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Work at home mum - can I realistically work as a freelancer?
Thread poster: Robyn Auer

Robyn Auer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:23
German to English
+ ...
May 18, 2014

Hello all,

I'm currently a SAHM (and have been for four years) considering my options regarding my work and family life. Like so many, I'd love to combine them.

I hold an MA in Technical Translation and Language Technolgy and P.G.C.E. in Modern Foreign Languages and have some four years combined experience in these fields (as an in-house translator and Grammar School Teacher of German and French).

How many hours minimum would I realistically need to work? My children are in Kindergarten from 8:30 to 11:45. This means I could realistically work from 9:00 to 11:30 Monday to Friday, with the odd hour squeezed in after bedtime.

I realise, I won't be making it big on these hours, but I would want to provide a professional and reliable service.

Is there anyone out there who is working or has worked as a freelancer under similar circumstances? I'd love to hear from you.

Robyn


 

Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:23
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Single dad May 19, 2014

Hi Robyn,
I was a single dad for 3 years with my 3 daughters.
The youngest was about 3-5 with the other two getting into their teens.

Working a a translator from home was a great thing. I'd take the kids to school in the morning after breakfast then get down to work. In the afternoon there are activities, friends, videos to hypnotize them with. I wouldn't advise video or online games as these can be very addictive, or give 'em a time they can play video games and that's it.

It was a good time and sometimes I'd think "How on earth can I manage to do everything?" but the trick is not to think about it but just do it, and it all comes together.

Working with the kids in the house can be hard, but despite what they'll tell you they don't need ALL your time, just quality time which is only for them, clear rules, and slowly they'll understand "Not now, I'm working."

You can combine things and save loads of time, for example one of the best moments of the day was the walk to school through the park in the morning after breakfast, we'd leave early - no rush - and play on the swings, climb trees, be silly, make videos of funny faces, while walking to school starting the morning in a positive way; was fun time for everyone.

Have a great time with your kids and drop me a line anytime.
Jo


 

Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:23
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
Another working Dad May 19, 2014

Hi Robyn,

I too have been combining most of the care for our two foster children (5 and 8) with freelancing for eight years now. Like Jo I have found that you can get a lot done even though the kids are home, and mine are special needs children that need more attention than most. It is surprising how good they can get at amusing themselves when Dad's 'there but not there'. However, the ability to work is never a given when the kids are at home, because their needs come first, so one of my most important rules is to always negotiate my deadlines on the basis of my 'no kids' working hours, which can indeed include a couple of hours in the evening if I have the energy left! I would say I work about a 3.5-4 day week all told and make a comfortable living off that.

Cheers,

Olly


 

Robyn Auer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:23
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Jo Macdonald May 19, 2014

Thank you so much for your inspiring reply.

I'm a bit in awe if I'm honest. Working from home as a single parent to three kids, now that is impressive.

Thank you also for commenting on how to raise the kids in the meantime. I really want to start working again, but do wonder if the kids will miss out. Then again, an industrious parent must also set good example?

I'm currently looking into renting a version of Trados and Microsoft Office for a year, getting my tax number set up, creating my website and becoming a registered member here. I'm really going to do this.

Thank you for the nudgeicon_smile.gif I needed it.

Robyn


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:23
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
constant juggling May 19, 2014

I did it, and wonder now how ever I managed!

It depends on the type of child you have: I could never work with my son around because he was always getting into stuff he shouldn't (putting spanners in the VCR, fingers in sockets...). My daughter would sit happily playing with toys provided I put music on full blast.

The trouble with clients is that they tend to think that you are simply always at their beck and call. On Friday I had planned to see a friend and just had one job that I needed to finish. I was waiting for the "final" version of a text I had already done a draft translation of, and intended to polish this draft and check for any modifications. It was not going to take any more than three hours, but the client didn't send it until I started pestering her, and so I was a couple of hours late going to see my friend.

Given that you will be competing against translators who are available more or less all the time, you'll need plenty of backup strategies (like friends you can trade babysitting hours with) for when your scheduled hours are not enough, or else resign yourself to only really making pin money until they get older.

As a PM I was always supportive of working mothers, however there was one who pushed the envelope too far. Her son was always interrupting our telephone conversations, which could be funny, like when we were translating stuff about the effects of illicit drugs on your health and he started saying "Mummy will you let me have some magic mushrooms?" but most PMs would lose patience and start wishing she really would!

I don't know if you've seen the jokes making the round of Internet, the one that says "I just can't get my children's attention, I guess I'll have to look like I'm busy on the computer" is particularly apt.

