Working from home while parenting can drastically cut childcare costs. But it can also affect your sanity. Here are tips on how to effectively freelance from home while also living up to your parenting expectations.
I had a vision while pregnant with my oldest child. In it, I was writing in a sun-filled, organized office, music playing softly in the background. My child was sitting on a homemade quilt spread out next to my desk, quietly playing with wooden blocks. Every so often we'd look at each other and smile.
My daughter is 6, my twin boys are 4 and I'm a stay-at-home mom. It's summer, so they're always in my office (which is either an antique secretary desk in our dining room, the well-worn couch or my unmade bed). My truths: I've taken client phone calls while locked in the bathroom with my kids yelling on the other side. I've stayed up until 5 a.m. to make a deadline. I've edited while sitting in the car, waiting to pick up my children from school, at a park, in bed with a feverish child, during time-outs, in the glow of a TV playing kids shows from Netflix.
I've been freelance writing and editing – as a stay-at-home mom – for six-plus years. At times I've worried that by juggling both I wasn't doing either well. But in recent years, a few small changes have made freelancing while parenting much better. Here are four tricks of the trade, along with advice from fellow "Not now, I'm on the phone!" freelancers.
1. Invest in a sitter
For several years I refused to spend money on an outside sitter, fearing it would cut too much into my profits. Instead I would start working as soon as the kids went to bed, staying up until the wee hours of the morning. Everything suffered: the work I did at 3 a.m. and then my parenting a few short hours later. Now I use a babysitting service to hire sitters as needed. Yes, it cuts into how much I net. But the upside is stronger work, meaning more future work, and better parenting.
2. Make the time
If I'm on deadline and without a sitter during the day, I start my work as soon as my husband gets home. Yes, he's worked all day at his job. But so have I (parenting). Come 6 p.m., we switch. He parents, I work. He has his job, I have mine, with deadlines, clients to please and paychecks. Talk with your partner and come to an understanding. Drop the guilt and view your job as a job. You deserve quiet, uninterrupted work time, too.
3. Leave the house
One fellow creative told me that her copywriter friend traveled often when her kids were young, so they would be used to their mom being away at times. Whether you're packing your bags for a conference or short-term freelance gig in another city, or you're simply spending the day in a coffee shop or library to work, don't be afraid of not being home. Your children will get used to it and they'll likely prefer it. Give them your undivided attention upon your return and let your sitter give them his or her undivided attention while you're away.
4. Create a routine
My work hours tend to be deadline-driven, but many freelancers work better with a set, daily routine. If your kids are older, enforce a set schedule. Make sure your children know that you're only to be interrupted in an emergency. Consider hiring a sitter for several hours a couple days a week. When working, have self-discipline and ignore the housework and your at-home to-do lists. One creative I spoke with said that when she's really busy, she sets timers to impose deadlines and breaks. Pick a plan, and stick with it.
It can work. It does work. And every family is different. Find what works best for you and those you love, and stop feeling guilty. You deserve your time to work (and, in many cases, your family's finances depend upon it). I believe time spent not parenting makes me a better parent. And there is value in your children seeing you succeed professionally, personally and creatively. Show them, through your actions, the importance of a balanced life, filled with a variety of passions.