I’m a freelancer working with cultural organisations like museums, libraries, archives and galleries. I’m also building up a new photography business. I travel around the country and I’m often away. My husband works part-time as a primary school teacher and looks after our son who has special educational needs.

With Covid-19 and the lockdown our roles have swapped around. My work has been postponed or cancelled. And my husband is now working all hours so he can to get the curriculum online. He’s also going into school on a shift-based system to look after keyworker children. His role is defined as a keyworker.

Our situation got me thinking how other freelancers are dealing with changing roles at home or at work. And an increase in pressure on themselves or their keyworker partner/family member as a result.

I decided to ask the generous and friendly freelance community for their advice and tips. So I posted this question on my twitter account and over on the Being Freelance and Doing it for the Kids Facebook groups.

Big thanks to the 17 freelancers who kindly (and very honestly) shared their thoughts. I’ve pulled out the common themes below. And I’ve added some links to further support they mentioned (or resources I’ve collected myself) at the end. Please do share your own experiences or advice in the comments.

Space and respect

  • Don’t underestimate your contribution: small things can make a big difference including giving your keyworker the ‘gift’ of space and creating a comfortable home environment
  • Take (more) notice: observe, listen and anticipate when they need some headspace. And conversely when they want to talk about things
  • Accept that what helps you might not work for them. If they need an hour plugged into their favourite video game to switch off, but you want to play a board game then give them (and you) a break. This may not be the best time to try and get your own way!
  • Try to make sure that everyone gets some ‘me time’, whether that’s exercising alone or having ten minutes uninterrupted in the shower
  • Keep an open mind about things you’ve not tried before which could help you or them: yoga, wellbeing apps, e-books.

“We are trying to make space for each other to exercise alone to keep sane.” (Beth)

“Being at home all day, while your other half is out doing wonderful things on behalf of the nation, can leave one feeling a little deflated. I felt myself asking ‘what am I contributing?’ But we all need to remember that keeping the fudge out of the way is doing something.” (Steve)

“I’m leaving her alone. I know full well that if I try to get my wife to talk when she doesn’t want to we’ll only end up falling out. Best thing I can do is just be there for it and when she does need me. The only other things I’m doing is keeping the house clean and tidy so she isn’t having to worry about any of that when she comes in from work.” (Charles)

“What also helped me was accepting the level to which I can help. I don’t have the skills or the wherewithal to work in a hospital. But I can keep the home tidy, make a nutritious meal for the evening and yes, do that laundry. Although on his day off I’ll let him put the bins out.” (Steve)

“I’m not living with a key worker but yesterday I was at a hospital appointment and the midwife told me that their hypnobirthing lady had prepared hypnotherapy recordings for them all to help them unwind at the end of the day.” (Laura)

“I am making sure we both still get some time alone, by ourselves. Even though I want nothing more than to hand child over at the end of the day, I don’t so he gets some down time. When he is around, I’m really strict on getting my time — especially to go for a walk on my own (toddler pace and distance does not offset the snacks!)” (Alison)

Structure and acceptance

  • Create a daily structure and try to stick to it. For some this may be keeping to as much of a ‘normal’ routine as possible, for others it’ll be an entirely new set-up
  • Recognise that your structure might not be the same as others you read about on social media (and that’s OK!)
  • Maintain your usual sleep patterns if circumstances allow. If you’re struggling to sleep try some of these tips
  • Chunk things up. Concentrate on the morning, afternoon or one day at a time, and don’t let your mind race too far into the future.

“We make sure we sleep at a decent time and get up each morning.” (Anna)

“I’m structuring our day round Joe Wicks in the morning and afternoon walk, getting work done while kids do their schoolwork, then gardening, reading or cooking in the afternoon. Focusing on one day at a time helps.” (Victoria)

Control and self-care

  • Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t — this can be powerful as it puts you in control
  • Celebrate daily achievements even if they seem silly or wouldn’t usually be a ‘big deal’ — cooking a healthy meal, helping your neighbour, painting with your kids, getting through your inbox
  • Know when you need to let go — it’s OK if that washing pile has to wait until tomorrow
  • Give yourself permission to have a break (no-one else is potentially going to give it to you)
  • Remember to look after yourself so you can effectively support others.

