The pros and cons of freelancing while parenting
Millennials are no strangers to freelance work. In this generation of the “side hustle”, young people pride themselves on having multiple employment opportunities and income streams. While it’s fun, beneficial and for some, well-paying, a major occurrence in life can quickly and drastically change the experience of being a freelancer.
Take it from me. Last May, my partner and I bought a home and a few months later, I gave birth to our little girl. And while the first few months of maternity leave were full of sheer newborn bliss (if that’s what you want to call it), it wasn’t long before the panic of my future set in.
Up to this point, I had done well for myself. I did everything I was supposed to do. I graduated from the University of Toronto with an honours degree. It took six years, but I obtained a specialist in journalism, majoring in history and I also had an advanced diploma from Centennial College for the practical part of my program.
In my last year of school, I completed an internship with the morning show Canada AM, shortly before it was cancelled and Your Morning made its debut. The internship was three months of 40-hour weeks and no wages.
That three-month internship was valuable in ways I can’t explain, and while I didn’t understand it then, I know now why interns don’t get paid. The skills I acquired, the relationships I built and the self-growth was payment in and of itself. But as a student with a massive debt that would soon be due, I had to continue working.
So I worked full-time, went to school part-time, and did a full-time internship. It was the hardest, most trying 12 weeks of my life. But I persisted, and more importantly, I succeeded.
In the months that followed, I had many 17-hour days. I’d work my part-time job from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. Then I’d head over to my freelance gig and do the 4 to midnight, often doing these shifts for days in a row. It was tough, but it’s the only reason I was able to pay off my $24,000 student debt in six months and save up my half of a down payment on a house in an overheated market.
But I find myself on the verge of yet another uphill battle. When my daughter hit her six-month milestone, I started applying for jobs in the journalism and media industry like crazy, sometimes even going out of my comfort (and skill) zone. And despite very little action at first, I finally got a bite.
Coincidentally, it was with the same show that replaced Canada AM. I applied for the role of the production coordinator. During the interview, I emphasized my skills, letting them know I was no stranger to hard work and news writing, which was introduced to me during my internship.
Two weeks later, they offered me two roles, freelancing as both a news writer and a production coordinator. While it wasn’t the full-time job with stability and benefits I was hoping for, it was a fantastic opportunity that I knew I had to accept.
But before long, I had four job opportunities at my disposal. None of them full-time, all freelance. This meant varying shifts, varying pay and varying locations. And for a mom with a kid less than a year old, it was a tough pill to swallow.
On Sunday, during the Ontario Leaders Final Debate, Doug Ford said one thing and one thing only that impressed me during a discussion on childcare. He said party platforms need to work for all parents, including the ones who work evenings, weekends and overnights. Most government-run daycare facilities are Monday-Friday, 9-5. At 26 years old with more than 10 years in the workforce and two years out of university, I have never in my life worked 9-5. So why hasn’t the government caught on and offered parents more options?
I’ve had to accept, the same way that many millennials have, that this is the new way of life, at least in my industry and at least until you secure full-time work. But for a lot of us, that can be very hard to come by. And while “uneasy” and “pessimistic” are words used to describe millennial employees in this Forbes article, I’ve had to make the conscious decision to be optimistic instead.
The older generation may have had to deal with being office “temps”, and I’d say freelancing is very much so the new (and maybe improved) “temp”. For instance, I was able to qualify for the maximum amount of employment insurance because all the hours I put in with my freelance company were insurable. The income I received put me in the necessary bracket to live as comfortably as possible while on maternity leave. I was also able to vote in union agreements.
And if you look at it from an employer’s perspective, offering freelance jobs to hungry millennials makes sense. Young people gain the experience they need to move up in their field and if they’re really lucky, the company. And their employers get to make sure that they’re worthy of doing so. These are huge corporations that need to protect their asses the same way millennials do when they accept multiple different jobs to get by. The same Forbes article says that 43 per cent of millennials plan to quit their jobs in the next two years. That tells me two things: we’re not very loyal workers, but we know that we can make it on our own.
So despite the challenges that come with being a freelancer, there are also a ton of advantages, which I constantly have to remind myself of when I’m feeling down, frustrated or insecure about my job.
First, the hours are flexible. And not flexible meaning that I can choose when I come in, but flexible in that varying shifts affords me the luxury of things like off-peak travel times, getting to cross things like doctor and dentist appointments off my to-do list, having a weekday with my baby girl to visit a hot spot rather than try on the weekend when it’s jam-packed and who could forget weekday naps?
Second, I’m not limited to the amount of vacation I can take. Another freelancer I know who works as a writer is always travelling. When I asked him why, he said to take advantage of the best part of being a freelancer—the luxury of packing up and leaving whenever he felt like it.
Third, I get to keep my options open. Some people confuse freelance and contract work. As a freelancer, you don’t really have an expiry date. As a contract worker, once your six months or one year is up, unless you’re contract is renewed, you might be in trouble. As I juggle three freelance opportunities, I’m doing what not a lot of people can, which is gain three different job experiences simultaneously.
Lastly, it leaves me one thing that you can’t put a price on. Time. I might work a full week and just have a few shifts the next week. This allows me to pick up more freelance work, like the magazine writing and editing I’ve been doing since 2014. Or work on my social media management and content creation business I launched in 2017.
As much frustration freelancing has brought me, particularly in this latest stage of my life, it’s also brought me a host of wonderful opportunities, both personally and professionally. And while I sometimes yearn for the security of full-time work, I’m reminded that the same resilience it took to get through that internship, to graduate and to do the most spectacular thing of all—which is give birth, is the same resilience I must have for now.