Monday, November 26, 2012

Self-employed and working at home with kids: A blog mini series - Profile 2: Tania the photographer (Part 1)

Welcome to the second profile in my blog mini-series on being a self-employed at-home primary caregiver. Today I am featuring Tania, a longtime and close personal friend of mine and a very talented professional photographer. (Over the years, she has done 4 sets of family photos of my family, and we've loved them all!)

This post is the first part of her profile; part 2 will be posted tomorrow. In today's post (part 1), we look at Tania's work pattern and how it varies across the year. Tomorrow, we look at how the work impacts on and relies on her family dynamic in different ways.

1. Tell me a little about your work and your family.

I am a photographer who concentrates on family portraiture, council events and pre-school photography. I am married with two children 8 and 10.

2. How much of your work is performed at home as opposed to out and about?

About 75% of my work is done from home.

3. When you work at home, do you arrange to do so when your children are either absent or being cared for by someone else?

My children are aged 8 and 10 and attend primary school. They have grown up with me working at home and out. They have on occasion come with me to jobs, if I have been stretched at finding someone to care for them at late notice. I figure, it doesn’t look good, but I am my own boss and I’m not going to sack myself for it, and I also let the people know who need me for the job. They are all aware I have children and generally work in children friendly environments so it seems to work okay. The boys also know they have to be on their absolute best behavior in these circumstances, and I have to say thankfully I am probably through the worst of me worrying about them disrupting or messing up the job. And again this has been on RARE occasions, but like anyone with children, unavoidable, due to them being sick, late booking etc.

I try to manage my home hours to work within the children’s school hours, but realistically this just does not work, particularly at peak times for me which are usually second and third term. I usually will be there to pick up the boys, only miss about 5 times a year. We come home. The boys have their routine of what needs to be done before they are allowed to do anything leisurely.They have days when they can play their computer games and days that they can’t, and I have had this routine running for some time now and they seem to have adapted to it well. Readers, homework, piano practice are all done as soon as we get home.

4. Do you pay for regular or ad hoc care to enable you to work? If so, is it important that the care takes place somewhere other than your house?

I have a network of friends that I work with, we all seem to at some stage or another have to ask for help with a pick up from school, or even a drop off, if we are working early, the two women I do this both work, one part-time, and one shift work, and so far this has seemed to be really good for us all. I do have access and have used after school care, but its rare, as I am usually only about 15minutes out from picking up the kids. The last time I used it, it worked out that is cost me $2 a minute to have them cared for. I could have left them there and picked them up later, but its that madness at the end of the day getting home processing and putting things into folders before I forget who the children are.

5. How easy do you find it to work with children present and no other adults around? Do you have any strategies to help your children allow you to work when you need to?

I am lucky to have two great older children, who are on the whole pretty good. They are used to me yelling out business phone call please keep the noise down, before I pick up the phone, to wait when I give them the look (I’m sure you know the look I’m talking about) when I am on a call to wait for me to finish. I worked with my eldest at home easily when he was a baby and toddler. My work load wasn’t as much as it is now, it was more a part-time basis, whereas as now I class myself as a full-time worker from Mid March through to start of November. In between then, there is work, but on a part-time basis.

My youngest was a complete handful, I was a mess, and life was messier. It took me some time to manage and get things into order. I tried childcare for two days a week for 12 months, but it didn’t suit my very sensitive young man. It did however give me some time to get myself back on track, work out some business strategies and cope better. By the time he was in 3yr old kinder, things started to settle and my workflow steadily increased from there. He no longer attented childcare and kinder was for 3hrs a week however, he became much better and content within himself to entertain himself and play beside me as I worked. I have to say I missed his company terribly when he went to school as we really did have a good routine down pat the two years before he went off to school. We seemed to be good work companions. Ha ha.

6. Do you find it difficult to draw boundaries between family and work life when you work at home?

Sometimes I do find it difficult and overwhelming particularly on weekends. I always get a few weekends a year where I have to work fairly solidly all weekend and have worked 10 hr days during the week either side of that as well. That's when I find it hard because we all need a break and I feel I haven’t had time to absorb and just sit and appreciate my family let alone interact with them.

However, the beauty of being at home still means that they can come and ask a question when they like, we can stop to get some snacks, or have a look at something they want to show me. Ask some advice about something. Rather than walk in to get a coffee in the staff room. I can grab a milkshake with the kids and have a quick banter about the day.

7. How do you manage extra work demands at peak times? (All contractors / self employed people tend to have peaks and troughs of work).

There is no easy way to manage the heavy loads, all I do is order takeaway and try to get a few meals in the freezer before it happens, but once the first week of madness starts its usually followed by about another 6 weeks, before I get a breath, so I just let the house get a bit messier, meals get a bit more slapdash. That's just the reality of it, but I think I have got the priorities right on what gives these days. And my quick easy meals, that seem to work for us.

Everyone goes through it, you just have to make sure you take the time to tell your kids that you love them, and to listen to them when they have something going on in their lives; that's the most important thing.

8. How much do you structure work commitments around family and child activity commitments? When there is a conflict, it always work that gives way, always activities, or a mixture of both?

I schedule work generally in advance, and I have to say I usually schedule it around everything else, as I make the timetables work within what I know are busier days than others during the week. I bit the bullet at the start of this year and got a tutor to come in for an hour a week at home to work with my eldest son. It wasn’t that he was falling behind at school, but I’m not the best at English and I thought he could do with some work in that area. It was one of the best things I did, it helped take that guilt factor out of working at my peak times and not giving enough in this area. The thing is that he would not respond or listen anywhere near the way he does with the tutor.

Tomorrow: How does the family help, and what do they make of it all?

This is post 26 in NaBloPoMo. 26 down, 4 to go!

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