The steps I took to become a work-from-home parent

February 27 |
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At Geek Girl Con when the Empire spoke on a panel — October 2011.
I've been working from home since I was pregnant over four years ago. It hasn't been easy, but as soon as I found out we were having a kid, I knew I wanted to do everything in my power to be with my child during his early years as much as I could. I always consider myself super lucky that I got pregnant my last semester of college, because I basically had no concrete plans for anything after school and all of the sudden, with the conception of our son, I did.

Every so often someone will ask me exactly how I became a work-from-home parent, and the truth is what you expect: there wasn't one crystal clear moment in which everything lined up and OMG WOW! all of a sudden I was a parent who worked from home. I had to take serious steps to get there, and I take even more serious steps every day to stay here. SO HERE WE GO: I'm gonna break down my particular path for you. Keep in mind that while this worked for me, the exact same story wouldn't work for you — for starters, I own a business and also am the Managing Editor of Offbeat Families, and I don't plan on stopping either of those.

I have three main sources of income: my photography business, Offbeat Families, and freelance writing I do sporadically. Here's how they've all conspired so I could fulfill my big be-at-home parenting dream:

Photography

Seattle XMAS Photobooth 0063
Hanging out with my husband and Kelli from Offbeat Bride BFF Shindig Events at a party for Seattle wedding folks.

I was an aspiring photographer for years — I just never had a decent camera. I've taken photos as long as I can remember, but it never dawned on me that being a photographer is a real life job real life people can have (as opposed to like, Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County). Then a friend sold me her camera in 2008 and another friend asked me to shoot her wedding a few months later. WHAT THE WHAT.

Despite what you might think if you're not a photographer, becoming a professional who gets paid real money to shoot weddings isn't as easy as buying a swanky camera online and putting it up to your eye — it takes work. I logged countless hours alone outside, learning to shoot manually and taking in the world through my new fancy lens. Then I logged even more hours inside, learning how to manipulate my photos ever-so-slightly to make them my own. And then I logged even more hours going to events and networking and meeting people — all kinds of people — so I could learn, learn, learn.

I shot my first wedding with a Canon Rebel and a 50mm 1.8 lens, so when I said "fancy" earlier I was very much exaggerating. These are good pieces of gear, but not professional by any means. I didn't have the financial backing to upgrade to a super fancy camera (at the time, the Canon Mark II), so I took another route: eBay. I bought both of the Canon 5Ds that I used on the site, and once they arrived I scooped them up, blessed them, and took them to a local camera shop to get them checked out.

I worked with a business partner for the first few years, which was nice — it was good to have someone else who managed shit that makes my head dizzy. I've been working solo since last July, and I love it even more: even though the business thing boggles my miiiiiind, I'm getting better at keeping my ducks in a row. My photography has improved immensely (at least, I think so) now that I have only my eyes to work through.

Being a photographer is my main gig and my biggest contribution to my family, but it's also been a huge source of stress at times — particularly when my son was younger. I was very serious about not working when my son was awake, so I crammed all of my editing in to the few hours he would nap, and usually found myself working until 1 or 2 am every night to catch up — and that's with me having a husband who has generally had a super flexible schedule. This fucking sucked, and it's under control now — it took me having serious discussions with myself about work/life balance, and finally being bold enough to tell myself to stop working after 6pm, full stop.

Offbeat Families

Photo of Ariel and I taken around six months after I was hired: our babies were actually still babies!

A friend of mine found out about the Offbeat Families gig (then Offbeat Mama) via an announcement Ariel made on Offbeat Bride. She was all YOU SHOULD TOTALLY APPLY and I was all OK SURE I WILL. I remember filling out the app online and being super nervous, because at the time Ariel was like an internet celebrity to me, and I also had an internet crush on her husband, and I was totally like OMG SHE WILL READ EVERYTHING I SAY OMG before I clicked "submit."

AND THEN SHE ACTUALLY CALLED ME, and we proceeded to have a kind of awkward conversation (we're internet people, not phone people) about the website and my role, and I came on board in April 2010. The job was, and remains, a part-time job for me. I think a lot of people are under the impression that working online always = big $$$, but I made $300 a month off this website for about a year before it was bumped up. Even now, when you combine what Ariel pays me (more than $300) and what I make off all of those affiliate posts, I make what I would make at most part-time jobs in my area.

