice problem to have, I realize -- but what do you do when you can't figure out how to move forward, when your emotions keep vacillating even after lots of thinking, getting advice, and talking with your significant other? I simply can't figure out what to do, and I'm way past the deadline to make a decision.

Here's the summary of that previous question: I got a new job with certain benefits but that would be a moderate increase in hours, especially in the near-term. Then I started to keenly feel the pain of being apart from our 18 month old during the day and to remember the painful memories of going back to work the first time when he was a baby.

After that question, I eventually talked to my current job about staying instead. They said that they had basically filled my job but could give me a significant project to do as a consultant for at least six months, with possibly more to come. I then learned that someone else is looking for a consultant as well. It seems likely that I could fill my plate, at least initially. I feel a lot of relief about all of this.

But then, I find myself starting to worry "what's the next gig?" and "what's the one after that?" I have been doing a LOT of budgeting. In summary, we can meet our basic needs for one year off of what my current job would guarantee (working six months at part-time) -- which is about half of what I'd make at the new job. If that second possibility came in, that would be great -- I'd sock that away until I saved up that same "basic needs" budget for Year 2, as we'd like to have a second kid so I really might only be working six months in Y2.

But this is a lot of planning and saving, just to live on a very modest budget. And if more jobs will appear, great, we could live beyond just our basic needs, but to live at that level into Y2, I basically have to save $3 for every $1 I might want to spend in the first six months. We would really like to move into a house, and I'd have to save significantly more to feel confident that we could make that mortgage payment in future years. The entrepreneurial half of me gets excited, but it's clear that I'll have to do a lot of work to build up a financial cushion.

I start to see how much planning and hustling and saving would go into just ensuring that our basic needs will be covered -- into ensuring that I'll consistently make half of what I make now. I also see that it's probably a reasonably best-case scenario for me to maintain enough projects to average out at the same level as I'd make at the new gig. Then it sinks in that the new job is not just a steady job without having to hustle, but also a pension (!!), vacation time, and the peace of just being able to let a supervisor know that I'll be out on maternity leave. And that sounds SO MUCH SMARTER. It makes me feel peaceful, like we have good long-term family stability. I imagine us happily living as a family in our new home, for years to come, having many three-day camping weekends and vacations without any worry about what will be the next gig. So I resolve to move forward with the job.

Then I come to the office (my old job, which I'm leaving) and feel SO SAD about saying goodbye to the little one for the work day. I just want to cry at my desk. Somehow, signing up for that job feels like I'm letting people forcibly hold me in an office while he grows up in a blink of an eye. I'm not sure why -- it's not like the consulting route will let me spend my days in the park with him! The time I do spend with him, I might even be more distracted by the hustle! -- but having that control over my schedule as a consultant sounds so much better.

So, I'd love input on the question itself. But also, how do I make a decision here? I've had moments of deeply feeling like either option might be right. The consulting option feels "more right" in the short term, but in the long-term, I feel much more comfort around taking the full-time job. I have repeatedly analyzed it, concluded to keep moving forward with the full-time job, and then within about 24 hours, had that resolve crumble. Do I chalk that up to cold feet and fear of the transition? It might well be. Or do I say "obviously there's something in my heart that doesn't feel right about this option, so I fundamentally can't take it?" There's something big emotional there, some sort of baggage that is deeper than just "at which desk will I be sitting at 9:10 AM two months from now?" But despite thinking, meditating, at therapy, and everything else, that well of tears is still so easy to tap into. (Hormones? We are still nursing.) I fear pushing forward, having it still feel wrong, and having to quit after the consulting option is no longer available.

What do others think? My husband sees the situation very similarly. (He likes the idea of stability but also respects that important emotions are at play here.) My therapist says that she thinks my priority is being with the baby. My mom, too, points out how fast babies grow up. And sure, if all I was thinking of was the next six months, it feels more "right" to just do consulting. But also, we really do want to be building a secure home for the family for the long term, so shouldn't I make a decision that takes into account the three-year picture and not just the immediate future?
posted by slidell to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't have to be a forever decision. How hard is it to find a job in your line of work? If you let this one pass, you can expect to another one within, say 6 months of starting a serious search. If so, take the consulting gig, see where it leads. If you don't like it after living with it, then you can look for a new job. Yes, there might be some stress but there is also much joy.

In the meanwhile, you can also use some of the time freed up by the part-time consulting to work on lowering your family's monthly expenses so you have more flexibility and less financial stress moving forward.
posted by metahawk at 1:11 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some considerations:

- one issue I found freelancing was childcare - if I had contracts close together, I was fine, but if there was a gap I ended up paying for childcare without income OR losing our spot/nanny, which was not helpful to me.

