Taking parental leave whether you’re the mom- or dad-to-be is no easy undertaking, and it’s not always guaranteed. If you’re traditionally employed, paid maternity leave is at the discretion of private companies, and the Family Medical Leave Act only offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually to employees who worked for at least a year at a company of 50 or more employees. Even then, there’s lots to do leading up to baby’s arrival: seemingly endless paperwork, talks with your boss on a plan that aligns with company policies, lining up colleagues as backup so that your job will continue in your absence … basically, there’s a lot of ducks to get in a row in a relatively short amount of time.
Some of this translates over to the freelance life and some of it doesn’t.
It’s the Wild West out there when it comes to making a living as a freelancer, and taking parental leave is no different. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m on maternity leave right now. Yes, that’s right. I’m out of the office and auto-responder is on. As I write this story, I’m nearly nine months pregnant and making last-minute maternity leave preparations. By the time these words reach your eyes, however, chances are that I’m simultaneously snuggling a newborn and chasing around my toddler, all while not working.
As with most aspects of a freelance life, you figure out the details as you go. Do your due diligence and research the heck out of best business practices for parental leave. And then implement them. And then adjust them. And then readjust them. My first maternity leave as a freelancer looks quite different than my second maternity leave as a freelancer. Why? Because my life changed (hello, busy little toddler plus a baby) and my business changed (less demanding consultant work, more deadline-based projects).
To make your parental leave work for you, your new baby and your business, consider the following as you navigate your freelance life:
Do what’s best for your business, as only you know your business best. Really think through what your business plan looks like, what your services are and how your clients or projects will be affected in your absence. Consider possible problems and develop solutions. Write it all down and go through it repeatedly, and slowly but surely a parental leave game plan will come into place.
Think about parental leave as an extended vacation policy. Look back through the methodology used for your vacations along with tips on how to vacation like a freelance boss, and then apply what makes sense.
Lean on colleagues for support. Consider bringing on a freelance colleague during your leave so that projects will continue per contract and someone can be the buffer between you and clients. Let your colleague handle the day-to-day demands while you focus on other priorities and provide support from a distance.
Know your legal rights. As a California-based freelancer, we have opportunities others across the U.S. don’t have; we can opt into the state’s paid family leave insurance program to get 55 percent of pay for up to six weeks. For both of my maternity leaves as a freelancer, this is where I’ve faulted. For so long I was just go, go, go — get myself out there, get new clients and projects, bring in income to support this freelance life — that I really didn’t consider, and take advantage of, the legal rights for myself and my business as someone who is self-employed. Don’t make the same mistake.
Remember, there is no right or wrong. Because freelancing is still relatively new in the rising “gig economy,” there are no steadfast rules among us as the new workforce. This can be equally exciting and terrifying. Keep in mind that as long as you follow legal obligations, you get to choose what is best for you, which may look different from another freelancer or freelance business … and that’s OK.
So, yes, parental leave is indeed possible as a freelancer. You just need to figure out what kind of leave is realistic for your business, prepare for it like a mad (wo)man leading up to baby and then follow through with your game plan. Lest you forget: You are your own boss. You make the rules. Of course there may be huge hurdles to overcome along the way, challenges that will sneak up on you unexpectedly, and let’s face it, your game plan may very well not end up working like you had hoped. But you can always make adjustments as you go.
Remember why you became your own boss in the first place and make the flexible freelance life work for you during this time of an adorable new arrival, just as you would expect (or hope) an employer would do for you — and I promise you, your baby (and yourself) will be thankful you did.
Follow Cherise’s journey every month as she navigates the freelance life.
We all deserve time off from the daily grind, even if we don’t get a traditional paid vacation. I’m looking at you, fellow freelancers.
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