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Experiences of a Freelance Parent - Ann Storr

We asked Ann Storr, a brand storyteller, to share her experiences of juggling parenting and self-employed work.

The first round of homeschooling was almost a relief, as my youngest had already been refusing school, leaving us both exhausted and tearful by 7am. But this time, the major difference is we now know that we all have autism and 2 of us have ADHD, so we can be kinder with each other about our struggles with things like time management, forgetfulness or needing quiet time/down time.

At home, there’s me, two girls aged 12 & 15; 8 year old greyhound who provides emotional support; their dad and I separated two years ago, and I am on duty mostly 12 days on the trot. The youngest and I both have autism and ADHD, my eldest has autism (ASD), and all of us have the common additional fun-bags of anxiety, forgetfulness, etc., so we have some additional challenges. 

During lockdown I, I shifted to working in my bedroom to free up the kitchen. This works better for the kids as it gives them more freedom in our small house, and, frankly, means that we aren’t totally on top of each other (not easy in a mid-terrace 7 room building).

I work 5 days a week, but try to be client facing only 3 days a week. My youngest struggles with any form of schooling, so my main focus is on finding educational and emotional support. I’m not needed to home-school in a hands-on way like a preschool/primary schooler parent, so I haven’t had to communicate many changes to my clients - they know I’m a working single mum, but luckily I’ve got a good balance. 

Moving between professional me and mum me isn’t always easy ... keeping on track can be an uphill battle.

Moving between professional me and mum me isn’t always easy, especially as my phone can ring with 5 or 6 SENCo related issues a day. It’s incredibly stressful, especially as all the agencies are so over burdened with child anxiety and mental health problems going through the roof and calls can need to be half an hour long; I can be switching between roles all day, at short/no notice. 

Combine that with my ASD (struggle with changing plans) & ADHD (terrible concentration/can get sidetracked easily), keeping on track can be an uphill battle.

My eldest has just had her upcoming GCSEs cancelled but, even so, she’s much better at structuring her time - showering, getting dressed, working in the kitchen. I had been worried that, like lockdowns I & II, she’d go back to being in her room all the time but she’s been brilliant. GCSEs were looming, so I was really worried about what was going to happen - the year 11s have been out of school, really, since March 2019; my daughter has had extra challenges to navigate so her results have been ‘surviving’ rather than ‘thriving’. I was feeling quite stuck about how unfair it is for these teenagers, and really worried that, if the government didn’t cancel GCSEs & A Levels and the kids - and my baby - got terrible grades, how would that be fair? 

We’re communicating more effectively around what she needs in terms of quiet, breaks and support. Her school have been absolutely brilliant at keeping in touch generally, and in looking after her specific needs.

I’m sad for my eldest, as she is missing being with her friends and the routines of school. She’s 15 and stuck at home with her mum and sister when she should be with her friends building her own identity and life.

I prioritise exercise as it’s essential for my mental health and ability to sit still

My youngest hasn’t been engaging with schooling at all since October, so at most it just means my ex & I don’t know when we can start touring potential new schools and that the reams of paperwork we’re contending with are just taking longer and longer to complete (as staff are, rightly, not in school where possible).

The girls have had their own rooms since August, owing to some nifty building work to divide a double room into two. There’s nothing like closing the door and knowing you have peace.

I’m working out the Minimum Viable Product for the day: so, that might be just making sure I’ve done kid-based lifemin, walked the dog, made sure everyone eats something fresh and everyone gets up, and what my client needs that day. I used to saddle myself with such perfectionism around cleaning every dish and hoovering and ironing, but I’m cutting everyone a break and rolling with frozen pizzas, grubby carpets and less stress.

Working with a VA helps me to organise my time (which I struggle with, thanks ADHD), and she is brilliant at helping me to stick to my priorities, which for me include reading and writing. I’ve been experiencing a prolonged period of self-growth so this, in a strange way, feels like another set of variables to manage alongside other challenges with mental health, financial management, etc. 

Making time for myself is mostly when my kids are with their dad; I prioritise exercise as it’s essential for my mental health and ability to sit still. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a brilliant therapist and network of friends, so even when things are brutal, I know there are people out there for me.

I think it’s important to remember that you signed up to be a parent, not a teacher. Don’t hate on yourself for hating teaching.

Through Leapers I learned about London Writer’s Salon Writing Hours, that happen 3 times a day, every work day. I started in early December and haven’t looked back. Having that in my schedule is incredible, and though sometimes I’m too tired to turn the camera on, it’s amazing to have that community, visible and chatting, three times a day if I want it.

The regularity of the group has helped me to achieve a personal goal of publishing a weekly narrative newsletter. Making the time and space to write at least once a day is keeping me aligned to my goals and is precious.

I think it’s important to remember that you signed up to be a parent, not a teacher. Don’t hate on yourself for hating teaching.

I like to think like Glennon Doyle - our job as parents is not to coddle our children, it’s showing them how to navigate a storm and come out the other side. We will all be battle weary and scarred, but hopefully, we will have demonstrated to our children how to adapt, what really is a priority, how to self-manage. We will have shown them that, even in the face of global chaos, that we still love and nurture, we try to make the world a better place and we adapt, again and again and again.

Every child has had their education interrupted and every parent freelancer is fucking exhausted. 

We will work together in coffee shops and co-working spaces again. We will go to events and smile and be socially awkward and hug or sigh through a boring question to the panel. It’s lonely, really terribly lonely at times, with no mental health or tech support. Find your people, ask for help and, if you can, check in on friends who are struggling even with a “No Need to Reply, just checking in and sending love”.