How to Explain Your Freelancing Career to Your Mom

By Rachel Kaufman May 7th, 2014

Sorry to air some familial laundry, Ma, but last week, when you asked me what I do all day, I was taken aback.

I’m a freelance journalist. I report, write, and edit for clients all over the world. To me, this is pretty straightforward. To my mom, not so much. Last week she asked if my articles “helped people figure out what was going on.” When I answered yes, her response was, “But how do you find out what’s going on? Do you go out there and look around and talk to people?”

Yes, Mom.

Last year, LinkedIn asked 16,000 adults about their kids’ jobs. A third of parents surveyed admitted they don’t really know what their children do at work, and half wanted to know more.

They’re not totally at fault. The workforce is changing so quickly, your job probably didn’t exist a decade or even a few years ago. That’s confusing. It’s doubly confusing if you’re a freelancer. What are you doing on that computer in the living room besides chatting on Facebook?

Here’s a guide to explaining the freelance lifestyle to your parents.

  1. Regardless of what you do, your mom is probably interested, so go into the conversation looking to have a conversation, not teach a lecture. Don’t offer up a dismissive response or assume she won’t care. Think of describing your job to a parent as practice for describing your services to a potential client — if you can’t get your mom interested, how do you expect to sell your value to a client?
  2. Try framing the conversation with an example or analogy she’ll understand. You don’t need to go totally cheesy like this digital strategist, but you can find common ground to explain the nuances of your work. One freelance writer recently compared her career to a three-legged stool. One leg is for writing about passion subjects regardless of pay. Another leg is for corporate and brand writing that provides supplemental income. And the third leg is for teaching and any collaborative job that gets her out of the home office.
  3. Even if you call yourself a “social media ninja” or “communications evangelist,” stick to detailing what you actually do, be it writing, editing, taking photographs, or shooting video. Synthesize a brief overview, and even a one or two minute version that you can use in case you’re asked for more details.
  4. If your family isn’t attuned to the freelancing lifestyle, set boundaries. For example, don’t answer phone calls from your mom until five p.m. It doesn’t matter if you freelance out of the basement in your parents’ house — the boundaries will help your mom grasp the seriousness of your work. Explain to her that many people are choosing the freelance life these days and it’s not necessarily any less stable than a traditional nine-to-five.

Even if your mother still has no clue what you do or how you do it, at the very least, she’s likely come to terms with the fact you’ll never become a doctor. That’s progress.

Image via J.S. Clark / Flickr

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