I have learned a lot about freelancing as a parent of a toddler, yet I’m painfully aware there is much I will never know. Being human means forever pursuing knowledge, and nowhere do you feel further behind than as a parent. Every day, you wake up a moron.
In 2017, I wrote a column for this magazine on how to prepare a freelance writing career for a child’s arrival. In the months since, I’ve kept strategizing. It’s necessary. Being a good dad means having work under control, so Olivia and my wife get the best of me. Conversely, I must ensure my work doesn’t suffer because of my parenting duties.
My hope is that any writer awaiting parenthood reads this (and last year’s article) so they can feel better equipped to handle the exhilarating juggling act that lies ahead.
It’s not the baby’s fault.
There are days when the kid will vomit in her car seat or stay up until 3 a.m. or do one of the any other millions of things that make parenting so hard. This is not The Omen. Your child is not seeking to destroy your life. It may feel that way on the hardest days, but a baby has zero concept of your deadlines.
Invest in childcare before it becomes urgent.
Get recommendations for nannies and daycare early from friends and local online groups, because a.) organizing your life will be hell for at least three months after the baby’s arrival; b.) you can’t be scrambling for options when you have multiple deadlines that day; and c.) the waiting list for both can be longer than the Atlantic coastline. One daycare I registered with had a six-month waiting list.
Your time is not more important.
I’m going to assume most of you will raise a child with a spouse who has a steady job at an office. You may feel a tinge of resentment. Why does he have the chance to work in peace? Why am I the one left holding the bag when the sitter can’t make it? The truth is, it’s hard on your partner, too. They’re adjusting to a new responsibility in their life, and they’re making sacrifices as well – including being away from their child. It seems more challenging for you because your buffer zone is too small. Which is why you should…
Use childcare for self-care.
Your mental state gets rickety very quickly when you’re tethered to an infant’s schedule. Do something that forces you to shower, put on pants, and get you interacting with the world – even if it’s food shopping. It’s also an opportunity to recharge, which you need. Packing work in slivers of time means the crashes come harder. You will have more days when your stamina lags. It’s OK to take an hour for a nap or hit the gym, especially if you’re cobbling your hours together in split shifts. (I wrote this piece over two nights, including after an eight-hour car trip with my carsick daughter.) Getting a chance to breathe prevents you from choking on the day’s activity
Accept that sometimes your day will go to shit.
In my case this is literal. I’ll never forget Valentine’s Day 2017. That’s when the house’s septic system backed up, causing me to vacuum up a lake of waste while tending to my infant daughter and hosting the septic guys, whose professional demeanor could best be described as monosyllabic disdain. (The gentleman who ultimately fixed the problem, I should note, was a mensch.) Or when my wife had to spend 10 straight days teaching at an hours-gobbling piano camp – a stretch when we could not find childcare. That meant I had to step up.
Yes, it’s frustrating, but shelve the anger. Having an empathetic partner means you’ll get that time back. There’s also someone else you should put your faith in.
Learn to trust yourself.
If you’ve done this long enough, you know when to rev up the effort and when to slow down. You won’t suddenly miss deadlines. You’re a professional. Just choose your spots to work.
Invest in a large, dry-erase monthly calendar.
Stick it in the kitchen or a communal spot where you and your spouse can see it. Put all the events and deadlines so there are no surprises, which you have enough of already.
You will fail at this.
Returning from the nanny’s house last winter, Olivia got violently sick, reupholstering the car seat (and seemingly everywhere else) with vomit. She was inconsolable as I carried her into the house. I undressed her; she raged. I tried consoling her; failure. I felt myself unraveling. I texted my wife, dry and working in her screeching-free office, in despair. I gave Livvy a bath; she kept crying. Unable to wrangle my emotions any longer, I yelled at the wall of my tiled prison.
The regret came immediately. Plummeting into darkness, stuck between hot rage and cold shame, I choked back my sobs and fumbled my way toward an apology.
This is what I remember: Livvy looked at me, stood up, and kissed me on the cheek.
You, the writer, have an advantage. Few people know how to fail better than you do. You know how to get over rejections and non-responsive editors. You know that failure is part of love. It spurs you to write that perfect sentence or land that great client or nail that pitch. Failure is part of any success. You bolt through that inbox of highs and lows every day and come up gasping for air but exhilarated.
Chances are you know that beating yourself up over some aspect of work makes you miserable.
Beating yourself up over your shortcomings as a parent makes your family miserable.
Good writers and good parents get up the next day and do better.
Veteran freelance writer Pete Croatto (Twitter: @PeteCroatto) is working on his first book for Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.