- does the contract truly give you tons more flexibility in terms of working hours or is it going to result in a juggling act where your deadlines and availability are harder because you're always at example is that I actually decided to go back to work in an office the day I was doing an interview in the changeroom at Sears because of a last-minute switch, tossing crackers at my son, who was also picking staples up off the floor and putting them in his mouth. This was just me but that was how it worked. I wonder if consulting sounds better in part because you don't know what it is?

- that said, I think if I had been able to CALM DOWN, freelancing would have worked out better for me. I couldn't, I was very distressed about financial stability and felt like I had to take every contract and answer every call and never say no.

- it is hard to be apart from your child. I wonder if you could work your NEW job so that you stay late one day, leave early one day, so that you get a nice chunk of afternoon/evening time every week for that dream time in the park. If so you might be able to achieve both and your partner could get one evening of "very special baby time."

- babies do grow up fast but quite honestly as my eldest hits middle school, he needs A Parent more whereas before his problems were ones any caring adult could manage so...things change a lot over time and you will find your way but the idea that babies grow up fast is true, but that you get the child's whole childhood is equally true.

- agreed that you can take a contract now and get a FT job later too. Whichever option you take you will still have choices.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:35 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your questions tug my heart and I want to solve them for you! It sounds like you've really analyzed both options that work presents you, and the resulting options that you'd have at home. Have you also really looked at the "we would really like to move into a house" piece? How firm is that goal, how important is the timing of that goal, and will it really impact your day-to-day happiness in the same way that work/family does?

I was a full-time parent, and I have to tell you, the time passes in a blink of an eye anyway. I was in that fountain every day. Every diaper, every bath, every nap, every meal... I keep a daily diary and took photos every day too, and tried to be mindful and absorb the moments into myself, to hold onto them -- and it's all still time behind us. The time just goes. Whether you're at work 9-5 or with the children from 9-5, the moments are all lost to time in the end.
posted by xo at 2:22 PM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

In your position, I would try to look for a job you can do from home, which you don't mention as a possibility at all in your question. If you still have that other job offer, I'd ask if that would be an option. They might not be interested, but you'll never know if you don't ask and, if they really like you, they may be more willing than you think. I don't know what kind of work you do, but I think most jobs can be done remotely these days. If you live in the area, being available to come into the office on a limited basis when needed might make them more comfortable with it.

I have worked from home for the past three years in two separate jobs. With the first job, I worked in the office for about a year and then asked about telecommuting since other people in the company did it sometimes. They approved it and I moved out of the area and worked 100% remotely. I was a manager, but I managed my staff over email, chat and phone calls. My second job, during the hiring process, they said I could move to be there for the job but it wasn't necessary if I didn't want to, so I chose to work remotely. I've never once met any of my co-workers in person. I can say being in an office wouldn't have made me do my job any better, and in fact I find working in an office is distracting and kind of annoying.

Otherwise, you could do the consultant job as a means of putting off a decision or giving you time to search for a job where telecommuting is an option.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:42 PM on August 24, 2017

When you are a freelancer or a consultant, you often have to do 2 hours work for every 1 you bill, at first. (Later you get to bill 2 of every 3.) So consider that to bill X hours for $Y money, you may well be looking at doing 2X work, and the schedule might not be as attractive as you hope.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:07 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

QFT: " - babies do grow up fast but quite honestly as my eldest hits middle school, he needs A Parent more whereas before his problems were ones any caring adult could manage so...things change a lot over time and you will find your way but the idea that babies grow up fast is true, but that you get the child's whole childhood is equally true. "

I cannot overemphasize how true this is. Small children are just fine under the care of a sitter, nanny, or daycare worker. But as they grow up they need much great emotional support and dedication to help them work through all of the things that life throws at us.

When my kiddo was little, he was in childcare more than I was physically working. I could take the bus to work. I often picked up him when it was dark. I didn't love it, but he was fine. Now in the elementary school years, I find that I am done at 2 or 3 far more often than I'd like, but there are so many needs to be meet and kiddo does not like being at aftercare after a long day at school.
posted by k8t at 3:30 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Does your husband have medical/dental benefits that cover the family? If necessary, can you live on his income for some period of time? Is his job relatively stable? These were the things I considered most when I was making this decision.

I took one year parental leave, then worked full-time for the next two years before switching to freelance/consulting. I'm currently working about 25 hours per week and net about 10% more than I did working full time. There were a few lean months along the way, but my spouse was able and willing to fill in the gaps. I don't know what field you're in, but for me (tech comms) as I build a good reputation as a consultant, more work is coming my way and I'm able to better negotiate scheduling and work location.

Remember that whichever decision you make doesn't have be permanent. There will other full-time jobs. There will be other consulting opportunities. And neither decision is going to damage your kid.
posted by subluxor at 4:08 PM on August 24, 2017

Thanks to all of you for your input. I really have gained a lot by reflecting on how kids need their parents at every stage of life and that this decision is not permanent. The other advice has been really helpful as well. Thank you.
posted by slidell at 9:59 PM on August 28, 2017

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