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The Freelance Parent: Cat Hufton on tackling homeschooling and lockdown.

"As a freelancer and parent to a very energetic two year old, I’m pretty well-versed in the juggle of work and childcare, but I’ll admit that news of another lockdown was hard to bear. " explains The Freelance Parent Cat Hufton.

Author: / Published: January 11th 2021

Cat Hufton is a freelance writer, runs The Freelance Parent - a fantastic newsletter for self-employed parents, and a mum. We asked Cat for her thoughts on how to juggle lockdown, homeschooling and freelancing.

So here we are again. In yet another lockdown with children to home school and deadlines to meet. As a freelancer and parent to a very energetic two year old, I’m pretty well-versed in the juggle of work and childcare, but I’ll admit that news of another lockdown was hard to bear. 

For me personally, I’ve found this new lockdown so much harder in some ways. Like many others, we spent Christmas at home as a three: my husband, my son and I, which I found more isolating than I expected. It’s also much harder to spend time outdoors when its freezing and dark at 4pm and your two-year old really doesn’t like being cold. I’m thankful, however, that the nurseries are still open and that I can continue to work. Like many parents, I was confused as to the reasoning that nurseries were remaining open and schools were shutting, but I think The Early Years Alliance has given a clear rationale that has alleviated some anxiety. 

When I’m not working as a freelance writer and being a mum, I also create The Freelance Parent, a weekly newsletter for mums and dads who work for themselves. I launched this as a project to keep me focussed and connected to other parents during the first lockdown when work became unpredictable and socialising became so much harder. 

My newsletter has allowed me to create a growing community of freelancers and parents who all share many of the same problems and concerns as me. I try to answer the questions shared by those in this community through research and interviews, such as why nurseries and early years settings were remaining open while schools were being forced to close; the financial rights of freelancers out of work during the pandemic; and how to combat issues such as imposter syndrome and confidence issues after having children. I believe that giving people the space to talk about shared worries and challenges is so important for those that work for themselves.

I’ve recently been working hard to provide readers with as many helpful resources as I can and listen to what their experiences are of this new lockdown. For some, it’s going well and their children’s schools are providing great support, while others are not receiving anything like that and feel understandably angry and really fed up if it all. 

But, for now, all we can do as parents is our best and take it one day at a time. With options of applying for furlough and financial aid not available for many freelance parents, we have to find coping strategies. So to help you through, I thought I’d share a few ideas to help you get through this tricky period with your sanity and business intact. 

Talk to your clients

First things first, I always think it’s good to let your clients know of a change in circumstance. With things like lockdown, it’s something everyone is aware of but you might just want to make them aware of a few expected changes such as a change in the time you’ll reply to emails and needing more notice for things such as Zoom meetings. You should also be really honest with yourself about how much work you have on at the moment. If you feel panicked at the very idea of balancing it with home-schooling, then it might be a good idea to speak to your clients to see if you can get some flexibility. Can your deadlines be lengthened, for example, and are they happy for you to work outside of normal working hours (i.e early in the morning and in the evening where necessary), and in some cases, take on less until the kids are back at school?

Buddying up and taking on help

I always think it’s good to have a freelance friend/ ex colleague that can act as source of support – for example, when your child is ill, you’re unwell, or we go into lockdown for the umpteenth time. For example, I have a friend who is also a freelance writer and journalist, and we’ve helped each other out in numerous ways for years. Just before Christmas she trapped a nerve in her shoulder and couldn’t type (which is a total disaster as a writer) but had a big deadline approaching. She wrote most of what she needed to by annotating her work into an app that typed it out, and then I helped her by editing it all. I made a little bit of extra cash, she met her deadline, and her client was none the wiser. Delegating work in this way is a good thing to think about if you’re struggling at the moment and just need to get through the next few weeks. If you don’t have someone you can buddy up with, you could also consider hiring a virtual assistant and paying them by the hour. 

Structuring the day

One of the positives about being freelance is that we can set our own working hours most of the time. When I’m really up against it, I try to get up an hour before my son wakes up to bash through my most important jobs that need concentration. I then start the day feeling as though I’ve made some headway while giving myself some headspace. I then sort my day into small blocks of concentrated working time – during his nap time, when he’s having some chill out time in front of the TV and then when he’s in bed. If you’re homeschooling, you might find it useful to work in power hours (during the kids’ lunch break for example). Maximise this time with apps such as Forest that stop you distracting yourself with your phone. The app allows you to plant a ‘virtual tree’ before you start and you must stay on the app while you work. If you pick up your phone and switch to another app, the tree dies. 

Helpful learning resources

At the end of the day, parents cannot be expected to be full-time teachers, parents and employees so don’t beat yourself up for needing to rely on screen time. The BBC is working to help support learning at home with the biggest education offer in its history across more of its platforms which I’m sure will be music to millions of parents’ stressed-out ears. This will bring together BBC Two, CBBC, BBC Red Button, BBC iPlayer and online to deliver a new education offer to children, teachers and parents as a third national lockdown begins. You can find out more here. 

Additionally, LearnEnglish Kids by the British Council has some really fun online learning resources to help children practice their English from home, while the website Cool Math 4 Kids is full of fun little games for kids to practice their numeracy skills.

Connect with other freelance parents

Finally, I think it’s more important than ever to stay connected to other parents in your community. I love Facebook and Slack groups such as Doing it For the Kids and of course, Leapers, and find a lot of strength from following other incredible freelance parents such as Joeli Brearley, founder and CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed and Anna Whitehouse (AKA Mother Pukka). Being plugged into the parenting space makes me feel far less alone. The Freelance Parent also has a Facebook group which everyone is welcome to join. I hope to see you there.

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Thanks to Cat for sharing her recommendations.
The Freelance Parent is a newsletter dedicated to freelance professionals with children - sign up here.

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