The parental income gap – how to cope

Like all things, there are pros and cons to being self-employed as a parent. When I started my business just over two years ago, we talked about how it would fit in well with family life – being able to arrange my own hours and work from home would hopefully give us the opportunity to avoid using a nursery, and let us have more quality time together. Those are the pros. Of course, the huge, lingering con is that we’d be extremely skint. And we are, for the most part, but we make it work.

In the last couple of months, my maternity allowance (the pay available to the self-employed) ended, we’ve reassessed our finances and looked at our childcare options for my return to work. The biggest thing to consider when all working mums do these things is whether or not going back to work is financially worth it. The nurseries around us charge around £45 a day – that’s well over £800 a month for a full time place – so even before you start, you’ve got to earn a decent wage to make it both work, and worth it. Not only is it a huge financial burden, but it means most mums only see their kids to put them to bed during the week. If you’re not making much money, it barely seems worth it.

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Me and the babe ❤

The thing is, the work I do involves a lot of hours before I actually make any money. I’ve got to go out there looking for assignments, meet clients, convince them to have me work with them, do all the admin involved in running a business, and prepare bids to win the work. If I were to pay for childcare, I’d be so far into the red before I even began that I’d have to charge a bazillion pounds for my billable hours. And this is in an industry where everyone wants to pay freelancers in ‘exposure’. *Shudders.* So apart from the fact that nurseries themselves make me feel more inclined to stick pins in my eyes than leave my child at one, it barely seems realistic to consider it.

Maternity allowance lasts for nine months, although you can claim the first payment relatively early in your pregnancy, so the pressure to earn money again could come while your baby is still quite young. The next time you’ll receive government subsidies for childcare is when your little one turns three. At the moment, they are offered up to 30 free hours at a nursery at this age, which is amazing, but it does leave me wondering, would the government prefer us to be stay at home mums until then? All the messages they send suggest not. Encouraging mums to return to work has been a big theme in the last few years, but with such a big gap between maternity pay and help with childcare, you’ve got to question what you’re supposed to do.

At the moment, our plan is for me to work part time, probably averaging 2-3 days a week, although the nature of my work means this could actually be full time some weeks and not much on others, and see how this works for us.

Maddie checking out the view from my parents' loft
Maddie checking out the view from my parents’ loft

Just like any other topic when it comes to parenting, there are a million varied opinions thrown your way. One that stood out to me was ‘why should I pay someone else to look after MY kids?’, which admittedly, did make me question the whole thing. But as amazing as it would be to be with Maddie full time until she’s three or longer, I worked hard to build up a sustainable business, and even longer to finally feel like I’m doing the thing I want to with my career, so to step away from that completely just wouldn’t be the right choice. More and more people are doing what I do now, and more creative companies are being set up all of the time, which isn’t great news for me. I’ve got to stay relevant, so dipping in and out of the industry wouldn’t work.

Overall I believe that babies are only babies once, and the time they’re young is when they’re going to appreciate you being around the most. For this reason, I’m putting Maddie before my work. I’ll try to earn as much as I can with the time I have without using paid childcare. Essentially, this means I’ll be working in the evening a lot, as soon as she’s in bed. I’ll be sacrificing my ‘me time’ and will probably have grey hair before I ever get to watch the new Gilmore Girls episodes, but the fact that I can spend the days with my baby is entirely worth it. Even if her current favourite thing to do is to slap me in the face.

So how will I rack up any me time? Will I ever feel like an adult with spare time again? Look out for my next post to find out my plan for a taste of freedom.

Lx

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