I’m always ripping the seams of the day to find some time, so don’t think that I have it all figured out. Spoiler alert.
As a graphic designer, I worked in nonprofits, education and then publishing. I combined all three to work for Dressage Today, Trends magazine, Velonews, and too many newsletters to name. When I went rogue, after a decade in-house, I rebuilt my freelance career launching new brands and publishing. I tended to nab start-ups that needed hand-holding or nonprofits with missions I admired. Gig work was difficult to schedule, though well paid, and rotating between ad agencies was a fun challenge.
When I got lonely, I became a barista, then a baker. I talked through my mornings before going home to a quiet house, walking the dog, and sitting down to the work that paid well. I loved that balance to my day, and the fact that it was MINE. If I didn’t want a project, I’d tally up the bills and see if I really needed it. I was making $50k on my own within a year. But I had dogs, not children.
Enter children. By the time Wilder was four months old, I was bored out of my skull at home. We took long, meandering hikes to avoid the things I wasn’t supposed to eat while he aged out of his reflux issues – and that list was long. I was always hungry. Walking didn’t help except that I wasn’t home, browsing the food.
After a November Nanowrimo “win” that I finished one-handed, holding said babe, I got a call from a friend with a magazine connection. “Have them call me,” I said, immediately passing on my resume. During the interview, which I moved outside to drown out the sound of my baby screaming from my bedroom while my boobs leaked in sympathy, I landed a year-long contract. I am now ten years in, and it’s still a huge win for me in both pay and work consistency.
Some of my previous clients were portable but temporary, and others were fired as my bullshit meter got more aligned with my care-giving responsibilities. I currently have a total of two graphic design clients and two paid writing outlets, plus a free one – growing my blog as a future revenue source.
If I had a baby sleeping in my arms while I typed away writing articles, that felt good. I was figuring things out, creating a work-life balance the way Real Simple told me was possible. “True adulting,” I thought. Babies being babies, whatever task I performed and however well, it lasted a few days, max.
When my kiddos slept more, it was easy to sneak in an hour of work. Also with Play-doh. For some reason, my kids have always played easily and for extended periods with sensory materials. But in a blink, they didn’t nap anymore, and they needed eyes on them. I instituted quiet time instead of naps. Why not encourage them to play independently? That seemed like a universal win and that lasted years.
Several years ago we shifted the kids out of a family bed and into their rooms. They asked, don’t worry. This allowed for more quality, individual time with each child, but it did not free up our time. Instead I realized that I could sneak out of bed with my husband earlier in the morning and have time alone. I began a years-long habit of waking at 5 o’clock, where I stretch alone, drink tea alone, journal alone and sometimes write things that get published. Alone. After a 7-ish dog walk to get moving after so much seated time, everyone’s ready to start the day.
Post-Covid, we’re in a very special place where the kids play on their devices at 3pm, and that leaves me with an hour or so of often-very-interrupted time to work. And work I do. It’s when I upload and plan blog posts, decide on topics for magazine articles and wrap up the edits on magazine layouts.
The bulk of my design work happens when I drink a lot of caffeine at 4pm and have my supportive partner lay down with Rosetta. I will have 2-3 super late nights, ruining my daily rituals. I am always regretting this, but unsure of where else to schedule my time – how else to get a four-hour chunk of work done when my timeline doesn’t overlap a weekend?
Weekends save me, particularly ones that occur during football season. These ones allow my partner to bring the kiddos along while he watches his precious team. They play with their friends and cousins, he watches, and I work at home. As much as I hate football, this pattern is a seasonal gift.
All this to say: I don’t believe in work-life balance. Focus-on-what-needs-done-most mode seems to work, especially when I shift into sleep-recoup mode directly afterwards. Juggling my work and our actual lives is still a struggle. But I live as a team player and I keep practicing. That way, when I complete a work cycle with groceries in the fridge and clean clothes, we all win.