Advice for freelancers taking parental leave

Dec 20, 2018

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

I’m a full-time freelance web designer and developer—and a momma. I have two kiddos—Quinn and Julia, ages 9 and 3. So fellow freelancers, especially ones who are expecting, ask me all the time: Did you take maternity leave? How do you handle childcare?

Well, as you know, self-employment doesn’t come with maternity leave. (Although some states like New York offer paid family leave options).

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create your own.

I did. And it was great. But I had to learn a few things, and didn’t quite get it right until my second time around.

When it comes to taking time off for babies, here’s what I did, what I learned, and what I recommend…

First child: big ’ole mess

When I had Quinn, the fact that I can’t do it all hit me like a ton of bricks. “Maternity leave” was a learning experience that left me dealing with projects that were running late, with a 3-day old baby by my side. You see Quinn was born 4 weeks early and I thought I had plenty of time to wrap things up. Not!

Child two: lessons learned

When I discovered I was pregnant with my second child, I was determined to do maternity leave right. Julia was due in October, and since daycare didn’t have openings until January, I decided to take three whole months off. Here’s how I did it:

Own it

Yes, I’m having a baby and I’m taking THREE months off. It felt foreign to me, especially after Quinn, but I wanted to do it right with Julia, and I needed to be confident and fearless in my own mind first.

Start early

Your maternity leave planning should start as soon as you find out you’re pregnant, if not before. Don’t wait to deal with it until the month before the baby arrives (or you’ll end up like I did with my first baby, in the throes of work with a newborn and seriously regretting your naivety).

Save 3x your monthly salary

Every month, I pay myself a salary. This salary goes towards living expenses. So in order to not make any money for three months, I’d need to have 3 months’ salary in the bank. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I started stashing money away.

Give clients plenty of notice

I started telling clients in the second trimester. I didn’t tell everybody, just those it would affect most. Then about two months before my leave, I told everyone on my newsletter list.

Set scheduling expectations, and communicate them

Before my maternity leave, I told clients I was booking projects for January. Then when January filled up, February. While I was out, my website and email replies clearly stated that I was on maternity leave, and how to start the process of booking a project together.

Get help

If waiting until January wasn’t doable, or current clients needed help with maintenance, I wasn’t going to leave them high-and-dry. I needed somebody awesome to fill my role while I wasn’t available. Fortunately, a long term colleague (who’s amazing!) was willing to be the go-to.

Maintain your marketing pipeline

Even though I wouldn’t be working on projects for three months, I did need my pipeline to be there when I came back. I wrote and scheduled three-months-worth of blog posts and newsletters while I was out.

Have a little cushion

As a freelancer, and as a parent, you realize there always needs to be wiggle room. Unexpected stuff happens. To account for that, I saved a little extra money, and allowed a little extra time. I wrapped up in early September, just to be safe. Julia ended up arriving two weeks early on September 22nd, but the extra time gave me time to rest, focus and prepare.

Arrange childcare!

Yes, I have a home office. But I can’t watch kids AND work. That means I’d be 50% mom, and 50% designer—neither is good enough. My 3 year old goes to pre-school every day, and will continue to go to school. My kids attend camp in the summer. Sure, if they’re sick, they stay home with me and I reschedule my day. I’m grateful for that flexibility! But being able to put my all into work while I’m working, means I’m able to put my all into being a mom when I’m momming. And that feels really, really good. Kids don’t want a mom who isn’t fully-present, and nobody wants to hire somebody who’s half-a$$ing their job. I’m a firm believer that if you work, you need childcare. To be good at anything, we need to be focused. And seriously, in any other profession, you don’t take your children to work with you—how is freelancing any different?

A few more thoughts about maternity and parental leave

  • It’s going to be okay. Sure, I was nervous about taking three month off, but it didn’t break my business. If anything, my business was stronger for it. With planning and communication, you can absolutely make this work.
  • Yes, I love being a freelance web designer. But at the end of the day, I do this work to support my family and make a good life for them. (I even state this in my values on my website.) It’s okay if family is more important than work—it should be!
  • Yes, you can love your job—and still take three months off for maternity leave. This doesn’t make you a bad businessperson.
  • In many other countries in the world, maternity and parental leave is much longer than here in the U.S. Just because we need to create this time for ourselves doesn’t mean it’s not necessary, deserved or possible. Like most things, it just requires some planning to be successful.

I will leave you with this: Do what is right for you and your family. I certainly hope the information I shared will help to guide you.

Jill Anderson is a web designer/developer who partners with graphic designers, writers, and creatives to craft custom, responsive WordPress websites. Have you wanted to revamp your website for a while but haven’t gotten very far? Get my FREE guide, Get Your Website Done: JillLynnDesign.com/freegift/