Ask a diverse cross-section of freelancers why they chose to freelance and some are bound to say they believed it would make it easier to handle their childcare and allow them to spend more time with their child.
But parents who freelance don’t always find it’s the perfect answer. Freelancing as a parent has pros and cons!
– Quality time with your child
Yes, that’s right, quality time with your little angels. You stand a far higher chance of seeing that first smile, step and yes, glamorously, poo in the potty, than a parent who is traditionally employed, and (possibly) a better chance of getting to the bottom of what’s causing that frown on the face of your teen when they walk in the door. If you work from home and they want your attention, you’re there to give it.
– Free, flexible childcare
Childcare is expensive and if you need it to be flexible, expect to see that price soar. Most nurseries are only open on weekdays and for specified hours, and many nurseries will fine you if you’re late for pick-up (or charge you an increased rate). If you get stuck in a traffic or a meeting, or have to work late, this can be a real issue. Some also charge for chunks of time rather than by the hour, so if their afternoon session starts at 12.30pm and you can pick little Jessica up at 1pm, hard cheese; you may well find yourself paying for the afternoon session too.
Childminders, too, tend to prefer a finite end to their day and aren’t always willing or able to keep your child for an extra hour, especially on short notice. This makes caring for your child at home while you freelance a far cheaper, easier and more flexible option, and if your child is school age, you can take them to school and collect them without needing to book them in to breakfast and after school clubs as you would if you were employed. A definite pro!
– Being there when it matters (without booking leave months in advance)
Freelancing as a parent also means you can be there for your child when it really matters: when they’ve won a prize or have a sports days at school, for instance, or if they’re ill and unable to go to school. This is arguably the biggest benefit of being a freelancing parent—especially as, sadly, there are still employers who don’t want to employ mothers because they believe they will be less dedicated and reliable.
If you think this can’t possibly be true in this day and age, 11% of the 3,200 women interviewed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2015 reported having been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant where colleagues were not, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their jobs, either during pregnancy or as new mothers. If replicated across the population as a whole, this could mean as many as 54,000 women losing their jobs each year.
Trying to work while your children are around can be difficult. While it’s lovely to be able to go and see the Lego building they’ve made “right now!”, if you’re engrossed in your work or have just had a brilliant idea, it’s not the ideal time. You also have one ear and one eye on what they’re up to all the time, especially if they’re small. While this is the way it should be, for their safety, it also means you’re not giving your work your undivided attention.
If they’re school age, this isn’t a problem—until it’s the holidays or they’re off sick. While you normally can’t predict when they will be ill, it’s a good idea to plan for a decreased workload during school holiday, because it will be tough to stick to your usual schedule and output.
– Chaos in the background when you’re on the phone (or on a video call)
Who hasn’t seen the clip of the reporter, working from home and live on BBC news, suffering from excruciating embarrassment as one child sauntered in singing behind them and was then joined by a toddler zooming into the room in a walker? If you haven’t, go and take a look here; it’s enough to put anyone off being a freelance parent for life, but the general public thought it was hilarious and Robert Kelly’s family became famous overnight.
It can be hard to be focused and professional on the phone while, in the background, your pre-schoolers have a loud disagreement about whose turn it is to play with the Peppa Pig house (or when your older children crank up the volume on their music!).
– Limits to your working day
It’s hard to work 9-5 or longer when you’re a freelancing parent. If your child is below school age, they will require your care and interaction for a substantial amount of the day and if they’re school age, they may still need you to drop them off and collect them, depending on their age. You’re unlikely to want to make up the hours to a traditional 38-40hr week in the evenings or weekends, as they tend to be the times you can see your partner, family and friends when they are not working (and the times when you can see even more of those pesky kids!).
It’s hard for any employment to replicate the flexibility of a freelance career, but if you’re considering freelancing as a parent, it’s important to be aware that there are cons—particularly if you can’t afford childcare and don’t have any willing relatives to take the children off your hands for a few hours!
Are you a freelancing parent? What are your biggest challenges, and what have the biggest advantages been?