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Laura Bontje

Freelancing While Parenting Young Kids

Illustration of a parent with long hair and a dress sitting at a table and leaning toward their laptop to work. One child plays under the table and another stands on the parent's chair to build a tower of blocks on the table.
Illustration of a parent with long hair and a dress sitting at a table and leaning toward their laptop to work. One child plays under the table and another stands on the parent's chair to build a tower of blocks on the table.
Copyright: topvectors

Laura will be co-presenting «Introduction to Picture Book Editing» at Editors 23: Editors in Real Life, taking place from June 17 to 18 at Toronto Metropolitan University. Conference registration is limited, so reserve your spot now!

Do you want to know the trick to keeping it together when freelancing with young kids? So do I.

I began freelancing in the early months of the pandemic in 2020 — with a baby and a preschooler. For most of the three years that followed, I had one or both children at home as I managed the daily needs of my editing business. Let me invite you in:

  • Scene 1: Bedtime was rough, and you’re late (again) for a networking call. You’re overstimulated, you haven’t eaten and all you hear are the wails of bedtime protest your spouse is attempting to soothe upstairs. As the editors on screen celebrate new accomplishments, you blink back tears: how do they do it?
  • Scene 2: With a deadline looming, you guiltily trust Disney+ to occupy your sick child so you can work. Suddenly, your kid’s a jumble of waving arms and racing words. There’s a duck on the skylight! For a few glorious minutes, there is no deadline — only the peals of shared laughter and the gentle bumps of a rubbery bill against the glass.
  • Scene 3: A page in your client’s search-and-find book seems harder than the others, so you call in expert help. Your kids snuggle up to review the file, pointing at each hidden item. Later, a book arrives in the mail, and their faces glow with pride when they see the author’s inscription to them. Their first editing job is complete. Your heart is full.

Would you be surprised to learn that all of these anecdotes are from the past four months?

Advice for new editors often emphasizes the value of routine. And while I may agree, I can’t relate. Not yet, anyway. I’m confident in my strengths as an editor, and I love what I do, but my work life remains intertwined with my home life.

So if, like me, you’re still in the thick of it, here are my tips on freelancing while parenting.

Find your quiet time

One benefit of freelancing is that you can set your own hours.

Editing with young kids around doesn’t work for me: noise-cancelling headphones aren’t enough to stop “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from dancing out of the TV and into a loop in my brain, and I can’t immerse myself in a manuscript when each paragraph is punctuated by a request for another snack. I’m definitely not a morning person, so that leaves evenings for focused work — especially now that both kids can sleep through the night. (I’m tremendously grateful for my husband, who tirelessly handles the early-morning parenting!)

Thanks to school and daycare, it’s become easier to have a work day that’s actually in the day. Still, for every hour of daytime editing, I put in at least as many late at night. (This can have unexpected perks: I often email in real time with my Australian clients!)

Embrace the schedule that works for you and works for now.

Plan for the unexpected

For the freelancing parent, Murphy’s Law presides over all others.

The night you’re behind on an edit will be the night your baby wakes up crying every 20 minutes. The day you’ve set aside for a project will be the day you spend driving your kid across town to the doctor. Your vision for a work-from-home routine will be thwarted by a shift to online kindergarten.

You can’t plan for these things … so make sure to plan for them. 

Freelancers often build safety nets into their deadlines in case of unexpected project challenges, sick days, etc. If you have young kids at home, add a bit more time to that buffer.

If you can, leave space around events with high parenting demands. I learned the hard way that if I don’t want to be sewing the final stitch in a Halloween costume minutes before trick-or-treating, I need to avoid end-of-October deadlines.

Be bold — but realistic

Don’t let the challenges of freelancing and parenting hold you back from opportunities that excite you.

But be honest about how far you can extend yourself. This year, I took on new volunteer roles and applied to speak at some editing conferences. I also chose not to pursue a neat volunteer position that required a three-year commitment: I don’t know how my schedule might shift as more years pass.

It can help to think of “no” as “not right now” — freelancing isn’t a race, and you won’t always be structuring your day around young kids.

Take a breath

I’m a better editor and a better parent when I’m not overwhelmed. Therapy helps. So does having a community of editors where I can ask questions, share challenges or connect over a cup of tea.

