Writer & Mother
I’m not privileging this combo (1/2 Price Sunday Brunches!)– and, yes, there are fathers and aunties and uncles and guardians, etc. who also write as they nurture children. But today is Mother’s Day and I think it’s okay to speak of this particular combination. (If not today, then when?)
First off, it’s not easy. Especially in the early years. For those mothers with younger children, babies, and you’re dying to write…. It’s not easy. It’s just the limits of time. A baby truly needs you to care for it. And basically you’re on call twenty-four hours a day. For the next three years. If your baby has disabilities, the level of care/needs increases, and, may never change.
How is a mother to write? How is a writer who is a mother going to continue developing her craft, her imagination, her professional connections, not to mention community activism and engagement and also maintain a healthy and growing relationship with a partner???
Are you a mother who writes? Or are you a writer who is a mother? Do you differentiate between the two?
My son was three years old when my first novel was published. I was working on my second novel, but it was very difficult. I was also pregnant with my second child. During this time I went to a writing retreat and my group leader was Sky Lee. She is half a generation older than me and also a mother. I asked how she manages the parenting and the writing– how did a mother find the space to work and think? How did she deal with the frustrations of not being able to think through a longer project? Did she have any advice?
The children are this small, and need you like this for only a specific time, she said. When they grow up they won’t need you like they need you now. There is time for everything. Just enjoy them now. There will be time to write.
When I heard this I felt like a window had opened. Yes, I thought. There’s no time limit. It’s not like I’m an Olympic figure skater, missing my physical peak while I’m breastfeeding, thus, will never be able to practice and land my quadruple lutz…. I’m a Writer! It’s actually one of the few occupations where I can potentially get better and better as I get older!
Sky had given me a wider view of life, when I had been looking through a smaller frame.
Now, that doesn’t mean to say that I didn’t feel frustrations and that it wasn’t challening. Even without trying to have a writing life, the mother narrative itself is laden and loaded. It’s difficult enough trying to be a caring, thoughtful, patient, respectful, balanced mother. Motherhood is not a neutral site. But that’s a different essay.
My children are older now– aged twenty and sixteen. I have a lot of time to write. ~___~
Basically from babyhood to first grade it’s kind of a write-off. At least it was for me. But what made that okay was acceptance. I accepted that even if there wasn’t time in the present and the near future to write longer projects, I would have a wider field in the future. So it was important to be be present in the present, and live it well.
Also it’s not like one’s critical and creative mind is completely on sleep mode during heavy hands-on parenting. Life experience is also the stuff of stories. I was also observing and taking notes. I was also able to write short stories during this time. (I did get tired talking about “baby stuff” to other parents. I mean, sometimes it wasn’t so intellectually stimulating talking about nap times, colic, feedings, ear infections, soothers, etc. It’s good to have a close non-mom friend with whom you can talk to about other “ideas”…. Keep those juices flowing.)
Once both children were in grade school there was enough time to write. They still needed me and there were interruptions. That is the nature of living in a family.
So for the developing writer who is torn between baby, nap, scrawling a few lines of a poem…. There is time enough. Please drink plenty of water. Get sleep when you can. Dream. You will carry the seeds of story inside you. And you can plant them when the time is right. They even managed to sprout seeds they found entombed with Egyptian mummies! Don’t despair. You’ll make it. In time.
Once they are a little older you can go away on writing retreats. For one week, two weeks, a month if you have the means! Don’t feel guilty. Once the baby if off the breast they will learn to be okay even when you’re not there. This is also an important lesson. It needn’t be so drastic. One day. Two days. Then make it longer. It’s important that you do the things you need to feel happy for your creative self. Because if you’re unhappy then this unhappiness will spill into other arenas. The key is to seek a comfortable balance.
The place of balance between writing and being a mother is never fixed…. You will find your own path. But know that you do not walk alone.