Practitioner as Parent

A Fine Balance

By Robert Chute

Before my wife and I had children, I spent 8–10 hours a day at work. Then one New Year’s Eve, at the stroke of midnight, my wife whispered to me that she was pregnant. My professional life was about to change in ways I never would have predicted. If you’re a massage therapist with kids or if they’re on the way, you have things to sort out. Money, time, and management of the sweet new variables in your life make you reprioritize. Things change and it won’t all be for the better, unless you deal with these issues in a conscious and proactive manner.        

MTs, Kids, and Cash

In considering whether or not to start a family, yes, there are options to weigh. Maybe you don’t really like short toothless people with poor impulse control who poop wherever they happen to be. If you choose not to have children, that’s not selfish (though yes, your mom can’t wait to be a grandmother). However, some people wait until they have the recommended year’s savings in the bank—admirable, but not very realistic. You can take solace in the fact that nobody seems to have enough cash and yet we carry on with blind optimism. The average American child costs $148,320 to raise to age 171 and lots of kids don’t leave home until they’re much older than that. You don’t even want to know what it will cost to help them get through college. And yet, somehow people manage. In fact, in many countries, people have children because they are poor.

Massage therapists, on average, have massage-related income totalling less than $20,000 2 and yet we keep on having kids. If this were purely an issue of logic, you could convince me we shouldn’t reproduce, but we’re very happy we did, and it’s not an issue of pure logic. If it were, you probably wouldn’t be here either.

I thought I would spend even more time at the clinic to pay for my new bundle of joy. However, after the birth of my daughter, I chose to downshift from my full-time practice to three part-time jobs: massage therapist, editor/writer, and peer assessor. My full-time job is now stay-at-home dad. 

My wife and I juggle schedules, so I see 10–12 clients a week. I go back and forth from the kids’ school four times a day, and we are constantly ferrying children to and from the park, Girl Scouts, soccer, and play dates. When I was a kid, I didn’t need a calendar to track my social life. I disappeared frequently for hours without my parents knowing where I was. Somewhere along the way, the culture shifted. Being a parent now means being very involved—for some, to the point of micromanagement.

Single-parent massage therapists are dancing as fast as they can. It’s humbling to think there are 5.6 million stay-at-home moms in America3 doing it all without the help of a partner. A single woman and massage therapist I know tells me she can’t stop for lunch breaks. She has no one to support her “like you,” she says pointedly.

She has a point, though. My wife has the real job as a school psychologist. I don’t use the term real in the sense that my work has less value, but my job pays less. My contribution to the family is less tangible, but it comes down to this: we don’t want other people raising our kids.

If I made more money than she does, I’d be out there massaging until my carpal bones fused together. However, my wife is out there winning that bread and bringing home that bacon. She’s part of the 7:30–5:00 world with a regular income and health benefits. If not for her work, I don’t know how we’d pay for the braces my kids will probably need.

If you’re a man at home, be prepared for a few remarks that may get your sneakers in a twist. Despite the fact that my wife works in this century, some of her colleagues have asked her, “So, what does Rob do all day?” Imagine asking any mother at home what she does all day and picture the blistering response you’d get.

According to the 2006 U.S. Census, there are only 143,000 stay-at-home dads.4 However, 20 percent of fathers with employed wives are the primary caregivers for their preschool children. Stay-at-home dads I know bristle at the term babysitter. They prefer caregiver. I prefer the term bodyguard, since it’s all macho and stuff.

When kids are around age 2, it is very much like being a bodyguard for a tiny drunk who has no judgment and no understanding of consequences. For instance, when they play circus and jump off the bed, gravity will ensue. When they slam their head into the floor, we will have to rush them to the hospital to get three stitches and, wow, will there be a lot of blood. Yes, my son conducted that experiment already.

Got Time Management?

Of course, if you are a parent, you don’t have to work from home to continue your work as a massage therapist. If your practice is lucrative and it suits you, it may make perfect sense for you to continue to work as you always have. Except, of course, you have little people in your life now, so nothing will ever really be the same. Mostly, that will be great.

If you choose to continue to work out of an away-from-home office, you’ll have to make arrangements for kid care, but your professional life will be less affected by the onslaught of children. The major change new parents discover is they must become better time managers. 

Massage therapists with children end their sessions on time. They have to leave at the appointed hour and can’t willy-nilly extend that one-hour session to an hour and a half. Kids and their day care providers are waiting. You’ve got to be there. Late is not an option.

Child Care Variations

Paying for an excellent day care is some parents’ first choice, and they’re comfortable with that. However, others feel they have no choice but to put their kids in day care. They might be wrong about that.

