Summer Bummer: How To Work From Home When Your Kids Are Home, Too
In my son’s final week of school, while my fellow moms were breathing sighs of relief at the coming ease in their schedules, I felt the familiar clench of anxiety. For me, and many freelancers, summer equals a more complex level of scheduling; how do you work while your kids are home making demands as pressing as your deadlines, and still get the quality time that summer provides? As I write this, my active 7-year-old is head-butting me from behind asking, “What are we going to doooooo today?”
It is only 7:30 a.m.
In my annual quest to answer that, I’ve picked the brains of other work-at-home freelance parents for the best tips to survive summer freelancing:
Embrace your changing schedule. On the one hand, you now can sleep in past 6 a.m. On the other hand, waking up at 8 a.m., at least in my world, means two lost hours of work time. Look to where you can carve out time. Andrea Tortora, freelance writer, editor, communications consultant and food blogger, breaks her work day in half. “I made a deal with my boys, age 6 and 9; they let me work until noon every day, then we spend the afternoons doing something fun together.” Lisa Endlich Heffernan, also a freelance writer, was forced to a greater extreme one summer of heavy deadlines. “I shifted to a different time zone. I went to bed every night at 8:30–after I put my youngest to bed–and got up at three am and wrote for four hours before my family got up.” I tend to work around the edges of the day—early morning and evening—when I don’t have childcare.
Summer by Day, Work by Night
I’m lucky to love my work. Still, as June gloom gives way to dazzling, Disney levels of sunshine, my impulse to work wilts like my garden in the heat. Some freelancers take advantage of nature’s request to come out and play, and save the work for later. Single mom Cassie Dunn, a novelist and freelance editor, has accepted a necessary trade-off. “I can give myself permission to shelve my job during the day, and just enjoy summer fun and memory-making with my kids. The downside is not much down time for myself, because my entire night is spent working.”
The great thing about summer is that most of the other kids are out of school, too. With my only child, alone time means he’s bored or begging me to play; but with just one friend over, it’s like having our very own camp of two. I can get hours of work done and he has fun. You can even make an informal co-op out of such playdates, by trading off with a fellow parent on certain days of the week.
It’s Okay to Pay
It’s important to remember that sometimes you just have to hire out for childcare. In my son’s first year, I paid a babysitter who came to the house and stayed downstairs while I worked upstairs. Later on, he went to her house until he was old enough for preschool.
Rallying the Folks
Of all the resources I most envy of other freelancers, it’s extended family. Some freelancers fly far to be with grandparents and siblings for the double purpose of getting work done. Kristen Spina, a New York-based freelance writer, discovered one summer that she could work while visiting her mom in LA. Now, they’ve made it a ritual and spend 3-6 weeks there each summer. “It’s easy to set up interviews or conference calls in the early morning hours, 6am LA time, 9am NY time. Half the time, my editors and sources had no idea I was away,” she says.
From Girl Scouts to church camp, local YMCAs to recreation centers, day camps are the most popular choice for freelance parents. Jessica Jernigan, a freelance writer relies on “a patchwork of day camps on a variety of topics, from local history to wilderness survival to aquatic biology.” My son, too, will be spending a week at a master chef, and a NASA science day camp this summer.
Let Chaos Rein
At the end of the day, the best advice to the work-juggling, summer freelancer is this: get comfy with chaos. Let the kids feed themselves tortilla chips and cookies for breakfast if it buys you time; an extra hour of TV won’t kill anyone (while a frustrated mom on deadline is another story); give up trying to take down forts and put away art supplies. Save your energy for efficiency in your work and quality time with your kids. You can clean up when they go back to school.
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