And I’m learning to ask for help. When a family situation threatened a deadline this year, I could have pulled a few all-nighters. I’ve done it before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again. Instead, I gathered my courage and asked the client for an extension. The delay for the author was minimal, and the extra time made a world of difference for me.

Above all, try not to compare yourself to other editors. We’re all seeing a curated view of each other’s professional lives. I’m no exception: the process looks less dramatic on a laptop, but if I’d written this on paper, I’d have a heap of tear-soaked drafts crumpled in frustration beside me. Who am I to give advice when I have plenty of hard days myself, and how can you distill the time-stopping difficulties and life-affirming joys of parenting into a practical post about work? The answer: learn all you can, trust your instincts and put your best foot forward. As parents and as editors, that’s what we do.

If you have young kids, what helps you balance work and parenting? If your kids are now older, how has that changed your freelancing experience?

___

Previous post from Laura Bontje: Editing for Authors on a Budget

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7 Comments on “Freelancing While Parenting Young Kids”

  • Laura, I totally get the difficulties; I was there for several years much earlier in my freelancing period, which began in 1995. Hugs to you!

    By now, all 3 of my children are adults, so getting through my workday is quite a bit easier. But I am responsible now for getting my youngest granddaughter, who, along with her dad (our oldest son) lives with us. That means I’m still getting up early on weekdays, and like you, I’m not a morning person.

    And there was a several-year period when I, being the adult who works from home, was responsible for being my mother-in-law’s caretaker. She has type 2 diabetes and dementia, so that meant testing her blood sugar 3 times a day, administering her insulin injections, and preparing 2 of her 3 meals. (She is now living in a long-term-care facility because my husband and I could not provide 24-hour care for her, which is eventually what she needed.)

    I guess what I’m saying is that if you freelance for a long time, you’ll have life changes that may require you to adjust your work schedule.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Katharine! You’re absolutely right—caregiving is hard work no matter what, and whether it’s for young children or aging parents, there are changes and challenges involved.

      I remember reading your reflections on your career and the early years of being a freelancing parent when you shared them on your blog a year or two ago; I appreciated seeing those insights!

      Best wishes to you and your family.

  • Naomi Racz

    says:

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who has resorted to Disney + to get work done! This and a lot of very late nights were the only ways I could get any editing work done while looking after my toddler full time during the pandemic (and also taking editing courses). Honestly it just about broke me. And I wouldn’t recommend it, though I know everyone is different. I was a much happier parent and better able to focus on work once I put my daughter in daycare (I feel very lucky to be able to do this as so many parents here in BC struggle to find daycare spots!) I also had to take a break from studying and I’m still not sure if I’ll complete the editing program. And I have had to draw a line at doing work in the evening. I just need that time to relax! I do sometimes feel like it holds me back because I’m nervous about promoting myself too much and ending up with more work than I can handle, but then I suppose that’s a problem all freelancers face! I think accepting my limitations has been so important. I know ultimately me being happy and sane makes me a better parent and editor! But there’s always a voice in my head that worries how I’ll be perceived by clients if I set boundaries. It’s nice to hear you had a positive experience with this and I suppose it’s about finding clients who get it! I had a baby in December and I’m taking a year off. It’ll be interesting to see how going from one kid to two changes things. At least they’ll be at the same daycare and so hopefully picking up the same germs at the same time!

    • Yes, moving from 24/7 childminding to having access to daycare or school makes such a difference to the work day!

      Your experiences sound so familiar, and I appreciate you sharing them—there’s a comforting solidarity in knowing that there are other people working through the same situations, and I hope things go smoothly when you transition back into work 🙂

      Congratulations on your new baby!

  • Yes, yes, yes to all of this, Laura. Thank you for articulating so well what I’ve been experiencing. Being realistic about my timelines and capacity while not comparing myself to folks who have so much more time to work on and in their business can be so tough some days.

    We chose to put our daughter in daycare two days a week (and luckily found a spot nearby) so I can have those two days to focus and do the bulk of my work. It’s made a huge difference in my energy levels of not feeling like I have to work every single evening after she’s in bed.

    • How wonderful to get those days to yourself to boost your editing time and energy! (And it’s so much fun to see kids interacting with their peers in different ways when they’re in daycare and school.)

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