How do you get through the school holidays when you’re self employed, and a single parent?
When I first returned to work after S was born, I remember thinking to myself, you have until she starts school to figure out how you’re going to juggle a job and school holidays. Normal jobs have a standard 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year, but this is quickly used up by half term, Christmas holidays and inset days before you even get to the summer holidays! I knew I had to make a change, because I didn’t want to end up putting S into whatever holiday club I could get her into for weeks at a time, just to go to work at a job I didn’t even like. My plan then, was to go self employed and earn a lot of money so that I could afford to take the school holidays off.
As it happens, that’s not very easy to do! I am a copywriter, blogger and social media consultant; even if I could afford to take six weeks off in the summer, that would mean leaving my clients without a copywriter for six weeks; they would just go and find someone else to do the job! With no family members I can rely on for regular, extended periods of childcare (curse my sister for getting a job!), and Easter holidays just around the corner – not to mention the summer holidays in the not too distant future, I need to come up with a cunning plan.
I’ve been thinking about how to handle the school holidays as a self employed single parent.
Schools release term times well in advance so always refer to this calendar when booking in projects and/or events. Try to juggle work as much as possible so that you don’t have deadlines looming during the holidays. This might mean working some extra hours in the weeks before the holidays, so that you’re ahead of your usual working schedule.
I make a point of contacting all of my clients well in advance of school holidays to let them know what they can expect. I do this not only with clients I’m working with right now, but with anyone I’ve worked with in the last few months. The law of the sod dictates that if I don’t tell people I’m off for a couple of weeks, I will get a job request in from someone I was not expecting to hear from, and I’ll feel terrible about saying no. During school holidays I advise my clients that all work will have a longer turnaround time, that I won’t be contactable by phone except in emergencies, and that I’d appreciate their getting work to me early so that I can complete it before the holidays start. I also put information similar to this in my email signature block, and I make sure I have an out of office on my email as well as a voicemail greeting with similar information.
Get up Early.
I get up early in the mornings any way, and have started coming downstairs to work before S gets up. She knows that if she wakes up and the landing light is on, it means I am downstairs working and she is free to play upstairs until either her alarm goes off, or I come to find her. We discuss this regularly – usually every night as I tuck her in. During that time early in the morning I am able to get so much more work done because there are no other distractions, and my thought process hasn’t yet been clogged up by all the rubbish that can easily be floating around my head by lunch time.
Spend Quality Time
Remember that time spent with your child or children is about quality rather than quantity. I could spend all day in the same room as S, trying to ignore her and asking her to shush while I try and keep on top of my emails. Or I can spend an hour or two after breakfast doing whatever she wants to do, giving her all of my attention and lots of cuddles. Usually after a trip to the park or some time spent colouring together, S is happy to go off and do her own thing for a couple of hours and I can get some work done without interruptions – and without either of us feeling that I am neglecting my child. I read an article somewhere where this was called “filling up the tank” – the idea is that children keep our love and attention, and the feeling of security we give them, stored inside of them for later. As long as they’ve had enough attention they can happily go off and do their own thing without needing to keep coming back to us. When you’re on a deadline and desperate to finish your work it can feel counter productive to down tools for an hour to build a den or paint a picture, but that will often take less time than trying to get your work done with an interruption every five minutes for a cuddle or a silly question.
Build Your Passive Income Streams
Being freelance can often mean you’re always trading your time for money, which is great until you have to take time off – and then there is no money coming in! I am always looking for new ways to bring in money, especially passive income which will continue to drip in long after the work has been done. This could be from a book (I’m in the process of re-editing mine to release on Amazon Kindle), from affiliate marketing or from a course you’ve made. I’m always looking for new ways to make money, and my plan is to build up my passive income so that I can afford to take more time off.
Focus and Prioritise
When I have a whole day in which to complete one task, you can bet I’ll take the whole day… but the same task might only take me ninety minutes if that’s all the time I have available. If you’re able to cut out distractions as much as possible it becomes easier to just get your head down and do the job. This might be as simple as putting a dvd on for S so that I can get an hour of quiet time to finish something off, but also things like clearing off my desk so there is nothing in my line of sight to distract me can really help. I use Scentered Focus balm while I’m working any way, and this becomes more important when I am short on time. I also find that when I only have an hour or so to get some work in, a lot of jobs don’t seem so important after all. Re-prioritising my to-do list on a regular basis helps me to make sure I’m not wasting precious time, either during school holidays or at other times.
Trade Childcare with Other Parents
Find other parents who are struggling to juggle childcare with work over the school holidays and offer to share childcare. I thought this was a bonkers idea; why volunteer to have more kids in your house when it’s tricky enough entertaining one! It turns out that as long as the children get on, they will go off and entertain each other for the most part. You might be called in to adjudicate over disagreements from time to time, and if the children already spend time together on a regular basis they may get bored of playing with toys and want to do an activity, but for the most part they entertain each other.
Use Holiday Clubs
I have mixed feelings about holiday clubs; I don’t want to send S to some community centre all day every day, just to get her out of my hair. I had always said that the point in my being self employed was to be able to spend more time with S during holidays, so putting her into holiday club seemed to defeat the object. We have however, found one holiday club that is more like a treat for her. She adores Kidz Love Fit and does their after school clubs so during the last school holidays I tried her out with a day at their holiday club. She came home full of beans and chattering about all the exciting things she had done. I don’t think I would put her in for more than one day per week – I think the school holidays are useful for her to have a rest, and I do like to spend time with her – but for that one day per week I know she is happy and having tons of fun while I can concentrate on my work.
Brave Soft Play (gulp)
Technically, all I need to be able to do most of my work is my laptop and a WiFi connection. So I could work from anywhere… including my local soft play centre, which has WiFi. I’m not sure how viable this option is though, as their coffee is awful and there is a lot of screaming at soft play. It could be a last resort for days when S needs to have some fun though, and I can always use the WiFi for sorting through emails or other boring tasks that don’t require a lot of concentration.
Do you have any tips for getting through the school holidays when you’re self employed and have to keep working? If so do please share – I could use all the help I can get!