As a freelancer, I can work anywhere between 20 and 60 hours a week. And in any given month, I can work the same amount of hours as (if not more than) a full-time employee. While there are a million gripes that come with freelance life, like working through the holidays and being your own office manager, payroll department, tax expert, and advocate, there’s one perk that outshines all the drawbacks for me as a parent—and that’s the privilege of picking up my kid from school.
Who would have thought that the crux of parenthood would rest on that 15-minute period when you walk into your child’s school or daycare facility to pick them up yourself? Not a proxy, a family member, a neighbor, or a nanny. But you, the person who not only birthed them but is also incredibly invested in every precious word that spills out of their mouth as they bubble over with school-day stories.
I didn’t realize this would be the thing I would fight so hard for, the thing I would turn full-time jobs down for. I, like the rest of the world, thought that mothers were super-beings, who were able to carry the world on their backs, run boardroom meetings, keep up their picture-perfect dreams homes, manage a loving relationship with their spouse, and show up to school, bright and early in the morning, brandishing snacks. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
In reality, most moms have to choose which part of their lives they’re going to sacrifice and which parts they’re not—and sometimes, it’s completely out of their control.
To give a little background, I re-entered the workforce when my son was two years old—and truth be told, it was a hard reality check. I remember sitting in my manager’s office one afternoon, explaining to him why I had to take three consecutive days off from work the week before. Entering daycare meant my son was in for a rollercoaster ride as his immune system was challenged for the first time. He came down with colds and infections and hand-foot-mouth monstrosities, and I insisted on being there for it all. My manager, on the other hand, seemed to think this was excessive and worthy of negotiating. “Can’t you hire someone to stay home with him? We really need you here, every day.”
And he was right. My role was in daily operations, which meant every question about payroll, every expense that needed to be approved, every immediate office decision landed on my desk. It was noticeable when I wasn’t there and the work never stopped. But what my manager (an unmarried man without children) didn’t think about was that nothing is more nonstop than raising kids.
My son’s temperature wasn’t going to take the hint and regulate just because my manager felt the pinch. So later that year, when I was laid off with severance because I had taken too much time off, I considered it a blessing. Instead of diving back into the job hunt, I set up a website and posted to Facebook that I was looking for clients who needed help with social media. I had dabbled in freelance work before and established my wheelhouse in content strategy and writing. It was my side-gig then, but now, I was ready to bring it front and center.
I didn’t want to have to ever explain to anyone again why my sick child took precedence over their report. I didn’t want any more eyes rolling when I explained that I needed (wanted) to attend my son’s field trip or holiday show.
So I set off down the path of self-employment and entrepreneurship.
I’m certainly not the only mother who has opted out of the working parent rat race. According to data from Pew Research, one in four working mothers has had to reduce their hours in order to care for their kids. For me and for a lot of mothers I know, this usually results in a total loss of employment. As technology and industries grow and change, people are finding more success as freelancers than they would have in a traditional workspace.
As a freelancer, I can set my own office hours, block time off of my calendar as needed and even schedule in self-care time (like a two-hour nap in the middle of the day) so that I have more mental capacity for my child later. I get to have impromptu dance parties with my son on mornings he needs an energy boost. I get to volunteer at his school once a week and say things like, “Let me know how I can support you” to his teachers. I didn’t have capacity for that when I spent my day grinding my fingers down for someone else’s bottom line.
I know freelance work is not for everyone, and I know there are still thousands of mothers who are pumping breastmilk in bathroom stalls today or explaining to an impatient superior that they need to leave the office to attend to their child’s nose bleed or ear infection.
For those mothers, what we need is policy change and better community support and awareness (and that’s coming too). According to the Freelancer’s Union 2019 report ‘Freelancing In America,’ 46% of freelancers wouldn’t otherwise be able to sustain themselves if not for the option to freelance, simply due to health challenges or elders or children to care for. There is a growing need for folks to be able to fit work into life and not the other way around. Hopefully, change is on the horizon.
There are some days I wake up panicked and unsure and nervous—but not about my child. I’m ok with the stress of self-employment, and weathering the freelance storm sometimes for him. I like that I am learning from my mistakes and deciding to lean into my strengths instead of someone else’s job description. If I could go back and give myself any advice before I became a mother or even just after, it would be to invest time into becoming as independent as possible, so no one could ever micro-manage my motherhood experience or my child’s childhood. The future of parenthood is freedom.