One of the most exciting and liberating parts of freelancing for me, when I first started, was being able to control my daily work schedule. I have four children, all seven and under. Telecommuting to my previous corporate job part of the week gave me some flexibility, but it wasn’t a perfect solution. When I was telecommuting, I found I couldn’t often take breaks when my family needed me most and shift my work into other parts of the day, because my coworkers needed me during office hours.
The first few months of freelancing, I was thrilled with being able to toggle back and forth between working and taking care of family responsibilities throughout the day. It was okay to get up early and put in three hours before eight a.m. or finish an article at 9 p.m., if I wanted to take an hour off in the middle of the day to be the mystery reader at my children’s school. If I needed to schedule a doctor’s appointment for one of my kids, I didn’t have to ask someone first.
But watching four women work with a tennis coach in a local park while I took a lunch break there with my kids last week reminded me that there are limits to the freedoms of the freelance lifestyle.
I’ve learned over the past four years that running a serious, full-time freelance business requires a lot of discipline and planning, particularly if one underlying, simultaneous goal is to have more time with your kids. I haven’t yet found a way to combine making a decent living, spending the time I want with my kids and fitting in extras like regular dinners out with friends. While in my pre-kid days, I might have gotten up at 6 am to go for a run, now I need that time to work and instead squeeze in workouts on an elliptical trainer in my family room (usually while holding my active, almost 2-year-old son).
Ultimately, there are some small sacrifices that have to be made on a daily basis, or the whole thing doesn’t work. What gets lost sometimes is the opportunity for serendipity. I don’t often have to rush to catch a train, but I’m often rushed. Although I would like to take a long leisurely walk to the park with my kids each time we head over there, sometimes we’ve got to jump in the car and drive if we’re going to make it out at all. After we spend an hour or so, we often have to head right back home so I can make a phone call or write, while they play in the house. And, even on breaks, if I see that there’s a message from an important client on my BlackBerry, I will check the message and call back if needed.
Then again, there are plenty of parents who don’t get to see their kids at all during the work day. So even if I have to check my messages while my children are buckling into their car seats as we rush back to my home office, I realize how lucky I have it.