A couple of weeks ago I started a little impromptu video series on my Facebook page. I wanted to capture how hard it is to do some of the most mundane, regular things you take for granted pre-babies. Things like drinking a cup of tea when it’s still hot, hanging the washing up, and unstacking the dishwasher. When you take into account how hard it can be to do these little things, you can imagine some of the challenges that come from doing actual, proper paid work from home, with a baby.
I’ve been registered as self-employed for five years now. During that time my work life has been pretty varied. When I was starting out I combined setting myself up as a writer (including starting this blog) along with freelance radio work. Later I juggled working as a full time freelance radio presenter alongside writing features, copywriting and blogging. And now, five years on, all my work is done from my office at home.
How I earn a living
These days I earn my living in various ways, and this living can fluctuate from month to month. That’s the thing about being self-employed in my line of work – things can change in an instant. My income now comes from this blog, alongside writing for magazines, copywriting for brands and agencies and blogging for other people (I write a weekly blog post for the BabyCentre blog, for example). I hesitate to call myself a “pro blogger”, because a large proportion of my income is from my journalism work, writing interiors features (mainly) for magazines. However, this blog definitely does play a huge role in my being able to work from home, as not only does it bring in an income, but it also acts as an online portfolio leading to commissions for work elsewhere.
Anyway, I digress. The thing I’m trying to make clear here is that working from home with a baby – no matter what line of work you’re in – is chaotic, often unpredictable and involves a huge amount of juggling.
Five years ago, when I was first starting out as a freelancer, I had this vision of what it would be like to be a “work at home mum”. I pictured a compliant baby, conveniently snoozing any time I needed to meet a deadline. In my head, I saw a nice healthy bank balance as I didn’t have to shell out for childcare. I imagined all the baking and crafting and toddler groups I’d be able to get involved in, as I found the best of both worlds – working mum and stay at home mum.
Of course the reality is never that simple, is it? While I wouldn’t change my current work set-up for anything, I’m also one for honesty. Despite what some people (I’m looking at you, Instagram) would have you believe, working from home is not all about sitting around in your pyjamas amongst scented candles, eating avocado on toast for lunch while a peaceful baby sleeps next to you.
Working from home with a baby is sometimes impossible. And requires not only a huge amount of self-disclipine (like when you’ve been up all night with a poorly baby but still have to stay up until 1am to get a feature finished), a supportive network of people, and a healthy dose of reality check.
The myth vs the reality
There have been lots of inspirational posts doing the rounds on the internet recently, mainly written by other bloggers who are now earning a healthy living from their blogs. I think it’s great to show what can be done, and to encourage others to take a leap of faith into what can be scary waters, as they try to carve out a freelance career for themselves. But on the flip side, I want to tell you that it isn’t easy. As with any job, there are wonderful highs and very tricky lows.
Aside from those bad days when you really need to vent to someone else in the office but you’re the only adult in the house, the main challenge of working from home with a baby is the sheer unpredictability of work patterns. Babies don’t care if you have a deadline, or need to answer emails, or take a quick work phone call. It can be intensely stressful when you know you have a pressing work thing to do, but your baby won’t sleep, for example. And all the time you’re aware that these days are short and you should be enjoying your little one before they get big. Sometimes that juggle can leave you feeling like you’re not doing anything particularly well – either in your mum life OR your work life.
Making it work
Looking around at my freelance friends, the ones who’ve made it work have a hugely supportive network of people around them. It may be that they have husbands who also work from home and can be flexible to help with school runs etc, it may be that they have parents who offer regular childcare, or it may be that they have arrangements in place with friends to do shared childcare, school runs, dog walks etc. Whatever it is, the theme is a common one: we’re not alone.
I’m the first to admit that, while I’ve worked really hard to be in the position I’m now in, I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of those around me. My mum comes across every fortnight and helps with the kids, my (teacher) husband is home from work by 5pm most days, has every weekend off and regular long school holidays, and my local friends are supportive and kind, totally “getting” the often manic juggle of working from home with a baby.
If you’re currently thinking of giving up the day job to take on a new role that will see you working from home, know that it isn’t easy, but it can be intensely rewarding. This post isn’t about complaining or not being thankful for my lot, but it is about sharing some thoughts on the reality behind being a work from home mum.
As always, I love to hear about other people’s experiences. Do you work from home? Maybe you’re thinking about giving up your day job for an alternative path? Share your thoughts, experiences and tips here.