THREE LITTLE CHILDREN AND TEN YEARS OF FREELANCING
We were recently blessed with our third child, and quite often when I am working taking photos, people ask me how I manage to be a mother of three while still working. With a knowing smile on my face, I look off into the distance, shrug my shoulders, and say,
ʺWell... ʺ, and then I just leave my thought unfinished, plainly because it's not a question that has an easy answer, let alone something that could be explained in a minute of small talk.
To give you an idea of what a dream team we are as a family, let me describe us a little. Our oldest child is just taking his first tentative steps in school, the middle one is a carefree preschooler, and last but not least, our youngest is still a baby. It's been ten years since I have been freelancing, almost eight of them as a working mom. Plenty of study material regarding business, motherhood and family organization.
I am also writing this as a reminder to myself of what I cannot forget, what works for me, and what I should not neglect. When I falter, my autoimmune disease begins to kick in. It is a vigilant observer of my life and a very critical lady called Rheumatoid Arthritis. We all have our weak spots, and this is mine. I went through it and dealt with it for a long time. Never again.
HOW TO BALANCE IT ALL?
IT'S ALCHEMY AND EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN WAY
It depends on the environment you have, whether it is supportive or not, the amount of child care you have access to, your children´s ages and their personalities. And also on how you feel about all of this. Both about working and about motherhood. Do you want to work? Or do you not want to? And to what extent? The answer is simply unique to you. There is no other equally good answer. We all feel it differently and there is nothing wrong with that.
IF I HAD KNOWN BACK THEN
I will speak from my own experience, sharing some personal insights. Some life hacks would have been very helpful to me in the past. They would have saved me a lot of nerves, time, energy, and even money. That is why I will mention them. Perhaps they can also assist you or at least provide you some new perspectives.
THE KEY QUESTION IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP WHILE ON MATERNITY LEAVE IS:
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
I NEED TO WORK. AT LEAST ONE LITTLE BIT.
I live in Czech Republic, where the norm is to 3 years maternity leave. There is a social pressure to stay at home with your children. Getting a babysitter or using a crèche is often not as common as elsewhere in Europe. Society looks at you as an unworthy mother.
For me and my family. For my sanity and to avoid being an "pissed" mom with depleted resources. I need to work at least a little bit. I don't want to be an envious parent. At the same time, it has to be a profitable activity, not just a pastime. There's a big difference between a hobby and entrepreneurship. With a hobby, you don't mind not paying a babysitter or social security. With entrepreneurship, you know you have fixed expenses, you have to set aside money for new equipment, pay for web hosting, access to Adobe, training, taxes, conferences, consultations, accountants, and so on.
I have been a freelance photographer for ten years, eight of which have been on a part-time basis. I currently work around twenty hours a week, with rare occasions when I embark on bigger photography assignments. The rest of the time, I concentrate on my children and family really, really intensely.
THE BREAD STARTS TO BREAK WITH THE THIRD ONE
I managed somehow to work with two children. You have two hands. But you can't handle three small children with just two hands. I tried, and I can't manage it mentally or physically. Someone is always in the queue, waiting for attention. When I saw what was coming our way with the third child, I had to cut everything to the bone so that things could at least work a little.
SUSTAINABILITY, SIMPLICITY, LIMITS, AND RESERVES.
These topics have been on my mind for a while now, but the third child is the catalyst. For things to work in the long term, they have to be sustainable or at least be able to function temporarily - meaning until the first fever, earache, or broken bone. Things change a lot along the way, but nobody should be neglected in the long run including me, the partnership or my work. No one should be forgotten.
Simplicity. The fewer things, people, complications, and complexities you have, the less time and energy this whole circus costs you. You don't have an abundance of energy or time. So you cut back. What doesn't work has to go. There aren't enough people to do it all. Simply put, that's the current situation. It applies to things and relationships, dysfunctional projects, pro bono assignments, or anything that annoys you often and for a long time and that can be easily changed. You put it aside and, eventually, maybe even get rid of it. Pareto's 80/20 rule and the "good enough" approach work beautifully.
Limits. It's good to know them, and to be aware of them, know what they are. What they are for you, what they are for the children, how far you can let things go and still be safe. Where the limits are between work and family. Sometimes I feel like an amoeba, constantly shifting and changing shape to suit the needs of the moment. However, I have a clear boundary. I just keep overflowing where it's necessary.
Reserves. More than ever, they are my lifesavers. And I usually use them up faster than I anticipated. Without them, there's nothing left. Without reserves, the whole system is unsustainable because something always happens or, conversely, doesn't happen. Building reserves means doing anything that gives you energy. Anything.
MY 10 LIFE-SAVING HACKS: MOTHERS TO THEMSELVES
Maintaining your mental health while working as a mother requires high-quality childcare. Reliable childcare allows you to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that at a certain time you will be able to catch up on emails, organise things, and do more than just look after your children. You can have in-house childcare in the form of grandparents or your partner, or you can outsource it. I have a wonderful husband who supports me through it all. It wouldn't be possible without him. I'm also grateful for the supportive people around me. However, I'm referring specifically to childcare that has clear boundaries, a defined timeframe, and is not to the detriment of my sleep. I tried working without childcare for my first child, and the result was quite sad. Been there, done that. I don't recommend; it took me quite a long time to recover from it. Justifying it to yourself, others, and your budget is something that we all do differently.
I'm talking about a place where you feel safe to talk about the things that are bothering you around your business. For some, it's their partner; for others, it's their friends. Over the years of being self-employed, I've realised that I need access to a community of active entrepreneurial mothers on maternity leave. Think-Tanks or industry conferences are great, but often the opinions are mostly from men who have plenty of time to work compared to women with little children. Their reality is completely different from mine. You see, if my child wakes up in the middle of the night with an earache, I'm usually better able to rearrange my work than my husband.
