Last week reader and frequent commentator, Bev, and I were having an exchange on How Women are Making the Most of the Gig Economy in which we took a rabbit trail into how the internet is opening up opportunities for people to use gig work to stay home with your kids. It was an interesting side trail for me, because I actually lived that life in caring for my own kids.
I didn’t specifically use gig work to stay home with my kids, at least not in the beginning, but it did evolve in that direction. And it’s certainly worth a discussion all its own. After all, millions of people, particularly mothers, face extraordinary stress when they have to both work to help provide for the family’s support, as well as care for their kids. I think that gig work may create a long-awaited solution to that dilemma.
Despite the Internet, Most Employers are Reluctant to Home Base Employees
Despite talk and promise of more accommodation of parents in the workplace, the vast majority of employers continue to use something that looks like the plantation model in running their businesses. That is, despite the existence of technology that could easily enable a very large number of employees to work from home, employers continue to insist on maintaining physical control over both the location and methods of how work is performed.
In theory at least, the Internet has made it possible for most jobs to be performed remotely. But only a relatively few progressive employers will allow their people to work from home, and usually only in very restricted positions and circumstances.
A Gallup study in 2015 found that while 37% of employees do have some type of work-at-home arrangement, the threshold was low. It included employees who work at home as little as two days per month. The average was 6.4 days per month. But as a permanent arrangement – 100% home based – only 9% of employees fall into that category (or one in 11, as the survey reported).
If you have to work, but you also want to stay home with your kids, you usually have only two choices:
- Either find one of the few employers who will allow you to work from home, or
- Create your own home-based career.
That’s where gig work starts to show up on the radar screen – or at least it should.
The Trade-off for Parents
So what exactly is gig work? I’ve previously described it as a money-making venture that falls short of being a full-time, permanent job with benefits. That takes in a lot of territory – everything from contract work, to part-time jobs to self-employment to micro projects. The important take-away is that all – except generally part-time jobs – can usually be done from home. If you can work from home, you’ve got at least 50% of the stay-home-with-your-kids battle won.
But as much as I like to advocate gig work as the answer to a multitude of career problems, it does involve trade-offs. I’ve provided an entire list of advantages and disadvantages of gig work, but there are some trade-offs specific to parents of young children.
For the most part, in today’s work environment, if you want to stay home with your kids, it can put an end to the career fast-track, perhaps even a permanent end. Another negative, at least if you choose to do gig work to earn a living, is that you will not have employer paid benefits. This is a big reason why even people who have an established ability to earn a living from home nonetheless continue at remotely based jobs.
It should also go without saying that your ability to earn a living will be impaired if you stay home with your kids. Even under the best of circumstances, both your time and ability to concentrate on work will be reduced as a result of parent responsibilities. But that’s as it must be when raising young children.
On a more tactical level, one of the problems with working from home, particularly with small children, is finding the time and the quiet to concentrate on work. If you have two or more very young children, doing any kind of work from home will be close to impossible. It tends to be easiest either when you have an infant, one child only, or your kids are school aged. In each situation, you can often carve out time for work, perhaps in the evening when the kids go to bed, or it may even be possible to establish quiet times that your children will observe (however understand that even the best behaved kids are prone to disrupt quiet times!).
These are situations that I experienced in caring for my own kids while working from home. I would be less than honest if I don’t point them out. None of them however should stop you from creating a satisfactory work at home situation if you want to stay home with your kids but also need to earn some money. It’s just a matter of understanding the trade-offs, and deciding what is most important to you.
My Story as a Stay-at-Home Dad
When my kids were young, my wife and I both worked outside the home, and our kids were in daycare.
There were at least five serious problems with that arrangement:
- We only got to see our kids for three or four hours each evening on work days
- The cost of having two kids in daycare on a full-time basis was over $1,000 per month
- For the most part, we had no idea what was happening to them when they were in daycare – other than what the daycare reported to us
- Anytime one of the kids was sick or “acting up” we’d get a call from the daycare center telling us we needed to bring them home (this is a common daycare tactic when they’re short-staffed)
- Daycares WILL expel your child – our daughter was expelled from a “high end” daycare two weeks before her 2nd birthday because – get this – she wouldn’t sit still during “circle time!”
These problems were recurrent, and they made for a very chaotic life. I think that chaos also generated a lot of stress. Our kids certainly felt it, as did my wife and I. And our stress only fed the stress that our kids were already feeling.
