When you have very small, very young kids, your waking hours are focused on them (and to be very honest, even the hours when you’re supposed to be asleep). But, that’s really the name of the game. It’s a stage in parenthood that just IS.
Babies are born, they’re these helpless, mewing, beautiful little creatures that need constant help, constant love and bonding, and thank God, constantly napping. (Though there are some of you gifted with babies who defy sleep as much as humanly possible and I hope for your sakes they’re still beautiful mewing little creatures!) But as our kids slowly move out of babyhood, and what you thought was hard and a ton of work, just became laughable. Because man, those toddlers. Sure there might be no diapers to change, but now there’s cleaning up potty accidents on the couch, being constantly alert around cars, traffic, turtles-crossing-the-road because you know your kid is gonna bolt the second your attention shifts. Not to mention we have the epic responsibility of guiding our kids to be kind, caring, but independent little thinkers.
Oh, and through all this you still want to keep writing. You know, doing that special thing that gets your whole being to light up in joy like a Christmas tree because you love telling stories.
So… what do you do?
Do you give writing a try? Or do you toss your hands up and say, “I’ll try again in five years when I’m sleeping again?”
This was a question I’d asked myself long before I was pregnant with Kate and I struggled with it long after she was born (and especially the stage when she realized that she totally didn’t need to listen to everything I told her). It’s an even harder question now that I have two kids. I mean, since I’m a stay-at-home mom (formerly a full-time writer), the hours of quiet, of when it’s just me… Yeah. They don’t exist anymore. And I know, beyond a doubt, that I do my best work when I’m not the parent-in-charge of kids.
No kids around means that, for once, my constant, hyper-aware mommy brain can actually switch off and I can lose myself in the story. That I can actually hear my characters peek out from under the rock or bridge they’d been hiding under, waiting for the Small-Children-All-Clear sign.
Now truthfully I can get writing done with Kate around. I’m usually in an adjacent room and she’s quietly engaged in some Pixar movie or playing on the iPad. And seriously, no judging that I let my kid watch movies or play with screens. Me having this quiet time in the mornings with my coffee and my writing makes me a better person. I’m a better parent when I write. I’m happier, I’m calmer, I’m more patient. (Not to mention that I’m constantly around screens and using screens, especially with the writing, and I’m very aware of that double-standard of that she ‘can’t be’ but ‘I can.’)
So, Kate and I had this little routine working out in the morning, and it was going just fine. Until Eric was born.
Now, there’s this strange quirk of me and my babies (or, maybe not so strange but a really smart evolutionary coding by Mother Nature). See, when the baby is awake and near me, I cannot write.
I Just Can’t Do It.
It’s like my mommy senses are on super-charged power and I can’t get anywhere near my creative voice to tell a story. Heck, I can’t even escape into a book and lose myself in someone else’s story.
And yet… I still need to write. Somehow. In some way. It’s a part of me, it makes me happy, a better and more loving person. Too bad my kids can’t time their naps so I can get that snippet of quiet that I need.
See, while I’ve been questioning the “how” of writing around young kids (always knowing that I would, but never how much or when or where), this very topic was brought up on a podcast I listen to about two parents, both creative entrepreneurs, with six kids. Their answer to this question was don’t.
My takeaway from that podcast was they do their best work when they’re not caring for their kids, that writing will take longer if the kids are around, and they’re more prone to losing their patience. They’re also not focused on being with the kids and enjoying them because their mind is on the unfinished, interrupted project.
I’ve been going back and forth about this because honestly, they’re not wrong.
I mean, it’s all true.
But here’s my dilemma: I need to write.
And ironically, as I try and write this I’ve got Kate climbing all over me like I’m her personal jungle gym. Apparently she missed me the two hours Sean and I were gone on a few-and-far-between lunch date.
Still… as I’ve got my three-year-old climbing over me, distracting me, I still need to do this. This is still a blog post, and a really a question, I need to answer. Or think it through more. Again.
