Friday, June 22, 2012

On Mommyhood and Writing

Disclaimer: This post is for moms who want to be writers. Particularly married stay-at-home moms of young children. I speak to that experience because it is the only one I have ever had. If you are a working mom, or a single working mom, or a working woman who isn't a mom but hopes to be, or a working woman who isn't a mom and doesn't hope to be, or a man, congratulations! You have a totally different life experience than I do, and I will never understand what it is like to be you, but I can totally respect you regardless.

So: You want to be a writer. And maybe you wonder the same thing I get asked a lot, which is, "How did you balance two small kids with writing books and pursuing publication?"

The answer is: I'm completely unbalanced.

Ha ha. No, actually, that really is the answer. Because let's face it: you have enough to do. You have more than enough to do. You already have more to do in any given day that you can ever reasonably accomplish. Just listing out all the things you can/should/could do with your day today would probably take up more time than you will spend making dinner/cleaning/providing enriching activities for those developing minds/etc.

So it isn't about finding balance. You will never find balance. I certainly haven't. It is about finding the right combination of imbalances that works for you and your family.

Here is what I did.

I gave up sleeping. It was a huge, HUGE sacrifice for me to stop napping when my kids did and to be willing to stay up into the night. I was traumatized by prolonged and intense sleep deprivation. I'm not kidding. I wish I were. Oh, for the love of all that is good and well-rested, how I wish I were kidding. But I hit a point where writing was more important to me than getting extra sleep.

If you aren't willing to make that sacrifice yet, that's okay. Really. The writing will still be there when you have a few more years of sleep recovery under your belt.

I gave up socializing with anyone other than my husband. Please note that I did not abandon my relationship with my husband. This is a fine line to walk, and sometimes I cross over into neglect territory, but I try to be very aware of our relationship and to let him know that he is my priority, even when I have deadlines or shiny new ideas that are pulling me away. Same thing with your children. Nothing--nothing--is worth sacrificing your relationship with your family. It's easier to prioritize the kids (because they will demand it, naturally), but be very aware and diligent that you are not sidelining your husband/partner. They are your partner.

Friends? Well. I think most of them still like me, even though for years now I disappear for months at a time. If it was the choice between writing and a girls' night out, I almost always chose writing. I am a bad friend. I know it, they know it. I try not to feel guilty about it. Sometimes it sucks having no social life, but hey, that's what imaginary friends are for.

Again, it comes down to priorities: would you rather escape for one evening a week with your friends, or would you rather have that time to get in a few thousand more words? If the first option: that's okay. Really! If the second option: You are ready to do this like it demands to be done.

My house is always messy. It's livable--it's not filthy--but it's certainly not a sparkling beacon of [some domestic magazine I can't even name because ha! like I have time to read domestic magazines!]. That's okay.

I'm a crap cook. Like, terrible. If it can't be prepared in twenty minutes, I pretty much don't make it.

I don't watch television. I don't even get any channels. Hot Stuff and I usually have a show or two that we watch on Netflix, but television is not a standard part of my life. (I more than make up for it wasting time online, but, well, pick your poison. You can't poison yourself with all of them. You have to choose!)

My kids do not participate in dozens of after-school activities. They play outside, they write stories, they draw pictures, they read books, and yes, they watch a little bit too much TV. They're happy. I'm happy that they're happy. I don't worry about all of the "standard" parts of childhood that somehow all revolve around driving places and paying for things.

In the end, I can't tell you how to do it. I can tell you that it will be hard. You'll cry. You'll want to give up. Sometimes you'll resent your family for not giving you enough time to write, and sometimes you'll resent the writing for taking you away from your family. All I can tell you is this:

Try to be fully present.

Be fully present for your kids and you husband. If you are with them, BE WITH THEM. My biggest regrets are the hours and hours I've wasted being grouchy because I wanted to get writing done but couldn't.

And, when you get a chance to write, WRITE. Be fully present for that, too.

Decide what can go, and what absolutely can't, and then be okay with that decision. You will have to make sacrifices. The writing will not always be easy, and it will not always be fun. Publication is not a guarantee ever, for anyone. I'm not going to lie--it's easier now that I get paid to write. It was harder to justify before. But I still did it.

