Being a freelance worker has a multitude of benefits, but working from home while my partner was on maternity leave was one I hadn’t really thought about until it happened. Working with my sleeping newborns slung across my chest, playing with them on my breaks, in fact just having some company was an incredible boon to my working day.
As they quickly grow and parental leave becomes a distant memory, choices must be faced and finances scrutinised. Childcare becomes a necessity if both parents are working, even if they both aren’t full time, but for a freelancer whose work is, by definition, not guaranteed, a further issue is thrown up: nurseries, already at a capacity, are understandably not that flexible. Job in Bristol tomorrow? Forget it. Need something by the end of the week? How many evenings does that give me to turn it around?
I bit the bullet and went for the middle ground, booking regular childcare a couple of days a week to start with on the basis that I’m always busy, and then I tried to find more if the inbox started bulging. Workflow and childcare scheduling go together now in my diary – though work and childcare never mix! – and it seems to pan out. I’m lucky though, as I have a partner in full time employment – if I was the sole earner or we were both freelancers things would be very different (though government contributions to childcare for freelancers are apparently due at the end of the year, not before time).
But enough about me, it’s what I see working with writers, directors and producers who are new parents that is the real issue here.
I have always considered myself family friendly: meetings with mums or dads with their babies and children in tow are common as I’m sure they are for others, and our first instinct should always to be flexible and supportive. But how much difference would some more progressive and tangible support make to this industry? We are an industry that thrives on a talented, flexible workforce, so it must be supported, right? How many times have I heard people keeping quiet about their childcare arrangements – about the fact that they’ve had a baby – because they are afraid the work will dry up? That’s the kind of fear and attitudes that we must work to change, and there are some basic things we can do to make that happen. Having children is of course a choice, but in an enlightened (and fun) society it is one that can bring benefits to all – whether it’s the bundle of joy snoozing in a sling or the happy client in Bristol.
The industry must be able to draw on talent from all quarters and we need to be more honest with ourselves about how we achieve this. There is work to be done.