What is it like to be a freelancer and a parent at the same time?

Freelancing can offer parents the flexibility to manage a career alongside spending time with their children. However, it comes with challenges, such as lack of maternity or paternity leave. Gemma Church speaks to seven freelancing parents to weigh-up the pros and cons.

I’m leading a double life. One where I have to flip between the role of parent and freelancer faster than you can say, “Your child is poorly; can you come and pick them up from school?”

As a parent with two small boys (aged 5 and 7), the unparalleled flexibility of freelancing is one of the fundamental reasons I chose to set up on my own. I’m eternally grateful that I can fit my work around the needs and demands of parenting.

But I also have a burgeoning business to manage. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve felt I’m neglecting my clients for my children or (even worse) neglecting my children for my clients. The feast or famine existence of freelancing is certainly amplified when you have to factor in the school day (too short), childcare (too expensive), activities (too many) and school holidays (too long).

Freelancing parents also don’t receive as many benefits compared with permanent workers. There’s no statutory maternity pay, paternity leave or shared parental leave for the self-employed. And yet the number of freelance mothers has doubled since 2008.

Freelancing and parenting is a constant tug of war, with plenty of pros and cons depending on your work and family set-up. So, I reached out to some fellow freelancers and asked: what’s it like to be a freelancer and a parent at the same time?

Melanie Eberlein-Scott, a strategic marketing and business development consultant, with two small children (aged 3 and 1)

For me, being a freelancer and a parent is bittersweet. My children are so little and always seem to be battling a virus of one sort or other. So, I appreciate the flexibility that comes with freelancing more than ever. However, switching between parenting and freelancing is a real challenge, with mum mode often infringing on work time. My goal is to find a way to ring-fence my working time.

James Devonshire, a writer and copywriter with three girls (aged 5, 3 and 18 months)

Being a freelancer and a parent presents unique challenges. The biggest one for me is switching off and spending time with my kids. Sure, I’m home all day so get to see them plenty, but my smartphone is never out of my sight and I’m usually checking my emails in the evenings. At least when I was working a nine to five job, it was exactly that: nine to five.

man with notebook in cafe sitting at the table drinking coffee, holding his son in his lap

I certainly feel the financial pressures of freelancing as a parent, especially when it comes to their birthdays, Christmas and holidays.

Sara Watkins, a web designer with one daughter (aged 9)

Parenthood is good training for running a business. Both demand boundless flexibility, adaptability and working long and unpredictable hours. No payroll job offers or demands this.

I’ve found a routine can provide some separation when the boundaries between parenting and freelancing start to blur. After the morning school drop-off, I work right through to pick-up time, then I stop to cook, do homework and bedtime and then start again at about 8.30pm. My day is long, but there are benefits, such as the ability to run a successful and meaningful business on my own terms.

Holidays are also getting easier as they get older and can attend a wider range of clubs and activities. Last year, I even closed down for August to spend quality time with my family. It did, however, take a while to get business coming back in again on my return, which was a bit scary.

Adrian Ashton, an enterprise consultant with three children (aged 15, 15 and 12)

I can’t imagine any employer being happy with (or even being able to offer me) the chaotic working patterns I need to support my children with different health conditions and school arrangements. However, despite this flexibility, I certainly feel the financial pressures of freelancing as a parent, especially when it comes to their birthdays, Christmas and holidays. Parenting is also a tag-team between me and my partner; it would be nice to find more time to spend together between freelancing and parenting!

Karen Cann, a video editor and outreach charity worker with one daughter (aged 10) and a son (aged 7)

There are positives and negatives to freelancing as a parent. The upside about working around the school run and holidays is that I don’t have to pay for childcare. The downside is that when I don’t work, I don’t get paid. This means I have to make sure I have money saved to carry me over the summer holidays, which can be a challenge.

The best thing is spending so much time with my kids. I realise I’m probably not as financially secure or affluent as other mums, but time goes so quickly and I know they’ll soon not want to be seen with me! This time is really precious and I want to look back with lovely memories and no regrets.

A windfall for self-employed mothers

it’s not all posh coffee, yoga at lunchtime and a nomadic lifestyle

Ruth Buckingham, a marketing consultant with two children (aged 10 and 4)

Like many others, I chose to be a freelancer so that I could work flexibly around my family. However, it’s not all posh coffee, yoga at lunchtime and a nomadic lifestyle – if any of us are poorly, there is no sick pay, no holiday pay and little security.

I rarely switch off fully as I am constantly aware of the luxury of ‘being flexible’ and don’t want to miss out on potential work or servicing my clients. I rely heavily on online support groups like Doing it for the Kids, as many are in a similar position and can relate to the specific challenges of freelancing and parenting at the same time.

Krishna Luhar, a social media manager with three children (aged 3, 2 and 5 months)

The flexibility of being able to work around my children is priceless. However, that can mean I might be working from 7am (as soon as I wake up) or at 4am (when my 5-month-old has woken for a feed). So, I can never truly switch off but I am working on creating a more healthy balance. The downside is that I have the pressure of paying for my kids’ nursery fees, bills and a new car fit for a family of five without a truly stable income.