Freelancing is a great option for women in large part because many women would like the ability to switch their emphasis between their work life and their home life at different moments in their careers.
What better job than one you can dial back and up seamlessly as needed?
This is what I did — I was a full-time freelancer when my daughter was born, and at that point I stopped freelancing almost entirely for a year or so, doing just enough here and there to keep my oar in with a few old and valuable clients. When she was one I started doing a little more, and when she passed two, I was ready to dial back up to full-time freelance.
Just because the career is amazingly flexible doesn’t mean it’s magical, however. There’s a mythos surrounding the “mommy blogger” and the “mompreneur” — an idea that you can design and execute a full-fledged career as a freelancer or otherwise self-employed person while simultaneously parenting.
When people talk about mommy bloggers, they’re not thinking of people who blog about motherhood while their kids are at daycare. They are thinking of moms who blog — somehow, magically — while their kids are napping or doing Instagrammable crafts in the other room or just sitting quietly and playing with blocks because of course that’s what small children do all day.
The idea is that you can add the work of freelancing into your parenting schedule to earn a little extra money or build up a portfolio for eventual world domination once your kids hit grade school.
But how realistic is this?
It is technically possible to do some amount of freelance work while your kids are with you, whether they sleep until a respectable time in the morning, take solid naps, are really good at entertaining themselves, or are somehow else able to keep out of your hair for long enough for you to think.
But this is a very difficult way of working; you’ll never get any downtime, for one. And you will have a hard time scheduling things such as interviews and, well, deadlines because of all the “what ifs.” What if little Jimmy’s nap goes badly that day, or he has a meltdown when he’d usually be playing on his own, or gymnastics class is canceled and you were counting on that half-hour to knock out a blog post?
I’ll admit that before I had my child I had romantic visions of being able to sit click-clacking on my laptop while my baby rocked blissfully in her chair nearby, cooing and smiling. Or I pictured her crawling sedately around the living room while I sat on the sofa tapping away on an article. I honestly thought I’d be able to do a decent amount of work while my kid was not only at home but also awake.
Now, my kid is particularly intense and sociable, so my experience won’t reflect that of all parents. But I don’t know if there was a single instance in the two years I was home with her and trying to freelance at the same time that I actually did any work while she was awake. And even when she was asleep I was usually so tired and had so much else to do that I couldn’t concentrate on freelance work at all.
I finally gave up when she was six months old or so and hired a babysitter to take her for a few hours a week while I worked on a big project I had just landed for one of my tried-and-true clients. The babysitter cost much less each hour than I was bringing in, so it was worth it to be able to actually complete the work.
It was that first day that I watched the babysitter strolling off with my kid on a walk while I stayed at home with my laptop that I realized how misplaced my expectations about freelancing-while-momming had been. From then on I mostly only worked while she was with a babysitter, and also sometimes after she went to bed as she got older.
I wasn’t able to truly relaunch my freelancing on any robust level until she started going to daycare after she turned two and I was able to finally work all day uninterrupted.
There are many ways to make freelancing work, and many parents have far different childrearing experiences than mine that allow for a more successful mix of the two. But the big thing I learned in trying to do both at the same time is that you can’t count on being able to do so.
I’ve heard from enough other freelancing moms desperately asking questions like “how do I get this project done when my toddler won’t nap?!” to know that I’m not the only one who’s been frustrated by the general incompatibility of small children and detailed professional work.
My answer to most people who ask such questions is usually the obvious: “Hire childcare.”