Work at Home Jobs for Single Parents, and Making It Work

In May 2014 I ended a twelve year relationship that I’d been in since I left school, and suddenly had to face the prospect of caring for two children and working full time outside of the home, doing all the household chores, shopping for groceries, etc etc. All the usual “mum” stuff but all on my own. It was scary, and hard, and eventually something had to give. I had to return to working for myself from home to give me the flexibility I needed as a single parent to juggle all of my responsibilities as well as allowing me to reduce my reliance on childcare and wraparound school care in order to reduce my monthly outgoings.

I am lucky in that I have a skill that is easily transferable to home working. In fact, I can work from virtually anywhere: well, anywhere with power, wifi and a supply of coffee. But if you’ve been out in the workplace in a non skilled profession or have been a stay at home parent for years, you may not have access to such a marketable skill. So where do you begin if you have limited experience or no prior work at home experience?

5 Low-Skill Flexible Work at Home Jobs for Single Parents

  • Customer support assistants – working for a third party via a virtual call center or online management, respond to customer support requests via email, phone, helpdesk software etc
  • Sales reps – working for a third party selling physical or digital products (sometimes relies on cold calling and sales bonuses, only recommend if you have proben sales experience)
  • Website/App testing – get paid to test websites and phone apps with existing tech equipment most people have at home
  • Data entry – ideal for those who are fast and accurate at typing
  • Audio transcription – listen to audio files and type what you hear (fast/accurate typing also required)

Alternatively, if you’re actually the next Stephen King, have a creative streak, or have managed staff and offices, you might be suited to more skilled roles:

8 Skilled Flexible Work at Home Jobs for Single Parents

  • Crafting/creating – create products at home and sell on marketplace websites like etsy, Supermum’s Craft Fair, etc
  • Copywriting – write copy (text) for others (avoid ‘content mills’ who pay poorly for badly written, churned out text)
  • Editor/Proofreader – proofread other people’s copy quickly, spotting mistakes that others might miss
  • Tutoring – turn your experience into online lessons, webinars, or 1-to-1 tutoring for other people’s benefit
  • Social Media Management – use knowledge of social media to represent the identities of 3rd party companies
  • Virtual Assistants – use office/PA skills to manage and assist other people
  • Translation – if you’re skilled with multiplate languages, translate documents
  • Personal Training – offer diet and fitness tips online through webinars, limited access paid facebook groups, private blogs

Of course, finding a job that you can do from home is just step one. Breaking into a new industry, or starting again from scratch, can be intimidating. It’s even harder if you have to do this while keeping odd hours around school days, children’s nap times and the like.

Getting started working at home as a single parent

So, first things first… you need to figure out if you’re going to work for yourself as a self employed sole trader, or find a company that allows remote home working in the position/career area you’re interested in. If you are going to work for yourself, be sure to read our guide on how to register as self employed. It’s easier than it sounds, can be done online, and is absolutely crucial to ensure your work and income is legal. The last thing any single parent needs is a visit from the tax man! Alternatively, if you plan on remote working for a third party, check out our guide on the ins and outs of remote working.

Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to work, you need to find someone to work for. Workingmums.co.uk has a directory of home working jobs, and The Guardian has a small list too. Be wary of jobs that sound too good to be true: for example, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to turn over thousands of pounds a month in a sales position unless you’re putting in 16 hour days, which is nigh on impossible when caring for children.

If you plan on working for yourself, you need to figure out how you’re going to market your services. We recommend that you start with a business plan with clearly identified goals and a brief run down on how you plan on achieving them. Once the business plan is ready to go, our tips on using twitter for business are a good start for publicity.

When you know how you are going to work, who for, and what your plan of attack for your business is, you can start thinking about how you’re going to fit this into your day. As a seasoned work at home parent my key times for productivity are:

Pre-6am: if I can manage to make it across the landing and down the stairs without waking my early-rising 7 year old, the early hours of the morning are perfect for tackling small jobs that need your utmost concentration. Don’t even think about opening your email or social media though: nobody expects (or deserves) a response at 5am, and this is key quiet time for maximum efficiency.

