I am both a mother and a writer. My body of work is tied to my own body just as my daughter and I are connected. And in this way, these two very important aspects of my life compete for my time and energy.
I had always been a writer, but I never had anything at stake. I was young and free and the world was a blank book. But becoming a mom created a new urgency. I suddenly realized that my time on this earth is limited and I better fill that blank book in now while I still can. Not only that, but I had a child to role model for. I wanted to prove to her and myself that all I had to do was put my mind to something and I could achieve my dreams.
Some writers might decide to take a break from writing until their kids are older. Especially if they are at the start of their writing career, it is difficult to justify spending time on something that makes no money, or very little, when you could be spending that time with your children. And maybe that’s okay for some writers. Perhaps taking a break from writing might come as a relief, at least for a little while. Yet when I became a mom, I knew that this was not an option for me.
Also, when I wasn’t writing, fulfilling that creative desire, I felt bad about myself. I didn’t feel good about much of anything. I deprived myself of something I loved that gave me pleasure. When I wasn’t writing, I was distracted, thinking about writing in my head instead of putting it on paper. My body was playing Candyland, but my mind was creating an internal monologue for Queen Frostine. Basically, I was doing a bad job at being a writer and a mom. I had to find a way to create a healthy balance between the two.
That’s when the conundrum became most apparent. I needed more than ever to write and make this “thing” happen, but I had very little time to do it. Ah, life, why do you taunt us so?
Mother and Child Union
A common assumption follows that once a mother gives birth to a child, they become two separate beings. This does not take into consideration the months of nursing that might follow when they are attached by a lifeline of nourishment. Then, there are the months of carrying the baby on her back or in her arms, holding the baby in her lap. Even as the baby grows into a child able to walk on their own, there are years of clinging to their mother, hiding shyly behind her leg or holding tight to her hand.
When you stand back and squint your eyes slightly, mother and child remain as one body for many years following birth. They are entwined. In time, they slowly flex and release until they are finally ready to spin apart on their own. Even then, they are never truly apart.
A work of art is like this. An author incubates a story in her imagination and when she is ready to share it, births it into the world. But the writer and her tale are infinitely united as one does not exist without the other.
As my daughter has gotten older, finding time to write has gotten easier, but to this day, I continue some of the habits I created when she was little. These habits have made it possible for me to create balance between being a parent and a writer:
Schedule two hours a day of writing
Either schedule this time around child care or schedule child care around this time. Alternatively, write while your child is sleeping. Do not schedule anything else to happen during this time. Act as if you are going to a job. You can’t be late. You can’t meet up with friends. You must complete your task or you’ll be fired.
When my daughter was a babe in my arms, she slept four hours a day. Did you ever hear the saying: “Sleep while your baby sleeps”? This is meant to keep mothers from avoiding total exhaustion. Well, forget that. I wrote when my daughter slept. In the beginning, that was nearly four hours an afternoon. I finished a poetry chapbook about my pregnancy. As she got older and more active, that became two hours an afternoon. I wrote my first novella. When the naps stopped, I enrolled her in preschool two days a week for five hour days. This was a slower time for me due to the irregularity of the schedule, but I did manage to publish a couple of short stories. By the time she entered kindergarten, I was knee deep in a novel manuscript.
Take a writing retreat
Schedule a few days that you can get away and devote yourself solely to writing. Think about the hours you devote to being a parent, pretty much every hour. Realize that taking some time out of your important parenting role to nurture your passion is for the benefit of you kids, as well as yourself.
When my daughter was about four years old, I finally attended my first writing residency. I can no easier separate myself from my child than from my writing. But, just as a writer needs to distance herself from her work in order to return to it with a fresh outlook, so is it important for a mother to take time away from her parenting duties to nurture herself so that she can be an even better mother. I sent my daughter and husband to my mom’s house and took off for two weeks. The feeling of getting up every day and not having anything to do but write was incredible and only strengthened my conviction that I was on the right path.
Read your writing to your children (the G-rated parts)
This will get them involved and allow them to share in what you love. It also explains what you are doing on your computer all the time.
Last year, I took my daughter on book tour with me. She sat through ten readings. She saw firsthand what mommy does and we got to spend more time together. Now, she loves to write stories of her own. When I devoted the month of November to NaNoWriMo, my daughter eagerly reported her own weekly word count progress to me. Who knows, perhaps your kids will make exceptional editors? Children have a great ear for lack of authenticity, and they’re not afraid to be harsh critics.
So, yeah, parenthood is limiting, but sometimes limits help us to strive harder, just as schedules can often create more discipline. It’s much more difficult to get things done when you have all the time in the world to do it and very little motivation.
It wasn’t until I started writing again that I was able to be fully present with my daughter. Knowing that writing time was just around the corner, made playing five rounds of Candyland all the easier. I was able to be fully present with both my loves. I was able to follow both my passions, writing and motherhood.
Johanna DeBiase is a freelance journalist, novelist, yoga instructor, vintage boutique owner, world traveler, and mom based in Taos, New Mexico, or on her website. Follow her on Twitter @JohannaDeBiase