The perils and inspirations of being a mom who freelances

Oct 30, 2014

I am a freelance writer and archivist. I am also mother to a 2 year-old.

While pregnant I worked to ensure I’d have gigs to go back to after I had my baby, but agonized about my self-created maternity leave: how long could I really afford to focus only on my child and put work on hold?

Once my daughter was born, things switched to trying to explain, exhausted, why I needed a nanny despite literally still being at home. “Working mother” has never been an easy gig, freelance or not, but despite the leaps and bounds the freelancer has made in the last few years, people still can’t quite wrap their head around the freelance mommy. No corporate office? No commute? Than why in the world do you need childcare? Can’t you just do it after the baby goes to bed? (Don’t ever ask a new mother this question. Just don’t).

You’ve probably seen that new study about the number of freelancers in the U.S.. 1/3 of American workers are now freelance, and freelancer associations have changed, too. Back in 1991, Father of the Bride’s Annie Banks had to assure her overbearing father that an “independent communications consultant is not code from unemployed,” and these days her fiance is in good company and probably makes as much as his full-time counterparts. But what about Annie? (She has a baby in the sequel…it works).

Between constantly reiterating my work schedule daily to other mommy-friends who think a quick outing to the park during my work hours is surely no big deal, to my father-in-law asking when I plan to start working again… a lot of people still don’t seem to get it. But here’s the kicker: freelance mothers are some of the world’s most inspiring forces and have been for decades. And it’s never, ever been easy.

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Sylvia Plath, the mother of an infant and toddler (yikes!), is said to have risen well before dawn (and her children) in order to take advantage of “the quiet morning hours” to work on writing what is largely considered her most famous volume of poems, Ariel. Plath, largely a freelancer, submitted her pieces to various magazines and publishers on a weekly or daily basis. As a mother myself, I can only assume this arrangement was far less idyllic than it might sound, as both infants and toddlers often wake up in the night—over and over and over.

Writer and mother Joan Didion, has worked on everything from novels and essays to film scripts, going where the work was cheap. Didion listened in while the Doors recorded, interviewed Black Panthers, and had her finger on the pulse of the San Francisco hippie movement in the late sixties—all with a young daughter. In return for her hard work and sacrifice, Didion received not only the standard criticism of her writing, but also of her choices as a mother for leaving her child “with a variety of sitters” while she went on the road for assignments.

But there are perks to being a freelance mom, and not just the flexibility of working in my PJs (I’m up at 5:45. Do you think I’d want to be in pajamas that long?). When I have a sick kid I can pick her up within the half hour (or... if she forgets her naptime stuffed bunny I can just drop it off). And when I was trying to lose baby weight I had the luxury of spending my lunch breaks running and taking a quick shower before returning to work—if I went five or ten minutes over the hour I could just adjust my hours accordingly and make the time up that evening. And here’s an unexpected perk of freelancing in motherhood: when my mother begs me to visit I don’t have to take time off, I just simply pack up my laptop and get free babysitting while I make a home office in my childhood bedroom.

It’s not perfect, but it’s coming along. And I know I’m following in the footsteps of some great women who’ve worked a lot harder than I have to pave the way. Maybe someday my father-in-law will realize I do in fact, have a normal job— in the meantime I’ll enjoy what I’ve got and do my part to make it better for freelance moms everywhere.