I’m a stay-at-home-freelance mom to a 1-year old, so I’d say a seesaw is more like it.
Working part-time from home as a freelance writer might seem like a new mom’s ultimate dream job. I can set my own hours, there’s no need to rush out the door to daycare every morning, and I never have to worry about finding times (or comfortable places) to pump during the work day.
Except, it’s still way harder than I ever expected.
When I was pregnant with my son Eli, I assumed that I’d take 3ish months off after giving birth and then get right back to the grind.
But within a month of having him, I was already itching to start up again. I needed something to take my mind off of the crushing postpartum anxiety I was dealing with.
Also, editors and clients were already coming to me with offers for assignments, and I started feeling pressured. I worried that continuing to turn down work would be bad for my business, which I had spent 7 years building.
So instead of “officially” coming back from maternity leave, I started taking 1 or 2 assignments at a time and tried to get them done whenever I could.
But here’s the thing I didn’t realize before having a child — most babies, when they’re awake, won’t just hang out for 8 hours watching you type away.
So if you’re at home with one and you’re trying to work, you either need to have child care or plan to get things done when they’re sleeping.
I ended up doing both. In the very early days I’d write while Eli was tucked in his Solly baby wrap, or if I was really lucky, if he fell asleep next to me in bed.
But I never really got more than 30 minutes of work done at a time before he’d wake up and want to breastfeed, or want to be rocked or bounced or sung to.
By the time Eli was 2 to 3 months old and I felt more okay about leaving him for a little while, my mom came over twice a week to watch him. But it wasn’t for full days like I had envisioned during my pregnancy.
In order to focus on my work, I needed to get out of the house where I wouldn’t hear Eli crying. So I’d head to a coffee shop. But since I was breastfeeding, I still had to pump every couple of hours. Which you can’t really do at a café.
So I’d pump right before going out and stay away as long as my boobs could handle it — usually 3 or 4 hours at best.
Once I came home I usually had to breastfeed right away, and the thought of leaving again to work more made me feel guilty. So that was that.
The pressure to keep taking assignments so I could keep making money and stay on editors’ radars meant that I usually had way more work than I could do in two 4-hour spurts though.
So I kept sneaking extra chunks of writing in while Eli was napping on the days my mom didn’t come over.
But at 3 or 4 months, he’d only nap while I was holding him. So I literally would sit in a dark room, cradling him in one arm and typing with my free hand.
It almost feels sweet and cozy looking back on it nearly a year later. But at the time it felt like one of the lowest points of my life.
Things improved as he got a little older. Once he got on a predictable nap schedule and slept happily in his crib, I could count on having 2 to 3 quiet hours every day for work.
Once he’d go in for a snooze, I’d race right over to my laptop and stay there until he woke up.
My husband and I would start trading shifts too. Since he also had a flexible schedule, he’d watch Eli for a few hours, a few days a week.
Of course, there were still plenty of days where I also woke up extra early to plow through a backlog of emails or take care of invoices. And there were lots of nights where I’d rush to finish a story on deadline after Eli went to bed.
This cobbled-together routine allowed me to work roughly 25 hours a week.
It was way less than the 40 to 50 hours a week I worked before he was born. But now that I knew how precious my time was, I became so much more productive that my output was almost the same. (Almost.)
The downside of all this masterful efficiency? My days were basically a frantic back-and-forth between taking care of a baby and rushing to get as much work done as I could with almost no time to rest… or do anything else.
Unlike my other mom friends who were home, I wasn’t really free for Eli and I to meet them for park hangouts or lunch.
People often look at working from home as a means to achieve better work-life balance. But for me, the hectic swinging between my role as a mom and a writer feels more like a work-life seesaw.
I’m either doing one thing or the other at full throttle — and the pace can get exhausting.
Still, I know how lucky I am to have control over my schedule. And if you plan to work from home with a baby, please don’t let this discourage you. You can get stuff done. Just maybe not as much as you might expect.
Some things that I found to be helpful:
1. Map out your time strategically
Try to save work that requires the most concentration for times when you know you’ll have child care and won’t get interrupted.
Use naps (or those 10-minute blips when your baby is mesmerized by a new toy) to tackle tasks that require less focus or brainpower.
2. Work as far in advance as you can
Life with a baby is unpredictable. Your little one might need more of your attention one day because they’re sick or teething, or your sitter might unexpectedly cancel.
So give yourself lots of breathing room, especially when you’re first getting into the swing of things.
3. Manage your expectations
You probably won’t be very productive in the beginning, because babies like to interrupt things. (Also, postpartum brain fog.) Expect this, and don’t let it bring you down.
4. Give yourself time to power down
On nights when you’re working after your baby goes to bed, try to wrap up 20 or 30 minutes before you go to sleep. Having that little bit of time to relax can help you avoid burnout and quiet your brain so it’s easier to doze off.
I know that things will eventually become easier. As Eli gets a little older he’ll be able to occupy himself for short pockets, hopefully. And I’ll have plenty of time to work when he starts going to school.
He’s only 13 months old though, so I figure I have a ways to go before I can find some more of that balance everyone keeps talking about.
For now, it’s the seesaw life for me.
Marygrace Taylor is a health and parenting writer, former KIWI magazine editor, and mom to Eli. Visit her at marygracetaylor.com.