Giving Up What's Left of You to be a WAHM

I’m fully convinced that the most hilarious, deep-seated irony of the universe revolves around freedom of choice. Think of those teenage years when you struggled, fought, threatened, snuck out and wore horrible clothing to express yourself and gain true independence from the overbearing monsters we call parents. For most of us, now that we have free will, we live with gusto. We stay out all night partying. We take weekend jaunts to the mountains. We write horrible (or great!) poetry and fall deeply in love.

Life is yours to mold – it’s your own and even if the occasional bump in the financial or work road comes along there are cars to drive fast, weekends to drink and dance through and lovers to snuggle with endlessly in front of cheesy films and fires. Naturally, we then use that independence to make a life-altering decision. We decide to become parents to “complete” things. For nine (and a half) months, we dream of all of the wonderful things we’ll do as parents. We set up the nursery the way we want it to look and post 110 pictures of baby clothes we’ve prewashed and wall paper border we’ve selected.

And then baby comes and the free will you’ve enjoyed so long is almost completely wiped out.

For me, this was the most shocking thing about becoming a parent. My life was no longer about me at all – it was about a screaming child who didn’t care that I was tired. He didn’t care that my weight loss plan involved hour-long brisk walks that he hated, and he most certainly didn’t care that I just needed to sit down for a bit and watch my show. For the first few years of parenthood you scratch and claw your way back to the surface trying to reclaim a little piece of that freedom you once enjoyed, but you’re just kidding yourself – how can you really be wild and free when you’re having that rare night out and still have a pair of Transformers underpants and a pull-up in your purse?

But there reaches a point where you’re comfortable with the arrangement you’ve managed to eek out as a parent. You devote yourself to others all day long and claim a few hours at night for yourself. You might have to sip that wine watching grown-up shows while matching up socks, but the time is still your own. Unless you start freelancing.

For work-at-home parents, taking on freelance writing is never a true hobby. It’s essentially a sacrifice of the last bit of “you” that remains.

To be successful as a freelancing writer, designer, or Tupperware salesperson, you have to be willing to either treat this new job as a job including paying babysitters or daycare fees, or you make the ultimate sacrifice and agree to serve others literally all but your sleeping hours.

Sounds terrifying, and if you let the reality of it catch up with you, it can be.

Realizing you have no real freedom left at all is certainly an eye-opener for those who think a writer can just throw in a few articles between naptime and goldfish and juice boxes and earn enough to make it worthwhile and still kick back with hubby in front of the fire in the evenings.

For most mothers and fathers who stay home with young children, you spend most of your time either actively following your children, caring for your children or listening for your children while rushing to finish household chores. If your idea of freelance writing is carrying the laptop into the den with the kids, I sincerely hope you’re making a grocery list or skimming through forum posts because anything written between breaking up fights, fetching snacks and retrieving the remote from warring toddlers isn’t worthy of much else.

So what’s my point?

I can tell you after working with young children underfoot for five years that to be a successful freelance writer you have to enjoy what you choose to do. It is absolutely a choice. You’re giving up the last few hours of yourself to dedicate to one more thing in your day – if you don’t like it, you won’t do it or you’ll hate it and yourself for sacrificing so much for it.

So stop and really think about what you’re doing before you start committing yourself to clients or mills to write most or all evenings. If you’re not sure how you’ll handle giving up those shows and glasses of wine, start with one night a week to see if it’s worth it. Remember – this isn’t writing the next novel you’ve dreamed of for years. Writing for clients means taking orders to a degree, following through and hitting deadlines. It’s like having another infant with constant needs.

You’ll hear a lot of discussion about your hourly rate and wage, but remember that your rate isn’t just a number for working mothers. You’re already doing more than a full-time job raising children properly. Is any number worth the only two free hours in your day? Many mothers realize after a few weeks or months of freelancing that it isn’t. And that’s okay. Take some time off to regroup or scale way back. This is not an easy way to pick up a few bucks.

My advice? Don’t get bogged down in a writing career or even hobby before you consider what you really want from it. If you decide to move forward, absolutely be sure that you’re doing something rewarding on an intrinsic level. If you’re selling your last remnants of self for the money you’re scraping in, it’s almost certain you’ll burn out no matter what your rate.

There is money in freelancing as a stay-at-home mom, but what is that money truly worth to you? For me, I like to run a business and assert myself and grow in a skill set I just can’t use anywhere else. But that’s me – what’s in it for you?

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

15 thoughts on “Giving Up What's Left of You to be a WAHM”

  1. Hmm… I agree with this post for the most part, but I do know many mommies that write while balancing a drooling baby on their lap. Not only do they bring home the bacon, they fry it up and serve it to their hungry kids. I’m one of these moms. 🙂
    I know that this is the exception and not the rule, but I don’t want aspiring moms out there to read your article and think that it is impossible to make a good living in-between diaper changes and still have a little me time. In fact, sometimes I think I have a little too much me time now that the kids are in school.

