How I Make It Work: 38-Year-Old Freelance Writer With A 2-Year-Old

childcare diaries

by Grazia |

We all know that childcare is expensive - but what's the reality of making it work day in day out? And when childcare still falls disproportionately on women's shoulders, how can you go back to work and still make it pay? Each week we speak to a different mother about how she balances work and childcare.

Gemma, 38, Freelance Writer/Online Producer, London

Monthly income after tax of mother: It’s varied hugely but would be around £2,500 for August (whereas July was about £1000)

Age of children: One son, 2-years-old

Childcare arrangement: Ad hoc - my husband is self employed and works odd hours for intense periods, so I try to fit my work in when he’s got time off, during my boy’s naps, evening and weekends. When that doesn’t work, we have resorted to using a temporary nanny, our parents or CBeebies as a babysitter (which gives me about 20 mins). He’s just starting nursery this week though. As we only moved to our area in January this year, we haven’t made it anywhere near the top of the waiting lists for full-time nursery care (at least not at the good ones) - plus as mine and my husband’s work is always booked so last minute with hours that fall outside of nursery opening hours, it feels like it wouldn’t even be worthwhile a lot of the time - unless we had a live in nanny (which costs £80k). BUT he’ll be attending a ‘pre-school' for three hours a day for four days a week soon, giving me time to at least stay on top of some work, which can be finished in evenings.

Amount of paid-for childcare: 12 hours a week

Cost of childcare: £84 - plus buying my in-laws guilt treats when they get dragged up last minute.

Cost of travel: £28

Take home pay after bills, childcare and travel: Hmm, it feels like I just break even but that’s probably because we’ve had building work done at home - I suppose it would be quite good without that at the moment - about £2,000 in August (the temporary nanny cost about £300). But the permanent stress of not knowing if I can accept work means it often doesn’t feel worth it.

How I Make It Work For A Week


Myself and my husband both have a day off (i.e. no work). After much debate about splitting childcare over morning or afternoon to sort admin, we decide to throw caution to the wind and actually enjoy the time off as a family. We all go to Stratford’s Westfield because it’s raining. The Monday fear soon sinks in under the harsh lighting and I can tell we both regret this decision. We go to the food court for a greasy meal that remains largely uneaten. It feels like a waste of time and money. I check my email and find that I have a commission for a feature due two days later for £135. Great. I know I should make the most of the having free childcare while my husband is around but the greasy food and Westfield doom means I can’t focus. I justify pushing it to the next day by telling myself that my son rarely gets to hang out with us both together. While he naps I have a conference call with a client who might have some work for me - it’s half a day a week, which seems great as I’m trying to build my portfolio of flexible work but I feel overwhelmed by what they want me to do in that time and am getting the sneaking feeling it really isn’t worth the hassle. I wish I could have a nap too but I plough through some admin and we all go to the park with coffee and cake afterwards.

Total spend: £16

Money made: £0


My husband is working 6.30am to 8pm today and I still have my feature to write plus a meeting with another new client. I get up at 5am to write the feature I should’ve done the day before. My in-laws are coming up to babysit while I go for a meeting with the new client. I buy the in-laws some treats because I feel a bit guilty about it, even though they love spending time with him. It was easier when my mum could help too but she’s got a broken shoulder so won’t be a consideration for childcare for while. I go to my meeting and stay in their office afterwards to do some work for them. Then I dash home to give my son his dinner and put him to bed before finishing the feature that I really should’ve done already.

Total spend: £15

Money made: £210


My husband is working 6.30am-8pm again so I get up when he does and finish some bits off for my new client. A lot of the work is brainstorming so I jot it down as my son runs in and out of the kitchen, trying to drag me into the living room to watch Cbeebies with him. I feel a bit guilty and put my laptop away. We have a morning visiting different nurseries about him starting. One is amazing but they can’t take him for another year. I sign him up and tell myself that maybe I can muddle through for a bit longer. Another one offers three hours a day and seems nice so I snap it up. As soon as he naps, I finish the work for the new client and then quickly tidy up before hitting the park again. After the dinner/bed time routine, I hit my work again and feel crushingly tired at 10pm so go to bed.

Total spend: £2

Money made: £80


My husband has today off while I’ve had a booking in the diary for a while for an old client which means going into the office for 8am, so I leave at 7am. We’re going on holiday this weekend but work commitments have meant it’s been squeezed from a week to a long weekend. My husband is annoyed about this and thinks I should start saying no to work rather than getting overwhelmed but he doesn’t understand what it’s like after being on maternity - I lost so many clients then and now feel like I have to make up for it. I manage to focus on the job in hand at work (it’s live TV so there’s no chance to get distracted) but I try to catch up on other bits in my lunch break. My husband and son drive down to Kent to start the holiday at lunchtime, while I get the train after work. It’s fairly blissful having some time off and I wonder if I subconsciously deliberately let my laptop run out of battery so I didn’t have to work. I can’t relax too much though because I know I'll have to do some work during the holiday.

Total spend: £40

Money made: £200

**Friday: **

I wake up in the Kent countryside with a bit of a hangover and the fear that I shouldn’t be on holiday when I’ve got work to do. I've been avoiding the new client I spoke to on Monday all week but know I can’t brush it under the carpet any longer. I get my husband to take my son swimming while I catch up on their proposal in a coffee shop. While I’m doing it I get an email about another feature. I feel pleased and depressed at the same time and break the news to my husband that I’ll be working over the weekend. We both tell ourselves that it’ll get easier soon. I later get a call from an existing client about a nice job on Wednesday next week. I have to turn it down because I have no childcare (my in-laws are on holiday then). I feel bummed out.

Total spend: £30

Money made: £150


I get up before my son, which seems crazy since it was only recently that he woke at 5.30am daily and take my laptop to the holiday park bar to use the wifi. It’s not open (obviously) so I perch outside on the step and work as quickly as I can. I don’t feel completely pleased with my feature but at least it’s done - and my brain is exploding after three hours working so intensely. I decide to take the rest of the day off.

Total spend: £30

Money made: £320


We’re meant to be staying on holiday until Monday but decide we’ll go back today so it’s not so stressy. It’s a huge relief. We tell ourselves we’ll be more disciplined about taking time off when we’re more settled with work and childcare. I wonder if this will be in 16 years time… RESULT: A former colleague Whatsapps me and asks if I’ll be willing to cover her work on a lovely project for 25 flexible days between next week and December - I work out that’ll be £5000 that I can earn without worrying too much about childcare. It’s such a nice project I decide to sack off the demanding client I spoke to on Monday. I just need to find an excuse.

Total spend: £15

Money made: £0

We'd like to know how you make it work: if you'd like to feature in our series then email us at with the subject line 'How I Made It Work'. (You can be anonymous).

READ MORE: Returning To Work After Maternity Leave – Know Your Rights

READ MORE: The Truth About How Much Childcare Costs Differ Around The World

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