Freelancing parents the world over face challenges every day. One of these challenges is how to balance freelancing and parenting without losing it. For most freelancers, this may be their first time to juggle work and parenting. The recent pandemic pinned a significant part of the world's workforce to their homes, especially in places with stringent social distancing measures. In the same way, most students are still at home, either homeschooling or distance learning. As a parent, how can you make it work without losing your grip on responsibilities and keeping your mental and emotional composure?
Since we have handled one too many stressors lately, we need to keep the calm within our homes as much as we can, so our families can get through this season of crisis thriving, ready to face a new normal waiting for us all when this pandemic is over. If this is your first time freelancing, or if you are a parent still looking to get hired, then read this article to prepare you for your new journey.
Here are some useful tips for freelancing parents to help you balance freelancing and parenting well:
You are a parent first before a freelancer, no matter the reason you are currently freelancing. There is no 50/50 in parenting. The nature of our work should not change this truth—whether you are a freelancer, a remote worker, or you have a regular office job. Family comes before work.
Prioritizing family over your job does not mean giving a lousy performance at work. It means we align our decisions so that we can take care of our families and be there for them despite our work schedules. It is about spending quality time with them, no matter how much time that is. It is about being actively engaged in nurturing them, raising them, disciplining them, and in decision-making regarding their present and their future.
During this pandemic that has upended all our lives, our children need emotional support from us more than ever. Our presence in their lives is even more crucial. We can bring sense to this bizarre experience they are having. The stability of having a family is a constant that offsets all variables happening today in the wake of this global crisis.
For those of us who chose to freelance even before the pandemic, our children are probably the biggest motivation. We know by now that parenthood can sometimes throw business plans off-course a little or slow our work schedules down. And that is okay.
We have long realized that we can schedule meetings and deadlines all we want, but we cannot schedule spills that need mopping, broken glass that needs immediate clean-up, and the occasional breakdowns and temper tantrums. How many times did we have to pause working because the baby woke up? Illnesses cannot be scheduled, as well.
So, when setting your priorities, project schedules, and deadlines, you need to be honest with yourself and factor in some flexibility in your work schedule, so you can be there as best as you can for your children without compromising your work.
It does get easier when the kids grow up. Schedules become more stable, and so planning when you work and when you focus on the family can be easier as well.
Do not be too eager to accept jobs just for the money, worried that since freelancing can be so sporadic, we may not have another job after this one. You need to assess if you can deliver the job requirements and schedules without your responsibilities as a parent suffering.
It is indeed a tough balancing act, parenting and freelancing, but it can be done if you set realistic expectations, goals, and take it easy as well.
In line with the first tip, you need to learn how to take each day at a time as a freelancing parent. You cannot plan too much ahead or set everything in stone. It works for all freelancers. Yes, you set long-term goals for your freelancing career, but you need to have flexibility with short-term and mid-term goals.
For instance, this pandemic unraveled most of our plans for the year. Suddenly homeschooling or distance learning may have thrown out our regular freelancing schedules. The closing of most businesses may also have affected some of us. If your freelance job involves any non-essential business, then you might have lost a project or two recently.
We need to take each day at a time. We will just stress ourselves out unnecessarily if we worry too far ahead into the future. Things will get better, but while they are not, we need to do the best we can a day at a time.
If you need to homeschool, then you would need to inform your boss or your clients about this current shift. You will need to tweak your work schedules and some deadlines. Your boss or clients need to know why in the hope they will understand your situation. Homeschooling can be done smartly. You can set specific hours where you will teach the kids or supervise their learning. Also set times for independent study so you can do some work yourself.
If you have younger kids, childcare may have become a problem. Social distancing regulations may have caused you to stop getting childcare inside your home. Childcare centers are probably closed in your area. Whatever the reasons are, most parents have now found themselves not just the primary, but the only providers of care for their children.
So whatever projects you are currently involved in, negotiate well with your client or boss that you will need flexibility in your daily work schedule. You may have to work during your children's sleeping times, or when a spouse or family member can take over childcare. So, communication times with your clients or boss might change because of this.
Play it by ear. As situations change, as the needs of your children change, your schedule will change as well. So, be good to yourself. Take things one day at a time.
After the previous tip, you must also learn how to break your work into portions. For example, the Pomodoro technique helps you work in short bursts of 25 to 30 minutes. It means that for that time you will concentrate on whatever task you have set without distraction. It also disciplines you to work fast and efficiently, so you can move on to other responsibilities you have set for the day.
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For instance, I allot a couple of hours to get started with my work before the kids wake up. When the kids awake, we have breakfast together and have our morning routine for school, which is about a couple of hours. I schedule the next two hours for their independent study so that I can go back to work.
My spouse and I, together with our two older children, take turns to teach our little one who is in Kindergarten, at least 30 minutes each as well. During our lunch break, we squeeze in some chores and get back to work. My older children do more schoolwork, while the youngest one takes a nap, or plays by herself if she cannot go to sleep.
