Bring on the Monkey Wrenches

by Cece Bell

You and your spouse are successful freelancers. You’ve got clients, you’re writing and selling books, you have time and money to spare. Then a baby (or two) comes along and throws a monkey wrench in the works. What can both of you do to continue not working for The Man, while raising your children successfully? ( See Fig. 01)

Think of parenting as a part-time job, and your freelance work as another part-time job; the two combine to make one crazy jacked-up full-time job. Yes, the parenting gurus are correct when they say that parenting is more than just a job. However, accepting that parenting does have its job-like aspects will enable you to better manage your time both as a parent and as a creative worker.

Organize your parenting and working lives by creating a parenting rota, which is a chart that shows who is doing what for Junior, and when. You’ll do your parenting job when the rota says you should. You’ll do your freelance job(s) when you are not on the rota; that is, when your spouse is the one doing the parenting job. (Obviously, both of you can work in the early mornings, before the kids get up, and in the evenings, after the kids go to bed. Also obviously, if your kids go to school, you can both work while they’re there.)

To create a rota, divide a typical day into chunks of time or into tasks. Then, for each day of the week, decide who is going to do each of those tasks. Use your strengths and weaknesses to assist you in the assignment of times and tasks. (For example, Mama likes to cook, so she makes supper more often; Daddy is a Night Owl, so he reads to the kids at night.) Try to arrange the rota so that each of you gets one kid-free “Sacred Day” a week. And also make sure that you leave space in the rota for you and your spouse to have some time alone together without the kids. ( See Fig. 02.)

Most of the time, you and your spouse will probably use time “off the rota” to work. But don’t get upset if your spouse uses his or her time off the rota to do something other than work. Catching up on sleep, for example, is a valid use of time off the rota. Two part-time jobs can be exhausting, and it’s necessary to refuel for both jobs from time-to-time. (See Fig. 03.)

Realize that the rota is a Beautiful Ideal. It doesn’t always work perfectly. Things come up. Trips. Illnesses. A rescheduled piano lesson. A pressing deadline. A strong desire to color with Mama instead of Daddy. So be flexible and rearrange the rota as needed. The rota is there to encourage fairness and to prevent resentment. It gives each spouse the power to say, “Dear heart, the rota shows that it is your turn to take care of the children. I have to (work, sleep, knit a Munsters-themed cozy for the TV).”

And just remember that you’ll have equal parts fun and frustration when you’re on the rota taking care of your kids as your spouse will have when he or she is off the rota working on projects, and vice versa. In the meantime, bring on the monkey wrenches! They are all such good little people. (See Fig. 04.)



Above: Fig. 01 What can both of you do to continue not working for The Man, while raising your children successfully?


Above: Fig. 02 Make sure that you leave space in the rota for you and your spouse to have some time alone together without the kids.


Above: Fig. 03 Two part-time jobs can be exhausting, and it’s necessary to refuel for both jobs from time to time.


Above: Fig. 04 In the meantime, bring on the monkey wrenches! They are all such good little people.

Illustrations by Cece Bell


Quick Tips
Create your own work space that your spouse, and your children especially, cannot enter and/or touch without your consent.

Look ahead at what a given week is going to mean to your parenting life, and then set your working goals for that week. If it’s an easy week for Junior, then you can strive to get more done; if Junior has a doctor’s appointment, a piano recital, and an appearance as Hamlet in the school play that week, don’t berate yourself for not getting as much done as you would like.

Junior has a set bedtime, and you should, too. Sleep is essential. Yes, the night hours are good hours to work, but going to bed at the same (and sane) time each night will make you a nicer spouse, a nicer parent, and a nicer worker.

Give each other 2 to 3 day “sabbaticals” on occasion, by taking the kids away for the weekend. In the summer, give each other the gift of even more time by taking the kids away for an entire week. It’s amazing how much work you’ll get done with these enormous chunks of quiet time.

Don’t abandon your crazy nonpaying projects! They make your brain happy.


Dig Deeper!
1. The whole idea of the rota came from my husband, Tom Angleberger. After a particularly nutty week in which the kids drove us insane and we accomplished nothing except for keeping them alive, Tom said, “We totally need a rota.” He loves other dry terms like “efficiency expert” and “economy of scale.” And yet he is the funniest person I know. His website is www.origamiyoda.com.

2. Penelope Trunk’s website, the Brazen Careerist, is funny, personal, and a great source of workplace advice (especially in regards to workplace interactions with clients and coworkers).

3. And because it’s hilarious (and because we all need an enormous laugh every day), I give you Allie Brosh’s website, Hyperbole and a Half.


2 thoughts on “Bring on the Monkey Wrenches

  1. Al

    Aaahh… took me back to those golden years when our kids were little and Joanne and I were balancing jobs & kids. We had a similar schedule, tho not as thoughtfully worked out. It helps a HUGE amount to know who’s cooking, cleaning, etc. on any given day. I like that you plan for downtime and together time too.

    As always, love the illustrations Cece!

    And to the Parse gurus – I’d love the illustrations placed within the text – it’s really annoying to have to scroll down to see the lovebirds.

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