Before Babywoods was born, everyone and their mother warned me that my life would never be the same. According to these doomsdayers, after I had a baby I would lose all of my time, money, hair, and sanity. And I’ll be honest here, they weren’t entirely wrong on that last one.
But what Mr. Frugalwoods and I have found over this past year and a half is that parenting is far less dire than pregnancy scare-mongering led us to believe. We are still very much the same people with very much the same interests, resources, and faculties–just with the addition of a wonderfully talkative, bubbly, active toddler.
Yes life is immensely different, yes it is harder (though funnier) to fly on an airplane, yes there is avocado in my hair right now–but despite all this, we didn’t subsume our former selves into parenting. Rather, we’ve layered parenting on top of, and in addition to, our lives. What we’ve discovered is that parenting doesn’t need to occur to the exclusion of everything else.
Parenting Myth #2: I Will Have No Free Time. Ever.
I’ve already debunked parenting myth #1 “babies are expensive” in the following:
- Fighting Back Against The Baby Industrial Complex
- The Gear You Actually Need For Your Baby (Or The Next Baby Shower You Attend)
- Why (and how) I Became A Work-At-Home Mom
- How I Make My Own Baby Food And Other Frugal Parenting Tales
- Our Thrifty And Simple Baby’s First Birthday Party
Today I want to address that other, arguably even more precious resource: time. Since achieving financial independence was all about enabling us to pursue our passions, it was paramount to Mr. FW and me to find a tenable approach to parenting that fulfills both us and our daughter.
In summary: it is 100% possible to accomplish stuff while also caring for your child full-time. How, you wonder? I’m so glad you asked because I’ve written a veritable tome on the topic today. The example I use throughout this post is working/homesteading, because that’s my experience, but the tenets are applicable to any stay-at-home parent who wishes they had more time to devote to personal projects such as crafting, gardening, exercise, cooking, meditation, reading, etc.
Our Unusual Childcare Choice
The black and white dilemma modern parents have grappled with for decades is to either: 1) have one parent leave the workforce to stay home with the child(ren), or 2) pay often exorbitant prices for the child(ren) to go to daycare/hire a nanny.
Some families are fortunate to have free (or drastically reduced) childcare provided by grandparents or other extended family members, but most often, parents assume they’ll have to choose between door #1 and door #2.
The challenge with this is that frequently, neither parent wants to absent themselves from the workforce for reasons of their longterm career trajectory, the fulfillment they derive from their job, and/or financial imperatives. However, they’re then on the hook for spending what can amount to the totality of one parent’s entire salary on daycare.
I am here to say that there’s a third door. A less well-known door, a less well-traveled door, and one that’s a bit unusual. But it works. And that door is… working at home with a baby. Sounds impossible and some days, it is. But thanks to the internet and the rise in careers that can be conducted from home, the ability to work while child-rearing is–or could be–a reality for many families.
I take this unorthodox third way in all of my financial decisions and I knew childcare would be no different. Just as Mr. Frugalwoods and I eschew conventional wisdom on how much things should cost, or how little you should save, or how difficult it is to become financially independent, we also eschew the standard limitations our culture imposes on working vs. raising children. I say, do both if you want.
Of course no post on parenting is complete without a set of caveats. First, I want to recognize that Mr. FW and I are tremendously fortunate to be able to structure our work from home as we do. Not everyone has this option and I fully realize how privileged we are.
Additionally, we work because we enjoy what we do–not because we need the money. This is the extraordinary privilege of financial independence. As longtime readers know, my husband and I didn’t inherit money or come into lottery winnings; rather, we saved extraordinarily high percentages of our salaries for years and invested in a revenue-generating rental property and, more importantly, the stock market. If you’d like to initiate your own extreme frugality regimen, take my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge.
My parenting philosophy is that everyone should do what works for them. Every family is different and every kid is different. Only you know what’s best given your circumstances. I share stories of how we parent–just as I share stories of how we manage our money–to offer insight into our alternative approach to life. I am not a parenting expert (not by a very, very long shot, which is why this post includes links to parenting books I’ve found useful).
I don’t seek to condemn other ways of life. Relevant to this conversation, I have no animus towards those who choose to be full-time stay-at-home parents or full-time working-outside-of-the-home parents or any configuration therein. There is no right or wrong here, merely a diversity of ideas on how to raise the next generation of young citizens.
As with everything else we discuss here on Frugalwoods, my opinions are borne of personal experience and are but one option in the plethora of lifestyle options. We don’t do budget shaming here and we certainly don’t do mommy wars.
