How Kids Fit Into Your Freelance Life: Part 2

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Rachel Bell's three children.

Working from home and caring for your children is a power struggle. Many stay at home freelancers want to be there for their children but also want to be their for their clients. It’s a delicate balancing act that can go on for years.

Many starry-eyed new parents think that working from home will solve all of their childcare problems. They can be there for their baby whenever they need them while still getting things done for their career. Many find that it’s not that easy.

Last week I posted a blog post where I interviewed new mom and writer Rabia Mughal on how her career changed with the birth of her son. She found that even though she wanted to give 100% to her full-time job and 100% as a parent, she wasn’t feeling fulfilled in either. She decided to switch her role at her company, and become a 32-hour a week contractor and work from home. Luckily, her company allowed her to do this. Other people aren’t so lucky.

Today we’re hearing from photographer Rachel Bell. The wedding and travel photographer works around New England and across the globe. A mother of three, Bell, once a fourth grade teacher, became a stay at home mom for several years to take care of both her children and her dying mother. She knew she didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom forever, and when her children became more independent, she decided to finally start her own photography business.

Q: When your children came into your life, what was your plan in regards to work?

After my mom died and life got back to a new normal, I settled into a routine—but knew I did not want to be a stay-at-home mom for too long. It did, however, last for several more years than expected and after Julia came along, I had to take the hard look and decide what I wanted to really be “when I grew up”.

I decided not to go back into teaching but to take the leap, both feet in, and see if I could follow my first passion of photography and build a viable full-time business. The rest is history and I haven’t looked back since!

Q: How has your mentality changed since working from home and raising your kids?

I think I have gotten so much stronger mentally from this experience and from constantly balancing the needs of my clients and the needs of my family. I am accomplishing things I never dreamed I would be strong enough to handle. I’ve always been an optimistic person, but I am so much happier and feel I am living a life that, while hectic, is full, rich and exactly how I want it to be at this point in my life.

Q: What is your schedule like?

It is a constant juggling act and requires a somewhat good memory, a comprehensive calendar and a great pair of running shoes! Right now I am returning email and phone calls while having lunch, organizing a birthday party, doing some laundry, and buying some gifts online, and answering your questions.

This morning I had two client meetings, edited some images, and volunteered in my son’s class, and this afternoon I will pick up the kids, head to my son’s track practice, enjoy family time/dinner, and then get back to editing work at 9 pm this evening after they go to bed.

Every day looks completely different depending on what is needed, who’s where, etc. I actually love this part because, even though it’s absolutely nuts, a good majority of the time I can design my work around my family and be able to be a strong presence in their lives. Sometimes it’s exhausting and sometimes I get stressed out…but in the big picture it’s always worth it to me.

Q: What lessons have you learned along the way?

By far, the most important lesson I have learned is to be flexible and open to anything. Rigidity has no place in my life and no place in the delicate balancing act of home and work. I have to be willing to move things around, willing to be constantly shifting priorities, and willing to make personal sacrifices.

I also learned that taking the road of a business owner requires perseverance and the ability to shift from work needs and home needs with full attention to both.  I knew I would have to work hard…but I didn’t know just how married to my business I could become. I had to learn to force myself to shut it off sometimes. Not only in the sense of leaving the actual workload…but also shutting off the blackberry, tucking away the computer, and shutting off my brain!

Q: What advice would you give to a freelancer who struggles to work from home and raise their children?

I think the best advice I can give is to constantly be assessing what is working and what isn’t. Most of us who get into freelance work do so for the freedom to determine our own schedules, be our own boss and try to follow our passion (to name just a few reasons), so accountability for self is really critical.

If you start feeling yourself struggle—that you can’t keep all the balls in the air, be everything to everyone and feel like you are losing bits of your sanity— well, you probably are taking on too much or putting way too many expectations on yourself.

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