Let me start by saying I am only commenting on my experiences of freelance and employed life whilst parenting. I’m a man and so in this patriarchal society it is generally easier for men to juggle work and parenting as we have fewer societal pressures when it comes to child rearing. I have an amazing wife who does the bulk of the childcare. I am privileged and I found it extremely tough so I have the utmost respect for people in harder situations than I when child rearing.
My first child was born in 2016, at the time I was working full time for a tech startup as Head of Design. I am now a freelance UI/UX and brand designer and in 2020 my second child was born. I have experienced parenting from two different sides of the working coin and I’m going to try to flag the major differences in this article.
With the first baby I took the standard two weeks paternity leave ignorantly thinking that was plenty of time to get everyone settled and sorted. 12 of those days got eaten up with an extended labour and 6 days in intensive care as my daughter recovered from jaundice. At that time I was still answering work emails from my bosses. Going back in after those two weeks, I returned exhausted and also guilty that I had left my wife (who also had complications from the birth) at home to get on with raising our child who I hardly knew. I felt immense pressure to return to work as my employer was subtly insinuating that family life was not of their concern and that the wellbeing of the company was the be all and end all.
With our second baby, now that I was freelancing I was keen not to make the same mistakes. I had shifted all my projects around to take a full month off. This would allow me time to help my wife recover from her caesarean as well as being able to look after the new baby and our older daughter. Financially it meant a lean month but I did claim the poultry amount of benefits you can get from the government. I guess it’s better than nothing. This time around, things went more smoothly, our second also developed jaundice but it didn’t require hospital intervention and my wife recovered well from the C-section. Clients were understanding and didn’t bother me at all during the month.
The one thing we hadn’t foreseen was a full blown pandemic! Help from friends and family was truly limited. Fortunately my mother in law bubbled with us so we had a lot of help from her. If it wasn’t for that help there would have been no way that I would have been able to return to freelancing after that month.
My biggest takeaway for taking leave is to take as much time as you can possibly afford. I think in an ideal situation I would have liked to have had three months off minimum. I hope in the future more societies will offer the kind of leave that Finland and other progressive countries offer new parents.
I usually did the minimum in the nights, maybe staying up till 11-12 tending to any wake ups, but then I would get a good solid seven hours uninterrupted whilst my wife did the rest of the night. I would argue that I needed a good night’s sleep so that I could do a decent day’s work.
I still don’t do a great deal at night because I am just terrible with reduced sleep, my wife has decided it’s not worth dealing with me being grumpy. Normally I go to bed 9:30 – 10:00. Then my wife gets me up anytime from 4:30-6:00. Usually I can get the little one back to sleep after half an hour so I can even sneak in an extra hour’s sleep.
I would need to be at work before 9. Usually I was out of the door by 8. Every morning was a rush, I couldn’t spend much time with our child nor could I help a great deal with any chores. I then wouldn’t get home until 6:30, where my wife would have already made dinner and fed the baby. I’d quickly eat then do bath and bedtime for the little one. Then I might have a maximum of two hours to help around the house and chill out with my better half.
I work from home, there is no commute. I can be flexible depending on how the morning has gone with our children. I do chores around the house, get the children ready for the day and take our eldest to nursery Wednesday and Thursdays. Late afternoon I can make the journey from my office to the kitchen to help with dinner, usually my wife preps our meals and I cook them. We then all eat as a family. I can then bath the kids and get them ready for bed.
Day to day it felt the same as before a child came along, yes I felt more tired than usual but other than that there were no major changes. My hours hadn’t changed so I was still working 5 days a week 9 – 5.30. I could now join in the water cooler chats with the parents at the company. One unforeseen benefit of working in a company was a lot of colleagues donated their children’s old baby clothes to me which was very thoughtful and helpful. But I was very much removed from family life, I would just live vicariously through pictures and videos my wife would send me throughout the day of our baby. Lunch times were good, I had an hour to do whatever I wanted (within reason), I’d go for coffee with colleagues, go to a fitness class or just mooch around. A very precious hour I’d look forward to each day.
With a baby in the house you will find that you need to be very flexible with your working day. Some days you might pull off 8 hours whereas generally I find I’m doing 5-6 hours. I want to be present for my family and help out where I can. In the mornings for the first nap I will get the baby to sleep in a sling, I can then work at my standing desk whilst she snoozes. This gives my wife about an hour to do any jobs or errands that need to be done. At lunch time I come down to eat (obviously), I can then mess about with the kids. Often I take the youngest in the sling again and do a dog walk whilst she slumbers. Then for the rest of the afternoon I’m in the office again. There are interruptions, I might have to help my wife with a poo explosion (from the baby), or the dogs are going crazy at the delivery driver but it’s only a few minutes. I may lose some time here and there each day but I get to be present for all the great first times which is priceless.
I had that security of bringing home a paycheque each month, but it came with a lot of sacrifices that put a lot of extra pressure on my family.
Obviously there is a lot less financial security, but for me, the flexibility of freelance definitely outweighs that risk. I have tried to spread out my client base, I work remotely for an agency 2-3 days a week which gives me some level of security. Then for my private clients I choose how much I take on for the other days. Sometimes I take on less if we have a busy month ahead with appointments, holidays etc. Even in this crazy new baby pandemic time I am making more money than when I was employed which makes me even more of a freelance fan boy.
Having children is hard… and very rewarding obviously. I wouldn’t change it for the world. This post only scratches the surface of how much they turn your life upside down. But for me, going freelance has given me the freedom I didn’t have when employed. I am way more present and as a result I am much closer to my children and my wife. I feel, and I think my partner would agree that our relationship is more equal than before. In September, my eldest is starting school, my younger child is going to nursery and my wife is going back to work 2 days a week. So I will be doing pick ups and drop offs those 2 days which will be a huge change in our routine, but I’m thankful I am dealing with that as a freelancer and not as an employee.