Of course, one of the big pros that the Empire has over another part-time job is that I have this massive abundance of freedom: as long as the work is done, I can do it whenever I want. If my son is sick or we decide to skip town and go somewhere spontaneously, I send an oftentimes too detailed email to Ariel about it and I'm good. I can take my laptop anywhere, and I can moderate comments from my phone… so there's this delicious sense of "your time is your own" that comes with this job that I couldn't get in most places. I don't have to be in an office, Ariel doesn't give a fuck what I wear, and I get to spend a great amount of time with my husband and son that I wouldn't otherwise.

Having said that, working from home, and especially working online from home can take a massive negative toll on your relationship — my husband and I are more solid now than we have been in two years, but we've been through counseling and have almost separated three times (one of which included him actually moving out… for a day). The separation of personal time from work time has been talked about on Offbeat Home, and that shit is REAL and important. Nowadays I de-sync my phone at 7pm every night, sync it back up at 7am every morning, and leave it completely de-synced on the weekends so I can enjoy the time I have. It literally took me years to realize my part-time online job is actually that: part-time.

Freelancing

Most of the freelancing I do is for xoJane, and even that is sporadic at best. I recently snagged a second freelance writing gig but after it took me THREE MONTHS to even email them back, I realized that I don't have the time to write for a third publication. Freelancing doesn't pay much — xoJane pays me $50 per piece — but it's awesome extra money to have.

I do really like this particular gig — I like being able to pick and choose when I write, being able to write in my own voice, and most of the xoJaner commenters are fascinating. The only problem I have with freelancing for a website is that I feel pressure to reveal more about my life than I want to — if you look at what I've written, I feel like it's pretty obvious I have a little song and dance called "I need to write shit but the only inspiration I have is my life and I don't wanna talk about it too much with a larger audience." So, if you're looking to pull in a small income and you're chatty and a decent writer… freelancing might be your bag.

SO THAT'S THE WHOLE BIG STORY: that's all I've got. I'd love to hear tales from other work from home types, and also from folks who are interested in figuring out how to make something like this work for them. Discuss!

If you want more advice on this topic, be sure to check Offbeat Home & Life's work from home post archive!

  1. I'm so glad you wrote this because it's something I've been wondering about lately. I'm not a parent yet, but part of the reason I work from home is that I plan to become one in the next few years and I'd like to have my schedule and routine down before I bring tiny needy people into the equation. I actually went to grad school for teaching but after I had my license in hand the economy was tanked and there were no art teaching jobs available for someone with no "experience". While I looked for jobs I started painting in my basement, and by the time it had become clear there were no jobs my painting was starting to take off. I guess I'm in the process of preparing to be a work at home parent. I'm trying to set up my schedule so that during the school year I'm painting, applying to shows, showing my work, and selling online. Then during the summer, when my husband is on summer break (teacher), I will do art fairs and teach summer classes and he can help watch the baby at my booth and while I'm teaching. I'm still not sure how this all will work out. I'm not sure if I'll be able to have the baby in the studio while I'm painting because my medium does give off mild vapors, and I'm not sure how much I'll even be able to work. Right now I'm trying to get my little art career rolling as smoothly as possible and I'm hoping the momentum I'm generating now will allow me to coast for a while when I cut back to part time. I figure if I do the research to make connections now I will be invited to more shows by gallery owners instead of having to seek them out later. I'd love to hear how other work-at-home creative types keep it balanced!

  2. Thank you for sharing about your seperations. I work both from home (own an online store and run a blog for business moms) and out of the home 30-35 hours per week. I also have a 15 month old daughter and partner. I am ALWAYS working. I am not at the point (yet) of being able to step away from the computer for any real length of time. It is nice to hear an honest protrayl of this choice.

    I find working at home to be a juggling act but instead of only juggling balls you have some a**hole from the audience throwing knives, flaming sticks and whatever else just seeing how many you can juggle before everything falls. At any given point something is being neglected – housework, husband ….. I deeply feel working from home is the best for me and I truly enjoy it (when I am not stressed so much I swear my eyes bleed). But, it's not for everyone.

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    • This: "At any given point something is being neglected – housework, husband ….. I deeply feel working from home is the best for me and I truly enjoy it (when I am not stressed so much I swear my eyes bleed). But, it's not for everyone."

