How I Juggle a Baby, A Business and Everything Else
So, I’ve just written the title of this post and then deleted it a couple of times, having realised that it kind of sounds a bit like I’m trying to present myself as some kind of have-it-all superwoman here, when, actually, the opposite is true, trust me. I mean, sure I DO have a baby and a business (Yes, I know, he’s a toddler, not a baby… but that doesn’t work quite so well in terms of alliteration, does it?) so that much is true: but as for juggling them? Er, yeah: not totally sure I’m having much success with that, to be totally honest. (And I’m pretty sure it’s not a great idea to juggle with babies anyway, so, you know, don’t try this at home, kids…)
This post, though, was inspired by a reader question on Instagram last week: in response to my sticker asking what people would like to see on the blog, I got the following question:
How do you manage to do all this while taking care of the little one?
So, for those who don’t know, Terry and I both work from home (Him as a web designer, me as a blogger), which means I didn’t get a ‘maternity leave’ as such, and have had to find ways to juggle work with childcare since Max was around 6 weeks old . Ditto Terry: there’s no paternity leave when you have clients relying on you to finish their projects on time, and as we can’t afford to lose business, he was back at work even quicker than I was. (A move which was definitely not something I would ever recommend, by the way, but, well, that’s a whole other story, really…)
I’m not saying any of this to try to make you all feel sorry for us, by the way: we both love being self-employed, and chose to have a baby despite knowing perfectly well that parenthood was going to have a huge impact on our business and lifestyle, so I tell you this purely to explain exactly what it is we’re “juggling” right now. And, with that out of the way, back to the question: so, how DO we manage to keep all of our balls and, er, babies, in the air? Well, it’s pretty simple, really, and it’s mostly down to two things:
Max started nursery last month, and it’s changed our lives, seriously. He’s only going for two afternoons per week at the moment, but, of course, that’s two afternoons more than we used to have, and it’s amazing how much you can achieve in two afternoons per week, let me tell you. What you can’t do in that amount of time, of course, is successfully run a business and a household, or take care of all of the myriad other little things that come with general adulting, so, for everything we can’t fit into those two afternoons, we’re also reliant on…
In addition to our shiny new nursery hours, my parents also currently take Max two days per week, which is an absolute Godsend, and the only reason our business survived last year, to totally honest. For the past two years, those two days have been when the bulk of our work has been done: we are obviously able to squeeze in work at other times, too (Mostly by tag-teaming our childcare, and taking it in turns to look after Max on the days we have him at home with us), but, as I mentioned in this post, that wasn’t working out particularly well for us, and, no matter how hard we tried, neither of us was able to work anything even close to the full-time hours we’d been used to putting in before Max arrived.
Now that he’s at nursery, though, we have almost double the amount of time to work, and that time is SUCH a luxury, especially coming, as it does, after two years of trying to cram an entire week’s worth of work into two days, plus nap-times. As with nursery, though, as grateful though we are to have it, it’s still not enough time on its own to really get our business/home/lives back to where they were before we had Max, so here are some other things we’ve been doing to try to pick up the slack…
While we do try to take a couple of nights off each week, for some much-needed downtime, we also work most evenings, once Max is in bed, with Terry often staying up until 1am or later, in order to meet some of his client deadlines. It’s obviously not ideal, although, as we often worked in the evenings before Max arrived, it is something we’re pretty used to, and it’s currently very, very necessary in order to squeeze some extra work hours out of every week.
The difference between working evenings now, versus working evenings in our childfree days, though, is that, when we’ve been looking after Max all day (And, in my case, getting up the crack o’dawn with him, too…), we’re normally both pretty tired by the time he’s in bed for the night, so sitting down at my desk is the LAST thing I feel like doing: as I said, though, it’s a bit of a necessary evil right now – at least until next year, when Max’s free nursery hours kick in (Right now we’re paying to send him to a private nursery, and are really stretching our budget to do it, but, once he’s three, he’ll go to free state nursery, which will give us a lot more time…), and we’ll be able to get back to (almost) full-time working again.
KEEPING WORK TIME SACROSANCT
One of the best things about self-employment for us is how flexible it allows you to be, and, before Max was born, we used to make the absolute most of that flexibility. Ditching work and heading to the beach on a sunny day? Sure! Meeting up with friends who happen to have Wednesday afternoon free this week? No problem! Quick shopping trip on a Tuesday afternoon, because that’s when the shops will be quietest? Makes sense to me! And so on and so forth.
