I like to scan through a lot of parenting blogs and sites to see if there is anything interesting I can share with you all, trending topics that appear and reappear, or just read through fun stories for a laugh. I’ve recently seen a lot of people posting about working at home and/or deciding to join the world of the freelancer. I’ve also seen a lot of honest blog posts talking about how much harder it is than they expected, and how they are struggling with finding work, or just finding the time to do the work. As someone who has been a freelancer on and off since I was in my early 20’s (so for at least 15 years) I have a bit of a different perspective on how much of a struggle it can be. For many years I have paired my freelancing career with other jobs, often dropping freelancing for more stable income (living in NYC isn’t easy!). But when you become a parent things tend to shift.
I recently wrote an article about parental leave policies in different countries, focusing on the fact that it doesn’t exist in the US (paid or unpaid). When my boss, who had created a job for me to come back to after a couple of months, casually asked me if and when I was coming back I immediately asked her if I could work from home with one day at the restaurant per week, and bring my child. She said she would talk to her partner and never got back to me. Which was fine, because we had been researching childcare costs and my weekly wages would barely cover them. Working from home would have allowed me to have my kid with me 24/7 and not worry about showing my severely sleep deprived face to the world, but I couldn’t commit to going back to work right then. We calculated with my partner that his 70 plus hour a week job (in the same restaurant) would cover costs and we would just tighten our belts while I went back to freelancing again.
Stay at home mums tend to get a lot of flack in the US for some reason. There is always the assumption that you stay at home as a luxury, because you can afford to, not out of necessity. A woman once yelled at me while waiting for an elevator in the subway, telling me that she deserved to get in before me because she was tired and didn’t have the luxury of being a stay at home mum to her kids. My daughter was two months old and at that very moment in time I had been trying to think how I was going to make rice, beans and cheese stretch for a few more days. I actually don’t know many stay at home mums who don’t have a side job of creating and selling something, working late at night on website designs, copywriters, translators and a whole slew of other jobs. Hustling, always hustling. When I was little my mum and her friends sold Avon, packed stuff into boxes for stores, and did odd jobs here and there to make ends meet. Everything always needed to be stretched to its limits and reused over and over again. Counting pennies has never been an alien concept to me, but after years and years of getting by all by ourselves finding ourselves struggling was a bit disconcerting.
So when we decided that I would stay home with the baby (who was also extremely high needs), I went back to the drawing board, contacted old clients, refreshed my online profiles and started applying for jobs again. The main issue with being a freelance writer, and this probably goes for many other freelance jobs too, is that nowadays people can get their job done for next to nothing, and are not always that bothered about quality. Or they don’t provide the correct instructions, or neglect to provide feedback and then get annoyed because you haven’t provided them with what they really want. There are many jobs available if you don’t mind writing 1,000 word articles for $6. Otherwise you really have to find a niche, a good client or two, and never, ever count on everything lasting forever. Being a freelancer means I work around my kids, from my phone and laptop, early in the morning, and often, like now, late at night. It means I don’t really take time off either. I try to structure my work around my partner’s days off so we have family time together, but it doesn’t always work out that way. When I had my second child I accepted a large job that would go on for a month and paid well, not realizing that I would basically be working around the clock, usually with one or two kids attached to a boob or two. That first month postpartum is still a blur. This time I am planning on taking a week off, but no more, because the more time you take, the less work you come back to.
Another misconception people often have is that as a writer I probably only write about things I like. Well, yes I do write about things I love. But I don’t get paid for that. I get paid to write about things for other people: corporate blogs, emails, real estate copy, travel content, technical documentation etc, often subjects I know nothing about but research and then write about. A big part of being a successful freelance writer is blagging your way into a job and then continuing to blag your way into writing good copy. A good writer can write about anything, and convince the reader that they are experts in the field. These are not things that you learn off the bat either, I’ve had my fair share of clients drop me because I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. And that’s fine, because in the end I’ve always found one or two with whom it clicks and with whom a mutual trust develops. Some jobs work out well, others don’t.
It’s basically all about not giving up. Working from home may seem like THE ultimate luxury, and maybe it is if you have childcare and no one bothering you 24/7, but freelancing, or working from home with your kids is a whole other kettle of fish. We try to never count on my income as regular income, but in the end it always gets used as such, because there is always something that needs paying or buying. I also need to make sure I put money aside in order to pay taxes every year, especially if I am having a good year, and also to keep proper books because you will get audited at some point (happened to me last year for the year before). There is always a little voice demanding your attention and anyone who says they put their full attention on their kids while working is not telling the truth. I do my best work when the kids are asleep. Or at least my best editing work. There is no easy work-from-home-fix, despite what people may try to tell you. You will constantly have half your attention on your child(ren) and the other half on work. It takes twice the amount of time to write something because you are getting up every 5 minutes to refill a cup of water, answer a question or cuddle a child. You say “no” a lot and then feel guilty and overcompensate. Like everything in parenting it is a delicate balancing act.
It works for me, and it works for our family, but I can completely understand it not working for other people. The instability, the never knowing how much work you may or may not have every month, the constant hustling, and also the hours are not easy. But I do love that I can work from home around the kids, and that I am also building my career up so that once the kids are at school I will be able to go back to work full time (and probably accomplish a lot more in those hours I have all to myself).
With maternity leave and pay not always an option, and leaving your children in daycare not always financially feasible, did you try the freelance life? How did it work out? Is it a temporary option or something more permanent? We would love to hear your stories!
Cover image: blog.freelance.com