How much maternity leave should I take?
August 13, 2008 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Self-employed and planning maternity leave - how long should I take off?

This is my first kiddo. I'm a freelance graphic designer, and work out of my house. I'm thinking of taking off a month, and then gradually starting back from there. Given that my job is very flexible and not at all physically demanding (I could go days without leaving the house if I wanted), does that sound reasonable?
posted by shopefowler to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i'm not a mother or a full-time freelancer, but i would imagine that you will want more than a month off, just because you're going to be overwhelmed and exhausted (especially if you are single or if dad has to go back to work right away.) standard is 12 weeks, and i think if you can swing it financially, give yourself at least that. bond with the babe, catch up on your sleep, learn how to be a mom. if you have a partner or willing mother's helper, you might feel up to starting back before that, but i would not underestimate your exhaustion or your overwhelming preference to lie on the floor and make funny faces at your little one.

i'm speaking from only auxilliary experience here--friends and coworkers dealing with these issues. but the sense i got was a) maternity leave really ought to last a year, and b) you have no idea how tired you will be or how easily distracted you will be by your child.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:04 PM on August 13, 2008

Agreeing w/ thinkingwoman. That first month is going to FLY by. Although it's ultimately up to you, baby, your partner, and how important the stream of income/creative activity is to your life, you could very well find that one month will hardly cut it. If I were you I'd be careful not to make hard professional commitments based on that one-month timeline just in case you change your mind later.
posted by brain cloud at 7:33 PM on August 13, 2008

If your job is that flexible, then why not make those decisions after the babe is home with you for a few weeks.

You can read all the books, go to all the classes and listen to all the advice, but you just don't know until you are a parent yourself. Even second and third time parents find that every child is a unique experience.

Good luck Mom-to-be!
posted by 26.2 at 7:37 PM on August 13, 2008

I am also a first-time mom and a freelancer, although in a different business. I think a lot is going to depend on your baby, and you can't predict how he or she is going to be! You might have an easygoing little guy or a real cranky colicky fusser. I'd plan on doing no work at all for 6 weeks to 2 months or maybe even 3 months. After that, you should be more or less in a routine, and then you will be able to plan your time a little bit. You'll know, for example, that your son/daughter sleeps for a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon and you can start using that time to ease back into some work. Personally I found the mental break from baby care to be very welcome even though I didn't do much work at all the first year.

If you're planning to breastfeed, you will also want more time as it can be way more difficult than you'd expect, and it can be quite physically tiring at the beginning.

Give yourself more than a month .. not so much because of the exhaustion factor, but just to enjoy your baby, and to groove on this really special time together. Wishing you an easy delivery, and a healthy happy baby!
posted by Kangaroo at 7:40 PM on August 13, 2008

I'm self-employed and I do freelancing, too. With my first baby, I didn't do any work for four months. I then did a small project. I did some planning and promotions for my business and ramped back up to regular work by the time he was 8 months old. When I had my second baby, I was checking email when I got home from the hospital and supervising some subcontractors. But I didn't really get back into work till he was 3 months old. And it was very tough. I was exhausted and sleep deprived. I kept work at a minimum till my baby was a bit older and often subbed work out. Now that he's 10 months old, I do a lot of work, but in the evenings, weekends and during naps. And I've built up some somewhat passive income streams, so that I am not dependent on working "in" the business to make money.

You haven't met your baby and you don't know how you'll recover. I encourage you to look at how you could subcontract work, do small projects for people who manage the clients for you, set up passive income streams and so on. This is a great opportunity to build your business so that it isn't so time intensive. I now make more money while working fewer hours than I did before I restructured.
posted by acoutu at 8:21 PM on August 13, 2008

I'm a fulltime father of a three-year old and self-employed designer, with a partner who works fulltime.

I would suggest a month is pretty unrealistic, assuming you're going to be the primary caregiver. Even with an 'easy' one like we had, being a new parent is just more all-encompassing than you are likely anticipating.

If you need to work for financial reasons then you'll probably find a way. But if you don't need to - and acoutu makes some good suggestions - then I suspect you'll end up resenting the work you find yourself trying to find half an hour here and there to do. It's great to have something other than a baby to think about, but not if it is going to add to your stress.

And you almost certainly won't be doing your best work, so your longterm clients will probably be happy to give you a bit longer if they've had a bit of notice and have been smart enough to factor in your impending time off as best they could.
posted by puffmoike at 6:29 AM on August 14, 2008

Nthing "3 months plus, if you can swing it!" Penelope Leach's baby book describes 3-month-olds as "settled," meaning settled into being out of the womb instead of in it, and I agree with that. (On the other hand Dr. Spock says crying peaks at 3 months for many babies, and then starts to subside. That was the case for my now-15-month-old, for sure.)

If you're interested in doing any pro bono design work, say for a nonprofit organization, this might be a good time to do that. You could still add your designs to your portfolio, but your pro bono client(s) would presumably be more flexible on the deadlines than a paying client would be.

Congratulations and best wishes!
posted by homelystar at 8:11 AM on August 14, 2008

I appreciate the input - just wanted to have an idea of what to expect/what to tell my clients. Obviously, I have no concept of life with a baby, so there will be much going-with-the-flow in the coming months. Thanks so much!
posted by shopefowler at 3:15 PM on August 14, 2008

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