I don’t know how to say this any better than how I put it in the title. When I tell people that I work at home, I so frequently get people remarking how great it is that I get to spend so much time with my son. It is great, but if it were just him and I, all the time, I would get very few things get done. My hardest lesson to learn over the past two years – that I can’t emphasize enough – is how important it is to have some sort of childcare arrangement worked out if you plan on working for yourself or working at home.
I learned this the hard way. When I started consulting, my son wasn’t in the picture. By the time he came around, two years later, I had enough of a groove going that I kind of mooshed him into my work day. With all the naïve certainty that a new parent can have, I was positive that I could manage it all as he grew.
For a while, it worked. My schedule was cobbled together with glue sticks and duct tape, but it worked. Meetings were difficult, but most of my clients were very understanding when it came to giving me enough of a window to find childcare. There were a few clients who so wanted me with them for meetings that, when I couldn’t get a sitter, would let me bring him in his little sling, and he slept while we talked marketing strategy. I know, I was very lucky.
Two things happened in the last two years that changed my outlook – I got more clients and he got bigger. Looking back now, I can honestly say I was crazy. And stupid. Maybe stupid-crazy. Once he started walking, I had more difficulty managing, and I slowly brought in help. First, my mom started coming to watch him two days a week. When that wasn’t enough, I worked out a deal with my husband that he would watch him on Saturdays and Sundays for 5 hours so I could cram some more work in. I would do a lot of work at night.
Everyone tried very hard, but I’ll tell you – trying to get work done with limited coverage time during the week is difficult. In addition to that, I totally ignored my personal life – I had no time for writing, creative pursuits, and other things (like sleep) that allow me enjoy life rather than plod through it. Everything came to a head this February when I realized that I needed a more formal arrangement, so I brought in a babysitter to cover two days a week while my mom covers another two days a week. Fridays are my day for him.
Despite the help, I’m still navigating my way. My son often creeps into my work time, while my work time creeps into the time when I don’t have childcare. I never have enough time to get everything I want to get done, done (and that is another post entirely). At the same time, I try to be more aware of what I’m doing when we’re alone – just the two of us. It would be unfair if I didn’t admit that last Friday, I had some things I REALLY needed to get out the door, so I popped in Bob the Builder for a few hours. It would also be unfair to him if that was his life – having mom half in, half out of his day while she attended to something on the laptop. My goal is to work when I have childcare and pay attention to him when I don’t.
It’s a process, trying to figu re out how much coverage you need, but in the end it lets you provide some much-needed fences up between your work life and your home life that can be so hard to find when you work on your own.
When you move into the workforce, you get told that you should have a back up plan. Like a literal one – backing up your files, having some money stashed away in case you lose your job, having a sitter you can call in case your childcare cancels on you. These are things that you probably have thought about – or maybe the fact that you haven’t thought about them makes you want to hid under your covers or eat an entire block of cheese.
I have always been the person that cries to herself under the covers at night (with cheese in hand) rather than someone who has “Plan B” well thought out or written in stone. I have vague ideas of “what would happen if…” but I’ve begun to believe that most of them (except for the very practical ones involving computer backups or childcare options) are just wishful thinking. The practical things have mostly been helped along by my husband - he’s been my saftey net and my partner in crime and the guy who lets me breathe a little bit easier when I’ve had to make up a Plan B out of whole cloth.
For me, the backup plan became my life.
Four years ago – this month – I decided to leave my job of six years, and do something new. The job I took right out of the gate wasn’t a fit, and I started consulting. My consulting work led to a job, which, while wasn’t the best fit – was comfortable. I floated into a existence that was working out. Then, I was laid off.
For the first ten years of my career, had you asked “What’s the worst thing that could happen to you?” I would have answered “Losing my job.” It was the absolute worst thing I could think of (and no, I didn’t have kids and my parents were relatively healthy, as was I – I can imagine many, more tangible, “worst things” now). This is partly due to being a single woman who did NOT want to move back with her parents, and partly due to being in my 20s and having actually no idea what I wanted to do with my life, being single and somewhat defined by what I did all day long.
When I lost my job – the worst had happened. Except…it hadn’t. My old boss asked me to do some consulting work for them, and since I was 17 months pregnant, I figured I’d do that for a few months, until I had my son and things got back to normal. While I was doing the “et things get back to normal” thing, I got another client, and then another…and then another, until I was consulting as full time as I was able to with a new kid. My backup plan became the new normal.
Because I’ve been doing “Plan B” for more than two years now, I’ve started thinking that I needed to come up with another backup plan. Truth is, I don’t have one. I’m not sure I’ll create that “what next?” until the need for a what next happens. Do I lack that practical gene that lets me think through this stuff until it happens – or, do I? Do you have a backup plan? What’s Plan B for you?
Tell me I’m not the only one.