Anyone who’s raised a toddler knows that toddlers get sick with astonishing frequency. Like, it’s almost sort of insane. My babe, for instance, has been sick since last Halloween. It is now May.
And if your toddler attends daycare, this presents an instant, recurring dilemma: who will skip work to stay home with the snotty little darling?
If, like me, you’re a creative freelancer and your partner is not, this burden probably defaults to you. And it’s probably sort of what you’ve chosen, even if you resent the imposition.
The pressure for a freelancer to demure, to decline, to delay and sacrifice for the good of the family is almost irresistible. Because your job’s “flexible.” Because you’re not the partner bringing in the pension and health insurance. Because you may well earn less money. Because surely you can finish whatever you’re doing tonight or this weekend. Even if the deadline’s Friday. Even if that sounds exhausting and godawful.
Because coming to the table to negotiate and barter when a hole appears in your childcare plan will feel awkward and self-serving and hard.
I’m here to tell you, though, Creative Friend: you’ve got to come to the table.
If you are used to being the flexible one, this will feel uncomfortable, like climbing a slippy marble staircase in size extra-large fuzzy bunny slippers. It might well create conflict with your partner. Come to the table anyway.
Come valuing yourself and your monetary contribution, even if it’s modest. Come to that table knowing the world is brutal and stinky and crowded, and if you step out of line even for just a minute, ain’t nobody going to hold your place. Come to that table recognizing that your clients—and your career—won’t abide ceaseless interruption. Come to the table remembering everything it took to get here. Come to the table recognizing how quickly it can all unravel if you neglect to do good work.
Come to that table ready to accept your partner’s offer to share the burden, if your partner is inclined to offer such things. This one’s hard: my husband regularly offers to take off work when our baby’s ill, and I regularly struggle mightily to accept.
Come to that table knowing in some bluntly pessimistic pocket of your brain that marriages implode with alarming frequency, if you haven’t noticed already, and though this will most certainly never happen to yours, if it did, well, what then?
All this goes double if you are a woman, as you’ve no doubt absorbed one of our culture’s foundational lessons of femininity: insisting too stridently on anything whips up conflict and upsets the general order of things, and a woman’s duty is not to stir and incite, but to placate, to sacrifice, to make room. She may work, if she chooses, but that work must always come secondary to her primary calling: making and nurturing babies.
Yes, raising a family is allllllll about sacrifice—let’s enthusiastically acknowledge this. You give and you give and you give, and there’s no medal awarded at the end; it’s just what must be done for the sake of the lives you’ve wrought, and there’s beauty in all that sacrifice.
There’s also a very practical imperative to protect the job of the partner with the higher income, the cushier benefits, the stabler setup. But not for every single childhood illness. Not for every single lost day of productivity over the course of the next 18 years.
So, on this Mother’s Day, my advice to you, Creative Freelance Person: next time the yellow snot fairies pay your home a visit and you open your mouth to grumble, “I’ll do it,” hold your breath a minute. Swallow the words. Pause. Consider. What have you committed to? Who will you disappoint if you can’t deliver on those commitments? How will your income and reputation be affected?
Consider, then negotiate as needed. Your work matters deeply. You, as a working parent, are an equal. And who the fuck wants to work till midnight and every Sunday for two decades straight anyway? Not me, and I’m guessing not you, either. That’s just nuts.
Let’s make a collective pact, here and now, creative friends, to value ourselves a little more, to stop rolling over and playing career-dead. You in?