After the birth of my firstborn, Joni, my full-time copywriting contract was immediately terminated. Despite having been working there over a year, because I was freelance, there was no maternity package. However, my higher day rate had allowed me to save a chunk of dosh to spend alongside my (pitiful) Statutory Maternity Pay and when she was a week or two old, I realised that — because she slept most of the time — I could actually write while looking after her. So, I began freelancing again and a year later, I decided to start my own online parenting and lifestyle magazine — The Early Hour.
While setting up my magazine I worked during nap times, in the evenings and at weekends. By now Joni was in a great napping routine where she’d go down in the cot for two/three hours in the mornings and the same in the afternoon. I could fit in nearly a whole working day without paying for childcare. But it was stressful as I never knew when she was going to wake up, and when she did, I’d have to immediately switch off my work brain and turn on my ‘mum’ brain. Except I never actually managed to succeed with this so was constantly trying to go between toddler and work — not giving quite enough to either.
With this work-toddler juggle already in full swing I thought it would be a great idea to have a second baby. I’d initially set up The Early Hour for a better work/life balance — I wanted to be at home during the day and available whenever Joni needed me (if she was ill, for instance, or going through a clingy stage) — but as any freelancing/ business-owning parent will know; you actually never switch off. You’re both totally available and yet totally unavailable at all times. However, I did have the freedom to work outside of conventional hours so I assumed that a new baby would just slot into my life.
There are real pressures of needing a second income, as well as needing to do something outside of motherhood — to be recognised for something. Because however hard we work to keep our children happy and healthy, this effort alone is rarely acknowledged.
Nine months later, Bodhi was born. I’d planned for the first three months by stockpiling daily content for The Early Hour and writing a load of blog posts for other sites in advance so I didn’t actually need to work at all for a little while. But I soon began seeking something to do that didn’t involve my boobs, or a nappy, so I got back into writing relatively quickly. I was commissioned to write a feature when Bodhi was two weeks old and excitedly took it on before realising just how difficult it would be. There was no rhyme or reason to his feeds or sleep, and Joni was waking in the night again too. But somehow, I submitted it on time. The satisfaction of achieving this was worth the (huge) stress and anxiety.
With renewed confidence, I started writing more for parenting sites and getting back into finding content for The Early Hour. However, having created a situation where I didn’t need to do any interviews or write any articles for a while, I’d become disconnected from it and begun to lose interest. In fact, I had a few wobbles in those early weeks, and at one point resigned to close it down completely as I felt burdened by it and wasn’t sure it was paying off in the way I wanted it to (advertising had slowed down a bit, as I didn’t have as much time to dedicate to this aspect of the business).
But I’m so pleased that I stuck it out as I now feel it’s less a burden and more a welcome focus. I love that I always have something to write/edit, because if I was looking after the children full-time with no intellectual stimulation or output, I wouldn’t feel entirely fulfilled. And now advertising on the site has picked up, alongside my freelance articles and blogging, this enables me to contribute financially to the household which is important to me.
Now that Bodhi is a bit older, a routine has started to develop. He’s in bed by 7pm and tends to sleep for six to eight hours on the trot, so I have an hour or two in the evening to manically type some words or upload articles before I clamber into bed myself. Joni is also in nursery two days a week, so I have those days with just the baby, which feel akin to what a day with no children felt like when I was a mum of just one — easy peasy! (I know, it’s all relative).
Something another mum said to me recently has really stayed with me… She said that the only way to make it work when you have young kids and a freelance career is to be patient; to remember that it doesn’t all have to happen today.
Looking at other parents who are full-time parenting, I sometimes feel envious — they have fun, inspired days out (rather than rushing to the park and coffee shop before dashing home for a quick lunch and then nap time so that I can work). And our children are only young once; we don’t get this time back so I do wonder if I should be dedicating all my time to them now and focusing more on my career when they are at pre-school and then school. But there are real pressures of needing a second income, as well as needing to do something outside of motherhood — to be recognised for something. Because however hard we work to keep our children happy and healthy, this effort alone is rarely acknowledged.
So how do I make it work, freelancing with two young kids? Like this:
- Working evenings, weekends and nap times
- Forgoing nights out with friends, for now
- Having the three-year-old at nursery two days a week
- Asking my partner for extra help when I have a big deadline looming
- Calling on my parents when I have a meeting (or am being interviewed, I tried to do a podcast recording on Skype with both kids on the carpet next to me — it DIDN’T work!)
- Making use of every spare minute
- Having a strict routine: we eat dinner together at 5.30pm, then bath both kids and get them in bed by 7pm so that I have two/three hours before I have to go to bed myself
- Being organised. I have their clothes out the night before and the nappy bag always packed.
But something another mum said to me recently on Instagram has really stayed with me. She said that the only way to make it work when you have young kids and a freelance career is to be patient; to remember that it doesn’t all have to happen today.
She’s so right.
It’s easy to think that every article needs to be written or edited, social media posts planned, images uploaded, emails responded to, interview questions answered RIGHT NOW. But actually, some of it can wait. As can the next project you’re feeling excited about. Write the novel the year after next… when you’re on maternity leave with your third baby.
Photograph by Annie Ridout.