When my son was six and my daughter was four, we pulled them out of daycare. I had taken a job as a mortgage originator, which is basically mortgage sales. Working for a small, independent mortgage broker, I was able to work from home. Meanwhile, my wife had the type of job that could only be done in an office. Since I had an ability to earn a living working at home, we decided that I would be the one to stay home with the kids.
And so began my life as Mr. Mom.
Was it a perfect arrangement? Absolutely not. Did we expect it to be? No, but you always hope.
Not only did my income take a hit as a result of juggling both work and child rearing, but there were times that I had to make care arrangements for my kids. Sometimes I brought them to mortgage closings or mortgage applications. Many times I brought them into the office. But there were other times when I had to either put them into a daily daycare, or work out swap arrangements with other parents.
One of the really good things going in our favor was that we maintained health insurance through my wife’s job, though there were some spells in there where she didn’t have it and we had to get private coverage.
It was a bumpy ride for sure. But at least our kids were home with at least one parent, where we could know what was going on with them all the time. Equally important, we were always there for them, which was emotionally comforting. And during the summer months, we were able to do the typical summer time kid activities, like go to the pool or the movies.
Often, I’d be at the pool with the kids, briefcase and cell phone in tow, and conducting business poolside. I’m sure it looked awkward, but you do what you have to do.
Once again, not a perfect arrangement, but far better than having them “warehoused” in daycare. Yes, my wife would’ve preferred that she be home with the kids instead. But she felt a lot better knowing that at least I was there with them. And many times during the summer months and holidays, we’d head over to my wife’s place of employment and have lunch with her.
Using Gig Work to Stay Home With Your Kids
My blogging career came later in the picture, and it soon morphed into a freelance blog writing career that started as a side hustle, but quickly turned into a full-time business. The blogging/freelance blog writing combination would’ve worked much better as a stay-at-home work arrangement than mortgage originations, but like I said, you work with what you’ve got at the time. And at the time – the early 2000’s – not many people were making money on the web yet. Mortgage originations was my best shot at working from home, so I took it.
But in the world as it is in 2017 there are a lot more opportunities to make money working from home. I’m absolutely bewildered at why more people aren’t taking advantage of them. I think that gig work is the perfect opportunity if you want to earn an income and stay home with your kids.
There are all kinds of ways that you can make money on the web. In fact, the TV version of a self-made Internet entrepreneur launching a website and becoming a millionaire within a couple of years is way overblown. The Internet has become an economy unto itself, though it is closely tied to the “real” economy, and in the process it has created a large number of diverse income earning opportunities.
This is where gig work comes into the picture. You don’t have to take the Internet by storm, you just have to figure out what it is you have to offer, and then begin marketing your skills to relevant web entities.
Don’t let the marketing aspect of online gig work scare you. Please read my article, How to Find Gig Work in the Gig Economy, which will provide you with a step-by-step guide. Your biggest challenge will be converting your everyday work skills into a package that will benefit online businesses. More than anything else, that requires creativity. But it’s not the hurdle that you might think it is. Online businesses are looking for virtually every skill imaginable, even those that seem to be the most ordinary.
Using Gig Work to Stay Home With Your Kids Has a Secondary Benefit
While you might think of gig work as a temporary solution that will enable you to stay home with your kids and still earn an income, there are longer-term implications.
If you are able to maintain the difficult juggling act of both raising your kids and earning a living, you will be fully “battle tested” in one of the most difficult work environments possible. If you can handle that, you can almost certainly handle whatever life throws at you. That part-time gig work situation you establish could be the full-time business awaiting you on the other side of the child rearing years.
And trust me, those years will pass quickly. For many people, stepping off the career ladder for a few years is all that it takes to put an end to your previous career path. But if you have built up a business based on doing gig work, you won’t need a job when your kids no longer need a hands-on parent. You’ll already have your job, which is your gig business.
That’s pretty much how it ended up working for me. That’s really a good thing. Because by the time my kids no longer needed a stay-at-home parent, I was pretty much washed up in the mainstream job market. That worked out well for me, because I no longer need it anyway.
You gotta love it when life sends you a happy ending!
Have you tried doing gig work as a way of earning money AND to stay at home with your kids? If not, what’s keeping you from doing it?