Freelance Parenting: Imperfect but Complete

by Annie Mueller

I’m serving my daughter stale crackers and some cubes of cheddar for lunch because I’ve been too busy pushing through another article to go buy groceries. She munches away, but I feel the eyes of the world peering in my large front window, hear their voices saying, “What is she thinking?”

Some days I’m clear. I’m set. I’m confident. Other days I think I must be ruining my children, damaging their psyches, sending them unalterable signals that will make them question my love. I comfort myself in these times by thinking back to my own childhood and realizing how much I don’t remember.

I don’t remember ever feeling unloved, even though my Mom was busy over the years heading up local and state organizations and running a variety of small business ventures. Sometimes my questions had to wait because she was on a phone call. Sometimes we spent Saturday afternoon helping her stuff mailers for a state-wide convention.

I don’t remember every feeling neglected, though we ate out-of-the-freezer fish sticks or chicken pot pies or canned tomato soup for lunch many days. I don’t remember feeling unimportant, even when Mom was too busy for an hour of coloring with me.

What I do remember gives me a clue for my own life. I remember a busy, happy Mom with plates spinning and heart racing, who enjoyed the adventure of keeping it all together, who relished both the adrenaline and the relaxation. Sure, she messed up on some stuff. She probably made bad decisions sometimes. Maybe there were even entire weeks when she was just off balance on key areas of life. But I didn’t know that then, and I can’t feel any negative effects from it now.


That’s what I think about as I wipe the cracker crumbs off my daughter’s hands and off my laptop. My son gurgles at me from the floor and continues to chew on the book corner. Their childhood won’t be perfect, but that’s okay. They won’t remember it wasn’t perfect; they’ll remember that I was here, with a whole lot of imperfect love. And someday they’ll forgive me for using them as content.

Annie Mueller feeds her kids with one hand and scrolls through websites with the other. Her children have survived so far. She writes about working at home, writing, reading, and building a better life at


  1. BooBoo says

    I don’t know how you ladies do it. When I have kids I’m definitely going to have to hire a sitter or look into daycare. There is just no way I could get my work done.

  2. jessica says

    Thank you for sharing. I needed that reminder this morning that I am not alone in balancing my love for writing and editing with my love for my family. Now I must go make my 4-year-old breakfast before I set him in front of the tv so I can finish a project! :)

  3. Ann G. says

    @BooBoo – I think all new parents feel that way at first, but you know you grow into it gradually. I breastfed both of mine, so for the first few months they seemed to be a permanent attachment to my chest. Then they were more alert, but this new stage evolved and I learned to evolve with it. When they started crawling, life got busy! Even then, creating a safe haven for them to freely explore made it easy to handle.

    I found my daughter was harder, mainly because she couldn’t sit still, by 4 months she was creeping, 5 months she was crawling and by 9 months she was walking. Her pediatrician was floored by how quickly she went from stage to stage, I always figured it was because she was trying to keep up with her big brother.

    What I find much harder now is to take on my teen neighbor’s infant or to watch my best friend’s toddler. Trying to handle writing while watching another person’s child is far more difficult.

  4. says

    Annie,my youngest son (I have three now grown) used to sit on the floor next to my loom unraveling spools of yarn and threads, so I could get the next jacket or scarf woven for an order from a shop. And many was the time that birthday celebrations were delayed because Mom was on the road at a craft show.

    HOWEVER, what my three sons learned in the process, in addition to my love for them, was that women have minds and dreams and goals and lives too. That mom is a person with a world that extends beyond the walls of home.

    And I can see in my oldest son who married last September and in my other sons’ relationships, that the ramifications of that are a respect and understanding of the separate lives of wives and girlfriends.

    I think working from home as a parent, with all its challenges, is the best of both worlds, whether you are a mom or a dad. So pat yourself on the back for ALL that you give them.

  5. Phil says


    Even if daycare or a sitter isn’t your preferred option, have a sitter you can rely on for emergencies.

    My wife was a stay-at-home mom when the kids were young — and I worked at home. But when my mother-in-law had open heart surgery, she went to the hospital and I had some deadlines I couldn’t miss (that’s why they’re called deadlines, though I run into some PR people I deal with — no one on this board — that don’t seem to understand that :) ); I hired a sitter for the day.

    Had to do this one or two other times while my wife was out and I couldn’t give very young kids my undivided attention.

  6. says

    This was the perfect article for me this morning. It’s Wednesday, the middle of the week and yet again, I am trying to figure out how to set up my day so I’m not completely spent from chasing four kids or feeling like crud for the third or fifth time when one of them asks when I will be done working for the day.

