By Elle Baker
When their son was 5 months old, Sutton Stokes and his wife Amy "couldn't bear the thought of leaving him" in day care. But there were times when both of them needed to be working. After researching it, however, they determined that the cost of day care for the hours they needed "was too expensive," Sutton says, so "Amy just started working less instead."
With the high cost of child care and the time apart from their son, they reached the same conclusion many parents do: Sometimes it doesn't make financial sense for both parents to work. But if you are willing to work where your children are, or take them with you to your workplace, it is possible to get the satisfaction (and paycheck) of working without draining the bank account. And you and your children can benefit from the arrangement.
Go to school with your kids
Whether your children are preschoolers or preteens, working at their school is one of the best ways to minimize costs and maximize time together. Combining your commutes saves on transportation costs (and hassle) and allows you to spend extra time with your children at the beginning and end of their day.
Pilar Conde, an artist and art teacher living in New York City, hadn't thought to teach at the early childhood level until she had a baby of her own. But as her son grew older, she began teaching at his preschool partly as a way "to continue to share our day together." Pilar sees her son in small spurts throughout the day and is able to teach him once a week. "I found great comfort in sneaking glimpses at his personal growth and daily life at the school," she says.
While employees are required to be on the job before and after regular school hours, most schools will allow children of employees to work or play alongside them in that time. Pilar's son helps her prepare materials in the morning and sometimes he helps his homeroom teacher set up snacks. "He always says 'Mamma can I help you with that?'" Pilar says.
Not only does this shorten your to-do list, it also gives your child valuable insight into your work environment and the job you do. The school also benefits from hiring parents because it gets someone familiar with its policies and procedures and connected to the community. Pilar says it has been "such a privilege" to be part of her son's schooling. Working at her child's school, she has been able to spend additional time with her son, reduce child care costs and "be an active participant" in her child's education.
If you have a particular talent like music, art, drama, crafting or a certain sport or physical activity, working as an instructor for a children's enrichment class allows you to pocket some extra money while bringing your kids along for the fun. When I was younger, I took a cooking class at our local community center. The instructor's daughter was also in the class. Not only did she get to participate in the class and spend extra quality time with Mom, her mother did not have to arrange child care for that hour and a half after school on Wednesdays while she worked.
Teaching is not the only option
Teaching isn't for everyone, but schools employ people in a broad spectrum of fields. Schools also need classroom assistants, administrative assistants, counselors and social workers, coaches, cafeteria workers, nurses, librarians, learning specialists, speech therapists, bus drivers, janitors and maintenance workers. And according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the number of jobs in education has risen steadily in 2010 and is expected to grow through 2018.
If your children aren't yet school aged or you only want to work part-time, there are still employment options that allow you to work alongside your child and avoid babysitting or day care costs. Providing in-home child care for babies and younger children or before- and after-school care for school-aged children allows you to keep your children with you in their own familiar environment while you're working. According to the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies, 9.6 million -- or 37 percent -- of school-aged children with working mothers have no regular child care arrangement each week. Incorporating the children of friends and neighbors into your usual routine before and after school allows you to care for your own children while earning extra income and provides the added benefit of additional social interaction for your own children.
Run your own business
Unique talents and special skills can also be put to use in independent businesses. If you like animals, dog-walking or pet-sitting services allow you to tote younger children with you or bring older children along who can be introduced to the responsibilities of these jobs. Cleaning services, gardening or lawn-care businesses and small local paper routes all offer the same benefits.
Recently, we hired a clown for my son's birthday party. "Tutti" came to our house on Saturday morning with an "apprentice" -- her 10-year-old daughter, who helped set up, played the music, and collected props at the end. "Tutti" didn't have to worry about child care and got paid for 90 minutes of clowning around, while her daughter got to participate in her mother's work in a fun, child-appropriate setting. The age and temperament of your child should be taken into account when determining which business can suit your needs, but the possibilities are almost limitless. Read more about turning your hobby into a small business.
Benefits to children
According to The Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation, exposing children to what a parent does during the work day helps them "discover the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life." Taking your children to work with you every day solves the practical problem of high child-care costs and the emotional issue of limited time with your children when they are young. But it also models a possibility to the next generation: that with a little creativity, you can strike that elusive balance between work and family life.