Babies are adorable, squishy wrecking balls that break down and rearrange your entire life. Especially the first. The wonderful part is that the life you rebuild around that little baby is way better than the one you had before, but that adjustment period is brutal. All my first-time pregnant freelance ladies out there, you think you know what you’re in for … You don’t have a clue. Trust me.
When I got pregnant, I planned to have a two-month maternity leave, because I’m Type-A and that’s how I roll. Well, that turned into four. Why? Being a mother is damn hard. You have to learn a whole new skill set. Not to mention that all the change combined with lack of sleep is completely disorienting.
You’re walking around your house in a nursing bra and an open robe (your guests can just freaking deal with it), with your hair in this new arrangement called “the quick nap,” a rattle gripped under your chin, and a baby in your right arm. Meanwhile, your left hand struggles to complete simple tasks like squirting hand sanitizer and letting the dog out to pee. You can’t remember your name, you have no idea what day it is, and you’re secretly harboring a murderous rage against your husband without knowing exactly why. And you gotta add work to that mess? No thank you.
But chances are, you’re going to have to eventually. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll get to the point where you’re going, “If I don’t sit down and start writing something, Mama’s going to lose it, and everyone in this house better watch the hell out.” Writing is deeply tied to my identity, and personal identity is something a new mother is desperate to reclaim.
One of the many great things about freelancing is that you can combine “stay-at-home mom” with “working mom.” You’re in charge of your daily schedule. You’re in charge of the length of your leave. You’re in charge of when you come back and in what capacity. But that’s all easier said than done. So, once old clients start knocking and you get those first new proposals out, how do you balance writing work with mommy duties?
This is one of those topics where there’s never one right answer, but here are a few things that allowed me to earn $8,000 as a freelance mom in November.
Within Arm’s Reach
Find one or two places in your home where you can work right next to baby. Before my daughter, Lottie, started crawling, I worked on my bed, blocking off the edges with pillows. She could lay or sit right next to me with her toys, and the proximity kept her from fussing too much. Now that she’s a mover as well as a shaker, I’ve made my home office into a large play pen. She can see me, but she has her own space and better distractions.
Designated Play Time
As a mother, you of course want to spend plenty of quality time with your child. It’s easy to feel guilty about working full-time, even though that guilt is completely unwarranted. The result, for me, was that I was driving myself crazy trying to focus equally on Lottie and work all day long. My work days got longer, I got more stressed, and Lottie wasn’t really getting any more quality time than she had been before. What remedied the situation for me was returning to my previous work hours of 10 am to 5 pm. That is work time. Of course, I take lots of small breaks to feed Lottie and give her those irresistible snuggles, but once she’s changed and fed, the focus goes back on work. After 5, that’s Lottie time. Daddy comes home, and she gets our full attention until she falls asleep. Those evening hours spent are stress-free and far more enjoyable for both me and Lottie because I’m not being pulled in ten different directions at once. I can focus on work during the day because the irrational guilt is eased.
Nap Time Sprint
Nap time is crunch time. Even during my designated work hours, and even when Lottie is super close by, caring for an eight-month-old is demanding. There are always little distractions popping up and you can’t get through a day without a tantrum or two. So, during baby’s nap time(s), take advantage of the opportunity to attack work with laser focus. Reserve your toughest work for nap time, and power through without stopping whenever possible.
Create a Rough Schedule for Baby
A loose schedule makes life easier for you and for baby. If you can keep to a rough daily routine, you can establish sleep patterns and schedule client calls during baby’s typical nap windows. Establishing a routine also helps cut down on the fussy episodes because your child gets used to playing independently during the day and you have a general sense of when he/she needs to eat, so you can nip those hangry tantrums in the bud.
Give yourself extra wiggle room. It’s one of the benefits of being the boss, and yet so many of us don’t take advantage of it. If a project would normally take you a month pre-baby, add two weeks on the back-end when you deliver your proposal post-baby. The extra padding means you don’t have to stress if unexpected road blocks pop up, like baby coming down with a cold. It also helps ensure the work the client receives matches up with your usual standard, because you won’t have to rush. If all goes smoothly and you don’t end up needing the extra time, no harm no foul. The client gets the work earlier than he/she expected and you come out looking like a badass.
Let Baby Make a Cameo
As a working mother, you should feel absolutely no shame in needing to include baby in your client calls or meetings. I have always tried to keep calls to a minimum in my career, to keep my inner introvert at ease and to simplify the working process, but occasional calls are a necessity in ghostwriting work. With Lottie on a rough schedule, I can try to provide time windows where I know she’ll either be asleep or freshly fed and happy, but babies are not machines. You can’t turn them on and off whenever you want. Sometimes Lottie wakes up early or decides she needs to be held. When that happens, I have no qualms about having her sit in my lap during the call, and you shouldn’t either. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. When you schedule calls with a new client, just inform them ahead of time that baby might crash the party. Don’t apologize for it, just make sure it isn’t a total surprise. Anyone who gives you lip about it is an asshole and you don’t need to be working with them anyway.