Today, I’m pleased to introduce you to one of my encouragers as a mom and writer, Tanya Dennis! Ever since I had my daughter, Tanya’s been there via Facebook to encourage me and tell me that yes, this is completely normal for whatever my daughter was doing. She agreed to do a post for me on balancing motherhood and a writing career. So without further ado, take it away!
In our results-focused society, we like checking things off our to-do lists, balance included. I would love to say balance results from a formulaic pattern of tricks and tips. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Achieving balance requires a lifetime of practice. Rather than a learned skill, it is a discipline. Only by working at it every day will one achieve it.
As your children grow and change, so will your writing habits. I had no problem balancing writing with motherhood when my kids were toddlers. They napped at regular intervals, so my energies were naturally divided. I wrote when they slept and didn’t when they were awake. Very little conflict existed.
As they grew, however, so did my challenge. Now, at ages four and five, they no longer nap. Either I stop writing, stop sleeping, or learn to divide my attention.
How? I take one day at a time. I utilize every moment. I make outline notes at the doctor’s office, take my laptop to school, write during play-dates and while making dinner. I even hire babysitters when I really need some uninterrupted writing time.
Being flexible maintains sanity, but proper priorities abate guilt.
Remember what’s important.
Some wrongfully assume this means the kids always come first. That’s not true. Don’t get me wrong – raising children is the highest calling anyone could receive. But when writing pays the bills, you may need to give that deadline attention before taking time out for cloud-watching in the back yard.
In her book The Mission of Motherhood (Waterbrook Press, 2003), Sally Clarkson wisely noted that children should not be the center of their parents’ lives. Doing so is a form of idolatry and creates extremely selfish children. She goes on to say “My calling as a mother is the same as any other Christian’s: to fulfill God’s will for our lives and glorify Him.” This means your children must be a high priority, but so must your marriage, your community, and your ministry. Has God called you to write? Then it’s important.
Today your children may take precedence. Tomorrow your manuscript may take the front seat.
When deciding how much time to spend on each, consider a parental pact.
A parental pact is a family agreement about your work schedule: what you must do, what you can do and how everyone can help. Author Mary Byers discusses this in her newest book Making Work at Home Work (Revell, 2009). She encourages freelancers (like writers) to avoid setting vague goals or boundaries. Instead of working “as much as I can,” try to work X number of hours each week or strive to earn X number of dollars each month. This gives clear distinction to work time and home time. Boundaries give freedom. Knowing everyone is on the same page allows you to work and play hard.
It’s okay to admit we’re human. Holding unrealistic expectations is the surest way to frustration. Sure, you may want to write a book every month, serve as class mom, feed the homeless, and still appear to be Martha Stewart at home. You may be able to do it all, but will you be doing it well? What happens if something interrupts your precisely planned schedule? With kids, it’s always a likely possibility! Don’t overbook yourself. Plan for interruptions.
Set goals and stick to them. Find writing partners who can keep you motivated and challenged. Without them, your writing can easily take permanent residence in a dusty closet.
Accountability works two ways, first for you, second for your family. What are the rules you have for your kids? Can you teach them to respect you by not interrupting? One writer won’t let her family enter her office until given permission. They must stand silently at the door until she gives the okay. Because I don’t have an office, my kids can’t wait outside a door, but they can hear me typing. They stand next to me and wait (sometimes more patiently than others) until I reach a stopping point. Alternatively, I set a timer. When the kids hear the bell, they know I’m all theirs. Other times, they hear it and know it’s time for me to stop playing and get back to work.
Be flexible. Make choices about what you really want and what is most important to you. Set realistic goals. Enlist friends and family to help you get there.
Tanya Dennis is a wife to one, a mom to two, and a freelance writer and editor. She currently serves as Managing Editor of both Christian Children’s Book Review and Persevering Pens. Her writing has been featured in a number of local and online publications. Her editing clients have seen five of their books published in the past two years. Learn more at www.TanyaDennisBooks.com.
Thank you so much for sharing your insight today, Tanya! Be sure to check out her sites. I especially love reading Christian Children’s Book Review to get ideas for my little girl!
Until next time,