Combining a freelance career with motherhood - some reflections 7 months on
In September 2016 I made the decision to step away from my career as a solicitor and pursue a more creative path, something I had dreamed about, but found reasons not to do, for a very long time. Alongside some trepidation about the step into self-employment, I felt so excited to finally start working on all the ideas that had been brewing for months in my head.
A few weeks after handing in my notice, I discovered that I was pregnant. I was over the moon – I had always wanted to be a mama – and I felt ready to take the leap into parenthood, with all its challenges and joys. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was a little daunted too. The fact that becoming a mum and becoming my own boss had coincidentally aligned so exactly was a bit of a surprise! As well having a little baba to nurse and tend to, I would now also have a fledgling business to nurture and grow. I had no idea what impact having a child would have on my business, how I would juggle everything, or even whether, once I had a child, I’d still actually have the desire or motivation to pursue my own creative goals any more.
A year on and I still don’t have the answers to most of those questions. The 6 months I spent devoted entirely to establishing my weaving business were completely self-centred and all consuming. I loved it, and it suited me. I liked being able to set my own schedule and goals, I loved the flexibility, I felt lucky every time I sat down to write, or take pictures, or plan out my next few days of work. Of course, I had days where self-doubt crept in, where I panicked about money and wondered whether I had made the right decision. But on the whole, those 6 months were exhilarating and energising; I was building something for myself, and the harder I worked, the more I achieved, and the more my creativity grew and developed. After 6 months I was pretty proud of what I had achieved.
And then everything changed! At the end of June our beautiful little boy arrived and suddenly my priorities completely flipped. Here was this tiny little dependent that needed me from the moment he woke up to the moment he fell asleep, and now my days were filled not with photography and writing, but with nappy changes and nap times. For four months I focused entirely on him – I needed to – and I’m so glad I did. Long but happy days full of warm baby snuggles and sleepy afternoons, first smiles, first laughs, more laundry than I could ever have imagined. We got to know each other, we became completely entwined with each other. I was acutely aware that I would never experience those first weeks as a new mother ever again, and I wanted to immerse myself in it entirely. But I also didn’t feel that I had any other choice. Looking after his needs, making sure he was clean and content and full was a totally full-time occupation in those first few months, and everything else necessarily had to take a back seat.
My baby is now 7 months old, and our lives now have a little more rhythm. We are transitioning from the sheer survival of those early days, to something more resembling normal life. Days with him pass in a happy blur of yoghurty breakfasts, trips to the park, storybooks, wet sloppy kisses, and splashy bathtimes. I love being a mum in all its messy, visceral, imperfect madness. It is exhausting and at times so so hard, but it is also wonderful and eye opening, and fun and incredibly humbling. I am so very grateful for him, and for the chance to experience all this.
And yet, and yet…
In the run up to Christmas my mind started to wander from nursery rhymes to work, and I began to yearn for a little bit of time to do my own thing, to create and plan and write and hustle, to earn money again and contribute financially to our family. I felt (and continue to feel) a twinge of guilt about this – which I know is crazy but there you go – but I know myself well enough to know that in the long run I will be a better mum if I am not being a mum 100% of the time. I know (and do not take it for granted ever) that I am extremely privileged to be in a position to be able to choose whether I return to work or not; and that my job allows me the flexibility to fit it around looking after my baby is something I am also extremely grateful for.
And so I have started to work again, as and when I can, in drips and drabs, in the half hour slots when baba naps, and in the evenings after he has gone to bed. It is an imperfect solution, and I have to admit, quite frustrating – when I am parenting I am acutely aware of all the work stuff I could be doing; and when I am working, I feel I should be looking up weaning recipe ideas, or getting on top of the laundry, or simply catching up on sleep. In short, I sometimes feel like I am never really doing a good job of either, that my to do list is never-ending, and that I am perpetually distracted.
The merge of work and home in today’s society is well-documented, and something that has both benefits and disadvantages. The lack of a definitive distinction between home and work that is now commonplace for many workers can enable parents to be more present for their children, but at the same time it inevitably means that work impinges on parts of the day and week which were traditionally the reserve of the home and family. It is a tricky line to tread, both a blessing and a curse. And it is an even trickier line to tread if you work for yourself, and from home. Then the lines are so blurred it takes thought and effort to carve out some sort of separation so that both can be successful and fulfilling.
If I am aiming for anything this year, it is this I guess – a little more separation and a happier balance between my job and my role as a parent, so that I don’t always feel that I am chasing my tail, and so that when I am looking after my little one I am not stressing about all the work I need to get done, and when I am working, I am focused and productive. Of course there will be compromises to make on both sides, and I am prepared for that, but I hope by the end of 2018 my mind will be a little clearer, and my time a little more structured. I’m pretty sure childcare will have a part to play, but I also want to think carefully about how I use my time and divide up my days as well so that I’m a little more efficient and a little less of a crazy mama answering emails on the loo at 3am. Maybe this is a complete pipedream – I guess I’ll find out by the end of the year!
I am painfully new to this whole combining freelance working and parenting thing, so if you have any advice on how you make it work for you and your family, please do share!