Wingin’ It: The Extremely Inexact Science of Freelancing While Being a Parent

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Wingin’ It: The Extremely Inexact Science of Freelancing While Being a Parent

As a smaller team with numerous daily projects, we at Heroclip rely heavily on the utilization of creative freelancers. They are an extended part of our team and without them we couldn’t operate nearly as efficiently. We admire their professional tenacity, and the freelancers who manage to raise families simultaneously never cease to amaze us. In this article we’re exploring the freelancing lifestyle and offering up a few tips to anyone seeking to manage a life filled with work, family and the zillion other demands, pings, goals and opportunities of modern life.

Being a parent while freelancing is essentially having two full time jobs. The challenges inherent in this tightrope walk don’t discriminate between parents. All freelancing parents have a unique set of decisions to make to integrate their work and their parenting, including defining to what degree these are actually separate. The term “work-life” implies that work and life are two separate things. This is false. There’s no catch-all solution, but the below tips, including some first-hand nuggets from a parent / freelance videographer, are worthy considerations for any freelancing parent seeking a sustainable blend of personal and professional in their life.

Why Freelancing? 

Freelancers are found in almost every industry.  Some that we commonly cross paths with include photographers, graphic designers, copywriters, business consultants, and even bookkeepers. For many, performing freelance work is the perfect fit for their dynamic lifestyles. This includes flexible hours, freedom to pick clients, more control over workload, and an overall sense of independence that’s rarely attained working a traditional 9 to 5 position. But, when freelancers have kids–you know, those little bundles of love and possibility–the juggling act of a dynamic, self-driven lifestyle tends to get more complicated. The lines between career and family quickly begin to blur. 

Freelancing, the Pros

Freelancing while being a mother or father does include several extraordinary perks that a traditional job does not offer. The biggest of course, being the flexibility of hours. As the old adage goes, you’re only young once. For parents watching their child grow, this is a stark reality, one that places added weight on the present. Freelancing allows parents to attend after school events and sports, be there when kids have sick days, and generally be around their kids more often just by working from home. When you are your own boss, rejiggering work hours to accommodate other needs is often easier to pull off. 

Freelancing, the Cons 

As with everything in life, there must always be trade offs. Freelance work can dry up during certain times of the year, uncertainty of income can cause anxieties, and the rejection of not winning a client takes a toll on even the most experienced freelancers. Not to mention no paid time off or company sponsored health benefits, and having to pay self-employment taxes. Plop a kid on top of this and it can be very easy to lose discipline and motivation. Most freelancing parents would tell you that they receive far less sleep than they should. Late nights and early mornings come with the title of freelancer (and parent). And although it may seem simple to live more frugally during times of slower work, kids are expensive year round. Having the cost of a child top-of-mind can cause freelancers to take on work outside of their scope, take on too much work, or have unrealistic expectations of what they can accomplish while still maintaining sanity. Many freelancers also lack the support system common in traditional workplace communities, leaving them to bear the burden of the freelancing rollercoaster alone. The need to rely heavily on spouses, family, friends, and daycare can also arise, even though freelancing is meant to give freedom, not require dependence. Work and family can seem a continual tug-of-war. When too much time is spent doing one, guilt from neglecting the other begins to creep in. Luckily, we have some tips to help integrate the two more seamlessly. 

Tips and Tricks for Integrating Freelancing and Family

So you’ve read the pros and cons of freelancing (maybe experienced them first hand), and your gut still says “I’m a freelancer!”? Hats off to you. There will be times where it’s difficult to maintain ambition, especially when work is slow or emergencies arise. But, with these tips, we are hoping to help you mitigate some of freelancing’s primary obstacles. 

Set realistic expectations

While this may seem like a simplistic task, it is easier said than done. It is important to be reasonable with what can be accomplished, and never commit to something you aren’t certain is within your scope of work or time. This can be difficult in times of monetary instability, but taking on work that can’t be finished does not mitigate burden. One cannot realistically expect to complete the same amount of work with children as they did beforehand; it just isn’t feasible. Brad Curran is a dad, husband, and award winning photography and filmmaking freelancer who we work with. When asked about his experiences as a freelancing parent, he responded “I feel like it’s a moving target. As your child grows their needs change and so you attempt to adjust accordingly, which you can prepare for to some degree, but there’s also a lot of trial, error and intuition. Freelancing can be similar - each job is unique, challenging, things can change quickly. Both have tendencies to be rollercoaster-y.” It is important to be realistic with what can be done, and be good to yourself during the lows. 

Find support online

One of the biggest grievances for many freelancing parents is a lack of a support system. A major tradeoff of not working in a traditional office space is it can be hard to ask questions, get answers, bounce ideas off of others, or vent in real time. However, there are ways to build a support system as a freelancer. There are many freelancing communities on the internet designed specifically to help connect freelancers with one another, such as the Self Employed Leadership Group: The Group For Small Business Owners, Entrepreneurs and Professionals on LinkedIn or Creative Freelancers Unite on Facebook. Who better to understand the struggles of being a freelancer than a fellow freelancer? Rather than looking at one another as competitors, these communities are looked at as families. Those who have experienced the same trials that you are experiencing will be more than happy to lend you a hand when you need it. There are even communities specifically for freelancing parents such as The Freelance Parent, because there’s a group for everything on the internet. 

Have a good work space setup

Many freelancers work from home which has myriad perks, but cabin fever can creep in when working in the same place where you live the rest of your life. Having somewhere in your home that you can escape to to get work done can be a much needed change of scenery. Think of it as your home office, somewhere you can go during crunch time or just somewhere accessible for when you need a quiet space to work. And don’t forget to get a plant for the workspace! 

Be transparent with clients

This can be one of the most difficult tasks for freelancing parents. The fear of family hindering work is all too real for many freelancers, but this does not have to be the case. It’s important to lay out clear ground rules with clients at the outset of a project, letting them know that you have a family and sometimes flexibility and adaptability are going to need to be accepted. Your clients will understand, we are all human.

Remember why you freelance 

Freelancing is more than just a job. Brad puts it well in saying, “I really love what I get to do - it's challenging, technical, creative, fulfilling, exhausting, refreshing.” While at times work may be daunting, the pros far outweigh the cons. Freelancers have the flexibility to be there for their children during their most salient moments of childhood, something that a price cannot be put on. Through dedication and discipline, freelancing allows you to put large emphasis on family while still managing a full time career. 

Conclusion 

We hope these tips can serve as cairns en route to the peak of your freelancing journey. Keep them in your back pocket next time the heavy sighs and existential insecurity creep in! If you have any tips of your own, or have any resources that you believe would be helpful to other freelancing parents, please share in our comments!

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