Watching my daughter while I work saves a bundle in child care, creates quality kid time

Bills shaped like house; Mitch Strohm and daughter at computer

I’ve been working while I watch my daughter, who is now a year old, ever since she was born.

Although that’s required me to rethink how and when I do my job as a writer, it’s certainly saved me a bundle in day care.

How much?

According to a new report called “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care,” the annual cost of day care for preschool kids runs from $4,600 in Mississippi to a whopping $15,000 in Massachusetts.

The report also found that putting an infant in a professional child care center cost more than the median rent in 22 states. The cost for having two children in day care exceeded annual median rent payments in all 50 states.

No matter what income bracket you’re in, paying someone to watch your youngsters while you work can take a tremendous bite out of family budgets.

For parents in some states, day care can eat up half of their paycheck.

With those kinds of costs, I often wonder how most families get by.

Somehow they do it, but I’m willing to bet it that it leaves them little, if anything, to save for their own retirement or their child’s college education.

We’re facing many financial challenges these days, and I think the only way we're going to survive is to get creative.

I’m one of the estimated 45 million Americans who work from home, and that flexibility has been invaluable as a parent.

I work while watching my daughter Madeleine two or three days a week. My father and stepmother watch her the other days.

My daughter and I hard at work in our New Orleans home.

I won’t say it’s been easy.

When my daughter was three months old, she was content sitting beside my desk all day. Most of her time was spent napping.

All that changed when she started crawling. And then all that changed again when she started walking. And things will likely change next month and next year.

Throughout it all, I’ve found creativity and flexibility to be the most important things in working with a child.

It’s futile to even attempt to make her conform to my work routine, so I make my business and schedule conform to her.

And I’ve done just about everything. I’ve worked with masks on my face. I’ve played nursery songs in my office. I take breaks to play peek-a-boo and read picture books.

Throughout the day, I move throughout the house with my laptop. We might be in the living room for an hour. Then we’re in her bedroom for a bit. Then we’re at the kitchen table. Then we’re on the porch. We go upstairs, downstairs, and I move around every hour to keep her from getting bored.

Wherever we go, we always have toys with us.

Lately, I’ve even started bringing my laptop to the playground.

I try to schedule my phone calls and interviews around her naptime.

I even made her a member at my gym. For only $25 per month, I get up to two free hours of child care a day.

Going by the costs in this study, that’s an amazing deal.

It gives me a half hour of workout time followed by an hour and a half of quality baby-free work in the café.

It’s a huge benefit for her too, because it gives her socialization with other kids that she doesn’t get when she’s with me or my parents.

Every time she has gone through a change and a stage, I adjust my work flow to meet her needs. What worked last month doesn’t work this month, and what works this month likely won't work next month.

Sure, there have been some bad days. But they’re few and far between.

On those rare days, I just stop working, enjoy being a father and then handle my business later when my wife gets home.

I have had a slight dip in productivity, earning about 15% less than before I became a father. But we’re saving enough on day care to “earn back” at least half of that loss.

I’m also getting to spend valuable time with my daughter, something few fathers have the opportunity to do.

Before I became a father, everyone told me it was impossible to work with a child by my side. But 14 months into this, I’m still doing well. And I will do anything and everything it takes to keep doing it.

When she starts preschool in a couple of years, I should be able to get back into a more child-free work environment.

But to be able to make a living and take a Monday morning break to play games with my daughter is amazing.

You just can’t put a price on that.