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Planning ahead for parental leave when self-employed.

If you're a freelancer, and thinking about planning a family - it might throw up a huge number of questions about whether it's even possible. We spoke to Susannah Dale of the Maternity Pledge to share some of her insights into planning for parental leave when self-employed.

Becoming a parent as a freelancer or self-employed professional brings an exciting new chapter. 

But it also surfaces real logistical and emotional hurdles without the benefits of a traditional company structure. How does one plan and budget for leave? How do you communicate with clients? And how do you navigate identity shifts amid sleepless nights?

Susannah Dale, founder of The Maternity Pledge, knows these challenges firsthand. Her social enterprise supports self-employed parents-to-be with frameworks and resources to smooth the transition. I spoke with Susannah to glean her top insights on tackling the key issues freelancing parents face.

Financial Planning is Crucial

When you don't have an employer offering parental leave pay, careful financial planning becomes even more essential. As Susannah advises, "Don't leave it to the last minute. Figure out your budget early. Planning ahead is essential, sticking your head in the sand and thinking about it in the last trimester will cause more anxiety in the long run."

Understand what your monthly budget is, don't forget to add the additional costs of being a new parent, and start saving a proportion of every invoice which comes in to cover your planned time away from work. Speak to fellow freelancing parents to understand what hidden costs might arise and err on the side of caution.

She also recommends getting paperwork submitted as soon as allowed, 26 weeks into pregnancy. This enables ample time to put money aside in preparation for leave, and indeed thinking even further ahead if you're considering a family will help you to start to put finances in to place to take time away from work.

Know Your Leave Entitlements

Whilst your primary source of income may stop - for some individuals, you may be entitled to some financial support during your parental leave, however navigating entitlements can be a confusing minefield for the self-employed, with differences depending on your structure as a sole trader or company director. As Susannah outlines:

"If you’re a limited company director you might be eligible for statutory maternity pay if you meet all the criteria. If you don’t meet it, you need to apply for Maternity Allowance instead in the same way as sole trader would, and fill in a form that’s as long as War and Peace to get it."

It's a very different story, however for fathers and partners. As Susannah explains, "If you’re a self employed dad/same-sex partner, you don’t get paternity leave or shared parental leave. That’s right, you are entitled to nothing."

These realities highlight gaps in the system. But knowing what you are (or aren't) entitled is important to inform budgeting and planning.

Planning for Your Business

In addition to financial planning, freelancers need to think through how their business will run during leave. As Susannah asks: "How is your business going to run without you - is it still going with various cover, scaled back or stopped completely? How long do you want to take off? How long can you afford to take off?"

Without the built-in coverage of a company structure, self-employed parents need to find solutions - whether it's hiring help, scaling back, or pressing pause. The flexibility of freelancing enables more options, but also means handling logistics solo. Thinking through operational needs upfront is key.

Communicating with Clients

One of the biggest concerns Susannah hears is how to share your pregnancy with clients as a freelancer. She recommends having a robust contingency plan for your business before breaking the news. As she explains, "The key is to have a robust contingency plan in place. In the end we did actually have to use ours because my son turned up five weeks early!"

Susannah understands the apprehension around this, having felt it herself when pregnant with her first child while running a wedding planning business. Finding the right time to share, early enough but not prematurely, can be a delicate balance. Still, sticking your head in the sand until the third trimester will only cause more anxiety. Better to be prepared.

Caring for Mental Health

Finally, Susannah emphasizes caring for your mental health during the identity shifts of new parenthood. She's a strong advocate for understanding "matrescence" - the process of transitioning into motherhood. As she explains:

"Matrescence is a natural development phase that all mothers go through, it’s on a spectrum so everyone feels it differently and for some it’s a harder road than others."

Fathers experience their own version too in "patrescence", but regardless of gender - your priorities and role in your family, your relationship and business is going to change. 

Being aware of these transitions enables new parents to process emotions and feel less alone. Susannah recommends making a postnatal plan to anticipate uncertainties. And don't forget - it's 100% okay not to "cherish every moment!"

Making connections with fellow freelancing parents is an essential part of having a support network which understands what you're going through. "It’s likely your NCT group or pals you make from baby classes or the park will mostly be in the employed crew and so their leave will look different to yours. It’s nice to have other people who understand your situation." explains Susannah.

"From a community perspective, I’m a huge fan of Doing It For The Kids (amazing podcast), and I’d actually really recommend getting stuck in on LinkedIn. There are lots of working parents on there sharing tips, advice and support with each other. It’s also great to keep connecting with other professionals as you never know where it might lead."


Whilst it might sounds like parenting and freelancing are complex bedfellows, I asked Susannah if she thinks freelancing is a positive way of working for new parents, and she answered with a resounding yes. 

"My husband and I are both self-employed and that has given us so much more flexibility. My son has just started school and it means we know we can easily attend events in the school day. I strongly believe that flexible working is something that so many parents would benefit from and if more employers offered it then perhaps less people would be turning to self-employment in the first place."

By planning ahead, understanding entitlements, and utilising available resources, freelancers can focus on their exciting new family role while keeping their business afloat. The key is being proactive, seeking community, and remembering flexibility can be your friend.

Huge thanks to Susannah Dale for her insights and support on this topic. The Maternity Pledge includes a framework and resources to help you plan a maternity leave that keeps you financially afloat and your business running on your terms, as well as helping with your mental health with their Matrescence Packs. 

The Maternity Pledge is currently running a beta test of its self-employed pledge and it needs you to make it great, plus it’s all free for those trying it out. Find out more and apply for the beta at https://www.maternitypledge.com/get-in-touch

Helpful Resources:

The Maternity Pledge

Freelancing Parents Community Doing it for the Kids

Leapers resources on Parenting

YunoJuno's article on freelancing and parenting

UK Gov's Maternity Allowance pages

Maternity Action's page on parental rights for the self-employed

FreeAgent's guide to maternity pay for self-employed.

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