How can two freelancers schedule in a baby?
August 18, 2008 10:59 PM   Subscribe

How do two self-employed people who work at home (writers) deal with having their first child?

So Funky Jr. is due in January, and Ms. F and I are wondering how in heaven's name we're going to keep our careers going when we both work at home.

We want to be equally and fully involved in raising the child, so we won't (and for financial reasons can't) just drop him/her off at daycare. One or both of us is (are?) going to have to start working outside the house, for reasons of concentration and space. (One of our offices will become baby central.) We already do about half our work in coffeeshops.

We're thinking about getting a nanny (or maybe daycare) a day or two a week, and splitting the rest of the hours. This will probably involve cutting back our working hours, but we're willing - and it'll probably make us work more efficiently anyway. We want to the baby to become a part of our lives, not the sole focus of them.

But the terrible freedom of freelancing is starting to make us antsy. We're wondering how exactly to go about dividing up the time: by days? Half days? Shifts? (7 a.m-1 p.m., 1-7 p.m.?) How can we make the line between home and work, already blurry as it is, more clear? How will we ever get enough quiet creative concentration time, let alone sleep?

Any advice would be great, but I'd especially love to hear from any dual-freelance couples out there...
posted by gottabefunky to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There was a great NY Times Magazine article on "equal parenting" a few months ago. It doesn't specifically address the freelance issue in a way that is entirely relevant, but it will definitely raise issues you'll need to consider. You may not be able to divide the time in the abstract - you're going to have to see how each of you is feeling after the baby arrives, and how your sleep disruptions and the baby's needs impact your work focus. You may find one of you is more productive at one time of day and the other at another, and your shifts will naturally divide along those lines. Or not, and you'll work that out then. Best of luck and congrats on the baby!
posted by judith at 11:51 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Congrats on the baby! You can probably stop worrying about sleep. You won't get any. The baby also won't abide by much of a schedule, at least to start with, so however you split it, one of you might end up with a peaceful few hours of cute baby snooze, while the next shift gets the Screaming Baby From Hell. You might even be best off just both squeezing work in when the baby is asleep, as he/she will mostly eat, sleep and poop, and not on your schedule.

I'm seconding organically deriving the schedule as it goes. Feel free to have a semi-plan to start with, but it will almost certainly need to be adapted to your individual needs. I would recommend not separating by duties, or at least give each other a chance of the good stuff - i.e. don't have one parent feed, and the other always do nappies for example.

The idea of having 'break' working times, for a few hours, such as at the local library or coffeeshop does make sense and will give you a chance to get work done, as long as you both get them. You'd be surprised how you can adapt to living and working round a baby and the disruptions though. You will manage it, and you will survive. You'll even get used to not having much sleep.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:23 AM on August 19, 2008

I work at home full time and the wife looks after our little one but I know what you mean about concetration. Our little one turns a year old on Friday (yay) and this is what we've learn't over that year.

As others have said sleep goes out the window. When the little one is first there they will sleep for decent periods but whilst they are sleeping you will want to be catching up as well. Don't think of getting any quiet time at home at all. There will either be crying, gurgling, puking or other bodily sounds that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

We send our daughter off to a child minders for two days a week so we can have a mental break, spend some time together as adults and allows the baby to interact with other children. You can't just have work+baby. You need couple time+work+baby though it took us a good 6 months to realize that and start redefining our selves as individuals rather than mummy and daddy.

Also you might find Mrs Funky decides that she wants to become a mum full time, it does happen, so prepare for that as well. Also try finding out in your local area of things for new parents so one of your can take Jr off there, the other stays at home and works with some sort of Rota.

Short version: When baby is there you won't be able to concentrate :) Also congrats
posted by rus at 2:57 AM on August 19, 2008

What I've learned as a work-at-home father is that a parent in the house is a parent on-call no matter what the arrangement. Also, your best laid plans are not going to be how it works out in the end, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't plan, in fact you should - it'll help deal with the stress before the event. You will find the available time you have to work decrease dramatically no matter what the arrangement, and that your efficiency when you do work will increase somewhat to meet the demands. Flexibility is important as it will preserve your sanity. Oh, and it will be all worth it :)
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:17 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agree that flexability is important or you'll go nuts. But I think sitting down and working out a loose schedule would work out well. Something like this: go with a 6 day work week. Make Saturday or Sunday (it can float, or course) "family day" where neither parent even tries to work. Plan a time at the beginning of the week to block out the week and what time obligations you have. Doctor's appointments, meetings, deadlines, etc. Then fill in the holes with uninterruptible concentration/work time.

