“You’re not going to quit, are you?”
My boss did not sugarcoat her words. If something was about to upset her apple cart, she wanted to know immediately. I had just told her that I was pregnant – unexpectedly – and that I was going to have the baby approximately six months from that moment. Her first response was concern over how quickly she may have to fill my position — a job I’d only finished training for a few months prior.
“Well, no. I can’t quit. I need a job. I’m having a BABY,” I responded. The truth was that I was not yet sure HOW I was going to keep my job with a baby but I was pretty sure I’d need the income, especially since I was a single 20-something living nearly 2,000 miles from the rest of my family.
Blood seemed to rush back to my boss’ face. She took a few deep breaths.
“We’ll figure it out,” I assured her. “I’m not quitting. I just wanted you to know what’s going on with me.”
My boss seemed to realize her initial faux pas, and started every other conversation with me in the months that followed with questions about my well-being and that of the baby. She threw me an in-office party before the baby was born, with a cake and some gifts pooled from other office mates who wanted to wish me well. It was really nice. But perhaps the best gift she gave me was this: a few months before I was set to deliver, my boss told me I could work from home after my first baby was born.
“I need you to come in two days per week, at least, to do in-person things here. But most of what you do can just be done online, right?”
I could have kissed her. I’d been pricing daycares, and subsequently crying at the price tags, and only needing to pay for two days per week of it brought sudden and emotional relief. I started testing some shifts from home with success.
When the insomnia of the last month of my pregnancy set in, I worked in the middle of the night, opting for a nap the next morning when everything was turned in for work. I went for a few walks during the day and logged in in the evenings to clock a few hours in advance of the next day’s responsibilities. I didn’t need to call in sick when I felt yucky in that third trimester. I just stayed in my PJs, feet up, answering emails and logging into software and websites from my couch.
I found out very quickly that even without a baby, I liked doing my work from home and I was good at it. The revelation surprised me a bit. An extrovert in nearly every sense of the word with an insatiable need to talk to everyone about everything, doing my work in that pre-baby silence was more satisfying than I anticipated.
Those early days as a mom were full of the usual sleepless nights, the incessant hunger and thirst from nursing, and much more staring at my baby and losing all track of time than I had expected I’d enjoy. When I went back to work after 8 weeks, I did so from my home, a rented house I shared with a girlfriend. I was surprised at how how much I had missed the camaraderie with my colleagues, and even via email or Yahoo Messenger (our chat app du jour of the time) I enjoyed catching up and sending baby pics. My work likely suffered some in those early days, though no specific examples jump out at me now, but my boss and colleagues were eager to pick up some of that slack if it meant keeping me on staff long term.
What has followed is 11 years of working from home while birthing and raising my young children. I have worked an array of hours between in-office work and from-home tasks in that time frame, as a full-time employee and as a contractor. With the exception of occasional travel and in-person interviews, I work nearly 100 percent from home now.
When I married my now-husband, he had two small kids. We weighed the options of our jobs and careers with three kids age 4 and under in our home, and frankly I liked working at home A LOT. So we decided back in 2011 that I would pull myself from the traditional workforce and start freelance writing and editing full time.
“I’ll go back to a real job when London (the youngest at that time, age 2) is in Kindergarten,” I said.
As I knocked on proverbial doors and spent more time trying to land work than actually writing, I would often wonder if clocking in somewhere might be easier, and certainly more lucrative, than my current setup (the grass is always greener, right?). But during the times I had maxed out my bids-per-month on freelance writing work sites, and had returned all the emails, and was waiting on clients to send me more details to get started on new projects, I’d pack my kids up (first 3 of them, then 4, then 5) and walk them the half mile down to the beach. They’d scream and yell and get wet and dirty and I’d soak in some of the Florida sunshine.
“This isn’t so bad,” I’d always think.
That first year as a freelancer morphed into the next and my kids and freelance work continued to grow. London went to Kindergarten but by that point there were still two little ones home with me most of the day. My husband’s role at work evolved and pretty soon he was working from home most of the time too — an interesting dynamic in our marriage, but one that has worked out pretty successfully.
