Writing While Mum
Read this on galpod.com.
Seeing as I have quite a bit of experience with that, I thought I’d share a few things I learned about writing while there are children in the house. Your mileage may vary and all that.
Before becoming a mother, I thought I would get work done while the baby napped or the toddler played in his room. Our society expects us to bounce right back from childbirth and return to work, so we expect that of ourselves. The truth is that we need time to readjust after birth. The more profound truth is that there is no going back. There’s a new normal.
Nearly all mothers I spoke with experienced some kind of “down” after a birth. Apart from the obvious lack of sleep, it’s normal to experience shifts in mood and energy levels as our bodies and hormones find a new balance. Some women get their energy back three months after birth, but it took me six months with the first child and a full year with the second. On the more severe end of this spectrum, we call these symptoms postpartum depression. My case was relatively mild, and I could function, generally speaking. But during that time, I mostly felt guilty about not writing while the babies napped. I “took a year off” with each baby, and what did I have to show for it? Hours on end in which I told myself I should be writing.
Here’s what I wish someone would have told me back then: it’s ok. Productivity is not all it’s cracked up to be. Redefine your expectations. When there’s a baby in the house, keeping it alive is a full-time, 24/7 job. If you did the dishes, that’s a bonus. Didn’t get the dishes today? Don’t worry; they’re not going anywhere.
Kids need clear boundaries. Any parenting blog would tell you that. And we need clear boundaries, too. Knowing when I’m writing and when I’m mum was the first step in creating a writing practice. I find it easiest to write when the kids are in school: after they leave, I make a coffee, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, light a candle and get going. That won’t work if you have young kids or a day job. But the key is to figure out what works for you. You know best when you are least likely to be interrupted. Mark that as writing time and protect it.
Clear boundaries help both the kids and me. For kids, clear boundaries help them know where they stand. If they know that, in the next hour, Mummy is writing and the door is closed, they might be able to hold off on showing me that fabulous drawing. For me, it helped with the guilt. If I know that when my Writing Time is over, I’m dedicated to them, it’s easier to feel a little less guilty about taking mum away.
Sticking to a Routine
The first piece of advice for parents and writers is to find a routine and stick to it. That’s excellent advice. A clear routine, like clear boundaries, helps us and the kids know what we’re supposed to do.
Kids grow. A healthy routine for a 12-month-old isn’t great for a 9-year-old. And we grow, too, as parents, as writers, and as people. What worked for us a year ago may no longer work. When I feel stuck, uninspired, or heavy in my writing for more than a couple of weeks straight, I start examining my routine. Does waking up at 6 to exercise still work? Should I try meditating after lunch instead of before the writing session? Should I reconsider my social media habits?
Re-examining my routine is a process. I need to try out some things and see what works now. Sometimes things that didn’t work for me five years ago now work magic. Of course, I also consider the kids’ routines when thinking of timings and specifics. For instance, since September, the timing of my workday has changed to accommodate the fact that there are two secondary-school children in the house. But that didn’t change elements of the routine itself: I still get up and exercise, just at a different time.
As a household, we embrace growth. But multiple people growing requires a lot of communication. As we adapt to each other’s growth, we talk about expectations (this week, there are four end-of-school-year events, so I’ll probably get no work done), boundaries (I’m writing right now, but in half an hour, I’d love to see this fabulous drawing), and routine (I like to write at least two hours every weekday). And we talk about the growth itself: are you still learning from that club, or is it time to change things up? Am I still happy with writing prose only, or do I want to start looking into writing music?
Growth, naturally, ebbs and flows. The troubles start when everyone’s in a flow at the same time. That doesn’t usually happen, but it can. In those times, open communication is twice as important. What worked for me last month doesn’t work now, and there’s no reason the other people in the household would know that. My first instinct (bred by years of being a girl in a patriarchal society (sorry)) is that I should probably wait with my growth until everyone else is more steady. But that time may never come, so I keep going and try to keep the communication lines open.
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