Daytime naps: unfortunately both of mine are too old to be convinced to nap now, but when I was working at home with a young baby, naptime was a great time to get boring (quiet) tasks finished up… and sometimes I’d manage a hot coffee too. If your baby is one of those awkward fussy ones (is there any other type?) use a sling to keep baby close allowing you to get things done with the comfort of your warmth and smell right there.

Post-bedtime: if you’re not absolutely knackered (and you probably will be for the next few years) and your children have a good bedtime routine which guarantees some alone time past a certain hour, you can plot in a couple of hours work post-bedtime to check off the low-concentration jobs, last emails, social media scheduling: the bits that don’t need 100% attention, because nobody has that to give after a full day of juggling children, chores and work.

Fitting it all in as a single parent

There are two key points to fitting everything in as a single parent. The first is to have something you can “sacrifice” if something else eats too much of your time: in my house, children and work are my priority (in that order) and so the first thing I sacrificed if something went wrong was chores/housework. Yes, sometimes my house looks like I’ve been invaded by an army, but no, I don’t care.

The second key point to fitting everything in is to try and stick to a rough schedule. I know schedules and routines are boring, but if you know what you need to do at 10am on a Monday morning because it’s the same thing you do as every other Monday morning at 10am, that’s one less thing you need to actually mentally process.

With that said, it’s really hugely important to remember that it is just impossible to “have it all”, and attempting to have the perfect everything 100% of the time is going to leave you burned out, stressed and disappointed. I’ve written before on the having it all myth (few mild swear words!)

Networking when you have children

After your home working plan is in place and you know when you need to be doing what, the next step is to ensure that you’re constantly seeking out new contacts. This is just as important for home workers in remote working situations as it is the self employed with their own business (because you don’t want to miss out on a potentially better role just because you’re stuck at home with the kids now!)

There’s a huge network of mum-and-children networking meetings across the UK through services such as Bizmums who offer child friendly networking, so you can go out and meet new people without needing a babysitter or childcare fallback, which can be difficult to source as a single parent.

What now?

With your home work setup running, you and the kids in a loose routine to keep you all sane and (hopefully) the work rolling in, what now?

  • Regularly review your progress, compare it to your business plan and goals
  • Never stop seeking opportunities to grow
  • Share your experiences with others: supporting other work at home parents, especially single parents, is incredibly rewarding

Good luck.

Day in the life of a WAHM

It’s Tuesday morning, 6:50am. The kids have just asked me if it’s morning yet and can we get up, and I send them back to bed knowing full well the alarm is going to go off in 5 minutes, but every second I can spend tucked in bed wrapped in limbs and duvet improves the chances of me not being a grumpy arse when I do get up.

7:05am — oops, I realise I must have forgotten to turn the alarm on last night. Drag my weary butt out of bed and get the kids out of theirs.

The next hour is a confused, frantic mess of breakfast choices, getting the kids dressed and hair brushed (urghhhhhhhhh worst part of every morning), me showered / dressed / protein shake in my gob, feeding the cats and getting everyone out the door. We’re running 10 minutes behind schedule.

8:10am: chuck Izzy out at the school breakfast club. She loves going, because it means she can have a second breakfast and it’s usually poached eggs.

8:25am: drop Olly off at nursery: his favourite lady is there this morning, so we have a smooth and smiley handover. This allows me to recoup some of the earlier lost time.

8:30am: arrive with a client whom I have committed 8 hours a week to, split over 2 days. It guarantees regular income (so a bit of stability for me) which pays my childcare bill, allowing me to do all my other (more profitable) work.

Work work work.

12:30: home time

12:45: raid the fridge for anything vaguely edible

1pm: catch up on e-mails, social media

1:30pm: remember I’m supposed to be working, close down twitter

2pm: remember I’m supposed to be working, really close down twitter this time

2:05pm: realise that the spreadsheet I’m working from is out of date (probably because I haven’t updated it)

2:15pm: chuck some notes in spreadsheet, mark things completed, email to client in anticipation of call at 2:30 which is probably going to be a telling off because I expected to have other bits done by now (August was a disaster work-wise)

By 2:20pm I’m already sweating. Not because I’m hot (hello, Britain, September!) but because I hate phone calls. There’s something about not being able to read the body language and facial expressions of someone that reduces me to a jibbering wreck.

