Unjobbing – eschewing a conventional career curve to cobble together a living from your passion(s), often through creative scheduling, living simply, or generally thinking outside the box – can be a fun and exciting way to live as a student or single person. But often it becomes more difficult if/when you have children.
For some, becoming a parent can be a catalyst for the unjobbing lifestyle: in a two parent family, one parent can work a full-time job while the other works from home, runs a home business, does contract or freelance work, or works in an art or craft for extra money (or all of the above). Most often, moms fall into this category, and the jobs might include doula, home party sales rep (though there’s usually more free products than money in this line of work), house cleaning, book keeping, odd jobs, freelance writing, photography, teaching of different types, or childcare. This could also include, of course, the many industry-specific jobs a person might tailor to fit their life – taking your regular 9-5 (or whatever) and working half days, or partially from home, or consulting, or freelance, or job sharing.
The trickiest part of it all is the childcare. Unless you’re working a regular shift that is compatible with a daycare or dayhome, or you have a partner or family member whose schedule works well with yours, a lack of good childcare options can be prohibitive to being able to work at all. Even when you do have access to childcare, the cost can mean that you’re ending the month with only a few dollars of your wage remaining in your pocket.
Enter the childcare swap. I’m honestly amazed more parents don’t utilize this. It’s kind of a combination of running a dayhome (only with very few children, and with no money changing hands – like a form of barter!) and working. With luck, you can choose someone whom your own child loves, and whose child(ren) complement your own family and actually make your life easier (amusing your own kids while they’re over).
Here’s how it works (it’s really simple): the two of you decide how many days per week you would each like to work, up to 3.5. Generally 2-3 each works best, though you could alternate with one of you working two and the other three one week, and then the next week switching. While one of you works your set number of days, the other has your kids, and then on the days the second person works, you take their kids in exchange.
I’ve done this twice, successfully. The first time, there were three of us, each with one child. I had Neko, 3, Renee had Eve, 2 and Rachel had Hazel, 2. On Tuesdays, Rachel would take Neko and Eve from about 9-5. On Wednesdays I would take Eve and Hazel. And on Thursdays, Renee would take Hazel and Neko. The really nice thing was that the three girls became really close and loved the consistency; they each got the benefit of each mom’s strengths (and the dads sometimes, too); and each house had different things to do and a different playground or park nearby. We three moms did one day of childcare each per week, in exchange for two days that we could work.
I’m currently doing a swap with Nicole, who has Mairead, 4, and Finn, 2. (Neko is almost 6 now.) She has Neko all day Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoon, and I have her two all day Thursday, and Friday afternoon. This is working especially well as Nicole works at my store, so we also have the consistency there. Our kids get along great and I love sending Neko to her place, and having Mairead and Finn at my place. I also like this set-up since Neko is an only child (and homeschooled), so it’s like she has siblings half the week.
It can be tricky to find someone who lives close enough (especially important to us, only having one car), has compatible kids and parenting, and whose work schedule might work with yours. But it’s doable, and I really think it’s worth it. This arrangement gives Neko and me, as a homeschooling family (or when she was younger and not in school yet), the freedom to do the same things we would have been doing on my days off (playdates, taking in performances, going to the museum or science centre, going for walks, visiting the library), only it’s better because she also has other kids to play with. It also allows me to work and not scramble for babysitters. This is a problem for me otherwise as Justan’s work schedule is sporadic and unpredictable (he does location sound recording for TV, documentaries, commercials, etc), so we don’t always need a babysitter. And paying by the day can be pricey! I also hate being that person who is always posting desperately on Facebook asking people to look after my kid.
I have this idea for a childcare swap match-up site… but the idea would have to be a lot more popular first. Until then, putting the idea out there to friends, posting on parenting forums (I would use my local attachment parenting group), or approaching others in your line of work or on mat leave at your place of employment are all ideas that might get you some leads.
A round-up of the benefits of the childcare swap:
- Only children get part-time “siblings;” siblings get extra siblings and some variety in their life
- More personalized care than a daycare
- You get to choose a person whose parenting ideals match yours – spanking or not, the cultural views they’ll teach your kids in day-to-day life, cloth diapering, discipline, babywearing, types of meals, homeschooling, amount of TV…
- You get time to spend with your own kid(s) each week
- You get to pursue your passions and have a break from parenting a couple times each week
- The money, of course
- Consistency for the kids, without monotony
- For homeschoolers: as you’re aware, once a child reaches school-age, childcare options narrow. In my experience, my friends have taught Neko things and exposed her to things I might not have thought of, or been able to. The moms I’ve swapped with have varied backgrounds and strengths. At one house, kids might swim, ride bikes, play in the yard more; at another there might be regular dance parties, crafts and baking; while another house might be the place for science experiments, nature videos and hikes. I don’t have to worry about Neko not being enriched while I’m at work, especially since we’re unschooling.
- Flexibility – if the schedule isn’t working, you can work together to adjust it
- There is a bit of a social aspect to this, if you want there to be. Usually, mornings are just drop-off, and afternoons are just pick-up. But when time and circumstance allow, there can be shared family dinners or at least time for a visit and a cup of tea at the end of the day. I like seeing my friends regularly, even if there is only time for a five minute chat.
- I get inspiration for activity planning. I find that when it’s just Neko and me, I fall into patterns (as does she), and we sometimes have a hard time thinking of things to do day-to-day. But (and maybe this is the camp counselor in me), when I know I’ll have several kids in my care, I snap into teacher mode and start planning fun activities. Ironically, I’m more apt to do a craft or experiment with three kids than with one. Right now, I have theme days and outings planned already for the whole next month, and I’m really excited about all of them!
- I feel very strongly about building a “village” – a support system of friends and family who can help each other in times of need, be there for social interaction, share traditions, and, when kids are involved, provide an extended family where it might not exist otherwise. This is where my “social change” platform comes in. Whether you’re single, coupled, poly, with kids or without (or with them part-time), young or old, a community is important to everyone in it and even those who are just on the periphery. Small “tribes” of likeminded people can form little urban families, a lifestyle that is more well-suited to many people today, especially in an urban setting. Childcare swapping fits in extremely well in this type of scenario.