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Experiences of a Freelance Parent
Ross Wintle

As we go into the second week of homeschooling for the UK, we asked Ross Wintle, one of our active members, to share his experiences of juggling freelancing and teaching.

I’d prepared myself for a couple of weeks of hard lockdown.

I always said we should make use of the Christmas holidays to get everyone to properly isolate and then maybe have a couple more weeks delay of schools going back. Get ahead of the curve of the new strain and all that. I could do a couple of weeks. I’d planned for it in my mind. I’d expected it.

But a whole half-term…and then maybe some more?

I confess, I was pretty shocked and angry and floundered for a moment. I went from pretty happy with the idea before the announcement, to feeling pretty dejected afterwards. The length of it caught me off guard.

We now have two kids at school as the 4-year-old started in September. We are 2 working parents, a reception-year kid and a year-4 kid. I’m freelance, my wife works 34 hours a week. She just escaped redundancy and earns more than me, so the focus is very much on her keeping her job right now. I’m working a wrap-around day, getting up early to do 7-9am, supervising the “remote learning” from 9am until my wife finishes, and then carrying on in the late afternoon/evening.

The teachers have been phenomenal. I can’t praise them enough.

Nurseries and pre-schools did open part way through the last lockdown, so we had some cover back then, but it involved travelling much further to the pre-school. So we don’t have that transportation issue. But there’s also been a quite enormous shift from “homeschooling” to “remote learning”; the difference being that this time, the teachers are in charge! This has been HUGE. The teachers have been phenomenal. I can’t praise them enough.

Yes, there have been struggles with the IT and Teams Classroom both for teachers and parents, but I can forgive it all. They have completely transformed how they do their already-difficult job in a matter of days. They’ve kept up their infectious enthusiasm. They’ve pushed through the problems. They are absolutely nailing it. I desperately hope this isn’t some one-off unique thing about my school. I really hope others have done as well. We have a timetable, and kids are on calls with teachers three times a day and with planned activities to do after each call.

The 9-year-old just gets on with stuff, has longer sessions, and needs very little help beyond making sure he’s in the right call at the right time. I’m super proud of him. And I’ve genuinely enjoyed the experience of being a “classroom assistant”, supervising the reception class sessions over a cup of coffee. The kids are happier with this arrangement. And it’s been much, much easier for me.

I have several small projects on the go at the moment at different stages, rather than one big thing. But I also do ad-hoc work for people when they need it. So communication and expectation-setting has been essential.I’d been meaning to set up a mailing list for clients for a while, so this nudged me to do that - it only needed to be “good enough” so that got done, and active clients were invited to join that for updates.

My first announcement to that list was about new working arrangement, and was also posted to my website as company news. I see no reason to be anything other than very open about this. People need to trust me and to do that they need to know what they can expect from me. And can I say…my clients…MY CLIENTS!!…they are extraordinarily forgiving and graceful. I’m thankful for all of their patience and understanding.

I’m doing what I can do. And that HAS to be enough.

But it IS relentless. I’m slow-adapting to change and each day is just a constant string of context changes. Sleep - work - school - lunch - play - school - home - dinner - work.  I’m teaching assistant, lunch supervisor, playground monitor, house-husband, and running a business. There’s no staff room to escape to. It’s exhausting. I fear for my physical health as there are few slots for exercise and there’s the constant, comforting presence of the biscuit tin.

I’m very much living in the moment. I’ve been trying to wake early and take a walk before starting work at 7am. This has been good “me time”. And my wife has been super supportive taking on ALL the evening household stuff: kids betimes and tidying up the trail of detritus the kids and I leave behind during the day. Beyond that it’s all about setting client expectations and trying to be easy - so VERY easy - on myself for not achieving much work. I’m doing what I can do. And that HAS to be enough. And I’ll probably work on Saturday to catch up.

I would love for my parents - who live nearby - to be able to form a childcare bubble with us. This is kinda legally allowed, but their age and health issues mean that we are keeping distant. Heck, if we’ve got magic wands, I’d love for my in-laws to be able to come from Devon to do the same. They have missed contact with the kids enormously, the kids (and we!) have missed them. We trust them and love them to bits. They are the ideal helpers. Maybe once they’ve had the vaccine … ?

And to be honest, I’m not getting a whole lot of work done, BUT… we’ve done a week. Yes! And every day is a day closer to the end of it.

Finally, a word to other parents: You’re not alone. This will end. You made it through the first week! YES!!! And however it feels, you are doing exactly what you need to be doing right now. And it IS enough.

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