2:32pm: Desperate for a pee and the call is already late, what do I do, what do I do?

2:33pm: Risk it.. sit down, start to pee, phone rings. Pee faster, pee faster! Grab phone, accidentally cut him off.

2:34pm: Call back, telling off for slipping deadlines and unclear communication. Oops :(

2:58pm: Joke about pee on twitter, suddenly remember I need to pick the kids up. Forget sometimes there’s an “M” part to this WAH thingy.

7:53pm: Sit back down at computer somehow having lost 5 hours to feeding, bathing, bedtime stories and the like. Suppose I best get some work done. Ooh, what’s happening on twitter….

Taking it Personally

I had a couple of clients (rightly) tell me off this week because schedules had slipped and this wasn’t communicated as well as it could have been. I only have myself to blame, and I don’t mind being honest about it. I should have better anticipated the impact of the summer holidays and time off on my workload and adjusted my schedule (and as such, client expectations) to suit.

Still, knowing and accepting where I went wrong doesn’t stop me from taking the kick up the arse personally. When a client wants more or wants something faster, I assume I’m not doing a good enough job. If I can’t deliver above and beyond expectations then I’m failing.

It’s hard not to take it personally: after all, my work is a huge part of who I am. Lots of people work their 9-5 and go home, but not only have I built my identity on what I do over the past 15 years, but I work well into the evenings, organise life around work (rather than the other way around) and all from 2ft from my bed now, which makes it really hard to detach even when I want to without literally leaving the house.

Sometimes I wonder if I should be more rigid and stick to socially acceptable working hours, but I’m not sure that would stop me taking it personally when things go wrong. And after all, if I’m personally invested in a project I have a reason to put 110% into it, making it the best it could possibly be.

Or that’s what I tell myself, anyway.

One month since…

I jumped back into freelance
I had this rough plan in my head: I was going to ease myself into freelance, taking the first two weeks gently to try and get rid of some of the symptoms of burnout that I’d been experiencing previously, and then finish off some jobs that had been hanging around for a while and THEN go out and get new work in.

What actually happened was that I’d won a ton of new work before I’d even left my full-time job, existing clients suddenly dumped a load of ongoing stuff on me, and a long term client indefinitely reserved 8 hours of my time a week split over two 4-hour ‘days’ which I do onsite. This gives me some guaranteed income which just about covers my childcare, so that I can chuck everything else at my mortgage and bills.

Although I have had some days where I have sat staring at a blank screen for hours, my mojo is occasionally putting in an appearance and I’m getting shit done.

Gaz moved in
And everything is great. I wake up in the morning wrapped in duvet and limbs and feel utterly content. I hear the door open and close as he gets home from work and it doesn’t matter how shit my day was, it makes me smile from ear to ear. It’s the small things like coffee in bed on a Saturday morning or a quick phone call after work to see if I need anything picking up from the shops, and it’s the big things, like stepping up and helping out with the kids so that I don’t have to be in two places at once.

I was regularly working out
I touched upon this in my muddy in London post, but I’ve barely done anything physical in July: running and lifting both out of the window thanks to moving and work and holidays. I have been feeling squishy round the middle (although the number on the scale remains patiently the same, give or take 1lb or 2) and so chucked myself head first into a basic squat workout on Friday.

I still don’t have a squat rack, so it was basically overhead press into back squat, 27kg, 5 sets with the following reps: 6-8-10-8-6. I was dead on my feet by the end and was feeling pathetic and lazy, but then realised that (given my normal workouts are 5×5) I’d done 19 more reps than usual. Although I’m not lifting at my heaviest (32.5kg) this helped me feel a little more badass and reassured me that taking the month off had not too badly affected my strength.

Of course, I woke the next morning numb from the waist down and couldn’t get up and down the stairs, but that’s beside the point…

I need to clear out the utility, which is currently full of kitchen appliances shifted out there post-Gaz-move, so that I can re-convert it into my “home gym” and get my arse back on the wagon.

