Skint Dad's guide for work at home parents
Thinking of taking the leap into becoming a stay at home parent? Read about some of the challenges and lessons Skint Dad has learnt along his journey.
Being a WAHP (Work At Home Parent) isn’t something I thought would ever happen to me. It’s certainly not one of those conversations you have growing up. “What do you want to be when you grow up, little Ricky?” was never answered with “balance a business and kids at the same time!” – and I’m sure it’s the same for most people.
I accidentally found myself working from home, after becoming a SAHD (stay at home dad). The costs of commuting and childcare were more than we were taking home, so we took the decision for me to leave work and look after the children. Even only having my wife’s income meant we had more money as our outgoings were less. I was not too fond of the idea at first and it took around three months for me to get the courage to resign. Financially things started to look better, as we weren’t spending as much money.
However, after a few months of school runs and playing with a toddler, I started to get a little bored. That sounds horrible to say now, as I love my children dearly, but I wanted more interaction with adults and a dad didn’t fit into parent/toddler groups. Although they are called 'parent' groups, they were full of women who found it strange sharing their adult time with a man.
I suppose I felt more lonely than bored and wanted to fill my time with something a little more adult when the kids were sleeping and in the evenings. Of all the things I could have done, I started a blog to share what was going on in my life. The website grew in popularity and what I thought would be a hobby turned into something where I needed to register as self-employed, and went on to create a limited company.
Looking back over the last few years this wasn’t an easy walk in the park. I continued to manage a household, cooking and cleaning, as well as looking after the children on a day to day basis.
Pros and cons of home working
There are benefits and a fair few drawbacks to working from home. Added benefits certainly come with no commuting times (or costs), and being able to have more quality time with your children. Just being there to see them in the morning and tuck them in at night is a blessing. It’s also great to be available to take in deliveries or be free when the boiler needs servicing, without having to book time off using the limited amount of annual leave. It also now doesn’t have any impact in terms of trying to use four weeks of leave to manage an entire summer holiday!
However, it can be tricky trying to work to begin with. Being a bit of a procrastinator, it’s very easy to be working one minute and the next I look up and I’ve lost 20 minutes to BBC Sport! I also find I miss general chit-chat of working with people on a day to day basis, and bouncing ideas off other people. My wife gets to hear about everything as soon as she walks through the door instead.
One thing that I do hate is finding myself saying yes to the kids a lot. Yes, you can have sweets, watch TV or play on the computer. I say yes so they’ll leave me alone, but feel guilty that I shouldn’t be replacing daddy time with sugar and screen time. They just want some entertainment but I fob them off so I can finish up what I’m doing. There is a fine balance between growing a business, caring for your family, and not letting it turn you doolally!
Here are some tips that have helped save my sanity and also made sure I’ve not let my business slip.
Get a routine
To make sure I can get stuff done, I look to work around my children. Getting up earlier than them can make sure I get about an hour of work done first thing in the morning. If for you, getting up early may seem like a real drag you could work later into the evening.
Once breakfast and the school run is done, I give myself 20 minutes to catch up on news, drink a quick brew and tidy the kitchen – it’s then time for work. I generally try to work through until it’s time to get the kids. From 3:30pm nothing can really get done until they are in bed. Some days I feel too wiped out to do anything of real value in the evenings, but it can be a good time to clear out emails and respond to people. As they are not in the office, I don’t get inundated with replies, so it can be a good way to get my inbox to a more manageable level.
One thing that is a must is the alarm on my phone. I set it to remind myself to eat and have a break around lunchtime and have one set for the school run. When you’ve got your head into a task time can fly. The last thing I’d want to do is leave my kids stranded at school because I’d forgotten the time!
Still pretend it’s 'real' work
While working from home is a proper job, it can feel hugely different from stepping out of the house and doing a daily commute. It can be so easy to chuck on some tracksuit bottoms, or even curl up on the sofa in PJs! However, this doesn’t always get things done.
For me, setting an alarm, getting up at a decent hour, having a shower, cleaning my teeth and getting dressed for the day sets me up to feel that I’m going to get some work done.
While it’s comfortable to wear relaxed clothing, getting into business mode with what I’m wearing makes me feel more focused. Now I’m not saying I wear a suit and tie, but dressing a little more professionally makes me feel dressed for work, and not dressed for house work.
I also leave the TV off during the day – it’s just a distraction anyway – and try to avoid Facebook altogether!
Still use childcare
The whole idea of leaving an employed job was that we were going to reduce the costs of childcare – and it really did. However, when you’re working from home, you need to have some time to concentrate or things just won’t get done.
Trying to have a conference call with a three year old pulling on my sleeve telling me that she needs a wee or shouts, “Dad, Daaaad, Daaaaadeeee” asking for sweets won’t get a task done. Then the guilt starts setting in that my youngest spends more time with the characters of Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom than me.
The government gives 15 hours of free childcare for children over the age of three (two in some circumstances) and I’d suggest using as much of that as possible! Rather than having this as five blocks of three hours at a time, I asked the pre-school if they could have her for a longer day. This means I’d have one day solid to get on with tasks, or book meetings away from home. It really helped to give me some space to get on with fewer distractions.
Ignore the pile of dishes/washing/ironing
My wife thinks that because I’m at home all day that I should take care of the ever growing pile of laundry and general chores, as well as getting homework done with the children and having a delicious and nutritious meal prepared for when she gets home. That is certainly not possible!
Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean you need to do house work. Chores are part of a separate job and need to be tackled at another time, and all the family can help, not just the one who is at home for the bulk of the day.
Get a balance and switch off
Having an office set up at home can make doing work very tempting. When I worked for 'the man' and the evenings or weekend came, the last thing I’d want to do was check my emails or think about anything work related. Working for yourself is different as that one email, or checking in, can mean all the difference between securing a new client.
I know I should turn my phone off and have time off, but I find it hard. What has been easier is creating a separate space that I can work in. I used to work solely from the kitchen table, but I’ve now created a separate space away from our main living area. This means that when work is done, I can shut the door and walk away. I now need to tackle turning my phone off a little more…!
Working from home is a tough job in itself. The best way to achieve everything is learning to have a good balance and understanding family. Making sure boundaries are set will mean that you’ll get the job done, while still enjoying family life.