|"Mother" -Nikki McClure|
Being a parent of young children is all-in, no matter what else you have going on. And it presents special challenges for us creatives who need space and time for our work in addition to bringing home the bacon or taking care of littles. But inciting a rivalry between your children and your creative progeny will only make you feel frustrated and hopelessly divided. A while back I read a post by YA author Laini Taylor about "Writers with Kids" and I liked how she phrased the topic as "Not so much 'kids as obstacle' but 'kids as given.'"
Making peace between my own work/life balance as a writing parent is something I've been honing for years now, and what seems to work in one season can change with my own creative growth and my family's development. Here are four tools that have helped to ground me and other writers I know in the midst of a life that sometimes feels like it's been reduced to tantrums, skipped naps, and bleary-eyed late night feedings.
|"A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without |
putting a word on paper." -E.B. White
You can't do it alone. Supportive spouses are a common theme in the Mayhem group and you do need a champion in your corner to keep the faith when you're discouraged and to let you work while they man the wheel at home. One of our Mayhemmers with five kids called a meeting to get everyone's input on whether his writing career was important (the kids agreed it was) and what he could do to stay involved with family life. This gave him clarity on how to be present to his kids' needs when he was with them. Even single parents can find supportive family members or friends who will spend time with the kids while they work. On the flip side, there will always be skeptics of your choice to invest in creative work and it's important not to let their disapproval cripple your efforts. Get your team of advocates and tune out the critics.
Embrace an unconventional work schedule:
Time is the giant hurdle for writing parents and there are a million ways to make it work. I have a hands-on husband who looks forward to time with the kids after work. He often gives me one day each weekend to write while he hosts "daddy daycare" with a bunch of his friends. Just last year I also started to get up at 4:00 in the morning to work for a couple of hours before my kids wake up. I'd never done anything like this before and I have found it surprisingly wonderful. It's a commitment that requires a shift to an early bedtime and a new paradigm on evening social commitments. But I was too tired most days by the time the kids were in bed to do much more than watch shows or tinker on the internet, so why not just go to bed and wake up fresh and ready to work? Because there's no way I am going to get up at 4:00 just to read my Facebook feed--I'm getting down to business.
Other Mayhemmers have done all kinds of crazy schedules, like driving babies all over town till they're asleep and then writing like mad on a laptop in a parking lot until they wake up, or having a spouse with a flexible schedule and taking afternoon writing sessions a few days a week. Some have hired a sitter to give them a few hours of writing once a week (me included), some have written between innings at little league games, and some even have a spouse who works night shifts so there's daytime space for the writer to work. I used to do swaps with other mom friends: I would drop my kids with them for a few hours and go work and then come back and watch their kids and mine for a few hours while they went out and did their own thing. I even know one woman who wrote her entire doctoral dissertation in 15 minute increments. You have to get creative with your time, but where there's a will, there's a way.
Go on retreat:
One of the most helpful things for me has been getting a work weekend away once every few months. There's traction and momentum that comes with long chunks of time without interruption. Last fall I fulfilled a lifelong dream and rented a one-room cabin in the woods, a dedicated writer's refuge on an island in the Puget Sound. I channeled my inner Thoreau, cooked and slept and worked in a sanctuary of silence, and after three days had revised or written more than I had ever done at once in my life. You don't have to splurge on accommodations, though. Wait until a friend is going out of town and offer to housesit or apply to funded writing residencies in your area.
Learn when to fight and when to flow:
Creative work is hard to choose for and you do have to get fierce about it and fight for it. When you never know the next time you'll get a chance to work, it's easy to become distracted and resentful when caring for your children, but if you can block out and commit to a work schedule of some kind, then you are freed to compartmentalize and be more present to your family when you're with them. It's also important to expect that unforeseen circumstances will sometimes intrude into your work time, especially as you rely on other people to care for your kids. If you can hold onto your own resolve to keep making the time to work, then the setbacks won't feel like failure.
How have you found time to write in the midst of family responsibilities? What other strategies have been helpful to you as a writer with kids? And if you don't have kids, how do you maintain a balance between writing and your other responsibilities? Would love to hear your thoughts!