Nappies, Divorces And Unstable Pay: Parents On Twitch Struggle To Strike A Balance

Photo: Lorie Taylor

In February, aspiring streamer Mystic hit a breaking point. When her kids started going to school, she had decided to try to turn streaming on Twitch from a hobby into a career.

At first, she only streamed during the day while they were away, but as time went on, she became obsessed with keeping her numbers up. She started streaming at night, too, after they went to sleep. Self-care went out the window. Streaming and family — those were the only things she had time for.

One day, right before a stream, she had a panic attack. All the pressures and unattended wants and needs boiled over. She quit streaming shortly after.

Mystic, a mother of two boys ages six and eight years old, is among a growing number of streamers trying to balance the crisscrossing challenges of parenting and streaming. Both require heaps of time and bleed into your personal life until you can’t imagine it without them, but streaming demands rigid consistency, while parenting is an unpredictable roller coaster without a seat belt.

As a streamer, you need to keep your fans interested, but as a parent? You’re required to to keep a barfing, crying extension of yourself from dying all the time. It’s a lot of pressure.

Mystic didn’t have a lot of free time as a parent, but what little free time she had, she spent on Twitch. That left no time for anything else.

“Time with my family was still being spent, but all other aspects of my life were being put on hold because I didn’t want to lose stream time during the hours that my kids were at school or sleeping,” she told Kotaku in an email. “I stopped caring about my own mental/physical health and well-being to be able to do everything I wanted to do, and it was such an unhealthy mentality that it broke me down.”

Photo: Mystic

Whether someone is a parent who decides to take up streaming, or a streamer who suddenly finds themselves with a screaming bundle of joy (and poop) in their life, balancing those priorities can be a precarious tightrope walk. In the latter case, it can even be career-threatening.

“When I found out I was pregnant, it was a really intimidating feeling, as I knew I didn’t want to lose my career — it was (and still is) so important to me,” said HayliNic, a streamer who’s going to be part of a panel about parenting at TwitchCon this year, via email.

“However, so was starting a family, and family has always come first for me. I’m lucky that streaming is a job I can do from home, so even though I’m not live as often as I used to be, I’m still able to work and be a full-time mum to my daughter.”

Among the streamers I spoke to, that was a recurring theme: Parenting always comes first, even if that means odd hours or lengthy lulls in streams due to child-related emergencies.

HayliNic doesn’t actually have a consistent streaming schedule right now, despite conventional wisdom saying it’s an absolute must for a sustainable streaming career. That’s because, well, babies don’t give a crap about schedules.

Even with a flexible schedule, though, taking care of the baby takes tremendous effort. Luckily, HayliNic has other family members to help her with childcare on some days.

“Parenting comes first, no matter the time of day,” she said. “I always start by feeding, changing and dressing the baby, then once she’s calm I’ll start taking care of myself.

“If it’s just she and I at home, I’ll usually wear a wrap and wear her during stream, and she’s typically pretty calm and naps the whole time. On days when I have help, usually I’ll leave a bottle in the fridge and my mum or my husband’s dad will hang out with her for a few hours while I stream.

“I purposely don’t have a schedule right now because babies don’t really operate that way this early on, but eventually once things normalise hopefully that will change.”

That additional support — whether it comes from partners or members of streamers’ extended families — is key. Streamers I spoke to said that spouses or partners often pick up the slack on the parenting side of things while they’re streaming, whether that means physically looking after the kids or making additional money to supplement an inconsistent Twitch income.

“If I didn’t have my spouse to support me, there is no feasible way I could stream multiple days a week,” said partnered fitness streamer TominationTime.

“In fact, I don’t think I’d stream at all given how often the kids wake up when they’re this young. I cannot imagine how a single parent could do it without support. IRL responsibilities, streaming responsibilities and job responsibilities would pile up too fast.”

Photo: Kiraeyl

Twitch partner Kiraeyl is learning that the hard way. When she first started streaming in 2013, her then-husband would help moderate her channel and interact with her community, on top of taking care of parenting duties. Then they got divorced. Now she’s on her own with a five year-old son. Sometimes, she says, she wonders if she’s doing the right thing.

“I do have moments when I question my decision,” she said, after pointing out that streaming doesn’t offer consistent income or healthcare. “Many sleepless nights when I am wondering if I am doing what I feel is right or if I am just being selfish choosing this as a career.