So it would look like this. Mom has a meeting at 9am tuesday. That means Dad gets Monday morning for work, Mom gets Monday afternoon for work. Dad is "on call" for Monday night feedings and morning child care. Mom returns at noon, everyone eats lunch together and then Dad gets 1-6 for work time. Mom is "on call" that night and then gets Weds morning for work.
posted by gjc at 7:04 AM on August 19, 2008

You can probably stop worrying about sleep. You won't get any. I hate that comment. Many people make it, but it isn't always true: not for some families at all, not for some families on all days, and not for some people in those families throughout the day. Our sleep suffered some days but not others and the baby's sleep patterns were both partially controllable and partially predictable.

What people are really saying when they say that about sleep is that how you allocate your time—how you manage all the things you have to do, like sleep—is out of whack at first until you get used to everything that comes with having a new baby. You'll have about half the time to do the things you want to do and you'll be able to do those things about half as well as you would like.

It gets worse as they get older, too, not better. The more engaged a child is in the world the more they need attention. You'll spend more time with them, not less, at least (so I'm told) until the child is 4 or 5 and can find a way to occupy himself without having to have someone else involved.

You are likely going to willingly give up pipe dreams, half-finished career fantasies, much of your entertainment, a lot of your hanging out with other friends and family, and a lot of the time you might have had on your own. You probably won't mind, because you'll *choose* to give most of these things up because you'll realize how frivolous, useless, or non-rewarding they are (especially if "freelancing" sometimes means that you spend some days mostly chatting, web surfing, and doing not much). You'll probably try to manage your time better: go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time, and stop the pissing around that consumes so much time.

So, what we did:

At first, Mama took care of the baby and Papa worked in the home office. This worked well. Papa came in to spell Mama whenever he could.

Later, we hired a half-time nanny (read: babysitter, not a live-in person who is a stand-in mama) so Mama could work in the home office, too. This worked well, too, though Mama did not use her time wisely and squandered most of nine months when she might have been finishing her dissertation.

Now, we have fulltime away daycare so that Mama can work a fulltime job outside the house and Papa can work in the home office and the away office. This also works well, but it means that our time with our boy is even further limited than it was, so when he's awake, we try to make sure we're all together as a family. Mama and Papa try not to slip off for a little web browsing, though Papa is involved in two start-ups, equalling about two full-time jobs and has work to do on the weekends.

See the comments in this thread for more ideas and more about my particular situation.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:16 AM on August 19, 2008

One of the great things about freelancing is the ability to time-shift one's work. Perhaps you can organize your "work time" to coincide with the other's parent-on-duty time? No matter how you slice it, it's not going to be easy. But, you actually have it easier than a lot of people in some respects. Use your flexibility for all it's worth. It may not be convenient much of the time, but it's an advantage over people stuck in an office job.
posted by Citrus at 7:48 AM on August 19, 2008

I've been working from home the past three years and while my children were/are not babies, it has been difficult at times, but very rewarding.

As mentioned - you will always be "on-call". Even when day-care, pre-school and/or school kicks in, be aware that there may be emergencies that blow your planned schedule.

Basically - the key thing I've learned is to be completely flexible. Sometimes that means doing very little work during the day, grabbing my littlest one and heading to the park/waterpark/zoo/science center and catching up in the evening. Or... packing my cellphone and laptop and working "wherever".

But - consider this a "gift". You get to see your child, to participate every day - watch them grow, laugh, etc.

Oh yeah, the other key to successful concentration with little ones running around is: headphones, good ones... preferably noise cancelling... And, when they are older, recorded books and headphones for them ;-)

The first 6-12 months will be the hardest, it gets "different" from there.
posted by jkaczor at 9:15 AM on August 19, 2008

>We want to the baby to become a part of our lives, not the sole focus of them.

Good luck with that. Father of two here. From 0-4 months you're on the baby's schedule, not the other way round. After that point, particularly if the baby can sleep through the night, life gets easier.