My youngest child started all-day preschool this month and for the first time since I became a parent in 2008, I am working from home without a child beside me. I have no desire to track down an in-office job now that my REAL youngest child is in school.
Some of these work-from-home years have seen just one little one running around, playing independently while I clacked away on work, and some saw as many as three children at home during school and work hours at once. I’ve worked a lot of wee hours and weekends. If we’re friends or colleagues, you’ve likely received an email or two from me at 4 a.m.
But that work done in off hours was the payoff for being present during the day for my kids. I also was on-hand and available for nearly every breakfast, after-school snack and field trip for five children over the past decade. Not every family can operate with an arrangement like ours has – not every job can be done from home, not every family functions well with two working parents and not every worker wants a career that takes place mainly in the same place where he or she sleeps, eats and parents. It has worked for my family, though.
As I learn how flex that little bit of extra uninterrupted time when all my kids are in school, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned since my frantic boss first offered me some from-home hours more than 11 years ago. I’ve discovered…
I like to work.
And nearly to a fault sometimes. My dream workday is one where I can sit at my desk and just look out my front window and write. Sure, I could have still been writing whether people paid me to do it or not over this past decade — and there are certainly things I write for free, like this blog — but the pairing of my content with a paycheck gives me a lot of satisfaction. I like earning a living. I started working at the age of 14 in the summers and haven’t stopped since for any extended period of time. The idea of not having projects to write, edit or otherwise manage makes me sad. With no significant gap in my work history, now that ALL of these kids are nearly school age, I’m ramping up projects and I’m at a pivotal point of leveling up in my career — not starting over.
At some point, I just had to make peace with the fact that I DID work from home and that my kids were just going to have to see me work sometimes. Early pre-waking hours and nap times for my kids were preferable for working, of course, mainly because I could think straight without so many (**said with gratitude**) distractions. But as my work picked up, there were times I had to sit at my desk and let my kids do their own thing around the house. I stopped halting my work mid-email to get someone juice and started telling them they would need to wait five minutes (or more) for the thing they were asking to have. My desk is always open but my kids now understand that work is also a priority, along with family life, and that they must respect it. For the most part, they do. If I was at an office and they couldn’t see me, would I stop what I was doing to drive home to take down the toy from the high shelf in the closet? That’s crazy. But I’m grateful that I can fulfill those requests within a matter of minutes in most cases. Reminding my kids that I enjoy my work and that it is important to me and our family is something I’m not ashamed to do. Plus. There are FIVE of them. They’ve learned to be innovative or work together on things like snacks, games and getting dressed during the times when I need a few minutes to complete a work task.
There is a way.
If you want to change something, anything, in your life there is always a way to do it. BUT… it takes sacrifice. Do not expect a road less traveled to be easy, convenient or lucrative at first. I have had friends tell me they want a work/family setup like mine, and I ask them if they can afford several years at lower pay and crap jobs to get to that point. I don’t mean it in a discouraging way but rather a realistic one. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned, including shortcuts, but completely changing the way you earn a living and starting over takes time to come to fruition. We got by with one vehicle for three years because we needed that second car payment money for other things. Until very recently, our family “vacations” have consisted of driving our minivan to my parents’ place in Indiana (though we did take one epic cross-country road trip) or to my husband’s extended family’s homes in the D.C. area. We’ve had to meal plan, budget, say “no” to our kids AND ourselves many times — and yes, there have been plenty of times that we’ve worried about money. The walls of our 1,800-square-foot home feel like they are closing in on us sometimes with seven people living here, and two also working here full time. But we get to work here. We get to parent here. We get to live here comfortably, even when we’re cramped. I’d say that’s a pretty sweet deal.
It will be interesting to see how my work life evolves now that I (in theory) have more time in my day. In the few days that I’ve been working on this post, I’ve had to pick up two sick kids from school and drive to attend to another one who was stung by a wasp on the playground. Parenting is unpredictable from one day to the next but I’m happy to be able to do it – and a career I love – full time.
Read more about Katie’s freelance writing and editing career in her book How to Earn a Living as a Freelance Writer, available in early 2020.
Tags: freelance editing