Write because you cannot imagine being happy without writing. If you can imagine being happy without writing, try that for a while and see how you feel.

Because here's the thing: You don't NEED to write. Unless you do. In which case, you have my blessing to become a distracted, slightly batty near-shut in, who lives a very rich inner life while still being there for her family. And who wears the bags under her eyes as a badge of pride, because she has no other options but to be a writer.


Jade said...

This has been on my mind a lot as October approaches. I'm just now sure how I'm going to adapt to the big change. I'm used to having whole days free to write, but that's is soon going to be a thing of the past. When I get panicked, I just remind myself that I AM WOMAN, so I can do anything. Seriously.

Thank you so much for this!!!!

Kiersten White said...

Honestly, give yourself a few months to adjust. I was a zombie with newborns. And you'll adapt. You'll get more efficient. When you have less time to do things, you do more because you have no other option!

ephrielle said...

You might just be my hero. :)

Lucie Brooks said...

While I was once a stay at home mom, I am now a working mom who is the breadwinner of the family. My kids are 13,11,4, and 2 (all boys).

I give up some sleep time and night and I religiously write on my lunch break. It's not always as much as I want, but even with just an hour a day I can get in around 1300 words, and that adds up.

My experience is different from yours, but it has two big things in common: you have to give up some things, and I couldn't agree more about being present. I am so much happier since I embraced that.

Thank you for this post. It always makes me feel . . . less alone when I know there are other people out there (im)balancing the same things as me.

Michelle said...

I really, really needed this today. I'm a stay-at-home mom to a toddler that thinks sleep is the enemy, and once he's down for the night, I'm ready to collapse. "Unbalanced" is definitely a perfect description of the way things work around here.

Alex Adams said...

Kiersten, thanks for this! I'm about to be a mother AND I'm a writer under contract. I'm currently scrambling to get as much done as I possibly can before our little one gets here.

Sara B. Larson said...

I love honest posts like this, because it makes me feel like I'm not alone in my unbalanced life. (Imbalanced? Whatevs.)I just hope someday to have something to show for it, like a real, live shiny book on a shelf. Because right now when my MIL comes over and gives me 'the look' and says, "if you need me to babysit your kids so you can clean," I just sort of mumble, "No, thanks. How nice of you to offer." But SOMEDAY, I'll be able to say, "No, thank you, we're perfectly fine. And by the way, did you know that I'm an author? With a real, live book THAT I WROTE instead of organizing my piles of mail/toys/etc that you are glaring at right now??" Hmmm. Yeah. That would be nice. I mean, we don't live in filth. Everything is clean. Just not organized. Heh.

Anyway, thanks for your honesty. And yay for the imbalance of a stay-at-home mommy of young children who are authors (or aspiring authors).

Louise Bates said...

I have finally come to peace with the fact that I absolutely cannot be a good mommy/writer/cook/housekeeper/sister/friend/daughter/wife/everything else all at the same time. It's all about picking and choosing. Some days the writing has to be put aside because the dust bunnies are successfully plotting an evil takeover. Sometimes we eat pasta and jarred sauce because the writing had to take priority. Sometimes everything else is shelved so I can spend two hours on the phone with a friend in crisis. That's life, and all those things that seem to interfere with the writing are what's actually making me a better writer, because they are filling my life out in every direction.

And I can't give up sleep. I tried that for a few years, and it turned me into a depressed zombie. That's one sacrifice that is NOT worth it, not for me, anyway.

S.P. Bowers said...

I'm in love with this post.

Becky Wallace said...

Oh man, you nailed it! I just want to hand this post to my husband and say, ”Yes! This. Read this!”

Brooke said...

