How to freelance when you have a baby

It's not easy for a young, single mother to juggle raising a baby with building a freelance career. Lisa Hassell passes on some tips.

Banging enthusiastically on his musical activity toy to the repetitive tune of 'Baa Baa Black Sheep', my eight-month-old is absorbed in his own little world, playing happily just a few feet away. Bleary-eyed and on my third coffee of the day, I stare despondently at my flickering computer screen. The white page glares back at me and I let out a sigh. It's 8am and I'm exhausted. Life wasn't always like this.

A year ago I was still in the throes of full-time employment, trudging my heavily pregnant self to the train station for the early morning commute and counting down the days to maternity leave. Back then there was no question that I would return to my agency job, but after a messy break-up left me living in a flat I could no longer afford, moving 80 miles north back to my home town was pretty much a done deal.

Determined not to let the situation break me, I leant on the support of my friends and family, and somehow survived the early weeks of round-the-clock feeding, relentless nappy changing and sleep deprivation. Somewhere between the third and fourth month I started to feel like the old me again, and ready to start working - but with no job to return to and little in the way of savings, my choices were limited. Returning to work only to have my salary spent on full-time childcare made little sense. I decided to give freelancing a go.

A baby, yesterday

Like any new mum-to-be, I thought I had it sorted, but just a few weeks in, my grand plans were crumbling around me. I had taken on too much, and buckling under the pressure of trying to keep so many balls in the air I felt like I was having a mini breakdown. In truth I was just overwhelmed, and knew something had to give.

Flash forward five months and daily life is a constant work in progress, as I carefully refine the habits that govern day-to-day life. Along the way I have discovered routines that work - such as rising early and getting a few hours in before Ryder wakes up - and those that don't, like attempting to type an article one-handed whilst balancing Ryder on my knee, the result of which left me with a permanently sticky keyboard.

Drawing boundaries between work life and home life isn't always easy, and like many freelancers I find it hard to switch off. While I don't own a laptop or iPad, my iPhone is permanently within arm's reach for quick access to email, Facebook and Twitter - I am constantly 'plugged in' when my mind should be focused elsewhere.

Feelings of guilt are not uncommon; when I am working I worry that I should be spending more time with him; when I take a break I am constantly clock watching. It's a constant juggle, and at times I feel like I am not doing either job particularly well. To the passing outsider, and to some of my friends, I appear to have my life in order, but beneath the surface I am paddling frantically to stay afloat.

When I'm awake, I'm either focused on my work or I'm focused on Ryder. With the bits of time in-between I try to keep the laundry basket from overflowing and the refrigerator from being empty. I've given up on almost everything else.

In practice, setting a reasonably well-structured day around nap times and other baby activities has greatly increased my productivity. Nurturing a support network of other work-from-home parents has also helped me to ease daily frustrations, and it's a welcome break from what can quickly become a very isolating existence.

I have gradually learned to embrace a slower pace of life, and relax my schedule to fit around my new role as a mother. And while the time for Ryder to start nursery is fast approaching, and with it a brand new set of challenges, I am optimistic about the future.

Having kids is a game-changer; adapting to unconventional working hours while meeting the demands of a small child can drive anyone a bit bonkers; yet despite the inevitable distractions, controlling when and how I work is one of the greatest benefits of my freelance career.

Words: Lisa Hassell