A common theme when you talk to freelancing parents, is that the choice to leave the traditional 9 to 5 behind was driven largely by a desire to spend more time as a family. Freelancing promises the holy grail of work/life balance — being there for your children after school, squeezing in an hour or two of work in the evening in order to reduce childcare costs and simply having more time to hang out. Whilst this rarely happens exactly as we might imagine, working for yourself does mean a certain level of control over the way you structure your work life that is not nearly as possible in ‘gainful’ employment.
When we talk about “doing it for the kids”, there are some pretty clear benefits in the sheer amount of time that we parents can spend with them, as well as being able to decide when that time happens. But what are the other benefits to our kids? As the daughter of a creative freelancer, I can say first-hand that it’s also about showing our children that there is another way to be in this world, which is off the more traditional path.
My mother had worked in PR until she had my oldest brother when, like most women of her generation, she gave up work to raise her kids and run the household. But that is where the traditions ended in our house. My dad worked in film and was self-employed; working on contracts of varying lengths, first as a TV director and then as a film director. He was either away for months at a time or at home 24/7, in that feast or famine kind of way that anyone who grew up in a film household would be familiar with.
Whilst my dad wasn’t at the dinner table each evening by 6.30pm, he did get extended periods off, where if he worked at all, it was from a home office. Our holidays were spent hanging out on set with him, where I was able to see him working intensely long and often grueling hours but having a huge amount of fun while he was at it. In my world, it was completely normal for grown-ups to make a living from making prosthetic limbs, writing scripts, composing scores, moving crowds of extras through hair and make-up at 5am and cooking food for 200 people out of the back of a catering truck in the middle of a desert.
His complete confidence in my ability to support myself doing what I loved was one of the most important things that he gave me
The film industry is undeniably un-family friendly and that is partly the reason I chose not to go into it myself. But I did gain a huge amount from the working environment in which I was raised and it wasn’t really until I was at university that I started to see the benefits.
When I chose to go to art school, my parents were not surprised and extremely pleased. I took their support somewhat for granted until I started making friends at uni and realised that I was in the minority. Many people I had met had gone against their parents wishes to get there, in some cases large rifts had been created, in others an ongoing underlying tension that raised its head whenever talk of “getting a real job” came up in conversation.
Some of my friends received digs about money and status which, almost 20 years later, still crop up. It took me a while to realise what was behind it — a deep sense of fear that their children will never have financial security and stability. At first I had assumed that my parents were just supporting me no matter what — and that is true to a certain extent — but in reality it was also because my dad had complete confidence that I would have a secure and stable future in the arts because in his experience, it was entirely possible.
Never once did we have a conversation about something “to fall back on”. When I announced I was leaving Melbourne for London to find work as a photographers assistant, he didn’t question my plan at all and only asked me whether I was sure I didn’t want to try New York first (I ended up doing that a year later). His complete confidence in my ability to support myself doing what I loved was one of the most important things that he gave me. Without it, I might never have had that youthful courage to move across the globe and start knocking on doors, with no contacts and only a tiny amount of experience.
Let’s not forget the other huge life lessons we are imparting… That if you have the courage to go a little outside of the norm and not always play it safe, you can have a life you love whilst supporting your family.
My daughter is now at an age where we’re discussing my work more and more — my need to work (to pay for our house and our food), exactly what it is that I do and why I love to do it. She sees me pile equipment into my car and head off early for shoots. We’ve walked into shops that have my work up above the tills which she finds hilarious (although she’s often a bit disgruntled if it features other children and asks where all the pictures of her are!) and more often now, I’m getting my “proper camera” out (as she calls it) and starting to show her how to use it.
She knows that sometimes I can’t control the fact I need to go on a shoot but that at other times, I get to be around a lot. Whilst I don’t want her to get the impression that I would rather be working than hanging out with her and her brother, I do think it’s important for her to see that I love what I do. I don’t complain about my work, I don’t moan about Mondays and I want her to see that it’s possible to have a life where your work and personal life are so intermingled that you get pleasure and satisfaction from both.
My Dad, aged 73, although technically retired, still has ongoing projects and yet another film in the pipeline. Although what he does is physically hard work and he can’t do it at quite the same pace he did 20 years ago, he still gets excited about new scripts and can’t quite settle into full retirement just yet. And isn’t that what we would all hope for? A passion for what we do so that we’re not counting down the years to retirement in order to start living.
Doing it for the kids, for many new freelancers, may simply mean being able to physically be there for them more often than they would be otherwise. But let’s not forget the other huge life lessons we are imparting — that it’s possible to work for yourself and create your own wealth. That work is not a dirty word, or something to be disliked or done begrudgingly. That if you have the courage to go a little outside of the norm and not always play it safe, you can have a life you love whilst supporting your family. We are in an ever-changing world, where long term job security is low and entrepreneurial skills will be more important than ever.
Personally, I think these lessons are equally as important as those extra few hours we get to spend with our kids.
Photograph by Penny Wincer.