  2. Rebecca, Your articles are a perfect fit at AFW. You’ve got all the no-nonsense attitude we all expect from Jenn!

    As the AFW team knows, I’m pregnant right now. One of the things I’ve realized (as I’ve had morning sickness for every day for hours on end and seem to be incapable of staying awake at almost all hours) is that I need to chop my time commitment in half. I decided that I’m aiming for $14,000 per year now (a significant drop from previous goals) and I’m working even less than half the hours-only two billable per day and no weekend work.

    Reading this post, I see that even that may feel like a lot, and I’m okay with that. Writing has always been my dream, and I’ve earned my full-time living from writing one way or another the past four, almost five years. I largely raised my siblings, one of them special needs, and I feel certain that I’ll be able to properly handle the prioritization. I have the typical type A personality, always did well in school and participated in extra-curricular activities, worked / ran other businesses, volunteered, and a pretty full life of planning my future: the future I’m actually living now. Now with a husband that works many, many hours a week and will deploy (I’m an Army wife) I’m willing to take my “spare” moments and give them to writing.

    Thanks for really, really telling it like it is, Rebecca. Your realistic posts give me faith that it may not be easy but I can do it.

  3. Congrats Jessie!! I must have missed the announcement! 🙂 If you’re still in the first trimester, the morning sickness and tiredness may get better soon. But you’ll definitely have to take it one day at a time and you definitely can do it.

  4. Thanks, LaToya! I mentioned it in some of Rebecca’s other posts, and on Twitter, but that was a bit ago. I believe I’m in the first trimester or the end of of it, still. I haven’t had a chance to go to the doctor yet. I’ve been having some issues getting into DEERS, the military dependents program, under my husband (and not my father as I was) and until I’m in DEERS I will not have Tricare, the health insurance the military provides.

    I didn’t know you were a parent, either, LaToya. This is me on my first’un. Thanks for the congratulations!

  5. I’m getting my lady parts edited on Friday. Finally, after 10 years of trying to get ye olde tubes tied, they now have to tie them for medical reasons. Yay! For me, that means another 20 or more (hopefully more) years of cuddling my hubby night and day without interruption. I could never EVER make the WAHM thing work, I am so freakin’ selfish. I don’t know how you ladies do it!

    • I will never forget a doctor pretty much patting me on the head when I asked for my tubes to be tided in my 20’s – I was beyond fury! Never wanted children never had them, never quite understnad why women particularly think that having children is anything less than a complete and uttler loss of freedom that previous generations fought for and the pill finally delivered to my generation (60s born). I kow there is supposed to be benefits – but he cost is clear no freedom for at least 15 years as far as I can tell !

      As for running a business around the little darlings – you’d have to have an office or offsite child care IMHO

      • @ Jenn, oh, the stories I could tell 🙂

        @ Lis, that’s been my experience exactly. I even had one doctor try to frighten me into having children against my will. It’s very frustrating–I get that people love children and like building families and I think that’s awesome for them, but it would be nice if people tried to understand that there are some of us who don’t want that and, like you said, see it as a loss of freedom. The most important part of feminism, to me, is the power to live your life as YOU CHOOSE–however that may be–and not how a man or society tells you to live it.

        @Rebecca, it would be a much better world if others out there, who obviously did not want to be parents, would have just admitted that to themselves rather than trying to be like everyone else. Luckily there are people like you who actually seem to make good parents 🙂

        • Having children is absolutely a choice and I agree that “real” feminism is being able to choose what you want to do with your body and your life. I always wanted 4 boys and have 2 now and will probably keep it that way, but then I also spend 7 or 8 hours of my day teaching the children whose parents didn’t want them. I teach the kids who were born as drug babies, who have parents who bite and hit them, children whose wealthy parents give them everything they want and ignore the actual child. I guess I’m just glutton for punishment.

          I think parenting (and teaching) is a calling to some degree. Anyone can become a parent, but it takes a whole hellovalot to parent effectively and well. I am absolutely a firm believer in not having children if you don’t want them. And love the idea of adoption if an accident occurs along the way.

          I had the opposite experience, btw. My first was born when I was 25 and nobody mentioned sterilization. When my second was born, suddenly every medical person I came in contact with was “making sure I didn’t want to tie my tubes.” I’m not sure if it was my age or the fact that I’d had the two, but I swear I had to say no about fifteen times the day of the surgery. (C-section.) I was a bit surprised they didn’t be me to have more, actually. I apparently create giant, healthy, beautiful intelligent children – surely the world can use more of those? LOL

  6. @Yo – Congratulations on getting your way! It’s always refreshing to get what you want. Parenting certainly isn’t for everyone and the world needs all types for sure. 🙂

    @Alina – I agree that it’s possible to work with that baby awake and active, but I’ve found that the younger the child the harder it is to do much little ones around to keep them from imminent danger, I’m at least very mentally involved listening for when a two and four-year-old need me – which is about every five to fifteen minutes. Enough to get some basic things done, but nothing I’d send off to clients.

