Combining freelance translation and parenting (and growing your business gradually) Prevention, pacifier strategies, tips and more

Greater than 8 minutes, my friend!

[I originally wrote this post on a blog in February 2014 as a way to share what was on my mind at that time. However, since the blog that featured me as a guest blogger is no longer online, I wanted to share it here with all of you. Only a few edits have been made to this new version.]


I know how you feel.

Last night you set your alarm for 6.00am but you woke up at 3.00am (baby wanted more milk), 3.49am (cuddly toy slipped from baby’s hand) and 5.02am (you couldn’t fall asleep).

Typical routine if you have small kids.

But besides being a mom, you are also a freelance translator.

This means you know what is like to have to translate 25.000 words in 10 days and to stay up all night to correct a translation that someone else did for you so that you can work on another project.

And you will be saying to yourself:

I can’t take this any longer.

I’m exhausted. How on earth do I focus on my work?

A babysitter costs…With what I’m getting paid, it’s not worth it.

Etc.. Etc…

You want to know something?

We all have complaints!

But in this post there are no complaints.

All I want to do is to see the positive side of freelancing and being a mom and how being positive and proactive can help you achieve a better balance.



Being a mom is the most beautiful thing that can happen to a woman provided she wants it and provided her professional ambitions don’t interfere with her role as a mom and a wife / partner.

When I get paid for a translation I feel happy and satisfied.

But when my child says something cute or gives me a kiss, I’m in heaven.

Besides the happiness children give you, they make you go through a LOT. It’s not just the tidying up, the washing, the cooking, the explaining what’s bad and wrong, keeping an eye on them so they don’t hurt themselves etc.

First and foremost, it’s playing with them.

Kids need to be entertained. They live to play. If there aren’t any other children to play with or if there’s nobody to play with them while you work, there’s nowhere for you to hide.  Unless dad is available.

So, how does it work?

My experience taught me that you either learn the hard way or you prevent a good part of the stress and frantic juggling by being proactive and following some basic steps.

So, let’s talk about education and prevention.




  • Educating your child

Before you would come to point that your work increases and you need someone to look after your child to be able to focus on translation, you should have your seat belt already fixed and ready to fasten.

The same way we teach our children to speak, to eat, to be polite, to share their toys etc, we should educate them to respect our space. Space in terms of that sphere of parent activities involving work, talking on the phone with friends, when on Skype, when on the computer, while reading a book, when opening a letter etc. The list is endless.

Educating them to respect that mom is working at the computer and not playing with the keyboard and staring at a screen, is rather challenging. But it’s your child’s collaboration that will safeguard your well-being and your success as a freelancer.

Your child is your biggest challenge. Bigger than any translation project. More difficult than any client.

Along with education, I recommend the following what I call “pacifier” strategies.


  • “Pacifier” strategies

Find someone who can baby sit for you (mom, relative, babysitter, friend) who would definitely come to your rescue any time and any day. Start looking for this person before you will need their help.

Thing is: the sooner your child becomes familiar with this person, the better for you. If you expose your child on a regular basis to other people, relatives and friends, and in particular those people you trust most and who would eventually babysit for you, then it’s more likely your child will want to be babysitted by them. Because it’s not you that chooses the babysitter. It’s your child that does that!

On a personal note, I never had a babysitter or asked someone to baby sit, even if I was up to my ears with work. You can say I like challenges. However, many times I was tempted to do so, I was thinking about the cost and whether I could trust someone I don’t really know and I completely understand that parents need some space, every now and then. So, if you have someone to help and look after you children, trust them and give yourself a break.


Find another translator to collaborate with, and, if necessary, pass on entire projects for when it’s too hard for you to cope with both family and work obligations.

Refusing work is not a wise choice if you want to survive in this industry. You might be intimidated and feel scared that you won’t make it but I would advise to avoid turning down jobs that are important to you. Working with other translators is so valuable! You would not feel alone and you help your business grow.


If you are already quite busy and you are expecting a baby you should inquire and secure a place at a day care as soon as you possibly can.

I am not sure how much this applies in other countries but in Italy most working women fill in their application forms at all nursery schools (public or private or both) while they are still pregnant. Women who do “normal” jobs outside the house have no other choice. However, when you are a freelancer, you don’t always follow this pattern. But for your own sake and for the sake of everyone and for your freelance business, I suggest you make arrangements as soon as you possibly can.

What I would like to point out here is that what’s good and feasible for one mom, might not work for another. This is why I wrote “and/or”.

What you should always have in mind is this:

Don’t expect to have too much work to start looking for solutions. Be proactive. Perhaps, that’s the best tip I can give you.



You should keep your private and family life completely separate and never disclose details about parenting issues to your clients unless it’s absolutely necessary and you really know your client (possibly a parent too).

When it comes to social media, I would suggest avoiding sharing posts about your personal and family life, if your online activity can be seen by clients or prospects. You may talk and share things about family within a lighter context on a blog, even during a Twitter chat or in an interview or in other ways that do not interfere with the professional image you want to establish. On Facebook for example, it’s easy to get “carried away” and post family pictures and talk about non-job related things because the “temptation” to talk about your kids when everybody else does, is really high.

If you are or want to be on Facebook, you may create a page and use that for all business related updates, news and thoughts. All personal stuff should be on your profile.

You should see social media as a way to:

  • Get to know what other moms/freelancers do and think
  • Find out interesting articles about freelancing and translation, discover useful websites, software, glossaries etc.
  • Help you get exposure
  • Network and build rewarding relationships (my favourite)

My advice is to keep looking for new clients and keeping the ones you already have. An advice I would give to any translator.