“I have a Master’s degree in another field, but I had put that career to the side when I had my son and continued through with that career hold when my ex-husband and I separated.” She told Kotaku that she hoped other aspiring streamers would really consider their options if they have a family to support.

Kiraeyl’s daily schedule is, understandably, packed. Between streaming and taking care of her son, she describes her privacy as “non-existent”, and while she said it gets to her “once every blue moon”, she doesn’t mind, most of the time. It’s part of the job, after all.

She gets help from her parents when the balancing act gets overwhelming, and she said she’s grateful that her Twitch community also supports her when times get tough. She isn’t sure how long she’ll be able to keep this up, though. “I do not see myself being able to maintain this balance indefinitely without some serious work,” she said.

Even apart from scheduling snafus and larger existential concerns, kids can cause trouble for would-be Twitch stars in other ways. Streamers can tell their children not to wander into the room while they’re on camera, but that doesn’t mean their miraculous and perfect snot goblins — who don’t even necessarily understand what streaming is — will hold up their end of the bargain.

“Both of my kids and my husband appear on my stream, and I am interrupted daily, but overall I think my stream understands this and even makes jokes out of it,” said streamer Lorie Taylor, mother of a one-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. “My one-year-old son actually walked in and sneakily turned my PC off during a stream, and my community still laughs about it.”

TominationTime, however, prefers to keep his kids almost entirely out of the limelight.

“I almost never let them appear on stream,” he said in an email. “The wife prefers they don’t have their faces on the internet. To keep ourselves anonymous, I just refer to them as baby #1 and baby #2.”

Kiraeyl allows her son to appear on camera occasionally, though she prefers to keep him off stream most of the time. She tries to keep his name anonymous, referring to him as “Mini-Boss” while she’s streaming.

“He has interrupted my stream many times,” she said. “We actually have a [chat] command for that called ‘mini-bomb’. I ask him to say hi to everyone, or say good night to everyone if I am ending, and so far my community enjoys it.

“Everyone who is in my community has been very positive and supportive of the fact that I am a single mother and that I have to end my streams at different times sometimes because I put my son first. If he becomes sick unexpectedly or is in a bad mood, I will end the stream early to take care of him.”

You also never know when a kid might have an accident or even an emergency. At a certain point, TominationTime told me, you just learn to recognise that these things happen — even when they’re pretty gnarly.

“One time my daughter was having a bad sleep regression like we had never seen before,” he said. “She would cry so hard that she would vomit and get burst blood vessels on her face. I had to stop the stream during one of these fits to go drive her around in the car until she slept. Eventually I came back on to finish my workout stream, but the viewership momentum was definitely hurt from it.”

There is one upside to streaming as a parent, though, says Lorie Taylor: “I think one of the only ways streaming makes parenting easier is that I am able to work from home and spend more time with my kids. I can make my own hours or do what I need to do with my kids and not have to worry about ‘losing my job,’ especially since I have a pretty understanding community.”

Photo: Twitch

But there’s more to building a successful streaming career than just, well, streaming. It also helps to network in local communities and at conventions such as TwitchCon. That, too, is a juggling act when you’re a parent and a streamer — and especially when you’re a single parent like Kiraeyl.

“I do try to go to as many conventions as I can and attend the meetups I organise, but it is dependent on my son’s schedule and health, as well as whether or not I can afford to do so,” Kiraeyl said.

“Fortunately, my ex-husband and I have worked out a schedule so I can travel to conventions for networking opportunities and giving panels, and my son gets to spend quality time with the other side of his family. During my local livestreaming meetups, my family helps with watching kiddo while I am down in Nashville running an event there.”

The spectre of burnout looms heavy for all streamers, and parents even more so. Both Lorie Taylor and HayliNic identified it as a simple reality of their chosen lifestyle, and when those ominous waves start rocking their boats, they sail through them as best as they can.

“I’ve suffered from burnout many times,” said Taylor. “It’s something that can’t be helped, but I think the best way I have found to deal with it is just giving myself time when I’m not working. This is why nighttime is so important for me, because it gives me a chance to unwind after the kids have gone to bed...

“Another important thing is to just not take on too much. Streamers in general end up working many hours to make it, but as parents, we can’t sacrifice ourselves in this way because we are also trying to support our families. Finding a healthy balance that works is so very important.”

