Along with redundancy, becoming a parent is one of those life changes that often makes people consider freelancing. Freelancing can offer a flexibility that employment of any kind finds hard to match. However, as any freelancing parent will tell you, freelancing isn’t all fun, freedom and food whenever you fancy, and it has its own family-and-career-juggling issues.
So here are some ways to make your life easier and your freelancing (and parenting) more successful.
Accept you can’t always work and parent at the same time
If you always try to work while you’re looking after your children, either your work or your children will suffer – and probably both.
You may have to travel or attend a meeting. Sometimes you will need space to concentrate, or make a phone or video call without worrying about your children interrupting or singing The Wheels on the Bus very loudly in the background.
BBC News gave us a fine example of this predicament and if you haven’t seen this amusing clip of a journalist working from home and interrupted by his children live on TV, watch it to give yourself a giggle (and a timely lesson!).
So, freelancing doesn’t always mean you don’t need to arrange or pay for childcare, particularly if you intend to work full-time. If you’re lucky, there may be a family member who can childmind for you, or friends you can form a cooperative childcare system with, so that you trade a childfree morning for looking after their child at another time.
If your children are very small, you may be able to work while they sleep, but it’s not something you can rely on. Also, if your children are very young, you may be needing a daytime nap as well! If they’re bigger, they will quite rightly need your attention, both emotionally and developmentally. They will need to be talked to and played with!
As freelance writer Frances M. Thompson comments on her blog, “Personally, on some days I am productive enough to run a small country during my son’s two-hour-nap but other days (ahem, most), all I want to do is reply to a few emails and then crash out on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good book.”
You must be realistic about your workload and deadlines
It may be tempting to impress your clients with an amazingly close deadline, but don’t do it. Estimate realistically how many hours or days it will take you to do the work and then add 20%; 10% for unexpected work issues and 10% for unexpected parenting issues.
If one or more of your children are ill or you find yourself without childcare, your work may need to come to an abrupt halt, so it’s better to always add some redundancy to your calculation before giving, or agreeing to, a completion date – and working a little ahead of your schedule too, if you can. You did know that in the UK, one in three boys and one in five girls breaks a bone, right?
Always be honest with clients
While I would never suggest that you fill your emails to clients with endless details of your family life, don’t feel that you have to pretend you’re not a parent and can’t mention your family.
If you only work three days a week and are the main carer of your children on the other days, politely explain to your client that unless it’s urgent, you don’t take work calls on certain days etc. Maybe you do look at work emails on those days, but only once a day. The details are up to you, but make sure you establish those boundaries.
if you need to take some time to look after your child because they’re unwell (or have broken that bone!), let your client know. It’s better (and actually more professional) to tell them straightaway so that you can both try to find solutions, rather than wait until you run out of the time and energy to deliver quality work on time.
Remember, there’s no shame in being a parent who works – or a worker that parents. As Frances M Thompson says, “If you pretend you’re not a parent, you are reinforcing this philosophy that work is more important than family and that one part of your identity is worth more than another.”
Are you a freelancing parent? How has the experience been for you, and what reality checks would you give fellow freelancing parents?