The six weeks of summer holidays are almost upon us - and whilst for many freelancers this might be a time of less work and perhaps some well deserved rest, for those who are also parents, summer holidays can come with additional challenges, juggling parenting and work.
As a parent, I'm well aware of the benefits and drawbacks of being a freelancer.
As a positive, being able to be more flexible with work to prioritise spending time with my children, seeing them grow, making the very most of those precious years which you can never do again, freelancing has given me the space to be a good dad. I can't even count the number of school assemblies, watching weeks, sports days, fairs, sick days, inset days, strikes, and even just the school runs, which I would have been less able to do, if i'd been in a perm role.
But on the flipside, the guilt is almost more significant when you have to work and can't give them the attention you want. And when it comes to school holidays - there's a big old chunk of time during the year where you need to make tough decisions about working and parenting, and which takes your focus.
I'm not alone in this - indeed, there's a WHOLE community dedicated to freelancing parents, called "Doing it For The Kids" hosted by the unstoppable Frankie Tortora, co-host of the award winning podcast of the same name.
We spoke to Frankie, and asked - how on earth can we get through the summer holidays juggling parenting AND freelancing?
Frankie: Aaah, the million-dollar question. If it helps, so many of us in the DIFTK Community have been-there done-that, so we've definitely got a few ideas to make things that little bit easier.
Matthew: Amazing, I'm so glad you and fellow freelancing parents are here to help! What would your first suggestion be, as we stare down into the 6+ weeks of the long summer ahead?
1/ Making a Plan
Frankie: One of the best things you can do is to make a plan. Try not to stick your head in the sand. Accept that the holidays are coming, and work out what your plan is.
What is it that you really *need* to get done over the holiday period? What deadlines do you have? What are the essential marketing tasks you need to keep up with? What stuff can you put on the back burner for a bit, and what stuff would cause you a headache if you let it slide? Get clear on it all and then try to keep the ‘must do’ list as short as possible so you can lower the pressure during an already hectic time.
Matthew: I'm bad at planning at the best of times, but throw in the added complexity of two emotionally diverse kids - and my google calendar never gets a look in.
Frankie: Obviously when you’ve got kids around you’ve also got to be prepared for that plan to potentially not go to plan! There will be days where your kids just don’t want to go to the pencil museum, again. Whether it’s outright refusal, unexpected sickness or even sunny days when you just can’t resist getting out of the office — it’s OK if you need to go off-piste. But you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary stress if you have a vague idea of how things might go.
Matthew: That's a really good point - having some structure with the space for flexibility always helps me, especially if i have a list of backup and random ideas of things we can do when the boredom kicks in, or I need to make a quick call.
2/ Talking to your team
Frankie: Next up - talk to your partner, family and clients.
There are likely other people in your life who will be impacted by or who are critical to your plan. If you have a partner, what expectations do they have about how the holidays will work? Are they able to pick up the childcare slack? Can other family pitch-in with childcare? Are there other ways they can support you?
Setting clear expectations and asking for help is a sensible way to reduce the guilt and overwhelm that often comes from trying to do it all on your own.
And make sure you talk to your clients too. What can they expect from you over the holidays? Is there anything they need to know in advance? Any boundaries you need to put in place? Be clear about your availability well ahead of time and how/when they can contact you over the next few weeks. And don’t forget to pop an out-of-office message on your emails too!
Matthew: Oh yes, clear communication and over-communication really helps. Giving your clients a good headsup that your working patterns might be changing, or that you might be less available over the summer is really important - whether you have children or not.
Frankie: And don't forget to include your kids in those conversations too!
If they’re old enough to understand, explain when you’ll be working, for how long and what you can/can’t do for them during this time. They might not like it. They might still break their way in to wherever you’re working, clawing under the door, but if you don’t even try to tell them what’s hapenning then you’ve already shot yourself in the foot.
If having the kids around while you’re working is just an inevitability, then you could try to set your kids up with a project that they can ‘work’ on while you work. Depending on their age, personality, interests… you could get them to sit with you and draw a cartoon, make a video, or write a story — something that will keep them engaged and relatively quiet while you sit down for a bit to do stuff.
If they’re literally sat next to you, you’ll avoid that under-the-door-clawing and they’ll feel like they’re involved too. If it works — it can even be a really nice way to spend some productive time together.
Also, when you’re not working, try to really give yourself over to your kids. Turn off your emails, leave your phone in another room — make an effort to really listen, play and spend quality time with them when you’ve stopped for the day.
Matthew: I've found blocking time really helps me - for instance, blocking some solid time in the morning whilst they're still padding about in their PJs, and not interested in getting out of bed yet - where I can get through some of my to-do list, deal with emails that came in when I wasn't online the previous day, and just reduce some of the cognitive load on my head, really helps me to just be more present with my kids for the rest of the day.
3/ Explore your options
Frankie: Even with all of these things in place, the reality can be that if you're used to school hours being an essential way to get stuff done, the school holidays can be a real struggle.
Think about what other childcare options you have available to you as well. Are there any holiday clubs your kids might be interested in? Could you arrange a few afternoons with the grandparents if they are around? Playdate swaps with other local freelance parents? Maybe even work the odd Saturday or Sunday while your partner has the kids?
What’s available to you will depend on your unique situation, but try to be creative and think about your options well ahead of time. It’s easy to stick your head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening but it’ll pay off to be proactive. Holiday clubs for instance often book up fast — make sure your kids are on the list if you want them to be!
Matthew: Oh, I always feel so bad putting them in kids clubs and holiday camps - although they always seem to come back having loved it, I really struggle with guilty feelings, especially if I'm working from home!
Frankie: Yes, guilt does tend to come with the territory, doesn’t it? Freelance, employed, ‘stay at home’ parents… the extended school holidays are a struggle for all of us, and we all feel that guilt. Remember, if you had an office job and you had to go in over the school holidays and your kids didn’t you see all day — you’d feel guilty about that too in a different way. Whether it’s worries about screen-time, or just feeling like you’re always preoccupied — try to shake off the guilt.
Try and cut yourself some slack. You’re doing an amazing job!
Matthew: Aww thanks Frankie, likewise. Thanks for giving us some pointers - and hopefully see you on the other side!
Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have spoken about the joys and challenges of the summer holidays on their podcast too. In Episode 80, they discussed surviving the school holidays, and in Episode 9, talked about staying visible whilst you're taking time off. If you're not already subscribed to their podcast, listen here.
If you're a freelancing parent - we can't recommend the Doing it for the kids community enough. Full of fellow freelancers who understand the challenges and joys of being a parent whilst working for yourself, its one of the most supportive communities we know. A combination of online and face-to-face meetups, the community has amazing resources, conversation, connection and biscuits.
Browse the rest of our Freelancing & Parenting resources here.