Are you planning to breastfeed or formula feed or both? This one decision will have a huge impact on your scheduling decisions. Even if you plan to breastfeed + pump bottles.
posted by dudeman at 10:14 AM on August 19, 2008 gets "different" from there.

So true, jkaczor. So true. Just wait until diaper changes shift to soccer practice, ballet lessons, and piano lessons. ;-)
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:15 AM on August 19, 2008

We want to the baby to become a part of our lives, not the sole focus of them.

This is not entirely realistic. Jr. will be teeny tiny and new in this world and completely dependent on you.

Yes, you will do things besides caring for baby, but you do need to be prepared and willing to meet baby's needs on baby's schedule.

Might I suggest a mother's/father's helper, instead of a nanny or daycare? Someone can come over, do baby's laundry, maybe cook a meal for you and feed baby, for a few hours every day? That might be easier to swing financially. A student could do it.

It would also allow for more flexibility than a nanny one day a week.

I know that in NYC you can rent desks in existing offices, maybe there would be something similar in Portland?

Best of luck, and congrats.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2008

I don't know how well shifts/splitting days will work. Pumping is craptacular. If your wife is nursing and your wife is at home, then she may well want to nurse every 2-3 hours as needed and dump the pump. She certainly needs to do nurse on demand for at least 6-8 weeks to establish and regulate supply before integrating bottle feeding and pumping. You might find that an all-day "pass the baby" festival while you work in chunks will work best for you.

Of course, she may want to pump and work uninterrupted for a while. This is fine. However, you probably won't make a final decision on feeding until your kid arrives and you see how it goes. Just play it by ear, you'll figure out what to do.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:49 AM on August 19, 2008

I was a full time at-home worker when my daughter was born. My wife worked full time (out of the house) before then, and part time (also out of the house) after. For the first six months I took the baby two days a week and worked on weekends, my wife took her the other 5 days and worked a couple evenings. This was... difficult. We never got any family time, because I was either alone with my daughter or working, and to be perfectly honest, caring for babies does not really light up my world. I know it's supposed to and all, but for me, not so much.

At 6 months we started her in daycare three days a week (when my wife was working) and everyone was at home the rest of the time. This was better, since we all got to see each other sometimes, but around one year it starts to get very hard to work with the kid around.

Finally, I gave up on working at home when I found that a friend was looking for an officemate to share his studio. So now I have an office outside the house that I go to 3-4 days a week, and where I get the majority of my actual work done. I actually lost my home office (it's a playroom now) so at home I have a desk in the corner of the bedroom that I use on days when both kids (yeah, there's two now) are out of the house for most of the day, or it's rainy or snowy or I'm just too lazy to go into town.

My lessons learned:

* Unless you have some serious separation between the living and working areas of your house (multiple doors, soundproofing, locks, long trails through the woods, or suchlike) it only gets harder to work at home as the kids get older. Finding a place outside the house to work can be a lifesaver.

* Don't be afraid to change the plan after you've tried it. You are not required to love being a child-care provider (or to love working, for that matter). Equality is a noble goal, but for some couples splitting up work and child care makes everyone a lot happier. Forget about principles and go with what works.
posted by rusty at 11:04 AM on August 19, 2008

Get office space away from your house. Seriously. A small child is the ultimate distraction. I was completely unable to get any work done at home with our daughter there. When I found a stable space I could go to every day (a desk in a shared office) my productivity was back to its previous levels within a week.
posted by Hogshead at 11:26 AM on August 19, 2008

Excellent idea to have a separate office you can go to; it's hard enough to feel professional working at home without an infant under foot. If you really control your own work hours, I think, at least for the first year, you can probably arrange shifts: one person at the office, one in charge of the baby. You could hire a nanny for a few hours per week (maybe two half days) if you can afford it, but having a nanny taking care of your child in your house while you're there is not going to solve your problem. Once that child is moving around, you are not going to be able to work in the house until s/he's in school. If you are there, the child will default to you no matter how great your nanny is. Get a separate office, start working in the nanny.

When you think about it, this is just short term-- in four years your child will be in school and everything will get easier. It's really great being able to spend your child's infancy and toddlerhood with them, I don't care what anyone says about the pros and cons of daycare. Being with your little one is beyond great, and if you can do it, you should.
posted by nax at 4:14 PM on August 19, 2008

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