Some practical tips for freelancing with a new baby
The lack of paid parental leave in the United States is shameful, but for self-employed people it doesn’t matter either way. You have to provide your own leave and get creative with the financial strain that can put on a family. I took 4 weeks totally off and have been working part time from home since then. We’ve managed to make it to 4 months without outside childcare. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way.
- Manage your expectations. Sheryl Sandberg be damned. If you are working part time and caring for a newborn, you are leaning in. That said, your work will take a hit. Babies need attention much more urgently than any client email, so you won’t always be able to get back to people right away. You also won’t have as many hours in a day to get things done. Accept it and plan for it. Let people know your situation up front.
- Organize your life. Constant interruptions will destroy your short-term memory. Keep lists and use calendar alerts aggressively. Things will slip your mind if you’re not careful.
- Be adaptable. Spend those first few weeks getting to know the individual quirks of your baby. Does she sleep best in her carrier or in a bassinet? Does he like being help upright or laying on his tummy? Don’t be so attached to one vision of parenthood that you can’t do what works. My baby likes sleeping in her carrier, preferably while I’m walking. I can get her to sleep by walking around the block and then bounce on a yoga ball in front of my computer to get some work done. If I sit still on a chair or try to put her down, she wakes up. This probably isn’t exactly how your child behaves, so experiment and adapt.
- Be prepared for days when nothing works. Part of the deal with being the primary caretaker is that sometimes even your best tricks don’t work. On those days, take care of your baby. Build enough flexibility into your schedule to deal with this inevitability.
- Trust your instincts. New parenthood is an extremely vulnerable time. Most people are deeply insecure about their ability to keep a fragile tiny person safe and thriving. On top of that, other people are deeply judgmental about every choice a parent makes. Tune that shit out. Get to know your baby, do what works for your family and get on with your life. Trust in your ability to do what’s best.
- Get help when you need it. Sometimes you just need someone else to watch the baby for a while. Enlist the help of the non-primary parent, extended family or a babysitter. Also, the stay-at-home parent often ends up with the lion’s share of the housework. Resist this. It’s impossible to take care of a baby full-time, work part-time, clean and plan meals. Knock something(s) off the list.
- Don’t take it out on the baby. Trying to manage it all can be overwhelming, and you will get frustrated. Your baby will cry at just the wrong time and interrupt a call. Just remember it’s not your baby’s fault that everything is so stressful. If you need to let off some steam, get angry about the lack of support for working parents in the United States. Place your blame on wage stagnation for taking away your ability to pay for good child care. Get angry at social norms that devalue domestic work and punish people for taking care of their children. These things are unfair. It should be easier, but it’s not.
Bonus tip for breastfeeding moms:
- Consider co-sleeping. Co-sleeping can mean either bed sharing or having the baby sleep in a side-car. (Bed sharing is controversial. If you are going to do it, follow these safety guidelines.) Either way, the important part is getting the baby back to sleep without getting out of bed. You will sleep more if you don’t have to fully rouse yourself to calm the baby.