  7. says

    I feel everything that you said here and more. It can be so easy to feel like you are not really there for your kids because you are working, but it’s also such a great gift to be able to be there if you can. My mom was a single mom and she worked a lot, but I made it. I think my kids will be happy that I could go to thier concerts or that I could sit with them for a minute and tell them what I’m doing. My son is 11 and he has such an interest in what I’m writing about today. He even has his own page on sqiudoo now!

    They know that I love them and that I’m doing this crazy thing for them, even if they don’t see it all or understand it right now.

  8. says

    Two months ago I launched a family travel web site. I love it, but I’ve just about worked my tail off.

    Domestic duties have gone totally by the wayside, and the kids are practically feral. Television viewing is way up. Bathing is down. Maternal guilt is at an all-time high.

    Over dinner one night last week (bowls of cereal), I said, “I know you’ve probably noticed that Mommy has been really busy lately.”

    They looked at me like I’d grown a third eye. It turns out they hadn’t noticed…

    You sound like a good mom to me.

  9. Ann G. says

    I think even finding a sitter can be a tough choice.

    I never needed one thank God! But I have a friend who opted to go back to work full time and choose a daycare provider highly recommended by the schools and by the state licensing board. A month passed and she was happy enough. Then one day, she got a call at work that her son was in the ER. The daycare provider had errands and felt it was fine leaving the kids with a neighboring teen who was on the phone and not watching the kids when one picked up a baseball bat and hit the 2 year old in the face with it. Broken nose, cracked jaw bone and a ton of stitches later, the 2 year old was okay, but scarred for life mentally and physically.

    Police were called in and the woman swore she’d never let it happen again and that all medical expenses would be covered. My friend started looking for a new daycare following that, but had no where else to leave her son in the meantime, so took the daycare owner at her word that something like that would never happen again. Two days later, the same call came in. This time the daycare owner claims she was picking the two year old up and was standing too close to the window sill and hit the kid’s head on the sill. It left another gash that required stitches and he had a concussion. Police didn’t by the story that time, so she was charged with negligence and the daycare shut down immediately.

    This was a daycare that was highly recommended by the state and area schools, so for me the question became who do you trust? My kids are old enough now that they don’t need a sitter, but I’m glad I never had to choose one because obviously the so called experts don’t always know either.

  10. says

    I think when they are raised in the working-from-home-parent situation, they accept it as just the way it is, which makes it a lot easier. When they are younger it can be more of a balancing act, unless as they get older you get them into a lot of extracurricular activities.

    Now that my son is a teenager, it has become a lot easier for me to find balance as he is moving into his own life of independence away from ‘mom’. We still do things together, and I still work my schedule as much as I can around his so we have time together. My son works and has school, friends, and time with his dad/dad’s family, so that frees up more guilt-free time for me to work.

    They grow up so fast that as long as you prioritize and remember to take care of yourself, too, it will all work out. :-)

    PS – seeing me work from home and running my own business inspires my son. He sees that despite the setbacks that always will crop up, it can be done. My son sees me doing what I love and happier than anyone else in the family. That helps encourage him to follow his dreams despite the naysayers – and I like that.

  11. says

    @BooBoo: I always feel like I’m never done… :)
    @Jessica: Lol. You’re welcome.
    @AnnG: I think you’re right, too, the different stages (and growing independence) require different methods. And other people’s kids add work, though I’ve found that having them simultaneously with your own can mean they all entertain each other.
    @Rhonda: Thanks.
    @Paula: Amen to all you said. I’m so thankful to be married to the son of a very busy, hard-working, entrepreneurial Mom. He grew up in the back of the family store, helping customers when he was ten… He is so supportive of what I do from home and he learned that through watching his own Mom. It’s an awesome gift for any wife to get.

  12. says

    @Nikki: Love those days. Hang in there. It’s worth it. And ignore guilt – it never leads to good things. Only change for positive reasons.
    @Jamie: LOL. I guess we’re all a little over-sensitive sometimes.
    @Stacey and Dani: That’s a huge part of it for me, too. I want my kids to learn to appreciate and love work as part of life, not dread it or try to get out of it.
    @AnnG: Scary story! I have family here so I usually depend on them for babysitting. I am very particular about who I leave my kids with.