“Family first,” said HayliNic. “That’s the best way I can phrase it. When I’m burnt out and have to choose, my daughter will always come first, and I’m lucky to have a community that understands that the way they do.”

TominationTime believes that the self-sacrificing mentality that is prevalent among Twitch careerists can be a trap for parents who are trying to make it as streamers. It can, he believes, blind them to the reality that maybe streaming isn’t what’s best for them or their kids.

“Parents especially can fall into the trap of thinking they’re providing for their family,” he said. “They’re sacrificing for the good of the family, but they’re not getting anywhere. The allure of doing something positive for your family is very seductive and can easily make people delusional when combined with high hopes of ‘making it’ as a streamer.”

As more and more parents stream and attempt to ward off the miasma of burnout, some streamers feel as though Twitch itself could be doing more to help. Kiraeyl admits that, for Twitch, this would be a tall order.

“I think it would be very nice if parents could have paid parental leave, but this is an issue that doesn’t just involve Twitch but the healthcare system in our nation in general,” said Kiraeyl.

“It would be hard for livestreaming platforms to accommodate for that as they have many people they are paying (affiliates and partners). There is no full-time contract positions for livestreamers. I think it would be unrealistic for them to be able to currently do this, which is why livestreamers who are planning for a family should really consider their options for healthcare and income before, during and after their pregnancies.”

HayliNic ended up giving herself a month of maternity leave, but she described it as “a hard decision to make financially” in light of the fact that Twitch viewers have been known to unsubscribe the second a streamer fails to stick to their schedules.

Lorie Taylor has an idea for a system Twitch could implement that might help with that issue, or at least take away a little of the financial burden. “Streaming services could offer a way to alert current followers/subscribers of a channel that the streamer is going into maternity/paternity leave and let them know that it helps the streamer greatly to keep their subscription going to support,” she said.

It’s a load of work, but these streamers say they still enjoy what they do. Mystic, now six months removed from her panic attack and on the outside looking in, told Kotaku that she misses it. She moved over to YouTube, where she now posts pre-recorded videos at a more manageable pace. She thinks she’s learned a lot, though, and she says she plans to try streaming again one day — albeit as a hobbyist, rather than an aspiring professional.

“I am absolutely hoping to go back to Twitch at some point, though at the moment I can’t say when that will be,” she said. “I learned a lot from the mistakes that I made in the past. The reason Twitch didn’t work for me and my schedule is because I didn’t let it work. I pushed myself too hard and for the wrong reasons...

“Twitch is an amazing platform and I have met so many wonderful friends through it. Somehow, somewhere along the way last year I lost sight of that. I lost sight of why I did Twitch streaming in the first place, and that was a mistake that I don’t intend to ever make again.”


Comments

    Parenting always comes first, even if that means odd hours or lengthy lulls in streams due to child-related emergencies.
    Well yeah, I mean that's true for pretty much any job. Add on top of that trying to maintain an almost celebrity status to keep people throwing money at the screen, and of course it's going to be stressful.

    ...some streamers feel as though Twitch itself could be doing more to help. Kiraeyl [says]
    “I think it would be very nice if parents could have paid parental leave, but this is an issue that doesn’t just involve Twitch..."

    What, paid parental leave because you're not streaming entertainment content that you produce on your own? You're not an employee, you're barely even running a business, you're basically an e-celeb. I agree with paid parental leave in principle, especially for employees, but this is stretching it. You're making content - entertainment content - for people to consume. If you stop putting out content, or people don't like your content, they're not under any obligation to keep supporting you, nor should Twitch have to support you.

    People are effectively 'donating' money to show support, why should Twitch or subscribers have any obligation to support you if you in turn have no obligation to put out content?

      These donations can be considered gifts too can't they? So you wouldn't have to claim it for tax purposes?

        Good question. The ATO site says that gifts aren't declarable income unless in large amounts or for 'business like' activity. Given that streamers want to claim streaming as their job, it's income and not a gift, and thus probably taxable? They'd then be running a business as a sole trader though.

      What, paid parental leave because you're not streaming entertainment content that you produce on your own? You're not an employee, you're barely even running a business,

      You make a very good point, and I think this is exactly where twitch can help. Not in providing parental leave or other employee benefits as this streamer was suggesting (because as you said, they're not employees...)

