Working for myself was never something I thought I’d end up doing or even be any good at. I stumbled my way into a freelance career post PhD, with two small children to look after. Yet somehow I’ve managed to avoid horrendous childcare costs and create a life that makes me feel like a worthwhile, productive contributor to the household. Oh, and keep my brain working too, that always helps. It definitely wasn’t the way I saw my career going, yet through the wacky everything-happens-for-a-reason workings of the world, I’m really happy with how things have turned out.
Before I had kids I was in the middle of my PhD in Liverpool. As my husband worked in the city centre, I tended to approach my research like a 9-5 job. I went in with him in the morning, worked in the library (i.e. looked through some old newspapers, wrote a few pages, deleted them, wrote them again, skim-read some articles) and came home with him at the end of the day. Looking back it was pure research indulgence. Oodles of time and no external pressures — academic bliss.
Then, in the middle of my third year, along came baby no.1. I took 4 months maternity leave and cautiously went back to the research, frantically working during naptimes and late into the evening. Baby no.2 arrived exactly 10 days after I’d handed the finished thesis in.
I had no job to go back to, no local networks to tap into and many child-based obstacles to hurdle.
Fast forward 6 months and I was left with a lot of questions. Slight mummy boredom/frustration had crept in and — thanks to a relocation down south — I was left with a baby and a toddler and no family nearby. In all honesty, I felt completely trapped and didn’t have a clue about what I was going to do job-wise. I had always worked (part-time at the university during my PhD) but now had no job to go back to, no local networks to tap into and many child-based obstacles to hurdle. There were tears, several gloomy days and emotional rants to the husband.
When my daughter was 6 months old I decided that I was going to be pro-active and search for teaching/research jobs in universities in the south-east. I started applying and getting excited about what could happen… until we had a reality check. Most jobs were full-time and in London. So that would mean both of us commuting in and out of the city 5 days a week. That would mean both children in childcare all day, every day. That would mean only getting the shitty bits either end of the day and probably never seeing my baby’s first steps or hearing her first words. That would mean a phenomenal amount of money spent in childcare, with very little actually left out of my hypothetical wage packet.
Queue more tears and more rants.
I started to spend my weekends popping up at children’s birthday parties dressed as Ana or Elsa, singing my heart out to excited (or sometimes completely disinterested) 4 year olds.
With that little bubble burst, I decided the only option was to go freelance. I found an advert for occasional party princess appearances for a local company and started to spend my weekends popping up at children’s birthday parties dressed as Ana or Elsa, singing my heart out to excited (or sometimes completely disinterested) 4 year olds. In the meantime, I passed a proofreading and copy-editing course and began to get some freelance work. But blimey, did it start slowly. Little jobs here and there, excitement when my first (tiny) invoice was paid… But work has grown, I’ve got a regular writing gig with a US website, regular freelance work with a design company and, yes, I’m still making occasional princess appearances!
It’s not easy working from home with 2 under 5’s. There’s a lot of noise and a crap-load of mess that I studiously avoid during the day. But the eldest now goes to pre-school every morning and we’re just about to embark on 1.5 days childcare for the youngest which should ease things a little.
I’ve realised how lucky I am to have found a freelance career which keeps me on my toes but has allowed me to find me again. The emotional, disparaging, tired mummy from 2 years ago would be amazed.
Photograph by Alexandra Appleton.