I’ll never forget a particular conversation. It was several years ago at a sci-fi conference, and I was with a group of authors talking about writing. They all had more publishing credits that I did. Someone asked what was holding me back, and I stammered a bit and then mentioned my two school-aged children.
“I have kids,” said a male writer, “and I still find time to write.”
“Ugh…” (I literally did not know what to say.) “Do you have a spouse that has primary responsibility of your kids?”
“Yes, my wife… but… I’m very involved with my kids. And I find the time.”
This was consistent with the messages I received when I decided about eight years ago to seriously try and “be a writer.” Other writers and well-intentioned people—most whom did not have primary responsibility of children, if they had them at all—kept telling me that I could make it happen through sheer will and through making the time. Many of these folks were male identifying, by not all. About six years ago I was reading another writer’s blog—a woman with young children—and her advice to other women writers with kids was to simply teach your family you’re unavailable when you’re writing. “They will come to respect your boundaries,” I remember reading, “if they demand your attention simply turn them away.” And right after reading that that my then 8-year old daughter came into my writing space because she wanted to tell me something.
I didn’t turn her away.
It’s not that the male writer was wrong about “making time.” It’s not that the blog author was wrong about “setting your boundaries.” It’s just that for many years, for me, these were not simple choices.
I carry the trauma of a horrific birth experience with my first-born and subsequent severe depression and episodes of anxiety. It took me a year after he was born before I had several days in a row where I felt connected to him, felt I might just survive this motherhood thing.
There was no bandwidth for writing. It took almost all of my strength to survive each day and try to maintain a relationship with my husband.
To escape the stifling, trapped feeling that being a stay-at-home mother engendered in me, I went back to work part-time. I slowly got better.
Then I became pregnant again.
I immediately fell back into an anxious depression. I called my doctor once I recognized that dark curtain descending. I begged for medication. By the time I began treatment, I was completely numb again. I had no feelings for anyone, no affect. The only emotion I could experience and name was “anxiety.”
Luckily, this cloud lifted much sooner, while I was still pregnant. The support of my family and friends along with medication and therapy helped bring me back.
Still, I was never quite the same. I spent the next six years in a semi-anxious, under-slept, moderately depressed haze. I despaired I would ever feel the same again. But during that time something amazing also happened—I grew to love being a mother to these little humans. But for almost a decade, I had no capacity for anything except getting through each day.
As I found myself again, I realized I wanted to write. It was who I was. It was a dream I’d had since childhood; it was what I noted I wanted to do in my high school yearbook.
It was time.
Although I made baby steps toward this goal, I found it was not so easy to just do it. To just “set my boundaries” with my family.
I’d brought these children into the world; they didn’t ask to be born, and I suffered to have them. I was going to do my best for them.
Even though my writing was a priority, the kids were the highest priority. As they grew, I realized I had limited time with them—to shape them, guide them, and let them know they mattered above all else. I wanted them to have the security and confidence they’d need to go out into the world and be happy, secure, accomplished adults.
They’re now 14 and 17. And they’re amazing people. Everything I suffered and everything I sacrificed was worth it. Now I can find more time to write.
I know this is not the choice every writer makes. I don’t believe there’s one “right choice” in such a situation. We must all make the correct choice for ourselves.
Even now, as I have the capacity and more bandwidth, I don’t write every day—another typical “must” you hear from successful writers. I have a family, a few part-time jobs, and a chronic illness which requires me to get a lot of sleep. There are only so many hours in the day.
Being a writer with children is more difficult than being a writer without. But it’s not impossible. You may need to wait several years, do your writing at midnight, or steal twenty minutes here and there while you’re watching a game or waiting for a class to get out. You may not be able to write every day, or even every week. Do it when you can. Be compassionate with yourself. Don’t compare yourself to everyone around you. Find people who support you as you make your own way.
You’ll get there.