  13. says

    All too true and a great post. It’s always good to know we’re not the only one stuck in the trenches. When I started blogging ( in addition to freelancing (in addition to a fulltime job and being a single parent, yeah, I know…Ow.)I promised myself I wouldn’t let it interfere with my time with my kids. And for the most part it hasn’t but the cost has been a steep one in terms of sleep and personal time (read: little of the first and none of the second). Recently, I’ve also had to turn down the heat on the freelance side of things though I try and keep the blogging and work on my latest book flowing(albeit at a trickle.) I think, sometimes, that the toughest writers in the world have to be the ones who are raising their kids while doing it. Novel writers? Journalists? Ha! I’d like to see the majority of the ones at the top of the food chain do what they do while juggling a deadline and a bored three year old. They wouldn’t last a week.

  14. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for that post. I needed it this morning. Now, off to occupy the 4 year old and put the baby down for a nap so I can get a little work done :)

  15. says

    Excellent post, and thank you! You provided a different way of looking at our lives.

    I tend to beat myself up a lot over all the times my son has tried to talk to me and I haven’t been able to tear my eyes away from the computer screen. I talk to him about it, and thankfully, he’s old enough to understand that we need two people working for us to be able to have our own home, and all the other things he enjoys.

    Again, thank you! Great perspective.

  16. Lori says

    This echoes life at my house! Being a freelance parent to a 3-year-old is my entire life…he plays, I work, he eats, I work, he naps, I work, he eats dinner that put together in 10 minutes, I work, he goes to bed, I work — and then we do it all again the next day. I haven’t had a day without work in almost 2 years. I haven’t had a day away from in nearly 6 months. But I am there when he wakes up; I am there when he doesn’t feel well; I am there to hear him say “Love you momma” before his nap; I am there when he tells my husband “That’s momma’s work — no touch!” — so it’s worth it. Some days I question it, but I know I would have missed out on so much had I gone to a real job. My son is happy to have me by him, even if I’m on my laptop. I’m still there!

  17. says

    What a fabulous post and something I’ve really needed to hear. I’m a single work at home mom and at times it can be challenging juggling my business, freelance writing career, and making time for my daughter.

    There are times I have to get up early, or go to bed hours after she has gone to sleep just so I can spend time with her when she is awake. Don’t even get me started on family members who think I should be able to spend every second of my day playing with her. I can’t. I have to make a living. :-)

    As much as I’ll miss all the bonding I’m definitely looking forward to this school year when she will be entering kindergarten. It can be tough juggling a career at home and keeping up with an active child. :-) Thank goodness for Wifi most warm days are spent outdoors. I work she plays, and I take breaks to play with her.

  18. Misty says

    Beautifully written and oh so true! I homeschool and work as a freelance writer and editor. Some days– more days than I care to admit– I completely forget about food until someone says, “I’m hungry!” Then I’m running around the kitchen like a crazy person, throwing things together. It makes for some interesting meals, that’s for sure! :)

  19. says

    Wow, what a great post. I have a 1 and a 2 year old and I work from home. There are definitely more than a few crackers with honey lunches around here. :) But, my kids are happy and they know that if anything happens, their mama is right here to deal with it.

    My husband is a musician, so he is home most of the day and works at night, but even so, my boys prefer to come to me with problems and for hugs. The only thing I´m not allowed to deal with is broken cars . . . apparently that´s Papa´s job!

  20. says

    I’m working on that balance, too. Trying to write, but also wanting to make sure I spend time with my son. I don’t want to constantly put him off, because he’s only this small for such a short time. But we need to make a living, too! So finding that fine line is tough sometimes.

  21. says

    thanks for all the comments. Sounds like there are a lot of us who deal with this struggle for balance every day. I’m writing this comment while my 2 yr old has a snack in her booster seat beside me and my 6 month old scoots around in his walker… Crazy FUN, hectic and stressful, wouldn’t trade being here with them (even though often distracted) for anything.

  22. says

    Great post! I so relate to trying to balance work with trying not to feel that you’re being neglectful (not that you are, but we tell ourselves some amazing things). I find it easiest to work in the mornings and then spend the afternoons with my daughter doing whatever untill my son gets home from school. Then I work some nights after they’re in bed. I hate the night work because I’m usually exhausted by then, but it’s got to get done sometime.

    You’re doing great!

  23. says

    No offense, but it seems like you’re looking at this is a very negative light. You have a chance that working monther’s in a thousand other jobs would die for.

    No parent is perfect, don’t be so self critical.

  24. Sidnee says

    I grew up with a mother who worked from home during an era when such was considered by many to be bad parenting. I was also a work out of the home mother. While I have enormous sympathy for your work schedule and understand the sentiment of your article, I must say that I can’t imagine giving my child stale crackers for lunch no matter how busy I was. Perhaps this opening was just a way to pull in your reader but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the article.


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