I talk a lot, here, about the challenges of fitting a career into the spaces between packing lunches and doctors’ appointments and Science Fair and such. And even then, it’s hardly like I’m exposing some heretofore unknown segment of life—anyone with kids can tell you that managing your work is a whole different ballgame once there are human beings completely dependent upon you for their care.
What I haven’t really given much thought to, in the past, is the ways in which being a mother to my particular children has actually helped my career. I’m not talking about giving me blog fodder, either (though I do appreciate that). I’m talking about concrete skills and vital lessons which I believe would’ve been harder won (or lost completely) were it not for the two smallish folks currently eating me out of house and home.
Granted, I may be a tad bit biased towards the awesomeness of these particular children, but even so, I think they’re excellent proof of the “you’re given the lessons you need” adage. I apparently needed a lot of lessons, because I’m currently parenting a nearly-teen and a Aspie. So let’s talk about what that’s taught me.
1) Schedules are good. There’s a temptation, as a freelancer, to embrace the “freedom” and not be terribly organized. I’m sure that works for some people, but it never really worked for me. And having a kid on the autism spectrum has given me a whole new appreciation for the predictable order a good schedule brings. It works for him, and it turns out, it works for me, too.
2) Manners are important. That’s another one from my son, who requires more coaching and practice on things like polite conventions than a neurotypical kid might. I always joke that I turned to freelancing because “I don’t play well with others,” and it’s true that my patience for politics is short. Nonetheless, even as someone who mostly works alone, it’s all too easy to develop a reputation as a prickly pear or an eccentric. Luckily, I’ve discovered that my tolerance for behaving professionally even in the face, sometimes, of others’ unprofessional conduct is a lot easier when I don’t have to do it all the time, anymore. I have lots of time to myself, so when I need to interact I bring my best game and it pays off.
3) Write it down. ON THE CALENDAR. My daughter has always been a good student and relatively well-organized, but then she got to middle school. And I can’t say for sure whether it’s the general environment or surging hormones or her cluttered schedule or what, but suddenly she cannot keep track of anything. After multiple incidents we actually had to make it a rule that homework assignments and projects get put on the family calendar so there are no crises. She grumbled about it but we’ve not had a last-minute “surprise” since we instituted this practice. As an experiment, I started doing the same thing with my assignments—even ones I’ve always managed without writing them down—and what do you know! It’s kind of helpful!
4) Friendship is a complicated thing, and it’s not the same as working relationships. I actually wrote a post about this yesterday because I was experiencing a bit of social media outrage, I guess. Heh. But as my daughter wades into the social media waters and deals with everything that goes along with being a middle school girl, I find myself doing a lot of talking about the need to understand that not all friendships are created equal. And that’s okay. The key is knowing who’s a friend, who’s a good person to have on your team, upon whom you can depend, and so on. As important as that apparently is at my daughter’s age, I’d contend it’s no less important to understand as a freelancer. And while it’s not important to like everyone, it’s still important to treat everyone with respect (or remove yourself from situations where you simply cannot).
5) Sometimes you have to be flexible even when you really, really don’t want to be. Changes in schedule are hard for my son. What might be no big deal for another kid can cause a chain reaction for him where the goal becomes merely to head off further unpleasantness. I was on a work phone call last week when I was given some unexpected (read: not good) news about a project, and the person on the other end said, “Are you mad? You can tell me if you are.” I wasn’t mad; I was surprised, and I suppose that could’ve quickly turned to anger, but instead I just shared that I was surprised but I understood the reasoning and it was fine. I’m not sure I could’ve done that a couple of years ago; consciously modeling good “go with the flow” behavior for my son has really changed how I approach these sorts of “hiccups.”
I guess the lesson here is that I likely wouldn’t've have attempted freelancing if not for the kids (because I needed that flexibility to take care of them the way I wanted to), but I also wouldn’t be as good of a freelancer without them to teach me some of these lessons I didn’t even know I needed. Huh. I’m going to try very hard to remember this the next time one of them is stomping off and slamming doors….