Always remember that clients need only know that you are the one to contact for a specific job.  They don’t care how viral your tweets get or how many friends and likes you have on Facebook. All they want is that you provide a first-class translation. The “noise” in your house is your problem, not theirs. They shouldn’t know about it. Convince them that you are a good translator. Don’t hesitate to ask for a deadline extension. But you don’t need to tell them why.



I know this post was huge and I hope you have read everything. Correct?

Your business will grow if you give proper attention to both roles finding better ways to fit the two the way it works for you.

What works for one mother, might not work for you. Find your own road to success (or simply, survival) based on your own needs, circumstances and goals.

These are some balance tips and ideas:

  1. Educate your child to respect what you do by explaining it in simple ways. For example: “Mom has just received a new project!!! As soon as this is over, we are going to take the bus and go to … (kid’s favourite place)”. If time permits, cook (simple) biscuits or do something exciting to celebrate the new project.
  1. Be proactive by getting a trustworthy babysitter and/or enrol your child at a day care (depending on your financial situation). If your work requires you to work while your kid is home from school – and a babysitter is out of the question – take regular (sometimes very regular) and quick (sometimes a bit long) intervals from translation to play with your child. You could prepare a DVD with favourite cartoons, get crayons, invent games that your baby is overjoyed with. Another option is Lego. It requires more time to build a house with Lego than draw one with pencils.
  2. Never “ignore” your kid while you are working because it will get more clingy and will continue to whine. Talk to your kid. Your voice keeps babies busy and it’s a sign that you are paying attention.
  3. Insist on a sleeping schedule so that you won’t reach the end of the day feeling all listless and pooped. This is imperative. Sadly, not all kids go to bed early so consider yourself lucky if yours is tucked in bed by 8.00pm giving you a time to translate till… 2.00am (not recommended if you have to wake up at 6.00am)!
  4. Instead of panicking when you have too much on your plate, call the babysitter or your mom. If that’s out of the question (do I know about it…), don’t despair. Find other translators and work in a team.
  5. Don’t isolate yourself from the industry. If you can’t go to conferences and events, network or even create your own events in the town you live in. It can be events for translators with kids. They are bound to be more people like you. You just need to look for them. Or you write emails to another mom in another country. That’s networking, too.
  6. Don’t spread yourself too thin. You can’t do everything at the same time.



The road to combining freelance translation and parenting is bumpy but it’s definitely worthwhile.

Having a personal life and a business is not about separating the two in the battlefield of your daily schedule but about combining them creatively. Working on a marketing text and listening to Violetta singing is not that bad (I love the song). The process will not be easy but if you are determined and willing to make compromises, you are going to be fine.

Thank you for reading and feel free to share your thoughts, adventures and more tips. Of course, tips always come from a personal experience and that’s something that can be immensely different from other parents. As an expat living far from home and relatives, what I can say is that what seems straightforward for others (let’s call grandma) is not for everyone. That said, there are two sides of a coin and what you lack in one aspect, you make up in something else.


Magda Phili

About Magda Phili

Greek translator specialising in private and corporate law, health and transcreation.

6 thoughts on “Combining freelance translation and parenting (and growing your business gradually) Prevention, pacifier strategies, tips and more

  1. This is so absolutely true! I am freelancing at my office now and let me tell you that the only thing that worked for me was setting work and “mommy” times. When we are having lunch or dinner, I try not to check my emails or phone and we also set our play time at siesta (after lunch) and from 7 pm on. Luckily, we all go to bed at 9:30 at most. At the end, it all comes down to creating habits and being flexible. Thank you for sharing these personal tips!

    1. Hi Clarisa,
      Going to bed early is such a huge advantage! I have been trying to change this but we are all night owls here. With only one child it seems that it is more difficult to set rules! Thank you for sharing the post and all the best!

  2. Hi Magda, thank you for the post, I tend to think that other freelancer mums have it all worked out, I live far from my parents too, so unfortunately, I can’t take my children there for, say two hours. The only time I can work during the day is siesta time, and sometimes getting them to actually sleep takes quite a while, so I just let them be and think, hey never mind they’ll go to bed earlier tonight ;). I work at night, it’s what works for me, it’s calm and there are no interruptions!

    1. Hi Louisa,
      It’s wonderful to hear from you. I also tend to think others have it all worked out. What I have been trying to deal with is the “absence” of both grandmas in my life (one had passed away before little one was born, the other one is ill), so it’s a permanent situation even if I live far from home. I do have other relatives (not here in Italy) , but it’s not the same and being an expat for so many years, it’s difficult to say what things would have been like if I was home.
      I have met other moms with a similar situation and that helped me stop dwelling on it. We do what we can. Working at night is my “favourite” too. Taking an afternoon nap (when possible), will give me all the energy I need to stay up. So far so good. Thank you very much for your comment, it does mean a lot to me and I am sure other expat parents will find it comforting.

  3. Yes, I also wonder what it would be like if I were in my home town (I’m not an expat but live 300 km away from my parents), I think it would probably be easier…but, then again, maybe not!
    We just have to work with what we’ve got 🙂 Yes exactly taking a siesta is a good idea for being able to stay awake at night, I also, for a long time, went to bed early with my kids, say 8 or 9 pm and put my alarm(s!) on for 2 am or so, this way I ensured that I got enough hours sleep and that I could find peace and quiet to work, and the thought of a cup of tea always got me out of bed :).
    Thank you again for the post Magda 🙂

  4. I fully agree, you have to find just what works for you best. My strategy is, at least for the summer, that I take the kids to the playground where they can play, tell them not to nag me because I am working, and off we go, with my laptop in one hand and sandbox toys in the other:) Most of the time they find children there they know and can play with, so they don’t even miss my company. A lot better than staying at home and listen to their constant whining because one kid just have beaten up the other…

Leave a Reply

The Open Mic

Where translators share their stories and where clients find professional translators.

Find Translators OR Register as a translator