It is possible because I have set the living room as everyone's work area. Being in one place makes managing the family and tasks much easier. Preparing homeschool materials during the weekend and planning how to tackle work-related tasks in advance also helps. It is hard to be organized without preparation. You can also try enrolling your children in some online classes during the day, so you can also get some work done.
The goal is that with whatever time you can allot for work, do more in less time.
You may be a freelancer, but you need to present yourself in the best way possible. Since most of your work is happening online, you need a proper website. You can choose to build your websites for free or get an affordable web hosting service.
You can use web design tools to help you create a modern, professional-looking website complete with logo. You may also skill swap with other freelancers to help you design one. A professional-looking website is crucial to establishing the visual identity of your brand.
Also, create your social media accounts that will carry the same look and feel of your website. Consistency is critical for your clients, and also for your audiences.
You need to protect your social media presence because usually, it is the first thing that people see of you online.
Keep distractions to a minimum by creating a designated workspace in the house. Routine is a good thing to help you focus. If you have a space used only for working, it trains you to devote your time to work while you are there. You can also teach your kids that whenever they see you in that space, it means you need to concentrate.
In my case, I have set a time when my children know I am working and would need their help to keep their voices down and to approach me for play or some stories a little later. Of course, they can come to me even when I am in my workspace, but little by little, they have learned to quantify the reasons why they are approaching me.
They have learned that some stories can wait for lunch and times like that. Although this is particularly difficult for younger children, at least, you are making them get used to the idea that you are working from home, and that work is essential too.
You will be amazed how children learn quickly to differentiate between the different "modes" of their parents. If you communicate that they should disturb you as little as possible when in work mode, they will understand. But ultimately, we need to let them know that if they need us, whether we are working or not, we will be there for them.
Multitasking can lessen one's efficiency. It is better not to risk the quality of your work and or let your parenting suffer either. Learn how to be a productive freelancer at home.
Start by focusing on one thing at a time. If it is time for childcare, do not mix in answering emails or messages. If it is time to work, especially if you have a looming deadline, arrange for help from your spouse or older children or prepare some activities they can do while you are working.
Make your clients aware of the time of your availability and be assertive about that. Some clients feel entitled and may demand more of your time, even if it is beyond what you have agreed upon. Boundaries protect you and help you keep your life in balance. No job is ever worth the stress of not being able to manage your family well or to see your kids suffer just because you must make a client happy.
Depending on where you are right now will determine how much help you can get and from whom. If your area is still under quarantine or social distancing, the help you need can only come from immediate family members within the same household.
But if you can, and it is allowed, you can get help from other family members, friends, and even other freelancers you may know.
You can ask family members to babysit or maybe take the kids out during certain hours of the day so you can work. Co-ops for freelancer parents can take turns during the week to watch over kids for other parents and vice versa. Co-working places are also growing, and some of them offer daycare for the freelancing parents.
Do not delay to ask for help when you need it, and do not isolate yourself either. Freelancing or remote working can be lonely sometimes, and you need the support of family and community to get by.
After the pandemic, you can begin to go out again. Meet up for playdates with other freelancer parents, or you all can gather at one house or location and hire childcare or babysitters on site while you are co-working with others.
You can also visit a family member's house or a friends' house so they can help you manage childcare for that day. When it is safe, you can go to those co-working spaces with daycare too.
However while all of that is not yet possible, call a family member or friend even once during the day, or on lunch break. Talk about something else other than work or parenting. Have meaningful conversations and relationships so that you stay mentally healthy and feel emotionally supported. Keep conversations going even during a time of social distancing.
Before parenthood, you probably did a lot of the aspects of your business or freelance career with no problem. But now that you have children, outsourcing can be a great idea, so you are not loaded with work, especially the routine or administrative responsibilities.
You can hire a virtual administrative assistant for business management tasks. You can outsource specialty experts like designers, for tasks that you know would take much time for you to finish. You can also outsource childcare and household chores if you are the only one who can do the job you are doing.
Do not be afraid or ashamed to outsource. Being a freelancer is like having a business, and that business means you will need help if you want to improve your brand and increase the quality and efficiency of your work. The more you delegate tasks to competent people, the more time you will have to think of creative business strategies, and of course, more time with your kids too.
Being a freelancer and a parent is challenging. It is a constant balancing act.
The important thing is not to forget your physical, mental, and emotional well-being as parents as well. It would help if you kept yourself filled so you can keep pouring out. You cannot run on empty as a parent, a spouse and as a freelancer. Remember that you are more than what you do. You are also a friend, a sister, maybe a boss, or a co-worker. There are so many facets of you that you need to nurture as well. So, take it easy on yourself and accept that there is only so much that you can handle in a day.
Make sure you have time for yourself too. No matter how difficult it may seem, find time for self-care. Both parenting and freelancing are things you want to do long-term. You need first to nurture and take care of yourself so that you can take care of others next.
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