Yeah. That kind of things doesn’t happen any more. The fact is, we may still be self-employed, and working from home, but these days our work isn’t remotely flexible: and, because we know we’re only going to be able to work on certain days, and at certain times, we’ve had to become very protective of those times. So, when Max is in nursery, or with my parents, Terry and I are working. If it’s Monday at 8pm, Terry and I are working. There are obviously times when something crops up that unavoidably cuts into that time, but, for the most part, we’ve learned to be strict about keeping our working time sacrosanct, even though it sometimes means we have to turn down invitations, or say no to things we’d really like to do. (And, let’s face it, I’d rather be doing almost anything other than working at 8pm on a Monday evening, but needs must…)
BEING BETTER AT PRIORITISING
While having almost every second of every day accounted for isn’t exactly my favourite thing in the world, I will say this for it: it doesn’t half teach you how valuable your time really is. This goes for both our free time AND our work time: if we’re going to do something these days, whether it be business or pleasure, it REALLY has to be worth it. This is why you’ll no longer see me writing blog posts in exchange for clothes or other products, the time I spend aimlessly scrolling through ASOS.com has been drastically reduced, and Terry and I are both just generally much pickier about what kind of projects we’re willing to take on, and how we agree to spend our time. In short, we’ve had to do our best to cut down on ‘busy work’ and procrastination, and make sure that we make the absolute most of the time we have.
It goes without saying that Max will always be our first priority, of course, but, right now, our business is having to be a very close second. I get a bit of criticism on this (Mostly online, it has to be said…) from people who like to remind me that Max won’t be this age forever, and that I should be forgetting about work and just soaking up every second with him, but I guess it’s worth pointing out here that the work we do is STILL ultimately for his benefit, in the sense that it allows us to keep a roof over his head, and other important stuff like that.
It’s a bit odd to me, to be honest, that I have to keep justifying the fact that I have to work for a living (I suspect that wouldn’t be the case if I had a more traditional job, but there’s a tendency for some people to view self-employment – and particularly something ‘frivolous’ like blogging – as something we’re doing just for fun, as opposed to something that pays our mortgage every month…), but the reality for most people is that, unless you’re lucky enough to be independently wealthy, you do have to work for a living: we just do it a little differently, is all!
(Also probably worth pointing out that while we do spend most of our child free time working, that still leaves plenty of times when Max is with us, and we’re having fun with him: in fact, we’ve actually seen more of our friends and family since he arrived, purely because on the days we have him at home with us, we do our best to get out and about as much as possible!)
LOWERING OUR STANDARDS
This probably isn’t the advice anyone wants to hear, but one of the main lessons I’ve had to learn over the course of the past two years is that sometimes done is better than perfect. As a recovering perfectionist (Thank you to the Patreon subscriber who introduced me to that term!), this is something I still struggle with, but I’ve been forced to accept that there just aren’t enough hours in the day right now to do everything I want to do the WAY I want to do it, so some (Hopefully temporary!) lowering of standards has been necessary.
Last week, for instance, I walked out of the house with Terry and Max, leaving toys scattered all over the living room, and a full load of laundry in the machine. Embarrassing though it is to admit it, two years ago, that would’ve really stressed me out (To the point where, the whole time I was out, I’d have been thinking about my messy house, and itching to get back and tidy it…), but these days, while I’m not going to claim that I don’t give it a second thought (The mess does still bother me, more than I like to admit: I’m just never going to be the ‘cool’, laid-back mum, am I?), I have learned to accept that there’s not really much I can do about it, and, even if I DO manage to tidy up before we leave the house, it’s going to be right back to chaos again approximately two minutes after we return, so there’s really not much point stressing about it, is there?
There are LOTS of things that fall into that, “not much I can do about it” category right now, and while I’m not exactly thrilled about it, there’s… well, there’s just not much I can do about it, is there?
ORGANISING and SIMPLIFYING
Having less stuff , switching to a capsule wardrobe of sorts , filling my house with Ikea SKUBB boxes , outsourcing the ironing (Occasionally, anyway: I can’t afford to do this all the time, but totally would, if I could!) and doing my best to save time at every possible opportunity are just a few of the other ways I’ve managed to stay (somewhat) on top of things over the past two years: I’ve written separate posts on all of these (All linked above), so I won’t go into them in detail here, other than to say that it’s a good job I’ve always enjoyed being organised, because it’s never been more important.
It doesn’t always work, either: despite everything I’ve said in this post, I still spend most of my time feeling like I’m only just managing to keep my head above water, and I suspect that’s how a lot of parents feel, whether they work or not: so I’m not trying to claim that my life’s harder than anyone else’s here – it’s just reality for many of us, and I wanted to write a bit about it, because, when I got this question, it helped me realise that it’s sometimes easy to look at someone and think they’re somehow managing to pull off some kind of impossible feat, or that they have a secret method that makes their lives easier, when the truth is actually much simpler than that.
My ‘secret’ for instance, is that I’m fortunate to have some outside help with childcare, while simultaneously not having much of a life, really (for the time being, at least): and I think it’s important to acknowledge that, rather than allowing people to think we’ve got everything sorted, when the reality is very different.