The hardest thing I’ve done in my life is having kids.
I love them to bits … but if you’re a parent, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that nothing prepares you for the reality of children!
Some people stop writing altogether while they’re busy raising small children. If that feels like the right option for you, then by all means take it – I’m certainly not here to say you should be writing. There’s nothing at all wrong with having a break.
If you do want to keep on writing though, then it’s possible to carve out a bit of time, space, and most importantly energy.
(Not necessarily easy, but possible.)
Here are some things that have worked for me: I’d love to hear your tips, too, in the comments.
#1: Forget About Being the Perfect Parent
There is a huge amount of pressure associated with being a parent. Of course you want the best for your child … but the last four years have taught me that “good enough” is fine, when it comes to parenting and to writing.
My kids eat a fair number of fish fingers! My eldest had home-pureed baby food; the younger one was weaned entirely on jars. They’ve been known to have crisps for breakfast. Sometimes we watch rather more TV than the government-recommended “no more than two hours a day”.
(Sometimes we make our own playdough, do baking, run around at the park, pick blackberries, and practice writing. Those are the moments that make it into my Facebook photos. ;-))
My kids see that both their dad and mum work. They know that I go off to write – and sometimes I go away overnight. I’m glad! I want both of them (but particularly my daughter) to grow up knowing that everyone deserves to pursue their dreams, and that raising kids is not the only thing that a parent does.
#2: Negotiate with Your Spouse
I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband. Parenting can be a hard slog at times – we’ve supported one another through sleepless nights, the kids’ sickness bugs, our sickness bugs, temper tantrums … the lot.
Since our eldest was small, we’ve had to figure out how we can both get enough working time (and down time) as parents. Over the past four years, we’ve had several different schedules – at one point, we were taking it in turns to do different days; now, Paul works close to full time and we have a nanny helping out.
When I want to get away for a weekend to focus on my fiction writing, Paul takes care of the kids. When he wants to get away to a conference for his PhD research, I take care of the kids.
Whether you’re the mum or the dad, whether you work full time or stay at home, do negotiate with your spouse for some time to yourself when you can write. (Make sure they’re getting some time for their dreams and interests, too.) It’s easy to fall into a role as a parent … don’t get stuck with something that isn’t working for you. If your partner isn’t a writer, don’t assume that they’ll just guess what you need, either – ask for what you want.
#3: Write in Short Bursts
Before the kids, I used to like to sit down and write for at least a couple of hours at a time. Once we had two very young children (a newborn and a nearly-2-year-old), I could manage 15 minutes of writing while both overlapped on their midday nap, and sometimes another 15 minutes after they were in bed.
This wasn’t my preferred way to work … but I was surprised how much I could get done. Once the older one started playgroup in the afternoons, aged 2, I used to write in the nearby McDonald’s for 15 minutes or so, with the baby in the buggy. (I wrote about this at the time in If You’ve Only Got 15 Minutes, Is It Even Worth Writing?)
When your kids are tiny, even if you can just manage 10 minutes once or twice a day, it’s infinitely better than no writing at all. Just that little bit of time can be enough to help you feel like you’ve still got something that’s “you”.
You might try:
- Waking up earlier to write – if your kids aren’t very early rises (our youngest woke up at 5am every morning for most of the first two years of his life…)
- Writing while your child is napping.
- Spending 15 minutes writing in the evening, once they’re in bed.
- Getting your partner to take the kids for half an hour once they’re home from work so you can write.
#4: Get Away to Write (if You Can)
I first did this when our oldest was 3 and a half: I booked a hotel room overnight, and was there from 2pm Saturday until 11am Sunday, writing. (And catching up on sleep!) This is a fantastic way to eliminate distractions and interruptions and really make the most of your writing time.
This might not be possible or practical for you: perhaps you’ve got a baby who’s breastfeeding, or you can’t afford to stay away, or your partner isn’t willing or able to take the kids on their own overnight. But even if you can’t do an overnight retreat, you might be able to go out to a coffee shop for a few hours on a Saturday while your partner has the kids.
Even if this is something you can only do occasionally, it can be a real boost to your writing, plus it gives you a break from being around young children all the time – which can be exhausting.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing alongside parenting (or caring) … even if it’s been a struggle. Do pop a comment below to share how things are going for you, or feel free to join my (totally free) Parent-Writers Support Group on Facebook – all parents, grandparents, carers, parents-to-be, etc are very welcome.