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Asking for more money

Categories: child care, freelance, happiness, working from home

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We’re halfway through the year now, and it feels like a good time to take stock of where I am and what I’ve learned so far in 2013. One lesson in particular kind of snuck up out of nowhere, and it’s changed me so drastically for the better that I want to remember it not just for the rest of the year but for the rest of my career. Maybe it’s something you’ve learned (or need to learn) too.For the past six months I’ve worked from home while taking care of an infant full-time (not recommended if you dislike being frustrated), and I’ve learned many important career and parenting skills, including but not limited to effective time management, task prioritization, and the fine art of working on a laptop from the driver’s seat while the baby naps in the back. After my younger son starts daycare in a few weeks, I hope these skills stay with me because, let me tell you, nothing forces efficiency like knowing you have two hours’ worth of work but the baby only takes a 45-minute nap, but the biggest gain from this experience is something even more valuable than that. Literally.

My greatest take-away from these six months of scrambling to keep my head in the career game while dealing with a baby sitting quite literally on my hip is that it’s worth it to ask for more money. This is HUGE for me. I’ve read studies that say women in particular have a hard time valuing their work, but I never felt like my issue stemmed from my “womanhood” so much as it stemmed from my long history of being underpaid (they don’t call it nonprofit for nothing) plus being lucky enough to have my dream job. Simply put, it always felt weird to charge the going rate when I was working for indie companies and doing jobs that felt “easy,” or if not always easy than at least work I loved so much it sometimes didn’t even feel like work. (If you’re new here, I’m a freelance writer and book editor; I have very strong feelings about semicolons.)

The addition of a second kid, and one who’s been at home with me since he was born, changed the way I thought about jobs and money and my value as an employee because it forced me to ask not just what the job itself was worth but what my time was worth, particularly when my time to work necessarily meant time away from my family because we’ve had zero childcare for the baby. Being able to price jobs based on what they would require me to sacrifice (e.g., weekend playdates and midweek movies after the kids were in bed) gave me the courage to start asking for more money. And it was scary as hell.

But it worked.

My clients were flexible and understanding and open to negotiation. It felt like we were coming to a mutual agreement that my time and skills were worth a little bit more. It feels awesome. It’s empowering and validating and surprising. Of course it helps immensely to have that extra income now that we’re about to have two kids in full-time care, and–I hate admitting this because it feels like I had poor job-related self-esteem before, which…I don’t think I did–but this process has made me feel more valuable too. It wasn’t until I started getting paid what I deserved that I realized how much getting paid less than that was draining my tank. As revelations go, this one was pretty sweet.

Finally, lest it sound like I’m saying I’ve been able to put a price on time away from my family, I haven’t. Kind of. The thing is, I like time away from my family and I need time away from my family, but working for peanuts when I’d rather be on a picnic eating peanuts with my boys was never easy to swallow. When I’m not just working for peanuts, though? What can I say: A spoonful of money helps the sacrifice go down. It does. It just does.

How are you about asking for more money? Do you feel like your employers value your time as well as your skills? Do you value yourself as much as you should?

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