Make it Work Monday: Get the Help You Need

Here’s #1 in my mostly-weekly series on how to Make it Work as a Work-at-Home-Parent. For more helpful tips, join my private Facebook group or sign up for a monthly newsletter.

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We all get caught in that work at home parent cycle:

You need money to hire a babysitter so you can work, but you need to work to get the money to hire a babysitter. 

Even after you stop eating out or postpone a student loan payment to meet a deadline, it's still hard to prioritize buying yourself time

Once you determine which tasks from your job need the private time (and during nap time is not always enough), then finding the help you need must be a priority. Here are ways to set yourself up for success, even if you're not lucky enough to have a relative who watches your children for free. 

Free (except for your time)

  • PARENT SWAP. When you really need to focus on that conference call without pouring Cheerios, find another parent and swap an hour or two at a time. This is easier if you set a regular day and time rather than try to schedule it from scratch every time. I also don't suggest leaving it open ended, as in "Let me know whenever you need a minute." How often have you called people on their genuine offers to help? Each time I do it, I feel badly that I'm imposing, yet anytime I could help another parent, I was happy to do it - and so were they.

  • CO-OP GROUP. I was part of a co-op for the fall and winter when my youngest turned two. Between six parents, we each took a day (sometimes doubling up) to watch the group of five toddlers. I had Friday, and in exchange I could drop off my child Monday-Thursday during school hours. There are a few ground rules and ways that you must feel comfortable with all parents involved in order for a co-op situation to work. Like all relationships, open communication is key; my group used a Slack channel. And sure, we had some days when we had to cancel or scramble to rearrange, but overall it went smoothly.

Lower cost

  • NANNY SHARE. Lots of families use nanny shares when they can't afford the going rate but come close. It's also a great way to keep your wonderful nanny booked during the times you may not need them. We had a fantastic part time babysitter who was always double booked, and those kids she watched with ours became their first friends. Bonus if your comfortable with the sitter taking them on outings so you don't have to cower in the corner of your bedroom with your laptop.

  • IN HOME DAY CARES. I hesitate to give too much advice here because I personally only used an unlicensed in home daycare a few times when I first moved to a new city. Many people love their in home day cares, however. You want to make sure they agree to a background check (you should cover the cost) and I always ask to talk to parents who use them. Get a tour of their home and ask all the safety questions. Don't be afraid to try locks for yourself and see how easy they are to manipulate. Above all, go with your gut. I stopped short from leaving my child with someone once because I didn't like how her spouse watched the kids play. You can't work if you're worried.

  • STUDENT TO PLAY WHILE YOU WORK. Most students are thrilled for much less an hour than a regular babysitter. Find them, give them a (paid) trial playtime, make snacks ahead of time and be sure that you have a closed door but access via text. As always, expectations breed success. I just made it clear that I didn't want them watching tv, or gave them a limit if I was working a full day with their help.

Investment in your work and their play

  • REGULAR BABYSITTER/NANNY. Once I felt in control of my time and arranged meetings and deadlines to occur on the same two days every week, I booked a babysitter for those times. I lost money the first few weeks but felt much better. By the second month, I wasn't constantly catching up, and  the extra work I could take balanced out the babysitter fee. More importantly, I knew my kids were getting a fun time with someone focused on them, and I could give my work, and thus myself, my all to feel fulfilled and competent. It took me a while to see how much more important that was than making a profit on my work for a month, even as bills waited in the wings.

  • SCHOOL. I once accepted a gig because they offered it to me while I was filling out paperwork for preschool. It took me a month to understand how to properly use my commute time and not feel encumbered by the extra responsibilities this brought, but ultimately I got more organized for it. And trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve used the Starbucks across the street from school as an office.

Choosing childcare providers may be the most important decision you can make. It's hard to believe that it's worth the money when you're piecing together gigs or barely scraping by. Give it consistency for a couple of months, and I bet the quality of your work will greatly improve.

Now to find time for a haircut…..