The Nature Of Our Work
Let me explain what exactly it is that we do. Mr. FW works full-time from home for a traditional organization, which means he works regular business hours. Conversely, I work exclusively for myself and as a freelancer, which means I have no boss (except myself!). Hence, my schedule is 100% flexible, which is paramount with a baby (since they are mercurial little creatures prone to requiring doctor’s appointments and snuggles in the middle of the day).
We chose this schedule because I wanted to quit my 9-to-5 and be the primary caregiver. While this might, at first blush, appear to conform to traditional gender roles, I assure you nothing about our relationship is conservative or regressive. Mr. FW and I are both feminists committed to an egalitarian partnership and it was my express desire to transition into this role.
Since Mr. FW works from home and thus has no commute, he’s able to do the heavy childcare lifting in the mornings and evenings, which frees me up to write or get other chores done (or sometimes go into my office, close the door, and do yoga while listening to him read “Barnyard Dance” to Babywoods in the next room).
This is not a typical arrangement and I don’t pretend that everyone can finagle this with their employer, their skill set, or their career. However, an increasing number of employers are allowing employees to work remotely and there’s a burgeoning class of jobs one can freelance or side hustle or whatever you want to call working for yourself in an entrepreneurial capacity. I also want to note that I built up my freelance work prior to staying home with Babywoods, which made the transition easier. However, you could also do so after welcoming a child into your family.
If you’re interested in working as a freelance writer like I do, and aren’t sure where to start, I recommend my friend Catherine Alford’s course: Get Paid To Write For Blogs.
Sidenote: please, please, please do not get yourself into a multi-level marketing scam of a situation in an attempt to work from home. Don’t buy products that you will then have to sell because you are tremendously unlikely to make any money from this. For more information, here’s an entire website devoted to exposing the scams inherent to these types of organizations.
This Too Will Change
Every month–nay, every week–with a baby is different and our schedule as a family has altered many times in the 17 months since Babywoods’ birth. What worked when she was an infant doesn’t work now that she’s a walking toddler and I’m certain what we do now won’t work when she’s in pre-school and kindergarten.
We adapt to her needs, her developmental stage, and her schedule. But throughout, I’ve been able to maintain my work (along with the notable event of moving to our homestead when she was five months old… ). Just as my frugality adapts and morphs with each new iteration of life, so too does my work-at-home and parenting process.
It’s also true that our experience thus far is with one child. If we have more children, our schedule will certainly metamorphose yet again. The key is that we have a set of guidelines to follow no matter how our family grows or changes.
How We Make It Work
Ok, ok, now that the caveats and explanations are out of the way, allow me to outline how we’ve made this atypical arrangement tenable.
1) Ruthless prioritization.
I include the word “ruthless” for good reason: my prioritization is without any ruth whatsoever. Pre-baby and pre-frugality, I tried to do everything perfectly, on time, and while wearing fabulous clothes, makeup, with curled hair and painted nails (toes too). Now? I shower daily and wear (somewhat) clean clothes. That much is an accomplishment as far as I’m concerned. Note that I did not mention brushing my hair.
Everyday I do only what’s most important to me. Subtext: there’s a lot that doesn’t get done. However, I am 100% ok with that because, just as I only spend money on the things that matter most to me, I only spend my time in ways that are meaningful to me. I could afford to send my daughter to daycare and I could afford not to work, but I keep her at home and I work because those are the things I want to do.
Being financially independent is all about doing what’s meaningful to you–not what other people think you should do or what society says is the correct/only path.
2) Naptime is work time. No matter what.
Babywoods mercifully still takes two naps a day (down from three, but I’m thrilled with two!) and that’s when I do 95% of my writing. Since she naps at roughly the same times everyday (mid-morning and mid-afternoon), I carefully plan and prepare for those naptimes. As soon as Mr. FW or I settle her into her crib, I’m on my computer, typing away (for example right this very minute… ).
I find it’s nearly impossible for me to get (good) writing done while she’s awake because it’s too distracting to type coherent sentences with a toddler careening around the house saying “GOOD GIRL!!!!!” to the dog at the top of her lungs (one of the more hilarious phrases she repeats).
I plan out all of my writing projects in advance so that when blessed naptime comes around, I’m not hemming and hawing, messing around on Facebook, and fiddling with my email. I’m writing. This means I stick to an editorial calendar (nothing fancy, I just use a free Google calendar) for everything here on Frugalwoods as well as my freelance and volunteer work. I find that brainstorming topics, invoicing, editing photos, etc ahead of time frees up naptime for the mental investment of writing.
