8 Tips for Freelancing with Kids at Home
If you’re a parent who’s freelanced from home for any length of time, you already know that there are a range of challenges that come along with it—a child screaming in the middle of a business call, a loud rendition of the Thomas & Friends theme song just as you’re trying to beat a tough deadline, or—say—a couple of adorable scamps barging into your room and ruining your illusion of a table as you’re being interviewed by the BBC. (Seriously, that will never get old.)
But the pandemic has dialed up the intensity of those challenges. Whereas before, most kids had school, after-school activities, playdates with friends, visits with relatives, and so on, chances are good that they’re doing very little of any of that anymore. They’re home more, depending on you more. Single parents (like me!) may have no respite at all.
Somehow, we’re supposed to make it work anyway. We’re in charge of getting the bills paid AND keeping the kids alive, which sometimes feels like it should be an either/or proposition. After nearly a year of pandemic life, I have some insights I’d like to pass along to you:
Be “Good Enough” at Parenting
I’m a strong believer in the “good enough” parent—the one who maybe lets the kids watch more television than the American Psychological Association recommends. The one who understands that microwaved chicken nuggets aren’t poison, and not every day will be filled with educational books and nature walks. It can be hard to let go of the measuring stick we use to compare ourselves to the picture-perfect social media moms, but free yourself from that burden. If the kids’ basic needs are being met, you’re doing okay. Take it one day at a time.
Scale Back on Work if You Can
Likewise, acknowledge that this probably won’t be your most productive or inspired time, and that’s okay! Let this be a time when you exert the least amount of effort you can while still meeting your expenses. It’s probably not the time to tackle that passion project you’ve been back-burnering. (Keep it on hold until life gets back on track.) If you’re overwhelmed and you’re in a position to scale back a little, talk to your clients—see if you can temporarily take on fewer assignments, have longer deadlines, or refer out some of your work.
Listen, I know there are a lot of articles that will suggest that you wake up two hours early or stay up late to do your writing, but this is not that article. Get your rest. Stay healthy. Just get through this in one piece.
Consider, too, ways you can invest in making better use of your time. If you’re not yet using a transcription service for your interviews, there are several good options. For the most accurate transcripts, go with a human transcriber. You can find individuals easily on online writers’ groups (most are moonlighting writers), or use a service like Rev.com or CLKtranscription.com. Rates average $1-1.25 per audio minute.
If you don’t need perfection and are willing to do a little clean-up work yourself, there are now at least two solid AI-based services: Otter.ai (600 free minutes per month with 40 minutes max per recording, or plans starting at $99.99/year) and Temi.com ($.25/minute).
You may also want to look into a virtual assistant (VA) who can help with whatever tasks you dread most: prospecting, following up, research, answering emails, updating your website, sending out your newsletter, whatever. Many writers I know say their VAs are more than worth their pay.
Create a Structure
I like having the structure of a schedule. My kid knows that even if I’m home, I’m “at work” during certain hours, which makes it easier to enforce boundaries. If your kids are old enough to read and understand, post your work hours for them so they get used to it, too. Give them a way to know when you’ll be ready to give them attention again: set a timer or let them know that they can talk to you when the clock says 11:30, when the TV episode is over, or whatever else you can use to demarcate time.
This is prime time to teach a little family responsibility. Kids of all ages can be helpful, even in small ways. The less time you need to spend setting the table, clearing plates, and throwing clothes in the dryer, the more time you have to get your work done. My teen offered to cook dinner one night a week. A friend’s daughter now makes her own lunch. Try them out; they may be more capable than you realize.
Set up Snacks
As parents, we can get caught in the trap of catering to our kids too much—letting them sit down while we bring snacks and drinks. If your children are capable of playing independently and you’re able to trust them to handle this part themselves, you can make snack packs in advance. Keep a drawer or shelf full of the things your kids are allowed to take anytime: bags of carrots, apple slices, nuts, granola, along with cups or bottles of water and other drinks. This way, there’s not an interruption every time your kids get hungry.
Share the Load
It should go without saying that if you have a partner, that person should be doing their share of the work. If you can stagger your work hours so that each one of you is “on” when the other is off, you can both get quality time with the kids and uninterrupted work time. If you can safely get help from grandparents or other trusted family or friends during this time, go for it. Don’t be a hero.
Encourage Quiet Play
On the other hand, if you have to supervise while you work, look for quiet activities your kids can do: puzzles, coloring, reading, videogames or TV with headphones, crafting kits, blocks/Legos, writing letters, word searches, paper dolls… if you need extra suggestions for activities, my friend Jenna Glatzer has the book for you: Kids and Teens in Quarantine.
Don’t feel guilty for not directing your kids’ activities every minute; it’s healthy for them to learn to play independently and to realize that parents have their own needs, too.
Above all, be kind to yourself during this time: we’re all going through something crazy right now. If the kids are fed and loved and not entirely smelly, you’re doing fine.
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