    But then, as well all know, there are many parts of this job that aren’t billable, so absolutely you can balance parts of freelance writing with active parenting, I just don’t find that my best work comes while I’m trying to cram in a few paragraphs before baby demands to come out of the high chair. I work best in the few hours of peaceful solitude in the evenings. Others might find this during naptime or in the early morning hours. Still others work in the evenings before baby’s bedtime when hubby is home.

    There are lots of ways to balance it, but it’s always a balancing act and there is always a sacrifice involved. This is the definition of parenting as you know. 🙂

    I absolutely agree working mothers can bring home the bacon. I linked to a previous post in this one mentioning how much I actually make working just a few hours in the evening. Suffice to say, I’ve brought home bacon, fried it up, served it and put the left overs in the fridge for years now. I did it working nights. If you managed to get it done during the daylight hours, I commend you. I can see that working better for me as the boys get older and more independent about the house, but never would that have worked with an infant and a toddler underfoot without overlapping naps or another pair of hands around the house.

    @Latoya – Glad I hit a note with you on this. It’s hard sometimes to explain what it feels like to do what we do, especially to those like my students today who explained why they really *needed* two to three hours to do their hair properly every morning. Teenagers – gotta love ’em!

    @Jessie – I do tell it like it is for me, but remember that we’re all different and my goal is never to scare you off freelance writing. There are plenty of mothers and pending mothers who work full-time at home or away from home without missing a beat. It’s not always easy, but it’s very possible.

    If you’re slowing down to give yourself a break and allow more time for rest and nurturing, absolutely go for it and take a nap for me while you’re at it. If you’re slowing down because you think you have to or that it’s not possible to do it all, reconsider. Leisure time is a relatively new invention after all, and you can do far more than you might realize without even breaking a sweat. 🙂 You will feel great, btw, in another week or two. They call the second trimester the honeymoon of pregnancy. I hope you’re able to get into the doctor soon, btw. :/

  7. Can I get an AMEN! I’ve learned these lessons the hard way, with a disgruntled hubby who had to watch the show by himself, a toddler screaming “Mommy, put your ‘puter down!” and a lot of hair yanked from my head (um, that was my fault, not my daughter’s).

    It is a choice. And keeping that in the forefront of my thoughts and actions has helped tremendously. Oh yeah, that and all of the fresh, raw and genuine AFW posts 😉 I’m bidding better, prioritizing more and just feeling a little less pulled at. I’m also drinking way too much coffee and probably not enough of that wine you mentioned…

  8. LOL at YO- “edited”

    Whenever I read these posts, I feel that it’s my responsibility, from this side of mothering, to say “hang in there! your honeymoon is coming.” I had my children QUITE young but now I’ve got 6 free hours per day while they are in school and my writing is ……..cathartic. And my bacon is fried and then some. Not only that, but they are just so darned EASY. I’m enjoying these easy years until teenagehood.

    My children are 10 and 6.

    • Keep reminding us Allena! Now that I’m almost to 3 and 5, I can feel the lightening of my load. I remember being shocked the first time they went upstairs to play for twenty minutes and nobody got hurt, nobody tried to eat small toys and nobody almost fell down the stairs. They played quietly and entertained themselves. I’m up to about ten or fifteen minutes of this at a time now, but couldn’t have dreamed of it just a year or two ago. I can totally imagine how easy it will seem in the coming years.

      For the record, I don’t ever mean to scare anyone off. I just think some women are sold a bill of goods on the WAHM thing. Many are first-time mommies who don’t even know how much that single baby will affect them much less two little ones. Absolutely you can be a WAHM, but the rosy dreams even people as cynical as I had get dashed pretty quickly when that harsh light of reality shines. It’s amazing the first time you realize how the power of everything from your sleeping and eating habits to the amount of time you have to brush your teeth relies on somone who weighs less than ten pounds and spits up a lot.

      Does it improve? Absolutely – it already has for me and you’re an inspiration of things to come. 🙂

  9. I’m so enjoying this conversation, Lol. Congrats, Jessie on your pregnancy, and congrats to you too, Yo. 🙂

    I agree with Allena about the “easy years.” I have a 9 year old and 7 year old twins. However, I also have a 3 year old and boy are they demanding of your time at this age!

    Rebecca, I love reading your posts because you serve them up straight, no chaser. I feel like you’re talking to me many times. I find that I ‘ve made a lot of sacrifices to be a WAHM, but when all is said and done it’s the right choice for me and my family. Like you I was completely blindsided by the realities of motherhood when I had my first.

    I’ll never forget one afternoon when I had bravely decided to leave my home by myself with two teething 6 month olds and one cranky 2 year old in tow. I was exhausted and irritable. I was about ready to give up and head back home when out of nowhere this strange woman came up to me, smiled and said, “Don’t worry. It gets easier.” She was right.


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