The reality of flexible working for mums

I had a meeting in the city this morning, and another one late afternoon in Soho. There wasn’t much point going home in the middle, so I decided to walk the distance between the two appointments, have some lunch somewhere, maybe pop into the Tate Modern on the way… I’m self-employed after all and having a quiet week. I can take a couple of hours to myself and make up the time somewhere else. Or not. Whatever.

However, as I started walking, anxiety gripped my heart. I can’t take this time to myself. I should be working or spending time with my son. Should I jump in a cab home and pick him up for a couple of hours?? Should I just find a café and work? If I spend time on my own now, without working, then I’ll have to work another time when I could be spending time with my son… And just like that, freelancing mummy guilt smacked me in the chops. While there are definite advantages to being self-employed when you have a family, the reality is that it’s also a bloody hard, exhausting and guilt-ridden juggle at times too.

Dream: You’ll do school/nursery drop off and pick up every day and enjoy the uninterrupted time in between to get loads of work done. Once the kids go to bed, you’ll pull your computer back out again and tap away happily for a couple of hours before hitting the hay yourself.

Reality: There are only a limited number of hours in the day. You’re forever playing catch up and feeling like you’re about to be busted for having forgotten to do something crucial. The kids never go to bed on time and your stress levels rise with every minute that passes. Your other half complains that you never spend any time together after the kids are in bed, and you rarely get enough sleep because you always stay up working much later than you should.

Dream: You’ll be able to work full-time hours but at times that suit you (and why doesn’t everyone do this by the way..??!)

Reality: Trying to fit in a 40-hour week around school runs, supermarket shopping, housework, and actually spending time with your family is impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. Think about it. The kids are probably only in school or nursery for 6 hours or so, and you have to factor in travel time too. This means that, even if you use up every second of the time they’re not there, you probably only have 25 hours per week. And that doesn’t take into account the fact that you have to eat, and go to the loo, and deal with life admin, like booking doctors’ appointments, buying food, getting hair cuts, etc. Then, even on the rare weeks you manage to work for every minute of those 25 hours, the remaining 15 are pretty hard to find without working every single evening and at least a full day at the weekend too, when you’ll beat yourself up for spending time away from your family.

Dream: You’ll enjoy off-peak gym time or exercise classes and meet friends for coffee during the day.

Reality: Every time you even think about doing something that isn’t for the kids or work, you feel a stab of guilt and panic. Everything has to have a purpose as your time is so stretched that you simply can’t afford to squander it. Sometimes, you can convince yourself that exercise is ok if you do something productive at the same time, like listen to a podcast, and coffee dates with friends are just about allowed if you’re discussing work.

Dream: School holidays will be a breeze because you don’t have to book time off. You can just work while the kids play. Simples.

Reality: I’m guessing I don’t really have to spell this one out… If your kids happily play together or on their own without requiring constant input/validation from you, then more power to you! My son does not do this, and his ongoing complaints of being bored and wanting someone to play with tug at my heartstrings and make it impossible for me to concentrate and actually produce any quality work, so it swiftly becomes a pointless exercise.

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The freelancer fantasy

Dream: And speaking of holidays, you’ll be able to take loads more of them because you don’t have a limited number of vacation days and, in fact, you can work from anywhere so you will just take your laptop with you and keep working!

Reality: You quickly realise that holidays are twice as expensive when you’re self-employed because you don’t get paid when you’re not at work. As you’ve already discovered that you can’t work while your kids are there, taking your laptop with you is a futile exercise, and when you do manage to steal an hour or so to get some work done, you quickly resent the fact that you’re at your computer while the rest of the family unwinds and enjoys their holiday.

Dream: You will be able to go to every school play and football match, chaperone school trips and be there for your kids when they’re unwell.

Reality: Even though you’re self-employed, people still depend on you to get your work done, so you can’t just drop everything when something comes up. And then you feel MORE guilty than mums with ‘normal’ jobs when you miss an important event, because you always feel as though you could have taken the time off (and you’re pretty sure everyone else is thinking the same thing too).

Sound familiar? Leave me a comment and let me know! And yes, today I stopped in a café to have some lunch and allowed myself to watch the world go by. For about 10 minutes before pulling out my laptop. And then I wrote this post. I didn’t make it to the Tate…

10 thoughts on “The reality of flexible working for mums”

  1. Yes, yes, and yes to all the above! I was NEVER a morning exercise person, but I have tried squeezing in a quick one before I start work – I think it really does make me more productive, and it gives me some thinking time. Cheers to the crazy fun juggle of being a self employed parent!


  2. This all resonates with me and although I am taking a break from running my own business right now and I have a *little* more time on my hands I still don’t manage to do all the things I want to do. I think it’s about rewiring ourselves to remind ourselves that we are not perfect, but WE ARE ENOUGH!


  3. Yes, I was the mum who thought I’d have time for coffee with friends and would instantly be able to re-join the gym and go several times a week – ha! In reality I rarely have time for me, this week the only place I went was the supermarket, which was my lunch-break. I wouldn’t trade my flexible working life for anything though as it allows me to put my children first 🙂


  4. Love this. So true. When I started Albert Eats I though exactly that – full time work but working around Albert (the actual Albert), but the reality of all of it is guilt and not enough hours – exactly as you’ve said..
    Great post 👏


  5. Thanks for sharing this. It’s definitely relatable. Especially the guilt when you have some time to yourself and wonder if you should enjoy it.


  6. Yes, completely true. But suspect the pressures (and guilt) of employed mums, as well as those who are SAHMs (and maybe want to work) are significant as well. Love the point about holidays costing twice as much here – soooo true!

    Liked by 1 person

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