“I even had some jealousy that my partner, busy helping people all day, was able to escape the noise of public health information, social media posts and constantly refreshing media. With so much changing around us every day, in an ever-updating news cycle, I found focusing on things that are solid, not wobbly, helps. My relationships with family and friends, the values I hold true, the sun rising and setting every day, the need to put a laundry wash on — in a time of flux where things seem uncertain, these things won’t change.” (Steve)

“My hubby is a pharmacist and my daughter works part time in the pharmacy. We’re just trying to keep things as normal as possible. I have a bit of a mindset at the moment that you can’t change things that aren’t under your control, so try not to worry about things you can’t change (it’s counterproductive and leads to sleepless nights) and concentrate on the things you are in control of. Focusing on what you can do puts you in some kind of control, so I’m trying to encourage normality (and not winging at them if things get left undone at home).” (Sara)

“I’m self-employed and at home with our 2 year old, trying not to panic, getting small work things done and trying not to let the house fall apart. It’s A LOT and taking a bit toll on me but husband needs to be out and at work all day so I feel I have little to complain about. First and foremost, not putting pressure on to do everything — the house can be a tip if everyone is fed, for example. And sometimes doing little bits of work during naptime so I still feel like I’m achieving something…” (Alison)

Communication and boundaries

  • Be clear on what and when to talk about work / Covid-19 at home and designate coronavirus-free times of the day. Do they want to talk about their day when they get home, or not? Will you need to talk to them about how you’re feeling? Agree communication boundaries
  • Find out what’s helpful (and what’s not) for them to know when they’re away from home
  • Consider putting boundaries in place to give you / a partner time away from other caring responsibilities e.g. putting kids in bed at the normal time
  • Limit access to news and social media communication that you find aren’t helpful for your mental health
  • Speak to other friends or family members if you don’t feel able to discuss how you’re feeling with your keyworker. Make the most of freelancer networks for support.

“My husband if frontline NHS and we’ve got a 3 and a 1 year old. It’s intense! I get most income from a paye job now though. Definitely important to make more time to talk work — for both of us as I’m quite stressed about my reduced and erratic hours (due to his job clearly taking priority). He ‘debriefs’ with me after shifts. Opportunities to do that with his colleagues are more limited now. Limit the news we watch. Lots of positive focus on the kids. Family walks when we can. Sending him photos at work of the kids etc to help keep his spirits up.” (Emily)

“He’s so busy at work there’s no point me messaging him during the day. So we agreed no need to text each other. We have a board on the fridge and I put post it notes on it with things to tell him. He can choose when to go through them and ask me about them. Also lets me feel like I’ve achieved something!” (Steve)

“Letting him vent to me about work but upping the amount of time I speak to other people so I have an outlet.” (Alison)

“My husband is a doctor, so shared time is precious. We made it a rule to find 1 hour in the evening to neither talk about work nor the pandemic. And we always try to eat dinner together. In addition we both love board games and they provide distraction.” (Anabel)

“…husband is frontline police and we have 3 children. I’m struggling with school work and working (which has been quite intense with all the changes) so I’m finding I’m working into the early hours, followed by an early night and then get up early the next day to get work done (started at 5 this morning!). When my husband comes home we talk about his day and often take the dogs out for a walk together (eldest is 13 so can watch younger ones!), last night I had 45 minutes in the bath with a book! We’ve also set an 8 o’clock kids in their rooms time, so they can read/draw/whatever so long as we get an hour or so to ourselves. It’s hard.” (Catherine)

Fridge with post-it notes written on which include notes such as ‘lost a sock’, ‘amazon delivery came’.
Thanks to Steve for permission to use this photo.

Gratitude and kindness

  • Start a gratitude diary which you can go back to at difficult moments — it might give joy and a sense of calm when you need it most
  • If your pace has slowed down, embrace the benefits and write down what you want to keep doing more of/less of when things start becoming more ‘normal’.

“We are cooking more, and really valuing our daily walk.” (Anna)

“My mental health feels better as I’m not rushing around everywhere….I’m much calmer. We each do a dog walk a day too.” (Claire)

“Doing much baking (and eating), need to start running again.” (Pam)

“Start writing down positive thoughts and things you are grateful for in a notebook you might have in the house. These might be as simple as the birds you hear in the trees singing outside, or the new meal you have concocted to make sure you use leftovers in the fridge. This process helps in two ways: first, if you can capture your positive feelings when you are able to have them, then they are still there when you hit the not so good moments, meaning you can run to your diary and find some calm and hope in the words you have written. Second, the act of looking for some positives creates a habit in your mind, and the more you do it, even for the slightest things, the easier it becomes during the tougher times, especially if you can add how those birds in the trees or that innovative meal make you feel.” (Jo)

Further support links and resources

Thank you to everyone who contributed.