I'm Leah, and in a lucky twist of fate, I've landed my three dream jobs:
book editor, writer, and mother. Since having my son in December 2008, my
work-life has been in constant flux - full-time? part-time? freelance?
working at home or in the office? It depends on the day and which way the
wind is blowing - and figuring out how to keep it all going is a constant
challenge. Heck, I'm still getting used to the idea of being someone's
Check out my profile on Work It, Mom! and my personal blog, A Girl and a Boy.
When it comes to picking up extra work, I’ve gotten more finicky with age. I won’t work on anything for just anyone and whatever price, and although that makes it seem as thought the extra money is less important to me now than it was when I was twenty-two, it’s actually more important, it’s downright integral. The difference now is that there’s not just a cost to the client but a cost to myself, and it’s not always easy to balance that out.
I’ve been freelancing in some capacity for more than ten years now, and although the industry (book and magazine publishing) hasn’t changed too much (technological revolution aside), I definitely have. I used to calculate freelance jobs based on how many concerts I could attend using that extra money–“extra” because I also had a full-time office job. I used to choose projects based on what sounded fun, or what company or individual I wanted the chance to work with. When it came to deciding between projects, I’d occasionally accept less-than-exciting assignments if the price was right or if I were doing someone a favor, but mostly I was kind of just working as a hobby(!); with no husband, no kids, no house, no yard, no major home appliance breaking every other month, and no Pinterest showing me all the crafts I should be crafting, it was either take on interesting side jobs and make some cash or else sit on the couch watching Cosby Show reruns with my hands in a bowl of popcorn. If I had time for that, I had time for everything.
Now, with all the trappings of a domesticated adult, I find myself with barely enough time to brush my teeth most days (it’s a cliché because it’s truuuuuue!) and therefore it’s a little (A LOT) trickier to calculate the cost of my freelance jobs. Wait…”the cost” of a job? I thought the client was supposed to be paying me. Well, that’s still true, but whereas I used to be exchanging my services for their money, I’m now also trading things like family time, sleep, sanity. Sometimes the cost is worth it. Sometimes it’s not.
These days, instead of just asking myself “Does the project sound cool?” I have a dozen more factors to consider: “How much time will I have to spend away from my family?” “Is the job worth the added stress of having yet another plate to spin?” “Do I have enough patience left at the end of the day to deal with this job/these people?” “Do I even have enough energy to keep my eyes open for it?” “Will I have to pay for extra childcare to meet the deadline?” “Is my limited time worth devoting to projects that are unfulfilling and/or crazy-making, even if the money’s good?”
Because that’s the thing: I’m still calculating the money (albeit in coloring books instead of concerts), and although I need it more now that I did before, I also have a dozen new roadblocks standing in the way of getting it. It’s the same old to-work-or-not-to-work dilemma that every working parent faces, although for freelancers it happens every few weeks or months instead of every few years. If you’ve been here, you know; it’s rough to be constantly choosing between family and work/money, to make that decision again and again and again and again.
There has been an up-side, though, and it’s this: Because I value my time more, I value myself more, and having that higher standard means I might get fewer jobs but the ones I accept will be better. I used to take anything that came along, and for any price. Now? No crazies. No rush jobs. No extended phone calls defending standard capitalization. No getting cornered for three hours at Starbucks when I was just supposed to hand off a manuscript, relay-baton style. No pro bono. Very few favors, and not because I don’t like you, I swear, I just don’t have the time. Most importantly, no selling my services for cheap. No selling myself short. (Remember when a client tried to shortchange me as an act of female solidarity? Uh-uh.)
When we first have kids (or when the youngest starts grade school, or goes off to college), a lot of us develop some formula–even if it’s a temporary one–that figures the worth of working versus being a stay-at-home mom. It can be a hard decision, no matter how much we love our jobs and love our kids, or hate our jobs and…need some time away from our kids. I think, though, that as uncomfortable as it sometimes feels to make that call, it’s also a healthy way to define our priorities and remember what truly matters.
Did your work standards change when you had kids? Was it for the better, or…not so much? Do you put up with less ”crap” (drama, uncompensated overtime, poor working conditions) because having children has inspired you to take a stand about what’s important? Or do you put up with more because you have to, because your job supports your family?
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