My single most useful strategy was to have a post-it marked "Texte, you got this far" with an arrow which I stuck on my printouts to remind me what I was looking at for the many many times when I had to stop working and deal with whatever.

It'll probably end up being more than "the odd hour squeezed in after bedtime" too. Forewarned is forearmed!


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:23
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I'm sure the kids won't suffer May 19, 2014

The kids who suffer are those whose parents don't consider their needs. A mother like you, who cares about her kids' needs, should surely follow her heart and let her head ensure that the kids don't suffer.

I personally admire anyone who can be a full-time parent for four years. I managed 15 months before I just had to do something: I was talking baby-talk during the day and finding I had nothing to talk to my husband about other than the baby, and I found it stifling. I know that my son ultimately benefited from me working part-time (outside the home as I wasn't a translator at the time). I actually think kids get a far more balanced view of life if they're exposed to as many caring situations as possible, and that nurseries and play groups etc. play a much more positive role in their lives than just as a "dumping ground". Those kids are certainly more ready for full-time school than ones who've been clinging to a parent's apron-strings.

Obviously you'll have to say "no" to a lot of good jobs, and you'll have to be prepared to lose regular clients through saying it too often. But if you can take time out to check your emails frequently all day then I'm sure you'll find enough work to make it worthwhile.

The main problem you may face is with your specialisation of IT: you've been out of circulation long enough for the terminology to change significantly, I'd have thought, so you may have to do a fair amount of catching up.


 

Robyn Auer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:23
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all May 19, 2014

Thank you for your positive, yet realistic comments.

Many of the concerns, or possible setbacks raised were ones I've anticipated myself, which is actually quite reassuring.

Olly, I guess you are where I'd like to be in a few years. Do you mean that you organise your translations projects based on how much time you can dedicate for sure and any extra time you can devote is a bonus?

Texte Style, the story about the magic mushrooms did make me laugh. It sounds like you had to face what I may have to. My son is an angel and can spend hours playing with his train set. My daughter is a different matter. She'll be the one with her fingers in sockets. Thank you for your candour. I do envisage myself making peanuts for a while if I'm honest. As strange as it may sound, I'm doing it for myself really. I view the first few years (if successful) as a period where I'd lay foundations and get my brain in gear again, before hopefully being able to take on more work when the children go to school.

Sheila, thanks also for your lovely comments. As much as I love my children, my former workaholic self doesn't know how I've done this these past four years either, but I don't regret a minute. My son blossomed at Kindergarten (he's growing up bilingual German and English), so I'm actually quite keen for his sister to start earlier than he did. Thanks for all the practical advice, especially regarding my specialisation. You've also reminded me that I've been building possible specialisations these past few years. I've read a considerable amount of books and articles on education, raising children, bilingualism etc., the majority of which was in German. Could I turn these into translation specialisations?

Robyn

[Edited at 2014-05-20 07:33 GMT]


 

jcjenkins  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:23
German to English
Go for it! May 20, 2014

I too combine freelance translation with a varying number of children (mine plus foster children). When they're at school, I work and then when they're home I stop and give them my attention till bedtime / Dad comes home.
Sometimes I work in the evening, but not often.

It can be done, but you need to be strict about when you will work so you don't overload yourself and accept that there will be some days when you have too much to do! On the whole it creates a wonderful balance and it's great to be at home for your kids, particularly as they get older.


 

Magda Phili  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 20:23
English to Greek
+ ...
Challenging but worth it - Show your family all your love and ...keep calm May 20, 2014

Hi,

I will be really quick (working mom too!) and wish to give you a link to something I wrote on the subject based on my own personal experience as a mom. I hope you will find it useful!

Being an expat mom has been really challenging but I have managed to survive and acquire more clients due to hard work and.... sleepless nights and compromises.

http://saracolombotranslations.com/2014/01/29/how-to-balance-freelancing-and-parenting-and-grow-your-business-gradually-guest-post-by-magda-papa/

What I don't mention in the post is that I did what I did (and still do) without someone to baby-sit. It was/is my personal choice.

The post I mentioned above goes into detail.

Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with.

Multitasking comes natural. You will see.icon_smile.gif

Best,

Magda

[Edited at 2014-05-20 11:11 GMT]


 

XXXphxxx (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:23
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Not easy but certainly possible May 20, 2014

However, one thing I don't think has been mentioned is that with only 2.5 hours of guaranteed availability each day you will be very restricted on the amount of work you can take on. A reasonable agency will expect you to be able to handle about 2500 words a day, which is do-able in a normal 8 hour working day. Don't be surprised/disappointed if you have to turn down a lot of work and have some clients who may not contact you at all if they know you're not available full-time.