Really needed to read this. Especially with #3 expected to make an appearance in November... just when I was looking forward to putting my 3.5yo into preschool a few mornings a week in order to write. Best laid plans, no?
I struggle to write while pregnant. Still haven't figured out why, but the good thing is I usually do great with a newborn and my laptop during those long nursing/nap sessions on the couch. Not sure how that will work out with two others to care for, however.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Wow, it's like I could have written this post. Except, of course, the part where you get paid...HA! Like that will ever happen. But who knows. I have done the whole take a break from writing thing and it SUCKS. I miss it too much to not do it. I can't wait to get past this hiatus of mine and dive Write in =). Pun intended.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I've done the writing while teaching thing, the at home with little ones, the writing while teaching and parenting, and the writing full time with kiddos in school. I wish I had had access to this post in my younger days.

Well said, Kiersten.

Suzie F. said...

This has been a huge lesson for me over the past 9 months. I don't have little kids anymore - I'm a wife, have 4 kids (8, 12, 15, 18), work part-time during the school year, plus the usual house/taxi stuff. My family's needs are my top priority and always come before writing. And this was a big year: adjustments to new situations, a son applying to colleges and getting accepted to an awesome one (I'm so proud *sniff*), all of his senior year activities, my baby's (read 8 year old's) First Communion, etc. The blog and writing pretty much came to a halt. BUT I refused to feel guilty. It's a choice that I made and will never regret. The writing will always be there when I can come to it. This time with my kids, I can never go back to and it goes by so fast. I can't even begin to imagine every day life with my boy living 900 miles away.

You are an amazing mom, Kiersten. And you're right. There is no right or wrong way. It's what works for each of us who juggle all that life throws at us

Crap. A couple more paragraphs and I could have slapped a cover on this post and called a book. Sorry 'bout that.

Robin Weeks said...

Love the post. I don't get to stay-at-home, but soo much is applicable to my life, too. Like giving up TV. And girls' nights out (that's what chat rooms are for).

So when do you find time to read? You didn't mention that, and that's my biggest struggle: I HAVE to read... but it sure cuts into my already limited writing time.

SarahJ said...

Amen, sista. I made the decision a few months ago (with the blessing of my husband, of course) to become a real writer. I've cried some days because of the imbalances, but you have it exactly right when you say you have to choose the imbalances that work for your family. I have. I already gave up sleep, socializing, and other hobbies to focus on writing. And my life has changed. I'm happy because I'm finally devoting my creative energy toward one creative activity (instead of pulling myself in too many directions). I've given up the need for the house to be perfect. My mantra is that my husband and children need to be happy, healthy, fed, and clean, and everything else after that is optional. I actually just did a post about this on my blog. :)

Whirlochre said...

All good stuff.

For the record, I'm doing OK with the writing but it's beginning to dawn on me that I might just be stuck on the mom part...

Tess B said...

I totally can't write well if I'm too short on sleep! Perish the thought, heh.

Though I wish people weren't so quick to marginalize friendships. I do understand prioritizing and how busy life can get. But it's never fun for the friend who gets prioritized out of a friendship.

Lorren Lemmons said...

Love this. I'm not a mommy yet (but I'm growing a little creature right now) and while this isn't my life right now I can very easily see it becoming my life in the future. :)

Rebecca said...

Kiersten, I can totally relate! And I can also tell you that this won't change much when your kids are older, except that they'll go off to school and you'll have more time to clean the house...I mean more time to write. But if f your kids are anything like mine, they'll discover that they love to sing and will want to be in jazz choir or musicals (or maybe they'll decide to do sports all of a sudden) and you'll be forced to become one of "those" parents who seem to spend more time driving and waiting than anything else. I've done a lot of my writing while waiting in my car for my kids!

It's nice to know that I'm not the only writing mom that feels unbalanced!

Magan said...

This kind of goes the same for us working moms who write. When I started writing for publication I was unmarried and single. Now I'm married with a toddler and it isn't as easy to get it all balanced, but sometimes you just have to find time to do what you love.

Your hair also looks really pretty today, I'm sure.

Kimberly Sabatini said...

Fabulous post! No one in my house ever has enough clean underwear. *head thunk* We just keep buying more LOL! I started writing TOUCHING THE SURFACE when they were 6, 4 and 2 and I have no recollection of how I fit in writing time. But I must have...because yes...we must write. <3

Iulia Lesley said...