In completely unrelated news, one of the items on my 30 before thirty list is blogging every day for a month, a challenge I haven’t successfully completed in many years. I’d like to try and tackle that one sooner rather than later (to give me time to try again if I go wrong) so if there’s anything you want to hear from me about (updates on old posts, specific questions, etc) PLEASE speak up, I’m going to need all the help I can get :)

Laptop Limbo (and some news)

As I count down the days til I’m back at my desk at home, I feel like I’m in sort of “work limbo” right now. I’m actively seeking and quoting for freelance opportunities — some of which are looking more positive than others — but I still have a huge amount of work on at the day job, all of which I need to get through before I can actually leave. I’m effectively back to trying to fit two full time jobs worth of stuff in to one day, without sacrificing all of the other things I have going on (like, uh, raising my children).

I really want to make working from home actually work (haha pun) for me this time. As mentioned previously on the blog, I’ve got my plans in place to get me out of the house so that I don’t turn into a hermit. I’ve got my desk set up with space to spread out (unlike my original home working desk area!) and I’m even considering investing in some new tech so that I’m not slowed down by a hardware bottleneck. I have been working on laptops for over 10 years now, but the call of the power of a desktop machine has been tugging at me for 6 months or so (and not just so I can get back into gaming during my spare time … what is that again?)

Looking at Tesco’s laptop v. desktop info to try and figure out what I want to do, I can see that the pros of keeping the laptop mean retaining the portability I have now (super important) but then I watch Gaz switch between his laptop (at mine, or downstairs at his) and desktop and he makes it seem effortless so it’s not an all or nothing scenario. Pros of a desktop include greater power, and less likely to succumb to damage (because it’s out of the way of sticky fingers).

To complicate matters further I’m in a bit of “home limbo” right now too. I recently asked Gaz to move in with me and he said yes (yay!) so I’m in the process of decluttering and getting rid of everything that isn’t 100% necessary to make room for his stuff. This means that I’ll likely be getting rid of my desk, which is fine because I can work anywhere (including at his desk) with my laptop, but fitting two desktops on one desk is impractical. He has suggested I just use his PC, but I’d find that really weird. I’d feel like I’m invading his privacy, even with my own user account.

I guess ultimately my choice will come down to two things: 1) can I afford a new desktop? (probably not) and 2) am I likely to see sufficient speed gains by switching to an SSD hard drive? (probably would) Guess I’ve solved my own dilemma there…

Flippity Flop

Keeping with the “posts I didn’t think I’d write” theme, I have some slightly less traumatic but otherwise Important Life Stuff news.

Having earlier this week spent the Nth (I’ve lost count) night waking up — tossing and turning — stressing about work, I decided that enough was enough this week. The reasons are many and varied but… I just can’t lie in bed when the alarm clock goes off, dreading getting up and wanting to call in sick: it’s not sustainable and is having a massive effect on my mental health (which has been up and down over the past year as it is). I miss my mojo. I’ve handed in my notice at matm.

A couple of full time opportunities cropped up in the week (coincidence) but ultimately I’m 99% sure at this stage that I’m going to return to freelancing. The flexibility around the kid’s schedule will be a massive help, the ability to go for a run in the middle of the day if my mood hits a big low, not having to deal with petty office politics etc. It’s a win-win situation as far as I can tell. (Apart from having to earn a massive amount to cover my monthly bills, but eh, IT’LL BE FINE!)

One of the big things I struggled with last time, and a big part of why I stopped working at home, was an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I got to the point where I was talking to the postman and inviting Jehovah’s Witnesses in for a cup of tea. I don’t want that to be the thing that stops me from making this opportunity a success, so I will be addressing this as soon as possible. I am not sure how yet, but I’ve had loads of ideas (and nicked other people’s): volunteering somewhere a few hours a week, working in a client office occasionally, working in the local pub for a few hours (actually, maybe not this one… ;))

I want to be able to look at this opportunity the same way I looked at it last time: mostly positive.

It’s just a shame that this is timed so spectacularly badly, given that I’ve not long listed WAHMweb.co.uk up for sale because of lack of time to dedicate to it. And it’s too late to cancel the sale, too :(

Anyway, I’d appreciate your well wishes and crossed digits in the coming months. And if you need a website…