 

Andrea Diaz
Mexico
Local time: 13:23
English to Spanish
+ ...
It can be done. May 20, 2014

First of all, congratulations on being a caring, working mom. You are awesome, and you give me hope for my own future.

I don't have children of my own, but I worked as a jeune fille au pair (a live-in nanny) and did some translation work on the side. Of course, my time for translation was quite limited, but I managed to pull it off as long as I gave the kids activities on their own. I gave them many small projects that required minimal supervision. For example, I would cut hearts, stars, and other shapes in advance. Then, I would tell them to piece everything together and make a small present for their mom. They loved it. Play Doh, puzzles, and activity books were also valuable resources. The mother was adamant about not letting her kids play videogames or watch TV (she's French), so I really had to use my imagination with them! One day, I had them do an anti-burglar trap.
The kids were in kindergarten, so the parents were starting to teach them to be a little more independent, and it worked quite well. I would type away in my laptop while the children played in a room adjacent to mine, and I would check them every once in a while.

It can be done, but as everyone else said, your hours will probably be very limited. It could also mean sleeping very little. Have you tried rotating babysitting nights with other parents?


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:23
Member (2008)
Italian to English
You need to be available May 21, 2014

My experience as a translator is that I have to be constantly available and willing, if necessary, to work all night/all weekend to meet the deadlines I'm given.

If not, the agencies with which I work will just give the job to someone else.

Babies or no babies, the personal life of the freelance translator has to be organised around the realities of their working life - not the other way round.

It's different for PMs who have babies. One of the PMs I work with is only in the office at set times. The deadlines she gives me are based on *her* priorities with *her* baby.

I'm not complaining, because she's actually my favourite PM ! But just to let you know that it isn't only translators who are bringing up babies. So are our clients.



[Edited at 2014-05-21 08:29 GMT]


 

Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:23
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
Bonus May 21, 2014

Hi Robyn,

"Do you mean that you organise your translations projects based on how much time you can dedicate for sure and any extra time you can devote is a bonus?"

To answer your question: yes. I initially set myself a relatively low target income (just enough) which was doable based on the hours the kids were at school/daycare or looked after by their mother. In practice I got a whole lot more done (as much as twice my target income). And I've never had a PM go into a huff because I turned down a deadline with as reason "I've got the kids home this afternoon." They completely understand that the kids come first.

Olly


 

Alexandra Frolova  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 21:23
Member (2014)
English to Russian
+ ...
Kindergarten - that's my dream )) May 21, 2014

Hi there!

I'm a single mom with three children from 9 to 1.8. An there is no nursery for such young children in my city, so the youngest daughter usually works with me - as you can see on my photo ))

Yeah, that's terrible and sometimes almost impossible, but I just HAVE TO.

Consider working when the children are at home, about 3-4 hours, and the night is also yours )). 2 hours a day is really not enough to undertake a good project and raise enough money.


 

Melissa Dedina  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:23
Czech to English
+ ...
go for it May 21, 2014

It's true that 9 - 11:30 each day is not very much time, so I would count on either using your evenings or your early mornings (whichever is more pleasant for you) regularly to get in another work session. You may need to burn the candle at both ends just slightly for a few years, but it is only a few years.

You can encourage your children to play independently for a while in the afternoons so you can work a bit, though of course this will have varying levels of success depending on your children's ages and personalities.

I don't think that your personal life has to take a back seat to your work, but you will have to be very careful about what projects you take on, because once you have accepted something, you HAVE to get it in on time. No extensions if someone comes down with bronchitis or unexpectedly changes their sleeping habits, so beware of accepting a month-long project. As a freelancer with young children you should be extra careful to maintain a professional image and never flake on a job.

That said, I think translating from home is a fantastic way of being there for your family while still pursuing your career goals. Since you're already a translator, then you're already half-way there!

There is no boss to stop you from taking your kids out on a sunny afternoon and finishing up your work after bedtime before your deadline the next morning. You don't have to explain that you can't take on a project because your child has a school event, doctor's appointment, broken arm... You just reject it politely because you're booked and do your best not to refuse the same client too many times in a row.

I have found that making myself available for weekend work and very short projects during the week paid off quite well in the beginning. Especially in the early days, I might take two or three mini translations in one day from the same client, and if the little ones were being difficult or I wanted to go out then I just wasn't available.

It might take you a little longer to get established, but you're not in any hurry. Look at it as a long warm-up phase that can kick off into a full-fledged career when you are ready. Use this time to pick your projects and clients very carefully, only take on what you can handle and make sure your work is always on time and at a high standard.

Your clients don't need to know you did it with a baby on your lap - and in my experience they won't care, as long as your work is top quality!


 
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