Freelancing, fatherhood and (not really) working from home

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but for reasons that will soon be apparent it’s taken a lot longer than I expected.

As regular readers will know, I became a dad for the first time in October 2007, and since then I’ve had the joy of watching Baby Bigmouth’s first thirteen months. To say it’s been a learning experience would be an understatement, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt for the benefit of any other homeworkers who are about to become proud fathers.

Most of this, incidentally, is stuff you already know. But you don’t really appreciate what any of it actually means until it happens.

Oh, and: I’m writing this for homeworking dads, so let’s take it as read that what we think is difficult is approximately a millionth of a per cent of what our partners had and have to go through.

The good stuff

In many respects, being a freelance is the best possible job to have when you become a father. You’re still working, sort of, but you’re not leaving the house at 6am and returning at 7pm or later. You’re there for the first smile, the first words, the first steps – and because you’re freelance, you can sleep when the baby does. That’s a luxury fathers with proper jobs don’t have, although it’s countered by the fact that you can’t pretend to work late and go to the pub when you really should be going home to help your wife.

All things considered, I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have a job that means I haven’t missed all the cool stuff. And that more than compensates for all the gnarly stuff. But there is a lot of gnarly stuff, and it’s worth thinking about while your beautiful baby is still a twinkle in your eye.

Don’t stop work until you absolutely have to

Baby Bigmouth was due on the 6th of October, so I took that month off in anticipation and told everybody I’d be back at work on the 1st of November. She didn’t turn up until the 23rd of October, and didn’t come home until a few days after that. Oops.

Money, money, money

Your partner’s income will dwindle and then eventually become nothing until/unless she goes back to work. And so will yours. You can pretty much forget doing anything for the first month, and unless you’re exceptionally lucky the next couple of months will be difficult too. It’s particularly bad if you have a creative job, because you will be tired all the time. If you do work, you’ll find even the simplest thing takes forever. I spent two days trying and failing to write a 20-word photo caption when Baby Bigmouth was a couple of months old.

Despite what you might have heard, though, babies aren’t that expensive and child benefit is pretty generous. What is expensive, though, is wine. During the first few months you’ll get through a lot of it.

If you’re the kind of freelance who only gets paid after (usually, long after) you invoice, the money will start drying up a couple of months after you become a parent. Let’s say your baby arrives in January; you’ll probably get paid for the work you did in January 30 to 60 days after that. So expect the money to dwindle from March or so. This is why sensible people save huge wads of cash before the baby arrives. As you know, I’m not very sensible.

Writer’s (or Web Designer’s) block

The combination of lack of sleep and being broke – plus, quite possibly, the constant noise of a yelling baby and/or friends’ yelling babies, and/or children’s CDs, which are only marginally better than Nickelback; moving your office to a fall-out shelter buried deep in the garden becomes very, very appealing – causes a vicious circle of writer’s block. It’s like having the world’s worst cold, a head so stuffed with cotton wool that while you know there’s a brain in there somewhere, you’ve no idea how to contact it, let alone get it to do anything. This can quickly become self-perpetuating, so if you have the opportunity to get out of the house (to work, to get a break, or to have a sneaky nap in a car park) then you really should take it.

Pitching for new work

You won’t. With two-day jobs taking two weeks, you won’t have the energy – and in the unlikely event of you finding any spare time whatsoever, you’ll be having a sneaky nap in a car park. This stage, thankfully, is relatively short.

Things do get better

With babies, everything is just a stage. Eventually things calm down, they sleep through the night, they become wee people rather than screaming balls of fury and sick, and you’ll recover your mojo. You’ll pitch for and win new contracts, you’ll create things you’re happy with, and clients will stop shouting at you. And then you’ll contract the Black Death.

The Black Death

You thought you had an iron constitution, didn’t you? After all, you haven’t been sick for a decade. You have good genes!

Good genes my arse. You haven’t been sick because you haven’t been exposed to anything – and the bad news is that every form of entertainment for toddlers, whether it’s a creche or a musical group or anything else, is a front operation for the chemical warfare labs at Porton Down. Within seconds of arrival, your child will be surrounded by – and infected by – children with diseases we thought we’d got rid of in the dark ages. And then your child will come home, and you will get it ten times worse.

It’s a very good idea to build in some Black Death Time when you’re taking on work. That way, when you get infected – and it’s definitely a case of when, not if – you’ll still be able to hit your deadlines.

But even the Black Death passes, and you’ll find a rhythm. You’ll have fun with your child, and fun doing your job, and you’ll only have to deal with the odd banging on the door when you’re interviewing a CEO. So when older, wiser parents talk about teething, the terrible twos, having more children, fitting in the school run and all the other things just around the corner, you’ll do what any sensible freelancer does. You’ll put your fingers in your ears, wait until they’ve gone, and pour yourself another very large glass of red wine.

(Any other freelancing parents with useful advice? I’m all ears…)