When I chose freelance as the next step in my career as a creative in advertising the main underlying reason was the hope of flexibility. I’d just had a baby and my negotiations to return part-time with my ad agency didn’t end well. After two rounds of reviewing my case, they couldn’t understand how I would be able to do my job from home and I reluctantly accepted four days a week at the office and one working from home. The condition for this deal was that I needed to have my daughter in daycare when working from home and prove it. I went home, looked at their offer, then my baby and decided to take the challenge of a recent job offer to freelance three days a week as a Creative Director in a small, up-and-coming agency.
That was the beginning of my nine-year journey as a freelance creative and working parent. It’s been a steep learning curve. Most of the childcare listed here is perfect if you are working in the industry and you have to be present at your clients’ office doing at least 8 hour days. Unfortunately, “presenteeism” is the most common set up in creative departments, and that is what I had to plan my childcare around for years. I purposefully left out the extra hours in the office because, hey, you have kids and will have to get home to kiss them goodnight! Besides the joke, it’s always good to have an emergency back up plan for those pesky extra hours on a pitch or with the last minute deadline.
I have used the majority of the childcare listed here at different stages of my career as a freelance mum, sometimes exclusively and sometimes combining 2 or 3 options to cover my working week. The key for freelancers and childcare is to think, look and ask for flexibility.
As a first-time parent, independent day nurseries were my first choice. Mainly because the timetable of a nursery closely covered my hours spent in the creative department at work — 7.15am to 6.30pm. They vary in price but in general nurseries are expensive. But if you have a partner in full-time employment and they get childcare vouchers it will come in very handy. Nurseries take children from 4 months up to five years old. Most of them will provide the 15 free hours of childcare or the 30 free hours of childcare (if you earn less than 100k) which the government currently offers when your little one turns three. This government scheme will cut down your childcare bill quite a bit and is mostly for all working parents but is particularly a major plus for freelancers.
Some nurseries will be flexible with days. I used to have 3 days firmly booked. I didn’t work Mondays or Fridays which coincided with the less busy days in my daughter’s nursery. If I had to work an extra day or two, the nursery in many cases was able to accommodate it. They all get inspected by Ofsted the same way as schools are. Take a look at the report, visit them during the day and talk to other parents using the service. They’ll likely ask you for a month’s deposit and a month in advance and the good ones have amazingly long waiting lists. It’s not unusual to hear that people book nurseries while they are pregnant.
These types of nurseries are usually attached to a school, church or run as charities. They are often less expensive than nurseries but only take children from the age of two onwards. Their timetable will be restrictive if you have to be at the office at 9 am, as they usually start around that time and finish at 3 pm. They are considerably cheaper than an independent nursery, and they also take childcare vouchers, plus offer the 15/30 hours funded by the government. This option is an excellent choice if your timetable is flexible and can start late or leave earlier, or you work from home. The one, my children attended had a lunch club and afternoon club that elongated the day until 4 pm. That is called “wrap-around care” by the way. Some have breakfast clubs but in all, the day at these nurseries will not match a typical 9 am to 6 pm contract. In my case, I moved my first born to this setting from the independent nursery when I started my second’s maternity leave to save money. Then my second child went to it when he was three as part of his day with a childminder while his sister was at school. They’re also Ofsted revised and again, the good ones have long waiting lists so plan soon.
This is a privately run setting in someone’s home. They are qualified and Ofsted inspected businesses, so again check their rating and reports. A childminder usually starts at 7:30 am to 6 pm, and they look after varied aged children (0 to +5). They have a child to adult ratio depending on their age, so they never look after a huge group of children. Some of them look like they are a large family. In my case, my childminder was incredibly accommodating and added a day here or there when I needed it and she could fit it in because she had assistants on her busiest days. When you have two or more children, a childminder is one of the best and most affordable options to juggle work and children in two different stages like one in school and another still at preschool age. They will drop them or pick up from school and pre-school/playgroup nurseries. If you are lucky like me, you’ll find a wonderful one that will offer flexibility with days or hours depending on your working pattern.
I used to think that you needed to be wealthy to hire a nanny and in general, I still believe that is true. However, if you have two or more children or have one but you are willing to share your nanny with another family then you may find that after doing your numbers, it may not work out so expensively. Your working day will be fully covered with drop off and pickups to school taken care of. Depending on the nanny’s working hours, some will even get your children to bed, which will save you and your family a lot of stress especially if it’s been a long day. However, nanny’s are effectively your employee, so flexibility in terms of adding or reducing your hours (when you don’t have a contract for instance) is impossible. In my experience, this is only a solution if you have long contracts and a steady work pattern, even more so than the other alternatives. If you are going to share, do it with families that will understand your freelance working life. Be clear about what to do during school holidays, and above all, pick a family that shares similar values to avoid tricky situations.
Do you have a spare bedroom? Are your children over two years old? Then consider taking on an au-pair. Many young people are looking to improve their English and look for a family environment to practice these skills. The reason why I put the limits of age to two years old is that the au-pair will need to have time to attend English lessons during the day so your children may need to be enrolled in pre-school, or school. Alternatively, you may want to accommodate their tuition and free time into your schedule. It’s a cheaper but unqualified version of a nanny but remember, it is never an equivalent to a live-in-nanny. Be fair.
Got some of those nearby? Are they willing to help? Excellent! You saved yourself a ton of money and worries. Make sure you reward them handsomely for Christmas and school holidays.
Recently there’s more of these offerings in London. If you work mainly remotely, this can be a solution for you. Your little one will be looked after during your working schedule and will come as part of a renting-a-desk deal. The crèche is run by qualified childcare professionals with the bonus of having your little ones close by. Great if you opted for breastfeeding for instance.
Finally and importantly let’s not forget your other half. Between you two, you may work out a childcare pattern for the working week and find that with Pre-school/Playgroup Nurseries, school clubs and school your childcare could be covered and your bank balance protected. I don’t think this works with babies though. I found it impossible to work with a baby on my lap. With under twos, if you decide not to hire help, then one of you will not be able to work, or you could work part-time from home.
Contrary to what most people think work/life balance as a freelancer in advertising doesn’t happen automatically and it will sometimes seem a hard dream to attain especially with children as part of the equation. Truthfully a lot of things need to change to achieve the true meaning of working flexibly in creative advertising, freelance or not. But it’s not impossible. Start planning soon, find the best flexible childcare you can but above all, go with what makes you and your family happy.