But, I’m also not angry with Kate for the distraction. She’s missing me. She wants to play with me while I sit on the couch. And I’m keeping her needs in my mind – and mine too. Without the anger.
Because not writing at all isn’t an answer. Believe me when I say I’m aware of any free time or in between time. I’ve worked on assignments on a laptop in the car while both kids were napping. Or taken my notebook to the park where I could jot down a few sentences in between glances to see where Kate’s gotten herself. The time I have to myself is also incredibly limited. Sure I can wake up early and get in some writing, and I do, when I can. But sleep is even more precious than writing and these days cutting that down isn’t an option either.
So. Do I write? Not write?
The ultimate answer, I think, is yes. But it’s also more than that. It’s about attitude. The attitude I have towards my writing. Do I see it as a job, one that I have to push myself and all those negative feelings aside? If I do, then the answer is to not write that day. But if I’m able to see the writing as fun, as an enjoyable escape that I can go and play with… that’s the real answer. To somehow keep the love and freedom and fun prominent. Definitely I still need to push myself to get in even those 15 minutes, but I know if and when I can, I always feel so, so much better.
And some days the answer is that I can’t write. I honestly might be to tired or the kids are being a handful or we’ve had a busy week and all I can do is just sit.
I think acknowledging this part of parenting is huge. I mean, all that I just mentioned isn’t anything new to parents. All of that is part of the job (and the fun) of being a parent.
You’ve got to knows yourself. Know how much life and parenting you can handle. It’s going to be different than what I can handle. And that’s okay too.
You’ve got to know too that writing around kids is distracting and if you choose to give it a go, be sure to breathe through when the frustration builds (because it will), when they decided they suddenly need milk or food of water every 30 seconds.
While it’s easier to write when the kids aren’t around, I truly believe that my act and dedication to my writing is important. They’re learning what, “Mommy is writing,” means. They are learning that I’m busy and that it is important to me, and I can help them, but in a few minutes. I mean, yeah, Kate’s still too young for that (asking her to wait while I’m nursing Eric usually ends in some form of crying and her believing I’ve utterly rejected her). But they need to build this awareness of my writing and what it means to me.
Another point is I’m going to homeschool them, so I’m certainly not going to put the writing on hold until some far date long into the future because I’m their primary caregiver and education facilitator.
Which all comes back to me saying, “Yes, I am going to write.”
I think this will be a different choice for different writers and the different seasons of parenthood. But what’s more important than the question of “yes, to write” or “no,” really is how. And with what kind of attitude? And being aware of what’s going on in your life on that day and in that moment… and being okay with the outcome.
As parents of young kids, unless we’ve got a babysitter or parent-helper or spouse who can squeeze in an extra hour during their regular work day… well, we don’t have good writing “days.”
We might have good writing “hours.”
Or good writing “fifteen minutes.”
That’s just part of the game, I think. Get in what we can, to the best that we can, and at some point this novel we’re tinkering away with will be done. We’ll have a novel or a short story finished. Or more practice in our craft because we’ve just finished another workshop.
Or, you could have no writing at all.
I think, for me, is that I’m not a big fan of waiting either. Waiting means that I’m not in control, that I’m letting some arbitrary time or life event to decide when I get to start writing again. Honestly, that feels like the too-many years I wasted at an office job before following my passion as a full-time writer.
So, I’m not going to wait on the writing.
And instead of focusing on all the projects I want to do but can’t, or all the time I want to be writing but am busy caring for the kids… I’m going to focus on how much I love telling stories. How much I love seeing characters take shape and what adventures they’re taking me on. I’m going to focus on sharing my writing with my children instead of just waiting until they’re older or we have more help.
I’m going to write, right now, when I can, and see where this journey as a writer, and as a parent, takes me. Because really, it’s already been a pretty cool journey so far, and there were some stories I’d never have written if I wasn’t a parent. I’d call that a win, even if the word counts are low these days.