It's the same when you have to study and feel the need to write. I'm currently doing a degree in economics, which, to be honest, takes up most of my time, but the writer in me has never gone away.
I write whenever I get some free time, at nights too. I'm not married and don't have a boyfriend, so I don't have the same problems you do, but it's still hard.
Love your books! Never give up what you do.

lora96 said...

Love the post. And it reinforces the fact that I'm not ready to go back to writing very much yet. I teach elementary school and we have a nine month old daughter who, for medical reasons, will be our only biological child. When she naps I either watch her or I nap. I don't want to miss a minute.

Bravo to you and your priorities. And ty for the post.

Cynthia Hand said...

Amen, sister. (yawns)

Lindsey Bench said...

You are a great writer. And an even better Mom!

Kate Larkindale said...

Are you sure you're not me??? This is my life too. Although I also have a 60 hour a week day-job to contend with as well as the writing and kids.

What's a social life???

Musing Novelist said...

I'm not married yet (that's still quite a while off), but the message that you can't neglect your family for your writing still hits home. Thank you!

Denise Beucler said...

Thank you. I've got a nearly 20 month old, and as part of my being frugal stay at home mom deal I babysit a 3 (now 4) year old. Only in the last few months have I been able to get back to any sort of writing schedule.
It's hard to keep the guilt away. When I'm writing it's hard to not feel guilty that I'm not doing housework or I didn't take my son to the park that day. When I'm spending time on the other tasks I feel guilty for not writing. Getting into a writer's group helped a lot. We'll see where it goes.

Tawna Fenske said...

This is such an awesome post!

I've spent my entire adult life being childless-by-choice, and always wondered how people with kids managed to do it all.

I got to find out firsthand when I went through an unexpected divorce, followed by an equally unexpected new relationship with a single father. I adore him, and adore the kids, but I'm definitely having to readjust in a lot of areas in my writing life.

I utter the word "balance" a lot, but thank you for pointing out that it's less about balance, and more about finding an imbalance that works for you!


Jolene Perry said...

I am absolutely, completely, and totally like you.
No TV.
I live in a constant state of unbalance, which is PERFECT. Because yes, being present is the key to making ubalance work.

I took a good friend out her her birthday, and if she wasn't moving soon, a part of me would wonder when I could get back home and behind my computer - NO KIDS!
BUT - tis fall it will all change when both my children will be in school ALL DAY.

I might sleep again.

Emily R. King said...

Fantastic post. I'm constantly coping with the guilt that is Motherhood.

So glad I found your blog! I LOVE your books. I can't wait for ENDLESSLY.

New follower!

Donna said...

Thank you for your honesty in this post. As a perfectionist I constantly struggle to find balance in my life. I want to be able to give 110% to each aspect of my life but 110% times "x" amount of obligations equals a number much larger than I am able to give. My kids are now 13 and 9 but I still have trouble finding alone time to write. I have learned that there are sacrifices that I must make if I want to be a successful writer and even more so (yet less painful) if I want to be a successful wife and mother.

Jessie Oliveros said...

Yes! Life is all about imbalancing the right things. I love that. Who lives the perfectly balanced life anyway? Thanks for sharing.

Christy said...

Love LOVE what you said about being present. Thanks!

E.B. Black said...

I'm the single woman who wants a family someday. D= And this is what I am afraid of. I'm just going to write as much as I can now before I have kids and won't be able to write as much anymore.

Kudos to you for being able to accomplish so much. Even if you don't get "everything" done, you still do so much! And I admire you!

Kelly Oram said...

It's like you've stolen my journal and posted it for the world! I've never read a blog that more fully describes my life. It's nice to know I'm not alone. I have a doubly hard time sometimes because my husband works from home. I get so envious of the fact that he gets to lock himself away in the office all day long while I struggle to get my work done while watching my 4 kids. I really have to cling to that whole motherhood is sacred thing. When I say my prayers everyday I always make sure to specifically say at least one thing I'm grateful for about each of my children. It helps me keep my perspective and know that no matter how overwhelmed and frustrated I can get, my family is more important. From one mother-first-writer-second to another, thank you for this post.