Childcare entrepreneur, blogger and mother of four, Nicole Dash, on how to balance work and home life this summer.
By Julie Gallagher
Washington Life: Why is summer such a difficult and stressful time for working parents, particularly in Washington, D.C.?
Nicole Dash: Washington, D.C. is a transient area and many people here don’t have the support of extended family nearby to help when school is closed. For working parents it’s an expensive and time-consuming process to find child care to cover the months schools are closed. If you are able to work from home or be home during the summer, the stress comes from finding enough ways to keep the kids engaged and in some semblance of a routine, so you can still get everything done on your to-do list.
WL: Can you talk a little bit about Play, Work or Dash and the inspiration behind opening it?
ND: I am extremely passionate about helping families and I saw a gap in the current offerings for child care. As a former day care business owner who ran a marketing consulting business as well as a parenting blog (www.TinyStepsMommy.com), I understood that an entire segment of parents are under-served. These parents are contract employees, freelancers, solo-preneurs, students, or part-time work-from home professionals who all have flexible schedules and don’t necessarily need full-time child care. But, these parents still need support and a way to get work done. Squeezing in their work between nap times and after their kids go to bed is not a long-term solution. So, I created Play, Work or Dash, a flexible solution for parents who work from home or work for themselves. I believe that Play, Work or Dash is the co-working answer for parents with young children. You can focus on your work and join a community of like-minded professionals while feeling confident that your children are well cared for in the same building. Our tagline is “Bring Your Kids to Work” because I believe that this could be the way of the future.
WL: What kind of impact does a place like Play, Work or Dash have on the families who use its services?
ND: When parents walk into Play, Work or Dash they come ready to get their work done. Their productivity is amplified because they understand the value of working uninterrupted. These parents schedule their phone calls around their time here. They also tackle everything they can’t normally do with their kids around. These parents tell me that by boosting their productivity, they can actually spend more quality time with their kids. They are also able to get more sleep and reduce the late-night post-bedtime work time. Another benefit is that these parents get a much needed break from their kids without feeling guilty because the kids are being engaged, having fun, playing with other children and are still in close proximity.
WL: How can parents rework their schedules so they can find time to spend with their kids and not stay up all night working?
ND: I always suggest scheduling out your work time in blocks instead of trying to squeeze in work between everything else. Invest in support – either by using a service like Play, Work or Dash or by hiring babysitters or even creating a work-from-home co-op of other parents. Use this blocked off time to get everything done you can’t do with the kids around – like making business calls or writing a proposal. Then use this same idea to block off quality time with the kids. Pick a few days to do a fun family outings and then keep the rest of the activities low-key. Blow bubbles on the front porch, have a family picnic or just go for a walk. Also, I encourage everyone to institute alone activity/work/play time in your house. You can teach your children from a young age that it’s important to have quiet alone time. You don’t have to entertain your children every moment of every day. I suggest setting-up separate reading/play/work stations for every member of the family and maybe even play soothing music in the background while everyone focuses on an individual activity. Start with 20 minutes and work your way up as the kids get older.
WL: What are some summer alternatives to childcare and school? How can parents find these alternatives?
ND: Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of alternatives, which is why I created Play, Work or Dash. You can always hire a babysitter, create a co-op of parents to help each other, or enlist extended family to support you during the summertime.
WL: Having to work while your child is at home can be emotional for a parent. How can parents cope with those feelings?
ND: There is no perfect solution and those pangs of guilt can be stirred regardless of how much you work or your child care arrangement. It’s important, however, to forgive yourself and make the most of your time with your children when you can. Just because you work all day long doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a summer experience with your children. The days are longer, which means you can take advantage of that extra sunlight each day to catch fireflies at twilight, make sundaes on your back deck, or eat dinner by your local pool. The simple moments count!
WL: Why is it important for parents to spend time with their children when they aren’t working?
ND: There is a reason children will get louder when you are on the phone or start arguing with siblings as you sit down to your laptop or respond to an email on your phone. Kids want your undivided attention. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work while they are around. It does, however, mean that you should stop trying to multi-task all the time. Block off work time as well as quality kid time. Let your kids see that there is a time to play and a time to work. Lead by example and then maybe your kids will realize that the phone isn’t something to compete with.
WL: DC is a busy, growing city. Do you have any tips for how parents can keep up with that demand, and even expand or improve their work during the summer?
ND: Yes, Washington, D.C. is a busy, growing city. Because of this many parents feel this need to compete on all fronts – professionally and personally. I am, however, am a strong advocate for keeping things simple. You can find your balance and be productive and grow your business as long as you keep your priorities in check and simply invest in what is most important. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and take a moment for yourself when needed. Clarity and purpose come in the quiet moments, not while you are always on the move. My hope is that more businesses like Play, Work or Dash that support families in a different way pops up. As our economy changes, so should that way we seek out that much-needed support.
WL: Why do you think so many people, especially women, are starting businesses here in the Washington area?
ND: I believe there are four reasons: Flexibility – Parents want to determine their own schedule and be there for their kids as needed. Income – With the high-cost of living for the DC area, many families need more than one income – yet the cost of child care is often too high to justify working full-time. Opportunity – There is a lot of opportunity to pursue your passions in this area. There is a lot of talent that are going off on their own. Timing – Often having a child realigns your priorities and is the catalyst for making a change and pursing your passions.
WL: What do you do when you are crunched for time with work, but your kids are looking for something to do?
ND: I set-up separate work/play stations for my kids and have everyone spend some quiet alone time. Sometimes this means allowing them to play minecraft on the computer or get in some tablet time. Other times this is putting a bunch of art supplies on a table and ask them to make a gift for someone. I also love giving them Play-doh, sidewalk chalk, water bottles, and snacks and have them play outside in the backyard or on our enclosed deck. But, if all else fails, you can always pop into Play, Work or Dash. Simply set-up an account online at PlayWorkDash.com and then make a reservation with as little as 30 minutes’ notice 😉
Play, Work or Dash is currently offering a Summer 16-pack of “Work and Play” passes, which allows you to work onsite for 90 minutes while your children are cared for during June, July and August. You can also use the promo code SUMMER15 to receive 15 percent off everything, including memberships, date nights (July 8 and August 5) and the Summer 16-pack.