I also prepare my physical environment in advance of naptime. For example, I make my lunch while I give Babywoods her lunch. I put her highchair in the kitchen so that we can chat while I cook and she munches. That way, as soon as she hits that afternoon nap, I don’t have to waste time making lunch. I pull my salad out of the fridge and sit down at my computer. I even make my thermos of decaf coffee pre-nap.
I resist the urge to do household chores during nap unless I absolutely must. I’ve found that Babywoods is a great chore companion–we sing together as I unload the dishwasher, we chat while I load the washing machine, she plays upstairs with me while I put clean laundry away, she follows me around with her baby-sized broom as I sweep, and she plays outside in the yard with us while we do homestead chores.
By keeping naptime as my sacred writing time, I’ve been able to maintain all my pre-baby writing gigs and even add several large projects (such as the Uber Frugal Month Challenge :)!!). I love to write, it’s my passion and my calling and I feel tremendously fortunate that I get to do it everyday!
I’ve found that I get more actual work done during naps than I ever did pre-baby. Why? Because I know my time is limited and so I don’t mess around online. I work with laser beam focus because soon enough, I’ll hear “mama! mama! hi! hi!” from the crib and my time will be up. Nothing engenders productivity like the enforced time limit of naptime work.
A note on infant naps: when Babywoods was an infant (circa 0-4 months old), she napped on me and so I’d nestle her on top of my hand-me-down My Brest Friend wedged securely with a pillow in between me and the kitchen table. She’d nap and nurse as I worked on my laptop.
Alternately, I’d put her in an infant carrier (I have a hand-me-down Ergo as well as a hand-me-down Moby Wrap) and she’d sleep or rest on my chest while I typed away. I sit on an exercise ball and, with her in the carrier, I’d lightly bounce up and down while I worked, which she loved.
3) Bedtime is also worktime.
Babywoods goes to bed circa 6:30pm every night and Mr. FW and I eat dinner at 7:30pm. I use that hour to finish up the writing I started during the two daytime naps or respond to emails or sometimes, do yoga. Other times, Mr. FW and I have a date night and play Scrabble or relax and chat.
The book we utilized to instill healthy baby sleep habits: Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems
4) Set your own bedtime and stick to it.
Mr. FW and I are sticklers for going to bed early and on time every night. I’ve found that less sleep does not mean I get more done in a day. It means I’m groucho-mama and far less productive. Sleep is essential to, well, everything.
5) Live by a schedule.
As you’ve probably gleaned, we live by schedule and routine in the Frugalwoods household. It keeps us on track and I find that Babywoods and Frugal Hound both thrive on routine. They know what to expect, what’s expected of them, and it creates security and contentment in the home. I also firmly believe that planning ahead is a crucial ingredient of successful frugality.
Our routine also eliminates last minute mad dashing or frenzied evenings (we still have those sometimes, but for the most part, our chores and routines are on autopilot). For example, Mr. FW always gets Babywoods out of her crib in the morning and then he always takes the dog out and makes breakfast.
We do have our spontaneous moments–like a last minute decision one morning last week to take a day trip to a thrift store and a brewery–but generally, we do the same things on the same days each week. This schedule allows me to plan when I’ll write and manage my deadlines. It also ensures that Babywoods gets plenty of socialization with other toddlers–we attend weekly play groups and host friends several days a week at our house.
6) The knowledge that work makes me a better parent.
I never feel guilty about doing my work because it makes me a better parent. By having an outlet for my creativity and interests–separate and independent from my child–I am able to care for her with more energy and enthusiasm.
My work reduces my stress and makes me slower to anger–it builds my confidence and it gives me something exciting to mull over while I’m in the midst of washing off her highchair for the fifth time in a day. I need this outlet in addition to the rewards of parenting, which is why this format is perfect for me.
One of the reasons I quit my conventional 9-to-5 office job is that I disliked sitting in a cubicle at a computer all day long. I run out of ideas, I get depressed, and my productively plummets if I’m stuck in one place for too long. With my current schedule, my days have tremendous diversity, which is what I’ve always craved.
7) Encourage independent play.
Another element of our parenting philosophy is encouraging independent play. Since birth, we’ve encouraged Babywoods to entertain herself with us nearby. As a curious 17-month-old, she adores inspecting every corner of every room and dragging toys around to new and different locations. She entertains herself well and puzzles through how to use complex toys on her own.
