Halloween Special #3: Fear of Family

This one gets a little personal.

A freelancer doesn’t fit the usual mold for a western family. You don’t work nine to five. To many, you might not even appear to work. In some relationships, this situation can be fraught with peril.

  • Your spouse might have trouble accepting that she goes to work while you stay at home — even if she intellectually understands that you’re working.
  • Your family will have trouble not interrupting you while you’re at work.
  • Your spouse may not respond well to the perceived instability of freelance work — or to the ebb and flow of getting paid by the job.
  • Summers, your children won’t understand why you can’t play with them all day — at least until they’re teenagers and have no use for you anyway.
  • Your spouse might ask you to take on more household chores than you can handle while also doing well as a freelancer.

Put more simply, your family can be one of the biggest roadblocks to your success as a freelancer. I’m not a relationship expert — and certainly no expert on your relationship. What advice I have for you consists solely of my experience.

 

I started freelancing after I sold a reasonably successful small business. For six months, I ramped up my writing career while staying at home. My wife worked her job in the school district. Although she understood intellectually what I was doing, two things bothered her.

  • In the beginning, I wasn’t bringing in a lot of money.
  • A part of her chafed under the role reversal of me being the “stay at home” spouse.

I ended up taking a more-than-full time job selling insurance*. It kept me out of the house 10 to 12 hours a day, including weekends. My wife was responsible for her job and the house. It was so rough on both of us, to this day we refer to that time as my “stupid, poopy insurance job.”

When I quit, I had two things going for me. I’d found a client who could pay me as much as my wife was making, and my wife had decided she liked having me at home.

Since then, we’ve navigated around respecting my work hours — and found balance between my caring for the house and kids, and making my deadlines.

How about you? What have the freelancers out there done to keep your families happy with your career decision?

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*Interesting side note: two years later, I’ve made significantly more money writing about insurance than I ever did selling it.

2 thoughts on “Halloween Special #3: Fear of Family

  1. You run into a similar thing not just in freelancing, but in any job that allows you to work from home a majority of the time. My wife has been pretty good about it, but another friend of mine ran into a lot of the same issues you describe. His wife would come home from work and be resentful that he didn’t do any laundry or dishes, even thought he was “home all day”. (He’s a rather busy project manager at a small company).

    I think what helped change that perception was her getting to actually see him at work when she stayed home. Constantly on the phone, on IM to co-workers, emailing clients and managers, checking database backups, yadda yadda yadda. Getting to see that he was indeed working.

  2. Good point, Troy. It’s that perception that can cause a lot of trouble.

    On a related note, I find it interesting to watch the difference in reactions between when I say “I work from home as a freelance writer” and “I’m a stay at home dad.” Both are true, but only one gets greeted with any kind of respect.

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