      Twitch could, however, be providing some level of guidance and information (as opposed to supporting) for aspiring "career" streamers to be aware of, like issues of dealing with days off due to physical and mental health , work/life balance, saving some money for a rainy day (when your streaming career ends...), general financial advice etc etc

      Or maybe experienced streamers, or people in this business, in general, could get together and provide some advice...which twitch could support/host

        Twitch honestly doesn't care. for everyone one of these streamers, there is probably 50 more waiting to take their place.

    i dont know why people try to stream for a living.
    And i dont see how its any harder than working any full time job.
    Alot...most, parents work full time and raise kids.

    strange times.

      The one thing alot of people don't see or really understand about streaming is that for every hour that a person is live there is at the very least another hour that goes in behind the scenes towards things like:
      -social media upkeep
      -graphic/artwork tweaking for self promotion
      -contacting and/or fulfilling sponsor requirements
      -creating and maintaining social connections to strengthen your position in the bucket of crabs that is streaming
      -playing games off stream (this does sound strange but the more you figure out off screen if it comes to multiplayer games allows you to put on a more interesting show than you fumbling around)

      When you go home from work you're essentially (in most cases) walking out the door and leaving it behind. Unfortunately it's not like that with streaming, (and it was one of the reasons why I'm currently on extended hiatus) essentially you're sitting in a chair wasting away in front of a camera. Sure it is fun and if you really hone your craft you may find yourself privy to events, people, etc that not many others can achieve but as a whole, working your butt off in a 9-5 feels like it allows you to reap much a larger more solid and tangible career.

      Everyone wants to have their 5 seconds of fame but at what cost? You end up sacrificing soo much in regards to social commitments with friends and family, travel, and literally years you can't get back that once you have finally taken a step back from it all you kind of feel like you could have achieved soo much more

    Amazing. It's almost as if there's this... subconscious belief that they're employees. Even though they can consciously acknowledge - grudingly - that they're not, and that there are no industrial relations rights at play, here.

    (Not saying it's not hard work. It's not a job. You can dig a fucking hole in your backyard, and that's hard work, but unless someone actually wants to pay you to do it, it's not a job, it's just hard work. Not all hard work is useful or deserves pay.)

    Article really needs to serve as a cautionary tale for anyone who is considering streaming as a 'job'. Potential streamers need to be very clear in understanding: streaming is not a job. It seems like they're treating it as one, but it's not... They are not employees. They are busking. They are relying on people to toss coins in their virtual hat. Twitch is just giving them a permit and a space on the digital street to do their thing.

    Getting paid without even doing that would transform busking into straight-up begging.

    (But hey, even folks 10% off from being billionaires are begging - successfully - for millions of dollars-- "Give Kylie Jenner 100 million dollars so she can be a billionaire," so I guess that's just the expectation, now. Money for nothing. Cult of personality bullshit...)

      Digital Busking is probably the best way to describe Streaming.

      Although the concept of Busking fits, I would say that from a taxation stand-point streamers are self-employed. Whether that entitles them to self-employment rights under Australian law or not I don't know but I do know that they are in no way working for or contracting for Twitch the organisation.

      It does feel like they have a weird sense of entitlement about it. It's their choice to stream, it's NOT a job. It actually seems more like some kind of strange addiction to me.

      "Potential streamers need to be very clear in understanding: streaming is not a job. It seems like they're treating it as one, but it's not..."

      If you want to make a success of streaming, you 100% absolutely have to treat it like a job.

        But it isn't a job, like you're an employee - there's no actual obligation to your viewers or to Twitch. Youre not contracted for anything. You can treat it like a job, the same as YouTube, but there's no obligation to provide content in exchange for money, and thus no obligation for people to give you money.

        You're just a celebrity that people throw money at. We're repeatedly told that streamers don't owe anybody anything - well, that's a two way street. Twitch is just a platform to push video to. They don't owe you anything.

        The closest thing is a home business - though what your 'business' is might be hard to define.

          I think you missed my point. If you want to make Twitch into a job-- and that's a perfectly fine and valid thing to do-- then you have to treat it like one from the start. You have to dedicate time to it, work at it and build it up. It's a lot of time and effort that, like any startup business, doesn't offer immediate rewards.

          Also, you do contract with Twitch once you reach affiliate or partner status.

            Your contract isn't an employment contract, or engaging you as a subcontractor. It's just outlining fees for services offered by Twitch. Twitch thus has no obligation to help you when you get sick, or have a kid, or can't stream (e.g. "work"). It's literally a platform to push content.

