If you’re a caregiver for young children, the flexibility of freelancing will be one of the biggest drawcards when it comes to saying goodbye to full-time work and all the associated demands that come with it. Choosing your own hours, being your own boss, and being able to show up for your kid’s needs are immediate perks of freelancing. But as more and more freelancers are shrugging off regular employment and turning towards the gig economy, some of the initial appeal of freelancing is also given a healthy dose of reality!
Financial stress isn’t fun when you’re single and childfree, but throwing dependants into the mix adds a very real layer of responsibility. There’s also the stress of coping with extra noise, disrupted concentration, sick days (oh, the sick days!) and the sheer amount of freelance admin (and household admin) that needs to completed just to keep your business afloat and your kids healthy, happy and thriving.
Sounds overwhelming? Let’s be real: sometimes it is! But by building a support network, learning to outsource tasks and riding out the chaos as best you can, you’ll be able to start enjoying the reasons behind why you shifted to freelancing in the first place.
We’ll share with you some of the best tips that will help you in the quest for work and family life balance.
1. Find and embrace your community
It’s a cliche but it’s true: it really does take a village to raise a child. Community comes in many forms, be it helping with childcare or just having some understanding ears to listen to your frustrations of trying to be a good business owner and parent. Do you have family or friends living nearby who are willing to help with childcare? Is there a co-working space you can join that provides onsite childcare? Are there other freelancing parents in your neighbourhood that you can form a support network with? Time is precious and so is attending IRL events. However, support can also come in the form of a virtual community such as a Facebook group or a Whatsapp message. Find a community that understands your set of unique needs and challenges.
2. Hire outside help
Whether you have a partner and/or extended family support or not, the tasks of both being a freelancer and a parent can be extremely demanding. This isn’t the time to be a superhero, however. This is a time to sit down and identify which parts of your life you can possibly outsource, to help you keep your household and business running as smoothly as possible. Perhaps this is the time to hire a cleaning service, subscribe to a meal-delivery kit, order your groceries online, hire a virtual assistant to help with administrative tasks such as diary management, bookkeeping or marketing.
Whilst we don’t all have the means to hire an Aupair, perhaps there is room in the budget to hire a babysitter once a week – even if you are working in the next room with noise-cancelling headphones on, or have taken yourself to a cafe, library, or cowork space to get some uninterrupted focus. When the going gets really tough and you might find yourself juggling multiple clients, having some subcontractors on standby to help you out with some of your tasks (such as research, bookkeeping, editing, scheduling, or answering emails) can really help you to keep all those plates spinning.
3. Set clear expectations
This is important for members of the household as well as your clients. Having a set work schedule and communicating this really shows when you’re truly available or not available. You can set up a family scheduling tool such as Google Calendar or a client scheduling tool such as Calendly and for longer projects, set regular appointments where you check in with clients. Keep the communication open and flowing, but also on your terms as much as possible. This will avoid the stress of a client chasing down deliverables or calling at inconvenient times.
Likewise, for the tiny members of the household, it’s good to have some kind of indicator such as a closed-door (with a sign), or a regular routine that indicates you’re at work now. To be honest, this is probably easier around babies that sleep a lot or much older kids! It also might mean adjustments to your routine such as rising extra early or working into the evening, when things are a more calmer and the other household members are (hopefully) fast asleep.
4. Let go of perfectionism
If there is one thing that kids teach us, it’s to let go of any expectations or plans and just roll with the chaos. Kids have big energies that span and trigger an entire range of emotions (both positive and negative), sometimes all within minutes. Freelancers who have a habit of overworking, or running their businesses to incredibly high standards will probably face an adjustment period as you learn how to work around small children. Many parents will often feel guilty as sometimes they will feel like they letting the parenting or work side slide. It’s time to really go gentle on yourself here.
Some days are just truly chaotic and kids will get sick or demand extra attention around deadlines, multiple clients will reach out at the same time, you will forget some important accounting deadlines and possibly someone’s birthday. Forgive yourself, step back, and divert your focus on what really matters. Some days it’s better to just close your laptop, be with your family, ask your clients for more time and go a little easier on yourself.
5. Break your day into manageable sprints
Have you heard about the Pomodoro Technique? The Pomodoro Technique was named after the tomato kitchen timer that is popular in Italy. It’s a time management tool that uses a timer to break down work into managed, interval, timed sprints. It goes like this:
- Decide on your task
- Set your timer to 25 minutes
- Work on the task
- End work when the timer rings, and write down a checkmark
- If you have less than four checkmarks, take a 5-minute break and repeat from step 2
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break, and start all over again.
Learning how to work in intervals or manageable chunks of time, makes it easier to work around kids, their naptimes and sometimes erratic schedules.
6. Have a clear financial and business roadmap
Are you a freelancer by choice? It’s good to remember why you’re doing this. Having clear financial goals that factor in all the additional expenses you may need in terms of outsourced help and then you can make a rational decision on whether freelancing is the best decision for you and your family right now. Bearing in mind the different phases of childhood, it will mean certain adjustments around how you freelance as you work around naps, childcare, primary and high schooling. You also need to factor in critical downtime, be able to afford (both financially and the time) to take vacations as well as time to work ON your business just as much as for your business.
Hiring a business coach or mentor, particularly one with lots of experience in running a freelance business and parenting may help you to define and align your business goals to keep everything running on a clear path. Building a business that is scalable as well as diversifying income streams will allow you to have the flexibility of going all in or pulling back, ensuring you get to spend as much time with your children (especially in the critical developmental years) as you possibly can afford to.
7. Establish clear boundaries around screentime
Screentime management isn’t just for kids. Adults also need to limit their screentime even when they’re not working, as can potentially confuse children to when an adult is ‘working’ or just messing around online. Make a commitment as a family to spend time in nature, to cut screentime around mealtimes, and have other offline activities you can do all together. You’ve worked hard to get this flexibility and employment on your own terms, so now is the time to really lean into it.
Being a productive freelancer and a present and caring parent is a demanding and often thankless job. By establishing good routines, boundaries, clear goals and embracing the messier and often humorous side of work and family life will put you on a much clearer path for survival!