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Deciding on Childcare When You Work From Home

Whether you're running your own business from home or working for an employer who allows you to work from home on a full- or part-time basis (a working arrangement that is referred to as telecommuting or teleworking), you need to figure out what you're going to do about childcare if you have young children.

If timeshifting is an option (in other words, doing your work at a different time of day), you may be able to avoid the child-care dilemma. If, for example, you're hired to write a computer software manual, you could potentially do all the writing at night after your kids are in bed or on weekends when your partner or another relative is available to run interference with the kids, so that you can get some writing done. However, this strategy works only if you're prepared to stick with a part-time work schedule. Unless you're prepared to burn the candle at both ends, you're going to have a hard time squeezing in a full 40-hour workweek on evenings and weekends. (Remember, you still have to do your regular shift as a parent from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — or 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.!)

Most home-based workers who are running anything but very part-time businesses quickly discover that they're in the market for childcare. The question then becomes which type — an in-home child-care arrangement or an out-of-home child-care arrangement?

Knowing when in-home childcare is your best option

In-home childcare can be the ideal solution if you have a baby and a business to run. You may find that hiring a nanny or arranging for a relative to care for your baby in your home works extremely well so that you can pop out of your office periodically to visit with or feed your baby.

Having your baby just a few steps away can work out particularly well if you're intending to breastfeed. Your child-care provider can come get you when your baby needs to be fed and then take over again when your baby is finished nursing. This arrangement may not work out quite so well, however, if having your baby under the same roof as you is highly distracting (for example, you're so busy listening for your baby's cries that you can't focus on your work).

You and your child may outgrow this particular child-care arrangement when your baby morphs into a toddler. (Hey, sounding professional when you're talking to a client on the phone is hard when a toddler's wailing and pounding on your office door with a toy hammer.) Granted, you can find ways to work around this problem — like moving your office to a part of the house that your toddler can't get to very easily — but that's not possible for every family. Ultimately, you have to decide whether the in-home child-care arrangement that worked so well during your child's baby days is still meeting your family's needs.

Understanding when out-of-home childcare is a better alternative

Some home-based workers choose to go with out-of-home child-care arrangements right from the start. They may anticipate that an in-home child-care arrangement is only likely to meet their family's needs for a relatively short period of time and decide upfront that they want to spare themselves (and their child) the upheaval that goes along with changing child-care arrangements. Or they may simply have a strong preference for out-of-home childcare and decide to go this route right from day one.

You're most likely to gravitate toward an out-of-home child-care arrangement if you feel that establishing clear boundaries between your family and your business is important. In other words, you want to be 100 percent in business mode during the day and 100 percent in baby mode when you pick up your child from day care at the end of the day.

Parents who opt for in-home childcare inevitably find that the boundaries are a whole lot blurrier: You're in business mode for a couple of hours, and then you make a quick switch into baby mode over your lunch hour before heading back to work for a couple of hours in the afternoon. (Or until your baby's next feeding.)

There's no right or wrong way to handle the work-family boundary issue. Your decision comes down to personal preference: What feels right to you and what works best for your family and your business? You'll find it easier to decide whether in-home or out-of-home childcare works best for you if you give some thought to the all-important question of boundaries — specifically, how comfortable you are allowing your family life to intrude on your working life, and vice versa. Setting boundaries is by far the toughest aspect of being a home-based worker.

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