You can find safe communities as a mastermind group in your city with women entrepreneurs. I wouldn't be able to sustain myself long-term without business advice and occasional guidance. You're in it alone when you're self-employed. Being alone for a long time doesn't lead anywhere significant.
3.PERSONAL RESOURCES AND SELF-INVESTMENT
In order to be a consistent giver, I have to take from somewhere. I have my maps of resources that bring me joy, fulfil me, help me through difficult family situations, and anchor me. One of my resources is my job. If it weren't for work, I might be content to just be a ʺmumʺ for many years. But I´m not satisfied with this role. That's why I work, and that's why I occasionally invest in completely different areas. Recently, I have taken up freediving, storytelling, and playing the ukulele... There are so many wonderful things to learn. And why do I believe that making an investment in yourself is so crucial? Because ''a parent without envy is a parent without anger." That's what Vladka Bartakova, a psychologist and mother of four, says. And she's damn right.
SMART THINGS FOR KIDS
In my time as a parent, I've come across a huge number of things, gadgets, and skills for children. Parenting marketing is incredibly strong, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. Here's a list of things or skills that have helped me on a daily basis—basically, life hacks.
4.HOW TO PARENT WITHOUT GOING CRAZY
Over the years, as a mother with a decent generational load, I've read a lot to help me cope, from books like "Respectful Parenting" by Naomi Aldort to books about psychology. They all worked to some extent, but it was not until I came across the psychologists Dr. Siggie and Nurtured First. They simply explains why children won´t listen at times or how to handle their emotional ups and downs. They have a lot of valuable knowledge.
5.PERSONALITY TYPE BASED ON MBTI
The second "aha" moment came with the Type Theory (MBTI), when I finally understood why our firstborn does the things she does, and why I can't understand her at all, and how to deal with it. How to understand both her needs and my own. Finding common ground when we have fundamentally different tendencies.
This fantastic product works from a standing baby to forever. We didn't have anything like this with our first child, and a few times she fell horribly off the IKEA chair. Yes, there are many other learning towers, but the great thing about this version is that the child can climb up and down by himself whenever he wants. That's great. We have it constantly set up. Over time, you can remove the "beak", and it becomes a wide, height-adjustable step stool.
7.MARIE KONDO ORGANIZATION
Marie Kondo's method of organising clothes into drawers saved me a lot of nerves. The kids have learned to pull out the things they need without messing up the whole pile. You know how important a shirt with horses can be for a kid at a particular moment. They also learn to put things back in the drawers easily. We practise this on daily basis, even me and my husband.
Sorting things using Marie's method is therapeutic. We keep what we use, put aside what we don´t know if we´ll need in the future, and get rid of things we no longer need. To be honest, we don't have a completely minimalist home, but I try not to clutter our space.
Gamifying tasks helps children master them. Children enjoy moving magnets around the chart. It's nice and organised.
SMART THINGS FOR THE HOME
Since four out of five family members usually eat meals at home and we frequently travel on the weekends, I had to introduce some order and organization into our household. It was manageable with two children, but with a third baby, it got harder.
9.LISTS FOR EVERYTHING AND PACKING
It may sound trivial, but it actually saves a lot of time. Grocery lists, packing lists for trips or visits to the mountains, kids' meal plans (!), toiletry lists and lists for the hardware store.
It is so liberating to put things on a list and get them out of your thoughts. I'm aware that it's an old concept, but it helps. Online or on paper. Either way, it works.
Packing in separate bundles. Each family member has their own colour-coded bundle for packing. Again, it may seem unimportant, but you need a method if you pack every weekend. Having a constantly packed cosmetic bag and first aid kit is also a big help.
10.COOKING ASSISTANT THERMOMIX, A TOTAL GAME CHANGER IN THE KITCHEN
I'm not particularly fond of cooking. My foodie friend teases me about it, but kitchen assistants bring me joy. We make an effort to prepare a lot of healthy meals at home using basic ingredients.
I contemplated purchasing this machine for a long time, but mothers with four and five children convinced me that I would definitely love it. What am I talking about? It's the Thermomix. This appliance has the ability to chop, mix, fry (!), cook (!), weighs (!), and has access to a recipe online database. I am not payed for the advert, I just share a joy about having a big helper in the kitchen. For example making an Italian risotto, which I would undoubtedly burn halfway through, is not a problem at all. Preparing cake takes a few minutes. I can make soup with all the kids around me. One is clinging to my leg, and the other is in my arms. Mothers understand :).
The only thing I would criticise is the sales method. I hate direct sales, but once you get over that, it's a fantastic machine for busy mothers/fathers.
AND WHY AM I WRITING ALL THIS?
I would have told myself all of this if I had run into myself eight years ago, and perhaps I wouldn't have been as shocked by reality. The task of juggling work and kids won't be as simple as it first appears. That going somewhere to do the job would actually be a break for me. But in order to be able to go there at all, I would have to solve a lot of things around it. And that sometimes I would feel like an air traffic controller at a medium-sized airport.
That entrepreneurship and motherhood are damn big topics, and combining them will sometimes be on the edge. Sometimes over the edge. But it's good to keep the horizon in sight. Forgive yourself, and try again, and try to do it better. Look at the team you're taking care of and see if they're also giving it their all. Or adjust the direction a little.
So when I get asked again how I manage it with three small children, this is the longer, more truthful answer. And honestly, sometimes I simply can't handle it.
Do you have any hacks too? Can you tell me?
With love, Eva
PS: And if you need something photographed, don't hesitate to reach out.