            There's a very clear distinction between a streamer and an employee, or a subcontractor. There's less distinction between a streamer and a sole trader business - except people seem to think Twitch owes them something when Twitch owes them jack shit.

    Poor souls...Nothing I've done competes, not even the time I had to get a week old corpse out of a full bathtub, then after the shift taking my dog to be put down, and breaking the news to the kids.

    Life happens, deal with it.

      Well yeah, I mean I've resuscitated babies and watched people die and spend ages trying to scrub the blood out of my uniform, but the whole "my life is harder" game is pointless because it's all relative.

      Doesn't make them entitled to anything though.

        Still mate, I don't envy you. Sorry you have to deal with all that.

      I remember my first bath tub death, it was upstairs and some water was dripping through the ceiling. The look my on recruit’s face when he realised the water that dropped on his shirt was from that tub.

      Just because you might have done it tougher than someone, Does not give you the right to dismiss their complaints. There is always someone who has done it tougher. There is no more retarded logic than "I have done it tougher, Therefore you are not allowed to complain about anything". I can almost guarantee someone has/ Is doing it tougher than you.

      Ill complain about what i want and i dont give two shits if you have done it tougher.

        It's all relative, but when I hear some hipster asshole bitching about how the coffee place didn't have the cruelty free 100% organic Yak milk I just think your first world problems are trivial to pretty much all other people's problems, everywhere those people are total dipshits.

        I used to have the mindset that I couldn't complain about my own problems or complain about shit in my life, it got to the point that I didn't think I had the right to grieve when my mother passed away because of starving kids or whatnot.

        It was very unhealthy and after some seeing a councillor I began to deal with my problems and issues in a more proactive way instead of pushing them aside because I didn't feel I had the right to complain.

          I just greatly dislike people who wield their life experience as a weapon and use it to silence others. I think everyone should be able to complain about something in their life. It's good for your mental wellbeing. Those who say you can't complain because they or someone had it tougher are frankly arseholes. I hope your life is a lot better now that you done feel restricted :)

      But clearly twitch should have supported you by offering to put the dog in life support.

    This seems like a breathtakingly stupid and risky career choice for new parents, especially single ones. Sure, it would be a great hobby (and earn a few bucks along the way and I guess if you have no appropriate skills required to work from home it is an option... But not a great one, tbh. ). But to put all your eggs in the capricious basket that is Twitch as a full on career? Yeah Nah.

    I love how entitled they are. Paid leaves, wtf. They have no responsibilities, no contract and can basically not stream whenever they want. I'm not saying they have no pressure or anxiety, but it's not like the impact of streaming volume on subscribers and revenue is a surprise. I also wonder how many streamers actually declare their revenue to the government and pay taxes (provided they make enough to be taxed). They should also realize how many starting entrepreneurs do not take a day of rest for the first couple of years of their company life. Wow, wake up, you just turn on your computer on, press the stream button on OBS and you're making money playing games...

    I'm all for streaming as a legit work option, but go there prepared and deal with the job requirements.

    The only way I'd see twitch paying leaves, providing a retirement fund, medical cover, would be to make twitch private, actually hire popular streamers as entertainers and only deal with these streamers.

    Last edited 18/09/18 11:10 am

    I’m sorry but if you’ve got young children you should not be streaming at all, hell I’ve had to pretty much give up normal gaming now that I have kids! The only way it would be acceptable is if you treated like a real job, as in get kids ready in the morning, send them off to daycare, Stream for 8 hours and then knock off for the night, pick them up and don’t start the stream til the next day. You would also have to take the weekend off. At the end of the day all you’re really doing is playing video games, I’m sorry but it’s NOT a real job.

    One thing that alot of people forget is that the amount of people who can comfortably live off twitch that have a decent work(streaming) /life balance is insanely small.

    Alot of your favourite streamers that aren't AAA struggle to make ends meet and it's even harder here in AU where we account for 1% of all twitch traffic.

    Think of it as running flour through a siv; alot will fall through, and only the tiniest amount of grains will sit on top of the mesh and make it.

    I don't understand how these parents put streaming above all other priorities in life, if they are looking for a creative outlet or "something to do" that they can work on when they have spare time, something like YouTube would work much better than the demand of having to always be live that twitch brings.

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