This does not happen 100% of the time and she’ll come get us if she needs help or wants us to read her a book. But, she understands that playing alone is a good thing and that it allows her to freely explore. For this reason, we fully babyproofed all of the main rooms of our house. Even so, we never leave her alone–we’re always nearby, just not necessarily down on the floor directing her play. What we hope is that this will engender independence, confidence, and resiliency in our daughter.
My inspiration for the independent play ethos: Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect
8) Set yourself up for success and know your limits.
I do not work a 40-hour week and I don’t expect to. Working full-time while caring for a kid full-time is probably not going to happen and expecting to do so will lead to gnashing of teeth and dismay. I also find that some weeks I get more done than other weeks. Sometimes Babywoods skips naps. Or is sick and wants to nap on me. Or we have tons of places to go and people to see.
Since I’m a freelancer and since I mostly work for myself (with a few external clients), my work schedule is entirely flexible. I have a list of things I need to do every month and sometimes, I get most of it done in the first two weeks of the month because I know I won’t get much done in the later part of the month.
It’s also true that my child comes first and so I sometimes turn down projects that I know I won’t be able to complete and still devote as much attention to my daughter as I prefer. As an entrepreneur and self-employed person, you have to be ruthless in how you structure, price, and calibrate your work.
9) Embrace imperfection. A LOT of imperfection.
Despite all my planning, scheduling, and routine-following, sometimes everything blows up and our days are a hot mess. That’s the nature of life with a child. Accepting imperfection in every facet of my life has granted me peace. I don’t–or at least, I try really hard not to–stress out when nothing goes to plan.
This is also why I like to get tons of work done when the getting is good. I’ve been known to write an entire week’s worth of posts during a single naptime because: 1) I was on a roll, and 2) Babywoods took a long nap! This is why I love my editorial calendar–when I finish all my tasks for one week, I just move on to the next week.
10) Lean into the phase of life you’re in.
I do my best not to militate against the phase of life we find ourselves in. For example, we do not take Babywoods out to restaurants for dinner. Why? Because that would not be setting ourselves up for success. She goes to bed early, she eats dinner early, and dining out at dinnertime is a terrible idea (although lunchtime totally works for her).
I find a lot of liberation in fully immersing myself in the developmental stage she’s in because it changes so quickly. For example, I don’t expect her to be able to read right now, but I do expect her to follow simple directions. Soon enough, she’ll be a teenager and won’t even want to hang out with us, so I embrace and enjoy my time with her.
Right now, in this phase of life, I’m primarily a parent. Thus, there’s some stuff I choose not to do because it wouldn’t work harmoniously with our schedule. But I don’t stress out because I know that in a few years, it’ll work just great!
11) Accept help.
If you’re already a parent, you’re probably quite familiar with the axiom of accepting any and all help (and hand-me-downs!) that come your way. I live by this philosophy and I try to offer my help in return when I’m able. This ethos also permeates our community-centered life here in rural Vermont.
As I’ve shared previously, one of my wonderful neighbors comes over for a few hours every week to watch Babywoods for us–free of charge. She doesn’t have grandchildren yet and so Babywoods–along with her partner in crime, a nine-year-old girl from down the road–treat Babywoods like part of their extended, unrelated family. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world and I’m filled with gratitude every time they come over.
You Will Make Time For What Matters Most
Having immaculate hair and clothes and makeup does not matter to me and so I spend very little time getting ready in the morning (anyone who has ever come over to my house can attest to this… ). Having a clean home, however, is a great deal more important to me, so I spend some time cleaning every day. In all honesty, I’d get more work done if I cleaned less, but I love the process and result of cleaning, so it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. We don’t need a lot of stuff and so we spend very little of our time running errands or shopping. Hiking, on the other hand, is a staple of my everyday routine.
There is no one right answer for everyone on how to use your time or your money because everyone’s priorities are different. However, before embracing the extreme frugality lifestyle, I found that far too often, I was doing the things I thought I was supposed to do. That I thought society expected me to do as opposed to what I wanted to do with my life. By eliminating everything that’s unimportant to me, I’ve been able to whittle down the list of tasks I have to complete on a daily basis.
If you’re expecting a baby, or in the midst of a childcare arrangement that’s not working out for you, consider if the work-from-home model might help alleviate some of the time and money burdens you’re facing. Finding remote work isn’t impossible and, if you can reduce your expenses and live on less, you can afford to take a lower paying job with fewer hours. That’s the beautiful circle of frugality: the less you spend, the more you save, and the less you need to earn.
As we discussed last week, frugality gives you options. It opens up possibilities that our mainstream culture tells us don’t exist. But I’m here to tell you that they very much do.