      ABSOLUTELY resonates. I completely feel you on that. I was going more than little nuts feeling pulled in so many directions that I just had to stop and set super clear, super firm boundaries for myself. I had to realize I don't have control over some things — an inflammatory comment might roll in at 10:30pm, but IT'S OK if I don't seen it until 7am the next morning, for example, even if that means I have to wade through 15 comments that followed.

      I LOVE working from home, and it is absolutely best for me, but it's also hard. I think a lot of people assume you have it made if you work from home, and I always like to remind them that they have the option to LEAVE WORK at work, whereas I feel like work is always floating around my head, or tensing up my shoulders, or beckoning me.

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      • Most people don't realize that running your own business can sometimes be an overwhelming amount of work and that it is almost never less work than a full-time gig for someone else's company. Staying afloat money-wise is often a matter of taking on many projects at once. I'm glad you're able to find a balance with work and family (even if it took ages to do!). BEHIND THE SCENES STEPH FTW!

    • Yeah, it's odd because so many of us who work from home do so because we want to be closer to our families… but I see the way that my son (and husband!) really struggle sometimes with having me home, but unavailable to them. It's really sad when my son comes and throws his body against my bedroom/home office door sobbing "MAMA COME PLAAAAY" when I'm working. 🙁

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      • Yeah, I had to basically stop working from home when Jasper is there and awake. I do every so often if he's happy playing solo, but otherwise I work during schooltime or I leave and work from somewhere. I really don't get much done otherwise, between him asking me to play and me explaining why I can't. It's easier on all of us if I just exit to a cafe for a while, minus that it means I have to be presentable and go somewhere.

        Having said that, we have different situations/demands, soooo.

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      • Yeah, and I should clarify: I don't work when I'm home alone with Tavi. But he still gets pissed sometimes when he's playing with his dad, and I'm there on the other side of the wall… NOT PLAYING.

  3. This was a good read for me since my dude and I are actually starting to think we'll have a timeline for trying to have a baby. For us, that means him working from home. He's an artist as well as doing some unrelated techy sidelines, so it makes the most sense for him to stay home and be the parent on the scene. We're starting to talk about how to make this all work. It helps that right now he's a student so the transition, for him, would be less jarring because school time will become baby time (and he loves digital art so he can do set-ups that allow him to work at home without toxic issues or mess concerns).

    But the logistics will be interesting. Especially since we'll both be doing some online work (since I love my parttime gig with the Empire!) and he will be selling his art online. So setting up those boundaries for when we have family time will become more and more important. We already have some issues disconnecting since one or the other of us usually has their phone in hand or is looking at a laptop screen. But it's nice to find out how other people do it!

  4. I work part time from home (freelancing artwork) and part time out of home (as a computer instructor) and I have to say working full time at home would be challenging. We get breaks from school and then I'm at home for 2 weeks and I start to go a little crazy. My boyfriend is wonderful and all, but I like seeing other people and seeing the sun sometimes. If I did work full time from home, I think that I would have to join a club or something just to SEE PEOPLE. If I didn't monitor myself, I would probably spend days in front of the computer and morph into a vampire.

    Working from home isn't as easy as it appears. There are drawbacks along with the perks.

  5. I'm currently a part-time student, and doing freelance graphic design from home. Still doing school part-time definitely has the advantage of making me get up, leave the house, and interact with other people. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle that once I graduate, especially if I can't (or until I can) pay for a rented workspace out of the money I make as a designer, and still have some left over to live on. There's a part of me that loves the idea of being able to work from home once my husband and I have kids; there's a part that's not sure that'll work for my sanity. I guess we'll see how the next few years go, as I transition from being a student into not being a student — whether I work from home full-time, work from home part-time, find a 9–5 job I love, or what. And I expect I'll need to renegotiate a lot of things when kiddos come along. But thanks for sharing how you've made it work — along with the challenges you've faced in doing so!

  6. Thank you so much for this. I think it's so important for people who are considering working from home to know the reality, and for those who don't work at home to know what it's actually like.It's especially important as a lot of people seem to think of 'working from home' as some kind of easy option, particularly for women with children, which couldn't be further from the truth! Also, as the close relative of a photographer, I always appreciate people showing the reality of getting started as a freelance photog – professional photogs seriously get my respect!

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