4 Ways to Find Balance as a Parent Who Writes
Lately I’ve been having trouble finding balance.
I have heard it said that in order to be prolific at what we do, balance is not something we can achieve. But I don’t believe it. Or maybe that’s just not the kind of prolific I want. Balance is important in my life.
As writer parents, it’s essential that we find balance in both our professional and personal lives.
Parenting can feel all-consuming, because those babies are precious, and they don’t stay little for long, and shouldn’t we be using the time we have to just enjoy everything about them?
And writing can feel all-consuming, because those stories come knocking, and it’s not easy to put down the pen once we get started, and writing isn’t always something we can do in bits and pieces and fits and starts, and shouldn’t we be using the time we have to create?
Balance can sometimes feel impossible when kids are sick or the epiphany we had while making breakfast flew right out of our heads while we were opening our notebook to write it down.
A couple of weeks ago, while my kids were playing with cars right in front of me, I was crafting pitches to send out to various publications. And right in the middle of my writing, that voice came creeping in.
Shouldn’t you be enjoying the last mornings you have with your boys?
My boys started school recently, and, before they did, I had been meaning to spend more quality time with them, because summer was a madhouse, and I didn’t get in as many quality time-with-boys hours as I wanted. At the same time, pitches have deadlines, and I knew I needed to do them now if I wanted the best chance for my manuscripts.
I feel this tension all the time — play with my kids or try to get more work done. Teach the 4-year-olds preschool, like I did all the other boys, or take a few minutes to myself and actually read something I enjoy — that’s not full of letter sounds and “which one is different” and colors and shapes.
There’s always so much work to do and so many new things to learn about in the life of a writer, and there is always so little time in which to create and still enjoy my children without deadlines hanging over me.
It’s possible to achieve balance, but it may look differently than we think it should. Sometimes the expectations we have for ourselves are the hardest expectations to achieve — and we have to take a step back to see why we’re expecting so much and whether we can let the pressure off a little. That’s the first place I always start.
But here are some other places I’ve found ways to step toward balance in my writer-mom life:
1. Quit looking at the competition.
There are many writers out there cranking out stories at an impressive rate. Many of them are not parents. We should stop trying to be like them. We move at our own pace. Maybe we can’t write a book every 30 days or 60 days or 200 days. That’s okay. If we are doing the daily work of it, we will, eventually, have a book.
We have time restraints, and sometimes that can seem like it’s a handicap. But according to research, restraints can be good for us. They can make us more creative, if we use them to our advantage.
2. Invite the children in.
If you’re having trouble achieving balance, invite your children in to your work. My children know that, every morning at 6:30 a.m., we will listen to an audio book while we’re all getting ready to leave for school. They know that once a week, during Family Time, we will have a writing night — and sometimes that means collaborating on a story together and helping Mama work out a plot line where she’s stuck. Sometimes it means reading excerpts from writing books we’ll read together.
There is something sacred about that shared space.
3. Establish set hours.
Parents who work from home can have a tough time with balance if we have no set hours. My kids know that from 9–9:30 a.m. I am catching up on emails and business matters, but the rest of the morning, I am available to them. If I receive an email outside of those morning “office” hours, it can wait until later.
They know that during their naps and Quiet Time I will be working but am available for emergencies. They know that from 1 until 5 p.m. their daddy is on duty.
If I am doing any business outside of those hours, they will call me on it.
Sometimes, when a deadline is looming, it’s necessary to work on finishing a story during Family Movie Night, but open lines of communication are important for those instances when office hours creep into family hours. We don’t ever want our children to believe that our work is more important to us than they are. But we do want them to understand that our work is important.
4. Adjust your mindset.
Some days we just won’t get a whole lot of work done, because a boy was feeling sick or lonely or doubly mischievous. If we can shift our mindset from “I didn’t get everything done that I needed to get done today” to “Today’s work is enough for today,” we will be happier people, and so, by extension, will our children.
Balance and brilliance are not opposite poles. They can exist together. But it will take great intention and focus and compromise.
It’s a good thing we’ve already mastered that as parents.
Rachel is the author of the kid-lit fantasy series, Fairendale; the poetry book, This is How You Know; and the Family on Purpose series. She writes about writing on her blog This Writer Life, contributes regularly to Huff Post and faithfully writes 5,000 words of fiction and nonfiction every day.