What It's Like to Work Freelance as a Parent
"There are almost no advantages to being a freelancer and a parent. Work can dry up at any time, and so can your income, but your child's needs aren't going anywhere."
Photo: Jelana Paligorić
This article originally appeared on VICE Serbia.
Freelancing is hard. To succeed, you need a degree of perseverance in the face of rejection that most do not have. Even when the only person dependent on you is you, it's tough to stay motivated amid unpaid invoices and the uncertainty of where and when you're next going to find work.
Still, things can get far more complicated: for parents who work freelance, trying to raise a family on a sporadic income is a challenge all of its own. Sure, they have more flexible working hours to deal with childcare emergencies, but their job anxiety is multiplied in a way that can make it feel like they're always at work.
To better understand how they manage it, I asked five people to lay out what it's like to be a freelancer and a parent at the same time.
Ivan Velisavljević, Playwright
"There are almost no advantages to being a freelancer and a parent. Work can dry up at any time, and so can your income, but your child's needs aren't going anywhere. And not only do I feel financial pressure because my income isn't great, but the pressure from everyone else who expects that it's my duty as a man to provide for my family. Even when you technically have a bit of time off to spend with your child, you're thinking about what's coming next. It feels like you're constantly at work."
Tea Puharić, Theatre Director
"I've always seen my precarious position as an advantage – I can coordinate my work with my child's needs. Still, without my mother and in-laws to help out, I would achieve way less professionally and socially. I've taken my son to work many times, and it's always a wonderful experience.
'Of course it's hard to work and take care of a child at the same time. But it's mainly the financial pressure that can be hard to manage. It was really tough at the beginning, when I was still at uni, not earning an income. Back then, my mum really had to help me out financially. Aside from that, it's nice that I don't have to ask anyone when I want to go on holiday or take a spontaneous afternoon off with my kids.
"Money isn't as important as time with your kids. They won't remember what you bought them, but they will remember the fun stuff you did together growing up. And they grow up fast."
Dejana Batalovic, Photographer
"I think that people who decide to go freelance embrace a certain way of life, even before they have a child. I've been a freelancer for a while, so living with an irregular income is normal to me. But when I realised I was going to be a mum, I didn't really know what to expect. At the time, I thought being a freelancer would be great because I'd have more time to spend with my baby.
"And sure, that is a benefit, but freelancing has its downsides. For example, when you live alone or with a partner, and you have a bad month, you can choose to live more frugally. But when you have a child, you can't do that as easily – you simply must have the money for certain things. So now I'm more of the opinion that maintaining a lower, but steady, income may be more valuable than freelancing.
"Then again, when my daughter became very sick as a baby, I was by her side in the hospital for two weeks, which made me grateful for the flexibility of being a freelancer. At that moment, I simply turned everything else off, and I was there for her. I am my own boss and I can only hurt my own business."
Ivan Stojiljković, Film Director
"I completed my MA a couple of months before my child was born and I was just starting my professional career. My fear meant I started accepting any job I was offered, even those I really didn't need; I just didn't know how to say no. But when you're just starting off, you have no idea what will or won't work out. Eventually, the fact that I had a child forced me to focus better on making smarter decisions about the professional direction I needed to go in.
"There were months where I did eight jobs, while pitching and writing treatments for even more work. The schedule can get pretty stressful. Of course there have been times when I've had to take [my son] along with me. And sometimes I simply want him there – like when I have a business meeting scheduled and there is no one to look after him. The only way that meeting is going to happen is if it takes place in a kid's play room, so he can stay entertained."
Jelena Paligorić, Costume Designer
"I think that, from the moment someone decides what they want to do with their life, they must be aware of what it means for their future employment and the possibility of raising a family. As a costume designer, I knew from early on that a steady job wasn't possible. I had a short period of professional stability when I was living in Singapore with my family, but then I came back to Belgrade and now I'm a single mum working as a freelancer.
"I do feel that pressure as a freelancer and a parent. No matter how much effort you put into working and getting organised around your kids, if you cannot find work or you haven't been paid on time, then you have a problem. I am lucky to have a great relationship with my ex-husband, but he doesn't live in Serbia, so all the organisational pressure is on me. That means that my income varies from month to month.
"The hardest times have been when I haven't been able to get a babysitter, and I've had to take a sick child with me on set. I don't have a choice, because producing a film is expensive, and the entire production can stop if I'm not there. Of course, all I can do is hope that my boss is cool with the situation. Still, I don't feel trapped as a freelancer, and I think it's just as hard to get organised when you have a steady, full-time job. I like it when I know that I have no work and I can spend the whole day with the kids."