I get/have to spend all of this week with my children. At the moment, I’m at the first option, because they’re being pretty cool. By the end of the week, when we’re all bored of each other’s company, it will lean more toward the latter, I’m sure. I’ve managed to organise my workload so I can take pretty much the whole week off (I’m shipping them off to my parents’ house tomorrow so I can get some admin things done), and hopefully we’re going to have lots of fun. (And I mean actual fun, not the usual me-sitting-on-the-couch-on-Twitter-while-they-play-Minecraft fun.)
One of the most challenging things about being a parent (I’m being careful not to say “mum” here, because I don’t want to be sexist and exclusive, but let’s face it, most of this still falls to mums) is working around school, or the lack of it. I thought childcare was a problem when they were smaller, but now I look back with ridiculous fondness on the days I could just chuck them in nursery at 8.30 and leave them there until 6. Now, not only are there the shorter school hours to contend with, there are school assemblies, meetings, “Mam, I forgot my guitar! Can you bring it in?” phone calls, and of course, the are-they-aren’t-they-ill-enough-to-stay-off-school days.
When you work outside the home, some of these decisions are, to a certain extent, taken out of your hands. My children would often claim illness on a day when I had important meetings, so I would tell them they had to try school and that I would pick them up if I had to. I invariably felt a huge amount of guilt over this (although the fact that I rarely had to then actually go and get them helped) but it had to be done. Sometimes school meetings and assemblies had to be missed, and if one of them left something at home, tough. When you work at home, you can, in theory, take care of all these situations, and because you can, you feel like you should, and so you do. And then you often end up frazzled from trying to DO ALL THE THINGS.
When I started writing the first draft of this post, I was at the end of a week that seemed to be determined to prove how tough life as a work-at-home mum could be. There was a meeting about SATs for my Y6 child, which I felt I should go to, even though I don’t really care about the SATs or how well she does in them at all (in an anti-pointless-testing way, not in an unengaged-parent way, I hasten to add). My neighbours ordered about a billion parcels that I took in for them, so I kept having to get up to answer the door. (I swear the postman doesn’t even bother trying their houses anymore and just comes straight to me.) On the Thursday, my younger daughter threw up at school, so I had to go and collect her, then scrabble around for someone to collect the elder one so I didn’t have to drag the sick one back out again. Then, because of the 48-hour exclusion policy, I took the no-longer-sick-in-any-way younger one to my parents’ the next day in the hope of getting some work done. So of course school rang me at lunchtime to come and get the other one. And in amongst all of this, my work still needed to be done. There are no colleagues to pick up the slack when you’re freelance, just you and your creeping-ever-closer deadline.
But I’m hoping this week will show the other side of the freelance parenting coin (that’s being a parent who’s freelance, not offering freelance parenting services. That’s a business idea for another time). I don’t have to pay for any childcare while my children are off school. I have been able to negotiate my own deadlines and take this week off, and if anything comes up that I really have to deal with, I can do bits and pieces while they watch some thing about a ladybird superhero on Netflix or after they’re in bed.
I’m lucky I’ve been able to do that for these holidays. It doesn’t always work out that way. And when it doesn’t, as I’ve mentioned before, I get guilt. I’ve got pretty good at protecting my family time from work – out of necessity if nothing else. But I’m less good at protecting my work time from … I was about to say my family, but that sounds terrible, doesn’t it?
Ah, fuck it. I need to be better at protecting my work time from my family. Working outside the home puts a barrier around your work time. Sometimes things barge their way through it, but in general it stays intact. When you work at home, that barrier is mental, and it only exists if you put it there and refuse to apologise for it. So this week, I will not apologise for my day off from parenting. I might not have any paid work to do, but the admin of a business is never-ending, so tomorrow I will see my admin day as something necessary and valuable. I might even enjoy it. There’ll be spreadsheets, after all.