Today, I wanted to write a different kind of blog. My oldest child’s birthday this week has made me nostalgic and I’ve been thinking about my experience as a work from home mum; something I wanted to share because I know a lot of my clients are juggling businesses with family life too.
Becoming a freelance copywriter
In December, it will be ten years since I made the leap to become a freelance copywriter. And it really was a leap. In hindsight, I didn’t have much of a plan. All I knew was that I couldn’t continue on the nine to five treadmill and that I was tired of constantly feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I wanted a career that gave me the flexibility to work in the evenings (when my brain seems to function at full throttle), independence, and opportunities to develop my writing skills and experience.
With these vague objectives in mind, I sent out a mail shot to 100 different design and marketing companies in the East Midlands that I thought would be a good fit. Twelve of those companies became clients. Over the next two years, my business and my reputation as a copywriter grew. The gamble had paid off.
Becoming a work from home mum
When my oldest child (fondly nicknamed ‘Mutley’ because of his little baby laugh) was born, I needed flexibility from my career for other reasons. I wanted to be a stay at home mum while still bringing in an income and continuing to work on a business that I was passionate about. What I didn’t truly comprehend pre-kids was the reality of that dual role when you have a baby who never sleeps, who is incredibly alert and active, and who wants to feed around the clock. I also hadn’t factored in the stark reality of postnatal depression.
I accept now that I probably went back to work too soon after Mutley’s birth, but circumstances were such that taking more leave wasn’t possible. I spent two years (and another three after my youngest was born) working during every naptime and every evening. I functioned on three to four hours’ sleep a night, and I dug in to my vision of the future with everything I had, despite being tired to the core of my being.
When Mutley was nearly three, Dastardly (as my other half fondly nicknamed our youngest) was born by crash c-section. Six weeks later, he caught a virus that presented as meningitis (but fortunately wasn’t), and gave us all the scare of our lives. Then postnatal depression struck again. It was a scary, unsettling time and yet, in many ways, it clarified my priorities. I began to feel more confident in my role as a mum, especially a work at home mum.
Compromise and knowing nothing lasts forever
With our second child, I found the ability to compromise more readily. I accepted that occasionally I might need to use childcare or ask friends or family to help out because I couldn’t always be Superwoman. I realised that nothing lasts forever and even the sleepless nights and 4am starts come to the end eventually (I even find myself missing those blissful moments when I held a feeding baby in my arms at 2am and it felt as though we were the only beings in the universe, cocooned together with this tender, sweet bond. I treasure that I have those memories). You just have to keep going and reach out when you’re feeling alone.
Over the years of juggling my own business with a young family, I’ve learned a few universal truths that I’m sure you can all identify with:
- As soon as a client calls, your children will be drawn to your side as if there is a magnet between you. If not, they will choose that moment to have a fight, cry, need the loo or be hungry. (In fact, when he was younger, Mutley once used my distraction as an opportunity to go up to my office and glue coins from his money box over my office chair! True story.)
- Just as a deadline is approaching, one of your children will be sent home from school with a sick bug. You will then spend the next 24 hours with the washing machine permanently spinning, cuddling poorly children and trying to work in between your own dashes to the bathroom.
- As you’re leaving the house for a client meeting and wearing ‘grown-up’, professional clothes for the first time in ages, your child will give you a giant cuddle, leaving a trail of snot across your shoulder.
- As a parent (whether you work out of the house, at home or you’re at home with your children 24/7), there will always be something to feel guilty about and we have to find a way to let that go.
Still, those universal truths aside, I always get to watch school assemblies, do the school run, help with homework and shout proudly from the sidelines on sports days, and, for me, that’s the trade off. I know I am incredibly lucky to be able to make that choice. I also know it’s not right or possible for everyone.
This year, our youngest started school and I decided the time had come to reinvigorate and rediscover my passion for this business. What a journey the last 10 months has been! I am so excited about the future.
Becoming a better version of me
What I’ve realised is that all small business owners face challenges, whether it’s working around a young family, looking after older parents or holding down another job at the same time. There may be days why you wonder whether it’s worth the effort. Perhaps your family want you to get a ‘proper’ job or you wonder whether you’ll ever make enough money to breathe easily.
If I knew what I know now ten years ago, would I have still gone freelance? Undoubtedly, yes. I might just have been a bit kinder to myself about my expectations! My business, and combining it with motherhood, has taught me so much about my inner strength.
Someone once asked me if I was worried the world had moved on while I was at home with my children. At the time, it did worry me. However, what I’ve realised is that, while the world was evolving, so was I.
I was learning that I can work under pressure, that I can prioritise and meet deadlines, that I can empathise with my clients and their customers, that I can manage different projects, that I know what it’s like to try and keep your business going while you’re cuddling a tetchy child with chicken pox, or stuck for ideas of what to do during a wet summer holiday. I also learned that I could live through postnatal depression and come out the other side. That I can be a role model to my children.
So to anyone who’s reading this blog today while bleary-eyed from three hours’ sleep or stressed because the school has just phoned and your child isn’t feeling well, I wanted to say a heartfelt ‘well done’ and ‘keep going’. This time in your life won’t last forever but enjoy it, despite its many challenges (trust me, I know that’s easier said than done when you’re exhausted!).
Let go of your guilt that you’re not spending enough time with your children or on your business, and give yourself credit for doing your best. It’s all anyone can ask of you and all you should ask of yourself.