A client once told me how envious she was that I could afford to stay home with the kids. I knew her income, so I was surprised at her misconception. She was working only to pay for child care, with nothing left over.

According to an Urban Institute study, 52 percent of families do not pay for child care. Parents, friends, or relatives do the job, or the government or another person pays the cost. Of the 48 percent of working families that do employ child care, the expense averages 9 percent of earnings, “probably the second largest expense … after rent or mortgage.”4 If you want to be at home with your kids, get out a calculator and make sure you aren’t working just to pay for day care. Also consider if staying home with the kids is for you. Both choices—staying with the kids or working away from them—have non-monetary benefits only you can measure. (Check out’s Stay at Home Calculator for helpful guidance on making this important decision:

A couple I know, both massage therapists, have solved their child-minding issues by alternating shifts, hiring employees, and using willing grandparents to back them up. That’s a common solution to the day care crunch.

For several years, before my kids were in school, I hired a nanny for Fridays, my busiest day. We had a series of caregivers, mostly university students who were excellent for our children. They all had the unfortunate habit of graduating and moving far away to pursue their careers, but we’re almost certain our children didn’t drive them away.

The process of finding these gems was trying, though I got a killer cocktail party story out of the applicant who answered our ad drunk. We held a lot of interviews before we found the right people. (Hint for the interview process: good enough isn’t good enough.)

Another option for busy parents is a play date cooperative. I host my kids’ friends and alternate with other parents. The kids keep each other occupied pretty well, so having more kids in the house isn’t the gargantuan task it might seem. It’s free, you get free time in return, and your kids get stimulating time with their friends to burn off some energy that isn’t yours. It works well as long as you keep the silly string locked up, the boys in the backyard, and the girls out of mom’s makeup.

At Home/At Work

We connected with a real estate agent who found us a house with a good layout for a private office. We have an entrance separate from the rest of the house, so clients don’t have to wade through the chaos of toys to get to the clinic.

You have to find the balance between you working around the kids and the kids working around you. Domestic arrangements can be tricky. It is unsettling for your clients to walk through your living space to get to a back bedroom you’ve set up as an office—and stressful for you to try to keep things pristine, safe, and professional all the time.

A separate entrance is best. A sound barrier is your next consideration. Let’s face it, kids are really loud. That should be OK most of the time. Yes, we ask them to use their indoor voices, but who wants to squelch squeals of laughter all the time?

Early Saturday mornings when my daughter was 2, I would be working and I’d hear the pitter-patter of her little feet. The cliché is true. Little kids all have flat feet, so it was a sweet reassurance to hear her slap, slap, slap on the hardwood floor when she got out of bed. By the time your kids are 3 or 4, it’s not a sweet slap, slap, slap anymore. All their weight—40 pounds or so—goes to their heels and each step sounds like an aerial bombardment. Those hardwood floors don’t work well for us these days, so the kids don’t play in their bedrooms while I’m working. We’ve trained them to play quietly where it’s carpeted.

The advantages are that the commute is a few seconds and when my daddy day care duties are over, I disappear into the office for a couple hours to do my bodywork and have the quietest, most relaxing part of my day. I might even have a conversation that doesn’t involve a negotiation about who has more play dates and who deserves more Webkinz.

We have trained the kids well from an early age about professional and personal boundaries. One day Connor was standing in front of the door to the office with his cheeks full and chewing furiously like a squirrel. My wife asked him what he was doing.

“Mom!”—after some more furious chewing he swallowed and said—“I’m going to see Daddy, but you know I can’t take food into the office!”

When a client is on the premises, the household goes into stealth mode. Those couple hours are good times for the kids to read, do homework, watch TV, hit the backyard, play at the park, or run errands with mom. I can always turn up the stereo to mask the odd sound. I’ve never had an office that achieved tomb-like silence when I worked out in the world, either.

As parents we know that when we didn’t have kids we had all the time in the world. Tragically, we didn’t know it then. The fun of playing with our kids balances out family travails, sleep deprivation, and tantrums. But I’m really cutting back on my tantrums.

 Robert Chute is a regular contributor to Massage & Bodywork and you can read his column, Practitioner Parables, on page 144. Contact him at He’ll be glad to read your e-mail when Ciara and Connor let him on the computer.


1. Based on a family making less than $45,800 per year, USDA Expenditures on Children by Families, 2007.

2. Average massage-related income for massage therapists in 2007 was $17,750 (2007 Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals Member Survey).

3. U.S. Census, 2006.

4. “Child Care Expenses of America’s Families,” The Urban Institute, 2000, Linda Giannarelli & James Barsimantov.