As I was setting up my home office a few months ago, I stumbled upon a ‘Dream Journal’ I started at age fifteen. Inside was a list of my aspirations, including things like ‘traveling the world’ and ‘going to college.’ But of all of my goals, the two that have meant the most to me over the years have been building my writing career, and growing my family. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life doing the former, and at 33, with a successful business and portfolio, I’m now moving to the second part of my life: becoming a mom. My husband and I are thrilled (and, yes, a tad overwhelmed) to welcome our daughter in March.
Though undeniably exciting and wonderful, having a baby also means taking leave from my first baby: my job. As we all know, parental leave in the United States — even for full-time employees — is often non-existent, and there are even fewer (read: zero) protections for the self-employed. However, even with no safety net, I still knew I would want (and need) to take a leave in order to adjust to motherhood and bond with my baby. So, for the last few months I’ve been working out a plan.
For starters, I’ll volunteer that we’re very lucky. Thankfully, my husband’s company supports family planning, and offers eight weeks of paid paternity leave. Plus, we have monetary savings to fall back on. And though I’ll take a break from journalism assignments, my content marketing agency will still be running, but with my senior writer steering the ship.
Even with these cushions to provide comfort, I’m still terrified to step away from my fulfilling, happy career, not knowing what will be waiting for me when I return three months later. It’s normal to feel this way, and though it may require an adjustment period of its own, it’s not impossible to take a leave as a freelancer and business owner.
Here’s a look at how I’m easing my fears and prepping for the journey ahead:
I’m leaning into how I’m feeling
I feel the initial stings of ‘mom guilt’ as I think about my upcoming leave. Should I even worry about my company when I’ll have a newborn? Isn’t my baby more important? And are my stresses warranted? Are my emotions normal? Yes, yes, and yes! Being pregnant and transitioning from a woman to a mother provides a variety of emotions for many entrepreneurs, according to Arianna Taboada, a perinatal health researcher and the author of ‘The Expecting Entrepreneur: A Guide to Parental Leave Planning for Self-employed Business Owners.’
“Yes, most of the time there is excitement, but also emotions such as fear, anxiety, and even grief are also common,” she explains. “This is a time with a lot of unknowns and uncertainties, and being responsible for managing a business, growing a human, and navigating your own transition of identity and role is a lot.”
To get through this period of tremendous change, Taboada recommends practicing emotional regulation through simple breathing or somatic practices, or seeking support through trusted friends or professionals is essential during this time. “You can’t dive deep into financial or operational planning when your nervous system is highly activated, so start with exploring ways to cope with the range of emotions, and build from there,” she says.
I’m creating a financial game plan
Because I am not federally protected to receive income as a self-employed person, I have to self-fund my leave. Depending on the type of work you do as a freelancer, this could mean zero income coming in, or a drop in cash flow. For me, it’s the latter, as I’ll be reducing the number of new assignments I take on, but my content marketing clients will continue their contracts. Because I also wear the hat of ‘financial planner’ in my business, I’ve hired two people to help me out during my maternity leave:
- A senior writer, to manage content marketing clients
- A bookkeeper to keep invoicing, expenses and financials in working order
I made this decision early on into my pregnancy, and I’ve been working on putting it into action ever since. Taboada says this is the right move, and one that will cut back on frantic feelings as I inch closer to my due date. “Having dedicated time to sit and review the status of both your personal and business finances, preferably early on, is key,” she says.
For your freelancing or self-employed business, Taboada suggests answering these questions:
- What is the bottom line amount you need to take home to meet your family obligations?
- What are the anticipated personal expenses related to birth/postpartum?
- How much of a financial cushion do you personally have?
- How much of a financial cushion do you have in the business?
- What is the number needed to cover expenses while you are out?
- What is the projected cash flow during your leave?
- What changes can you make to expenses or projected cash flow if more runway is needed?
I’m asking for support
As I’ve learned as a woman in business, there is so much strength found in numbers. And I lean on experts when I don’t have the answers: a bookkeeper for financials, a mentor for setting rates, an accountant for my taxes. I’ve applied the same philosophy to preparing for motherhood throughout my pregnancy. I’ve been bugging my mom friends for advice, I hired a doula, and, yes, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been messaging my OBGYN a bit too often.
And, as a freelancer, I’ve utilized my network to gain insight and ease some of my anxieties in preparing for maternity leave. For anyone who is worried about what the future may hold for them, Taboada recommends setting up informal interviews with women who have been there, survived-that. Get to know them, and ask them these questions:
- What was the most useful financial decision you made in planning for your leave?
- Can you tell me about the parental leave you prepared for and what it ended up looking like?
- What prompted any changes that you made?
- What did returning from leave look like, particularly in terms of revenue and cash flow?
- What, if anything, would you have changed in your planning in retrospect?
- What is your top tip for someone who runs a business similar to yours, based on your experience?
You got this.
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