Q: I’m anticipating the balance of freelance writing life and motherhood, and I’m curious how you’re handling it these days. Are you building your work schedule around your little guy at the moment, or do you have any childcare help? I’m curious how other moms in a similar career plan out their days and whether it’s possible to do it without outside help.
Am I right?
I speak to this experience as someone who just pulled off two maternity leaves in two years. So, as of this writing, I have a 7-week old asleep in a Boppy lounger on the dryer and a 19-month year old asleep in his room in his crib. Talk about credibility.
Anyway, motherhood has a been a wild, unexpected ride, and I could go on and on, but my official answer on balancing freelancing with parenting is that it’s completely 100% individual.
I’m happy to explain. Here are four things about parenting as a freelancer that caught me by surprise and how I work with them.
For some reason, when I first started down the prickly path of parenthood, I didn’t really factor in childcare! What was I thinking?? I was tripping on some ego-juice and just assumed I’d handle kids in the background of life.
Not. Very much not.
I know some freelance moms who were able to more or less make the “work during naps” model work for them. That sounds amazing, and it’s definitely the best of both words. Mom it up full time, then fire up your computer during naps and make the big bucks.
For me, at least, it very quickly became obvious that that was a pipe dream, and I couldn’t work without dedicated childcare.
It very quickly became obvious I couldn’t work without dedicated childcare.
Why? We make particularly active and alert babies!
When we just had the one baby, he would sleep in 30-4o minute spurts. By the time I put him down and collected my brain for 10 minutes, he’d be up again, and I’d be frustrated and stressed. With two babies, if one is asleep the other is awake (except for right now, this moment… but check with me by the time the blog post is done).
So, by about 4 months with Baby #1, we opted to have a nanny come to our home for childcare. My sweet spot is about 3-4 hours a day, 3-4 times a week, but that scales up and down depending on my workload.
Nanny care is more expensive than daycare, though less so now that we have two kids at home. It costs us about $1000-1500 a month, but it’s worth the price to see my 19-month old clap his hands and dance a little when the nanny walks in the door and know he has her full attention while I’m gone. Stuff like that makes it easier for me to slip away and not spend all my work time crying that my son misses me.
(Let me be clear… I love my quiet computer time, my clients, and working. But when your toddler is freaking out that you’re leaving, it can really hurt to have to go!)
So… how freelancing as a parent will go for you will really depend on your temperament and the temperament of your baby, which you won’t know until it happens. I ended up with an active, alert baby compared to the chill, sleepy baby a lot of my friends have. You may have a chill, sleepy baby, or you may have the second coming of Speedy Gonzalez. It’s out of your hands.
Beyond the actual care-taking of your child, I also underestimated the sheer overwhelming-ness that comes with being the primary caretaker. So, pre-baby, I thought of the baby as “a task” I could check off throughout the day among other tasks. Something like… baby wakes up, so you feed it. Then it’s tired, so you put it to sleep. And then you go about your day.
My motherhood experience ended up being a lot more distracting in every way. Emotionally, physically, hormonally… you name it, it was awry and stressful. I was barely getting by, let alone sitting around with the mental bandwidth to “pop out a blog post” when he finally slept for an hour. And before that hour? It’s more like…
Baby wakes up. Then goes back down without a bottle (wait, wasn’t he hungry?).
Ooops, he popped back up after 10 minutes. Oh, he’s wet. New diaper… but now he’s hungry.
He ate but then spit it up all over both of us, so we both need new outfits.
OK, he’s chilling… but then unhappy again after 10 minutes.
Nope, doesn’t want to nurse. Or swing. Or soft carrier.
Oh, he wants to walk around the apartment and see the light fixtures. That makes sense…
(Note: This is the individual part. I’ve also heard of moms who realized they had so much time on their hands with a baby that that’s when they started their business! That was not my experience, but I hope it’s your experience.)
I’ve heard of moms who realized they had so much time on their hands with a baby that that’s when they started their business! That was not my experience.
So, part of what I need to buy when I pay for childcare is the ability to pick up my work bag, leave my home, and put my brain in a whole other zone of concentration. I’m lucky that a co-working space opened up in my neighborhood, so I “commute” down there and focus on work for a few hours (and then a few more after my husband gets home).
You certainly can crank it out from a desk in your bedroom during naps, but I was really frazzled when I tried to do that, so I don’t do that anymore.
It’s a luxury to be able to think this way, but once I had kids, I started having some serious opinions about what kind of work was “worth” being away from them.
Whereas before kids I might have considered taking calls and writing proposals for work I was lukewarm about, after kids it was suddenly a lot easier to identify the potential projects that I wanted to be involved with. My internal barometer for “This is worth missing time with the kids” and “If I were stuck at work working on this when I could be with the kids, I’d be mad” was finely tuned.
This piece of the puzzle is still evolving as I consider what kind of writing and what kind of clients make me feel like I’m zeroing in on what I was meant to do for a living, but having kids definitely pulled things into focus.
It works the other way, too. When I was locked into a project because I had already committed myself or simply wanted the opportunity for other reasons, it was really hard to focus and appreciate the work! I would find myself procrastinating or thinking of my kids and wishing I were elsewhere the entire time I was trying to research and write. Not cool.
As I adjust to having two babies at home, this one has come to be the real clincher.
Since the first day I started freelancing, I’ve been fed a strong, long diet of “Time is your most valuable asset.” Even though I basically had unlimited time to work each day, I quickly switched to a project rate ASAP, I finely tuned my writing process, and I hunted down the most valuable work I could find, all to make the most of my time.
And then I became a parent, and I found most of my day was spent… just… waiting… for time to pass.
(I’m sorry… I love my kids… and a lot of the time I spend with a toddler is waiting for lunch, waiting for the nap, waiting for dad to get home. It’s just really hands-on and often the opposite of productive!)
That feeling of being stuck in jello most of the time means that when I get my hands on a chunk of work time — when I step outside of the family bubble and become a person in time once again — sometimes I freeze from the pressure.
It’s a lot of pressure to pay $18+ an hour for work time and be away from my two little (stress-inducing) drool-y angels. It’s a lot of pressure to fit a full day of work and marketing and outreach and interviewing into a few hours per week. There’s more pressure than ever to write quickly and efficiently, and sometimes, especially right before my most recent maternity leave, the pressure is too much! And my brain just stops and it’s impossible to “make the most of my time”.
I’m not sure there’s a solution to this — just scheduling as much work time as is reasonable and continuing to train myself to be efficient and productive and capture the flow.
So, there you have it! That’s how we’re handling freelance life with two kids. I can’t believe this is my life or that I’m writing this, but I hope to make the most of it :).
What are you worried about when it comes to freelancing with kids?
P.P. S. Yep, Baby #2 woke up before this post was done!