When I left work to have children they told me that I could, of course, come back full time.
Or not come back at all.
So I chose the latter and spent the subsequent five years at home with tiny children. It was equally a total privilege and pretty darn hard, but I don’t regret a single moment of it.
In fact, one of my biggest motivations to become a freelance copywriter was to have more flexibility so that I wouldn’t be in the situation of someone else choosing when I got to see my children and when I got to work.
My big question about being a freelance mum
To be honest, I think this is how it is for mothers. I think there might be something up with this country. I haven’t worked out what I think yet, so I’m not going on a great big crusade about it quite yet, but I do want to ask a simple question:
How come more career-orientated jobs that are flexible or part-time don’t exist? Why do we just accept that the choice in the creative industries is basically full-time work or full-time home?
I don’t think it’s ok. After all, raising children is outstandingly important, but so are our perspectives and our brains and what we can contribute to the world creatively and economically.
Why does it feel like we’re forced to choose one extreme or the other? And what can we do about it?
I don’t have the answers. But I am asking the question.
When I asked it recently to a friend with a career in HR, and two primary aged children, she said
“We need mothers who understand the problem to get into the top, decision-making roles and start to make changes.”
She’s probably right and I take my hat off to trailblazing mothers striving to do exactly that.
Still, if you’re a freelance mum, it’s likely that one of the reasons you don’t have a “proper job” is to have more flexibility with your kids.
It’s definitely true in my case and as such, I’m not stressing about how I’m going to work all through the Summer holidays and take care of my children. Basically, I’m not going to – and I don’t apologise for it.
So here are 4 things I’m doing to balance being a freelance mum with working through some of the Summer. After all, isn’t getting to do both the reason we started?
1. Decide when you aren’t working
In my spare room there are currently clothes and books and half-empty bottles of suncream lying all over the bed as we get ready to spend 2 weeks somewhere hot and sunny.
To me this time is sacrosanct. It’s not to be interfered with. Instead of writing, I’ll be reading. Instead of answering emails, I’ll be answering small people’s inquisitive questions.
We need this time. We need to be replenished and we need to rest. Without rest, there is no good work.
After a few days of not working my head is so clear that I start to have some of my best ideas again. I don’t want to miss those ideas. So I’m going to stop working completely for two weeks, to invest in my family and invest in my health, and to be inspired. How can we not?
So, yes. Deciding when I am and am not working is the first key to solving the Summer.
2. Plan ahead
As things stand I’m currently booked up 6 weeks ahead for work which means I know exactly what work I have and how long it’s going to take. I’ve put a ceiling on work in July and August and before we go away I write it all down in a blank calendar sheet for August, specifically writing in which jobs I’m going to do day by day.
The benefit of this is that once it’s all planned and written down I feel like I have full permission to switch off and forget about it. I feel confident that the moment I come back to work I don’t have to waste time reminding myself where to start. I just look at my planner and off I go. This can be a total relief when children are occupying more of your time and space than is usual in term time.
I have booked a few full days of childcare in advance, but to be honest, I’ve found that I’m usually more stressed than most of my clients about the slightly longer lead times in this part of the year. I don’t want to ask people to wait.
But if someone a new client trusts has told them I’ve done a good job, they’re often happy to wait – and I’m extremely grateful for it. Don’t forget, other people have sports days and holidays to pack for too, so although they want you to do the work, they’re likely in a similar state of juggling and don’t mind a little flexibility.
3. Set an expectation
When the Summer holidays roll around it’s great to have the freedom to not get dressed all day, but I also find that setting a bit of expectation can help.
I know from experience that when my children get up in the morning they’re at their best and will happily play for a couple of hours, avoiding the kind of brawls they might fall into later on as they get tired.
Since they’re at their best in the morning, my plan is to do a couple of hours of work each morning of the school holidays between about 7am and 9am. That way, we still have the rest of the day to go out and do some fun things together or just laze about in the garden.
I’ll set the expectation that I’ll be working in those hours and I’m expecting them to do their own thing. Then the rest of the day, I’m theirs.
I just feel like laying down some loose ground rules like this is going to help us all to know where we stand.
4. Play the long game
If you just love routine, I get it. Me too. But this is just for a few weeks so keep that in sight and be really flexible.
Try to embrace the lack of routine instead of fighting it and if you get behind where you need to be, try making more use of time in the evenings, even if it’s precious to you. This is all temporary!
If I have to pick one thing, just make a plan. And then if it’s really hot and sunny one day and you feel like heading to the coast, throw it all out the window and do that instead. We are free, freelance mums!
First published on thestitchwriter.com