Freelance Parenting

I received a few emails that this post really resonated with you (I love hearing how many of you are freelance parents much like us!) and a lot of you asked for a more practical list of how Ken and I “juggle” our roles, both separately and together. While we’re constantly in flux and can never truly guarantee a schedule (oh, the freelance life!), we do stick to a few hard and fast rules for our own family that help us balance work, life and family within the four walls of our home:

1. Set a priority.
For our family, there needs to be a very clear priority list. What comes before work? What doesn’t? What type of work comes before family? Whose work comes first? Although these scenarios ebb and flow, we’ve prioritized family above all, and in each season, we have one of us take the lead as parent and one take the lead as breadwinner. (Sometimes this looks like a 51/49 split, others it looks like 80/20.) When we’re both working full-time toward a breadwinning position, there’s little energy and time left to devote to raising Bee, so it’s always been a clear priority that we maintain enough flexibility to keep this in check. It can be difficult, I’ll admit, when opportunities arise for both Ken and I simultaneously, but we know ourselves and our stress levels well enough to consider the cost. If it distracts from our time together or adds stress without value (and I don’t mean the financial kind!), we’re quick to decline.

This comes with sacrifices, sure. We worked incredibly hard as newlyweds to pay off our house before we had children so we could eliminate any debt prior to starting a family. We don’t use credit cards. We don’t have cable. We don’t have car payments. We don’t amass stuff. With fewer bills, for us, comes greater freedom to prioritize family and time over money and work.

2. Be polite.
This one’s a seemingly small concept, but one that truly works for us. We’re polite with co-workers, friends and extended family members, so it only makes sense that we be courteous and respectful within the walls of our home (especially when – sometimes – your spouse is your co-worker!). If I’ve been offered a speaking engagement that requires travel, I involve Ken and we decide together. If he needs to decompress with friends, he considers my schedule. When he takes out the trash or I fold the laundry – even though it’s expected – we thank each other.

3. Compartmentalize, if necessary.
I have difficulty focusing from home, so Ken’s great in allowing me to sneak out super early in the morning to our local coffee shop to write posts, send emails or plan shoots. Sometimes all I need to spark my creativity is to get out of the house and away from the laundry pile, and I find I feel more balanced and present when I have a distinct separation of space.

4. Establish roles.
When Ken and I film together, we have very clear established roles. I produce the shoot – organizing and art-directing the details or running errands if necessary – and he directs/shoots – choosing music, scene, lighting –  and edits the final product with full creative control. We give each other freedom to make judgment calls within our established roles and rarely overstep these boundaries. This has taken years of practice (if you’ll remember, we met in college filming a documentary, so this has been a 12-year-process!) but we’ve built enough trust through sheer hours of working together that it’s now second nature.

Part of this process includes offering grace when one of us falls short in our roles. There have been many times when I’m unprepared and need to source a last-minute prop, and Ken’s crazy patient when I fumble lines and the shoot takes longer than anticipated. We’re certainly not perfect at this and it’s easy to take our stress out on each other, but being mindful of our own shortcomings goes a long way in accepting the faults of each other.

5. Create a routine.
Ken’s a night owl and I’m a morning person, so our schedules have always been fairly out of sync. So when Bee was a newborn, I would wake up early with her and Ken would cover the night shift and we’d both alternate a few projects in the afternoon. It seemed like the perfect balance. But we were always working against ourselves, because we were with Bee during what my friends Christine and Asha call “our golden hours” – the hours we were naturally most productive and creative. (I talk a bit about this in my podcast with Jess Lively here.)

So we swapped. I worked during my morning golden hours and Ken worked during his late-night golden hours and suddenly, work flowed much more seamlessly. We found we could finish our deadlines in less time because we weren’t working against our natural tendencies. It certainly resulted in less sleep for both of us, but a better workflow and more enjoyable “Bee” time.

6. Embrace flexibility.
Similarly, we’re fairly intentional about embracing the hugest benefit of freelancing: flexibility. If we want to jet town for a few days, we plan ahead and schedule accordingly. If Ken’s working on a big project and needs to pull an all-nighter, I’ll adjust my routine to allow him some extra sleep in the day. As much as we thrive on our daily routine, we find it immensely important to maintain the flexibility it takes to enjoy the gift of a freelance life together.

Tell me, what “rules” would you add, for those of you who freelance – either alone or as a family, with kids or without? I’d love to hear!