Guest blogger Adam Lanigan wonders whether it’s possible to reconcile family life with his freelancing and desire to do stuff for himself.
I’m happy to admit that September was my best month as a freelancer. Given that I started out on my own in January 2019 and we have faced a global pandemic for much of that time, it has not had so much competition. But even so, there was a feeling of quiet satisfaction as the work rolled in. After many difficult months, it was amazing to regain that sensation of being in-demand, while the money aspect of it is obviously essential.
However, at the same time, there were also these unusual feelings of frustration and even guilt that came along. It was the most I had been out of the house for 18 months and meant greater responsibility for things like nursery drop-offs and pick-ups and bath-times – the unglamorous but very necessary aspects of looking after young children – fell on my wife Louise’s shoulders.
It sounds strange, but maybe the guilt is actually a side effect from the pandemic, where spending an abnormally large amount of time with my kids has felt like the norm and anything less seems unfair on them. During the worst moments of lockdown in 2020 and early 2021, I spent a huge amount of time with my children – far more than would have happened if life had remained normal. It is not their fault when they are three and nearly two, but they have had to stand in for extended family, friends and work colleagues in terms of company. Then when nursery closed for ten days in January because of a Covid outbreak, I was the one having to look after and entertain them in the house every day while Louise was busy working. So when I have started working again at full capacity, I feel like I have neglected Tom and Rebecca.
One of the fundamental things I realised some years ago was that my chosen pathway is a selfish one. I work as a sports writer – a ‘dream job’ for many sports enthusiasts growing up. In my twenties, it was brilliant. I was doing something I loved, while using the opportunity to travel up and down the country with work as a chance to catch up with friends, have lunch or go out and generally have fun. Now I’m married, my sense of responsibility is greater and it is easier to recognise the inconveniences.
The phrase myself and Louise often use to describe the situation at home is ‘tag-team’ parenting. As hers is a ‘regular’ job and mine tends to kick in at evenings and weekends, there is the feel of overlapping. It works because it has to but it doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty and thinking that it has an unsatisfactory nature. And because my work is a bit selfish in terms of the time spent out of the house and the onus placed on my partner, I then feel guilty about wanting to do stuff for myself. Is that wrong? I don’t know. But it feels unfair to head out with my friends or to play sport if I am passing the buck on parental responsibilities.
Even when I go on holiday, the guilt comes with me. During a week in Anglesey this summer, I was still involved in a transatlantic phone call one evening. We returned home from our holiday at 4.30pm on a Friday afternoon and within two hours, I was heading off to work. I also had work booked in for the Saturday and Sunday. I saw a quote recently that said a freelancer never has a day off and I can understand that. Even when you don’t have any work planned for a certain day, you will have a quick glance at your emails to see if any future work has come in and it can be hard not to think about work over the course of the day. The trick is making sure those thoughts do not affect the day – especially if I am supposed to be having a family day.
One of the feelings of guilt probably stems from seeing my friends and peers able to plan weekends away or days out on Saturday and Sunday as a family and maybe even a night out with their partner. Sometimes I have to work both days at the weekend and if so, I often don’t find out until a couple of days beforehand. Now, being flexible and reactive to a situation is great, but sometimes you do just crave a bit of structure and a set plan, especially if you feel that what you do is restricting your family in some way.
We always joked that when life started to get back to normal – and the last few months have been the most normal of 2020 and 2021 – I would not be around because work would have kicked back in. That has happened. I want to do my job, look after my children, see my friends, go out and enjoy life. It seems easy written down, but as I have quickly realised, balancing all those is impossible. Something has to give and whatever suffers, the guilt always kicks in.