When I quit my full-time, in-the-office job to work at home as a freelance writer, I envisioned peaceful mornings spent sipping coffee in my home office while my two children slept in until long after the sun rose. What I got instead was a pair of children who wake up before the sun, a home office that’s really just a desk in the corner of our family room, and coffee spilled all over my jeans – that is, if I can make it out of my pajamas before noon.

Being a working mom is a challenge in and of itself, but being a work-at-home mom ups the ante. Not only does society – including my own husband – expect me to earn a living, it also expects me to do so while caring for my children and tending to my house. Instead of having one part-time job, I’ve instead found myself with three full-time jobs. The result is far more work than I ever had during my old days as a traditional working mother.

That’s why I’m contemplating whether or not to do something I haven’t done – haven’t needed to do – in almost a year and a half: hire a nanny.

Our Old Childcare Situation

Back when I was working out of the house, my husband and I depended on a nanny to watch our then-only child. That nanny, a woman my mother’s age, and her husband became like a third set of grandparents to our daughter; in short, they were a Godsend. When I quit my job, I also had to lay off our nanny, although (blessedly) she’s remained a part of our “family unit” in other ways. While I knew I’d still be working 10-15 hours a week from home, I also knew I wouldn’t have the assets to be able to pay a nanny – even one who’d become a family friend – the going rate.

And just what is the going rate?

That depends entirely on where you live. In North Carolina, I consider myself rather lucky. Top-notch childcare centers in my area are priced around $175-$200 a week for infants; some are even lower for toddlers and preschool-age children. My mother in Ohio, meanwhile, reports that comparable situations there start at $250-$300 a week; a friend of mine in the D.C. area pays over $400 a week.

Because my husband’s work schedule – then and now – gives him several weekdays off, we needed a flexible childcare situation and offered to hire a nanny for $40 a day. Additionally, we paid her even when one of us took a sick day (it wasn’t her fault we’d called in sick), and gave her paid vacation days and holidays, which overlapped with our own time off.

Our Present Childcare Situation

Right now, I do the bulk of my work on the days when my husband is off. This, however, has two main pitfalls:

  1. While this situation gives me time to work, it still doesn’t give me a place to work. My desk, situated in the middle of our main living space, is – to use a literary term – in medias res: in the middle of things. The result is that I often find myself writing with my daughter playing hide-n-go-seek by hiding under my desk while my husband tries to find her and the baby attempts to crawl into my lap and bang on the keyboard.
  2. We’re cutting into our “family of four” time. When my husband is off, I spend the majority of our children’s waking hours researching and writing. I often take meals at the computer, further distancing me from precious family time.

My Ideal Childcare Situation

My daughter will start 5-morning-a-week preschool in the fall, which will automatically make my work at home arrangement infinitely simpler. I want to hire a nanny, as I did years ago to watch my daughter, only this time, I want this person to watch my son. Another difference from our previous situation? While our nanny used to come to our house, this time, I want my son to go to her house – although still in a one-on-one situation. I guess this means I’m looking more to hire a babysitter than to hire a nanny.

I only need the nanny/sitter to watch my son on the 2-3 mornings a week when my husband is at work, overlapping with the hours when my daughter is at school. Based on what I paid previously – $40/day for what amounted to a seven hour workday – I’m thinking about rehiring our old nanny for $25/halfday (3.5 hours a day). Side note: I know this is an exceptionally low rate, but our nanny never did let me pay her very much – trust me, I’ve offered more. She doesn’t have any grandchildren of her own, and I believe that having my children in her life really fills an emotional void.

Can We Afford It?

In all honesty, paying a sitter an average of $300 will severely cut into our monthly budget. However, I’m hoping that by contracting out childcare to a third party – and freeing up roughly 10 hours a week – I’ll have more time to work. And, by having more time to work – and really focus on work, and not on the children playing by my feet – I’ll be able to maximize my income.

My goal is to double my efficiency during those hours – increasing the $50 I can usually make in a morning of considerably “distracted” work to $100. My plan should make it possible for me to take on additional work, further increasing my earnings, and thereby “paying off” the sitter in the process. I’m hoping it’ll also give me more time to spend with my entire family.

Reader, whether you work at home or in the office, what is your childcare situation? What – if any – impact does it have on your efficiency on the job?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke