Raising a Family While Raising Yourself

Whatever form our families take, there’s never really a time when we won’t be nurturing it, working through changes or the unexpected, growing – or diminishing – in number. There’s a long-held theory that women in particular feel guilt over choosing a career, having time away from home or time spent not being of service to their family. This, this I think about a lot.

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There is not a simple way to define a modern family. Mine is a ten-year relationship that includes a nearly four-year marriage and an eight-year-old daughter. I cannot think of a single person that I know whose situation looks the same. Raising a family is not simply the story of parents and children. Partners, spouses, our siblings, parents, grandparents; these are the other characters too, they weave in and out, and have a part to play.

There are days when I remember every small thing that I thought I would achieve by that mythical age of thirty. Some were flittering, simple notions and many more were bigger ambitions. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that is who we really are, that this past us could have, would have achieved these things if we didn’t have other people relying on us.

I didn’t intend to become a freelance writer. It wasn’t quite a whim, more necessity. I wrote my MA dissertation, and graduated, whilst pregnant. Over the next two years, we moved in with my parents to save for a house deposit, got engaged, bought a house and suddenly had an eighteen-month-old. I also deferred my PhD twice, and eventually made the decision to withdraw my application. All of a sudden, I was without a plan. And I needed one. It had never occurred to me to do anything but write. So, I put myself out there and within three weeks had secured a retainer with a furniture company.

But it’s not that simple. It can be simpler if you make the decision with the recommended three months of expenses saved. I didn’t. Or at least, not unless I compromised the new boiler and a working kitchen.

So, when you decide, whether on a whim or after months of deliberation that you want to make your own money, your way, the default is a mix of excitement, confidence, and fear that you’re about to let everybody down. To choose to grow your own business, to whatever size you wish, carries a burden. These are most clearly felt in a simple list of negative words that zing around my mind faster than I can catch them. Eventually, they settle a little and in those quiet moments, I can begin to unpick them.

Kate, you’re being selfish. Kate, you’re failing. Kate, you’re not good enough. Kate, R needs you now.

And I’ve heard the same over and over from other women that have chosen the self-employed route.

And what I’ve learned is that going it alone is brave. Freelancers have courage, whether they start with a binder full of contacts or nothing but an idea. Working for yourself is a risk. When you have a family to support that risk has an impact on those around you, on those that you love. If you have a lean month, there has still been the same amount of time spent working to try to bring in fresh clients or sales, which equals an absence from family life, but with much less money to show for it at the end of the month. But when it goes well, and when you’re on top of it all, there’s more of everything to go around.

First, Live.

It’s an infinite back and forward. Life is more important; you need money to live. Working takes away family time; without work you have no money. There are always bills to pay and there is only one moment when your child takes their first step or reads their first book. I didn’t want to miss those firsts, or any of the others, and I also didn’t want to spend my life trying to make dinner from tinned chopped tomatoes and dust. Extreme? Maybe. But that’s the reality. Even in two income families, if one of you (or both!) takes the step to work for yourself, the sphere of trust that it won’t take over your life, nor take your life away, simmers.

And it’s not easy. It brings a new rhythm to your day to day life. You can’t do it alone but neither can you let your choices overtake your whole family life. Of course, this is not unique to the self-employed. Every person that works and has a family in any shape, must work out how to work and live.

And I believe the living must come first.

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Family is the Priority, but you’re one of the family.

As much as life comes first, the individuals that make up family life do so with their own inspirations, interests and personalities. For freelance workers and the self-employed, work is usually born from a passion for the area in which you choose to work. This can be dangerous; when you love your work, it can begin to feel like that is your whole purpose, your downtime and your worktime, your career and your hobby. It isn’t. All the benefits that your family reap from your self-employment also belong to you. Make time together and time for yourself.

Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind

Raising a family is not static. You will grow and change, sometimes over decades and sometimes in a matter of weeks. The single biggest thing I’ve learned in the ten years of my nuclear family, is that nothing stays the same, you won’t be the same. You can change your mind. You can take risks. You can choose a life that works for all of you.

If something isn’t working ask yourself, ‘what is the solution?’ or ‘what could I do differently?’ Take care of yourself. Family is not a hierarchy, it is a democracy. Don’t fall on your sword unnecessarily; partners, children, and parents – and your relationships with them – will always be enhanced if you are also raising yourself.

So, let go of the guilt. Fill your own cup so that you can share it with those you love. Don’t be afraid to lead by example, with the realism and enthusiasm that drives you.

In what ways do you ensure you are fulfilled in work and life, both for yourself and your family?

Kate Ford-ThomasComment