The unofficial freelancing guide for the stay-at-home parent
In April of 2013 I quit a job I loved to stay home with the kids I love even more. I began freelancing in February of 2014 in anticipation of when my oldest would start kindergarten the following Fall. It was then that I realized that, in a burst of optimism and excitement, I had inadvertently combined two of the most difficult jobs on earth into one giant ball of panic-induced adrenaline. On any given day in those seven months before my oldest started school, if you dropped by my house you’d likely encounter an un-showered and pajama-clad Liz intermittently staring intently at her laptop as SpaghettiOs turned to charcoal on the stove, and jumping up to shout random phrases at the kids like, “STOP TRYING TO PUT YOUR SISTER IN THE DISHWASHER!”. As a freelancing stay-at-home parent you don’t have the option to take your laptop and go sit in the blissful heaven that is Starbucks. You’re in the trenches misspelling proper nouns like “Canada” in an email while a toddler yanks on your pant leg and your stomach rumbles with gas from eating too many discarded peanut butter crackers. So I’d like to share with you the things I’ve learned in undertaking this task, in the hopes that it will dissuade you from trying it yourself. If you’ve already undertaken this ill-advised mashup of a job, my condolences.
Lesson #1: Forget about working in the morning while the kids sleep, it ain’t happening. Work during naps instead, and after bedtime.
Before I started freelancing I was somehow able to get my kids to sleep until nine in the morning. This was a real victory for me, given that my oldest would forego sleep completely if her body would let her. So, when I started freelancing I thought, “Hey, no problem, I can get up at six and get three hours of work done before they even stumble into the living room asking for poptarts!” Nope. There must be some kind of sixth sense kids have for when the freelancing parent is awake, because for 10 months my husband had gotten up at 6:30 and left the house by 7 AM with no issues whatsoever, but as soon as mom starts stirring the whole house is suddenly bright-eyed and bushy tailed. And don’t even go there with the “he must be quieter than you” because he charges around slamming doors and cabinets and stomping his huge feet like a pissed off T-Rex and everyone continues to snore. I would get up and tiptoe around like a mouse with the ability to levitate and somehow my very awareness brought them out of slumber. For whatever mysterious reason, it is a lot easier to get work done while they’re napping or after bedtime, so a lot of my work wouldn’t happen until about 2pm or 8pm, regardless of how early I arose.
Lesson #2: You can subsist off leftovers.
I’d love to say that I’m one of those moms who feeds my kids nothing but organic kale and flax-seed mixed into paraben-free greek yogurt, but that would be a lie, and I cannot tell a lie. Unless you ask me if those skinny jeans make your butt look too big, in which case, no, you look amazing. Sadly, my kids are ridiculously picky, even my youngest, who (when she was an infant) ate all kinds of pureed vegetables and fruits that she inexplicably won’t touch anymore. As if freelancing parents have time to make meals for themselves at all, let alone fight with the kids about eating actual healthy whole foods. It’s pretty much all I can do to even ensure my daughters don’t end up like that girl who can only eat chicken nuggets. So after my girls take two bites of their PB&Js and run off with the goldfish and milk, I am left to the bounty of half-eaten sammies and un-touched baby carrots. Voila, two lunches in one. Hashtag delicious.
Lesson #3: All the household chores can be done* in the 30 minutes before your spouse gets home.
I know, I know, about half of you right now are questioning “Why do I even care about this?” “No one cares if my house is messy” you think, or “My house is always clean” you lie. You may skip ahead to Lesson #4. For those of you type-A, anal-retentive control freaks like me who try to be Wonder Woman or Superman (OR BATMAN!) please read on. I have become an absolute expert in cheating at housework. So, okay, yeah, my best friend now refers to my “craft closet” as “Liz’s secret hoarding closet”, and okay, so maybe I have a collection of mis-matched shoes belonging to every member of my family all shoved hap-hazardly under my bed, as long as the toys are picked up and the counter tops are not covered in dishes, it pretty much looks like your house is clean. Forget about the fact that my floors are basically a petri dish and clothes don’t get washed until the laundry room might as well have a biohazard sign on the door. I’m freelancing AND parenting, so BOO-YAH. Yeah that’s right, I’m resurrecting “Boo-yah” I can do that, because I’m such a badass.
*Or rather, they can appear to be done
Lesson #4: Forget the schedule, flexibility is the order of the day.
In order to be a normal freelancer, you need to be extremely regimented. You have to be a “self-starter”, intrinsically motivated by your work itself, and able to complete tasks without someone looking over your shoulder. Those impulses are so strong that they’re difficult to give up, but as a freelancing stay-at-home parent, you have to. There’s no scheduling in the world of boo-boos and sibling fights. You’ll frequently have to abandon your laptop on the kitchen counter to go pull one kid off the other when a pint-sized version of professional wrestling breaks out in the next room. You’ll learn to plan important things around the kids’ sleep schedule, which will likely still be interrupted by a random wet bed or nightmare. And obviously, there are no sick days for freelancers, so you’ll have to learn some pretty intricate parkour techniques to save your electronics from being covered in vomit when the kiddos are ill. After about a year you still won’t have a set schedule, but you’ll be more flexible than a Cirq Du Soleil acrobat.
Lesson #5: If you want to make a phone call, go outside, or hide in your closet, and hope the house doesn’t burn down in the interim.
The conference call is the main vehicle through which freelancers get vital information from their clients, but with two kids under the age of six, I don’t even allow my phone to approach the general vicinity of my ear while within eyesight of the kids. You can’t watch your kids while talking on the phone. You. Just. Can’t. Remember that sixth sense they have that tells them when you’re awake? They’ve got a seventh that tells them when you’re about to make or receive an important phone call where it is critical that you seem professional. As soon as that seventh sense kicks in, you will see one child dangling from the ceiling fan while the other tries to push safety pins into the light socket that you could have sworn had a baby-proof plug in it five seconds ago. Don’t look for the plug. They probably ate it. The one thing I can say about the freelancing parent is that when my kids are dying for my attention while on the phone, I’ve learned it’s usually best to just say, “I’m sorry, hang on a minute” and then answer the kids without trying to cover up the phone speaker. Every time I’ve done this I’ve gotten an endearing “Aww!” and a comment like, “I’ve got two of my own who do the same thing”. So see? You’re not alone, freelancing parent.