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

Photo: Lorie Taylor
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In February, aspiring streamer Mystic hit a breaking point. When her kids started going to school, she had decided to try and 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 rollercoaster 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.”

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 mom 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 mom 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 normalize 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.”

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 recognize 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.”

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 like 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 organize, 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 specter 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 like 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 loads and loads 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.”