How to Find Time to Write When You’re a Parent

My kid’s 4, and I figured it out!

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Start with pen and paper.

Sure, your journal isn’t publish-ready, but you were going to do some edits anyway, right? If your first draft happens on paper, you can do it while your kids are playing next to you (or, more likely, building a blanket fort on top of you, trying out different hats on your head, or drumming a beat into your back while howling).

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Writing on a computer with your kids around is less practical, because they want to touch every button and see what sort of exciting thing must be on the screen. And many of us want to set an example for them as something other than screen-zombies. We know (or hope) we’re doing valuable work when we spend time writing on a computer, but what does it look like to them?

When you use pen and paper, and they want to “play too,” you can give them their own pen and paper to write or draw. Suddenly, you’re both creating, and you can feel like Parent of the Year. (Not that it’s a contest! Although it can feel like it sometimes.)

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Okay, now what?

So you’ve got your pen scribbles. They’re in the notebook you bring next to your bed for the half-cocked, middle-of-the-night ideas, and the paragraphs you pen while you’re parenting.

When you do get a moment on your computer, start typing up your notes, editing as you go. Instead of sitting in front of a blinking cursor on a blank screen, wondering if this is really a valuable use of your time, you’re filling the page! Quickly! That prompt you jotted down?: Now that you’re typing it, it’s reminding you of another great idea!

Before you know it, you have a lightly edited piece, without the slow build-up of anxiety and temptations to open Facebook, for just like a minute.

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Sometimes, unplug.

Unplug, not just from the screens, but from the writing altogether, from the idea that whatever you’re creating or dreaming up is the most important thing. Give the little love of your life your full attention. Take a deep breath and tamp down that annoyance that they’re interrupting you, and Why is it impossible for me to do something for myself!?

My family, playing outside after dance class. Photo by my mom.

Sometimes a little connection will fill their cup enough for them to play independently for a while. Win-win!

Desperately asking them to leave you alone will cause more struggles, and you’ll end up with an unhappy kid, an unhappy parent, feelings of failure, and certainly no time for writing.

Ask for help.

Maybe you can’t afford childcare for your kid while you write, but you’re creative! Do a childcare trade with a friend: Offer to watch their kid while they embrace their passion (or, you know, take a shower). Then they can watch yours too.

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If you’ve got willing grandparents nearby, start early with regular sleepovers. It’s incredible how much easier it is to focus when you know the kids are totally cared for, and there’s nothing you need to do for them. Yes, a fraction of your brain will always be with your kids, no matter where they are, seemingly for the rest of your life, but you can get that fraction down to like 25% instead of 90% if you send that kid to Nana’s.

If you have a partner, ask them to take the kids out of the house or to watch them while you go to a coffee shop to write. We, as parents, always feel like we’re already doing more than we’re capable of. You feel that way. Your partner feels that way. But we love to see our partners succeed at the things that are important to them. Maybe so far you’ve just asked for time on your computer, which doesn’t sound very important. If instead you frame writing as a priority, tell them how proud of yourself you are that you’re writing, and ask them for help in tangible ways.

It’s not forever.

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If they’re not already in school, they’ll get there. And everything will change.

And someday they’ll want to hang with their friends instead of you. So, savor this sweet time with them, while you’re their favorite person. And record your thoughts on paper now, because these are times you’ll want to remember.

Some of these pen-and-paper musings won’t get to be developed fully until your kids and you both grow a bit.

Maybe this is the time of living it, and later is the time to make sense of it all.

We can’t have it all. We just can’t. But we can have some of it. We can be there for our kids, and we can be there for ourselves as well.

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