A few days ago, a college freshman emailed me to ask how I manage to work and have kids, and what a regular work day looks like for me, and if I have advice for her now. She also wants to be a writer and mother. Here's my email back to her, edited a little to add clarity and delete a few things that are unique to her situation.
Dear [young lady],
A regular day looks like crazy. :) Like right now I am standing in a New York train with my sleeping 2-month-old hanging off me in a pack. I'm here for work. I have three kids under four, and it would be utterly impossible to work if my husband did not stay at home with us (you can always ship your kids off to daycare, but I thought that would be selfish of me and knew it is also bad for their development). The littlest guy is two months old, and I mostly work around his nap schedule (luckily, the little ones sleep a lot) while my husband wrangles the other two. If I have to take or make a phone call and must not have random whining in the background, my lucky husband wrangles all the kids.
Luckily, writing and editing is very flexible and can be done reasonably at home, which is where I and many writer/editor friends work. Once your baby is about 6 months old, however, you basically either need to go part-time or get childcare, or plan to work evenings and probably weekends also to fill in those breaks during the day when he is now awake and needs attention. And that is only really possible if you are lucky enough to get a baby who sleeps well (hah!).
I'm trying to not sugarcoat it or be overly negative. This is hard, and I actually would prefer to be part time until the kids are at least school age. It is tiring enough to have small children, or be pregnant and give birth, then be postpartum for months. Add working full-time on top of that, and you will almost surely be one stressed momma, and possibly, as an even more experienced working mother I respect just told me, "Doing things to survive that you are not proud of." She mentioned shutting her screaming kids into their room while she did a radio interview. I have unreasonably yelled at my kids more than I ever wanted or expected to. It's not an excuse to say I am stressed, but it does help explain, and this is something to think about.
We do this now because I make a lot more money than my husband would if he were the primary breadwinner at this moment, and we want to pay our mortgage and for his grad school. We felt it was important to ensure our kids were at least with family, so think daddy at home with mom working one door away was the best situation we could muster for a while, because the kids started coming several years before we thought we were financially ready. But those little kids really need their mother, and even an independent, career-minded woman like I was will soon find her heart yearning to be with them.
I do really enjoy my work: It's exciting, challenging, stimulating, flexible; but the flexibility can be a double-edged sword. You want to know what you are getting into before you do something like this. But, given that, would I do it all again? Yes. This is how we put food on the table and pay our mortgage. Do I want to stay like this permanently? No.
I recommend that now, pre-babies, you get the best internships you can and start building up your freelancing clients. Freelance, first for free to get experience, but once you can write relatively clean copy, start only working for pay. Hint: magazines pay more, and they like strong storytelling and feature writing, so practice that a lot. Start with the smaller, regional magazines and trade or business magazines. They are desperate for dependable, good writers. Also, consider consulting for PR work, like press releases, website copy, brochures, etc. Businesses pay way better than papers.
I plan to keep freelancing once I'm not working full-time, because at this point I could make a good extra income during the kids' naps and that way keep up my resume. Plus, as I mentioned, I really like this line of work, and I understand it does help to have something that gets you away from the kid-world. Win-win-win. That's the place to be, IMHO.
Image by Sean Dreilinger.