I’m a member of a large local Facebook mom group – a really big one with upwards of 20,000 members. Every single time I scan the group board, I find a post asking about work-from-home job opportunities, usually because the mom posting either wants more time with her child, or needs to cut her childcare expenses.
These posts always make me sad, for three separate reasons. First, they hammer home how the 24/7 always-on culture of work in America continues to drive women (like me!) out of the traditional corporate workforce.
Second, the comments to these posts usually contain about ten different suggestions for joining multi-level marketing organizations. While MLMs can be fantastic business opportunities for some people, the majority of women working for them do not make significant money. The women who do pull in real income are usually working at least forty hours a week.
Third, working from home probably won’t significantly cut childcare expenses. (Please don’t shoot the messenger. I hate typing this, but it’s unfortunately the truth.) I’ve been working at least partially from a home office for three years now, and I still require daycare for my infant and a part-time after-school nanny for my big kids. I did a straw poll of my other work-at-home friends, and they all have formal childcare in place, every single one of them. Here are some anecdotal reasons why:
- Not to state the obvious, but babies and toddlers require constant care. My third child is an amazing napper, and when I first went back to work after maternity leave I thought I could get by working from home one day a week without daycare. Ha, ha, ha NOPE. Literally the first day I tried to make this work, I scheduled a conference call during the time she always takes a solid one-hour nap. Except for this day, of course, when she woke up fifteen minutes into my call and began to howl. It was an excruciating experience. I had to try to focus on the call for an additional thirty minutes (rescheduling was just not an option on this one) while she cried her heart out in the other room. I have never felt like a worse mother. Ever.
- While big kids don’t need the same level of constant care, they’re going to need help at a moment that is inconvenient for you. My friend Cindy reported attempting to work from home with her school-aged children one day when her nanny called in sick. In order to take a videoconference, she set them up on iPads with strict instructions not to interrupt her unless it was an emergency. Five minutes in, an “emergency” struck in the form of one of the iPads running out of battery. Cindy had a very angry six-year-old demanding she fix the iPad while five of her coworkers awkwardly looked on over videoconference.
- Even one-offs can be difficult. My friend Amy is an attorney and has two young children. She once attempted to work from home on one of those random days where school is cancelled; she had a big pleading that needed to be filed by the end of the business day. She pre-planned the whole thing beautifully and had a series of crafts, activities, books, and toys laid out for her kids that she figured would buy her four or five hours to work. Nope. The kids blew through every single thing she had planned in under an hour. Netflix bought her another hour. After that it was chaos and begging her neighbor to watch them for an hour so she could finish her document, which she barely managed to file in time. She told me it was one of the most harrowing days of her career.
- A flexible schedule can be a great thing, but unfortunately it doesn’t mean you can make it work without childcare. My friend Linda is a realtor, and because her schedule is so flexible she briefly tried to get by with no formal help. It was a disaster. For weeks she had to drag her boys across town to show houses late in the evening – like 7:00 and 8:00 pm – and even had to bring them with her to an open house for four hours on a Sunday. She felt incredibly unprofessional, her kids were miserable, and she almost lost a client over it. Long story short: she employs a nanny now.
Here’s the unvarnished truth: a job that allows you to earn a significant income is almost certainly going to demand a significant amount of your time and undivided attention. You simply cannot give that kind of time and attention if you are also caring for your children. It is such a tempting, tantalizing idea to work from home without childcare…but for almost everyone I know, it’s unrealistic.
Working from home has some real and significant advantages, and it can allow for some minor savings. For example, I was able to cut down my nanny’s hours a bit because I dropped a 45-minute commute to the office. But in terms of being able to stop using a nanny or daycare completely…I personally don’t know anyone who’s managed that trick.
OK friends, enough truth from me for one day. I promise a more cheerful post on Thursday!