Updated: Aug 5, 2019
(Disclaimer: this post is aimed toward moms. But I see you, Dads. This goes for you as well...)
When I first began taking writing seriously, I was a twenty-eight year old stay at home mom of a five-year-old and six-year-old. (Eleven months apart...*insert half-terrified smile*) We'd just started homeschooling and were living with my MIL, preparing to move overseas. Needless to say, my time was not my own.
But I had a vision, and to be honest, I became obsessed. At first it was evenings at the dining table in my sweats, leaning over a legal pad as I scratched out sloppy story after sloppy story. I was getting the nonsense out. That was what I'd read. You have to get the nonsense out to get to the good stuff. I tend to agree.
In 2015, I began writing a serious novel that I intended to finish. But you know, life likes to get in the middle of things. It messes up our plans. That year we suffered multiple family tragedies, and time just slipped away.
But if you want to do something, really want it, it will come back. It will eat at you, nagging in the back of your mind until you look it in the eye and make a choice. In 2016, we moved to Japan, and I stared in the face of that challenge. I wasn't backing down, not even if my son transformed into a philosopher at bedtime, and my daughter suffered severe dehydration only in the hours meant for me to work.
Moms (or dads!), I get it. It can feel next to impossible to grab spare minutes to pursue a dream. But I'm here to tell you: it can be done.
Here are a few things I've learned in the last few years:
(Coming from the perspective of a writer, but this applies to many ambitions...)
1.) Your kids need to see you working toward a goal.
We all hope our kids grow up to lead healthy, successful lives. In whatever they choose to do, we want to see them taking initiative, making wise decisions, and reaching higher. And while I would submit that being a loving, stay-at-home mom IS the greatest, noblest of jobs, I would also suggest that your kids need to see you practicing what you preach.
It's okay for our children to see us as more than just Mom: Giver of Food and Cleaner of Toilets. It's okay to be a caring nurturer AND a woman/human/individual with dreams and ambitions. Let them see what you're working toward, and let them see the effort.
Lead by example. Show them what it means to really press in and try.
2.) It's okay to require "Mom" time.
A lot of moms struggle with this. I get it. I do too. But here's the thing: as long as your kids know they are number one, as long as they get focused, phone-free, attentive time with you on the daily, they are PERFECTLY FINE on their own for an hour. Schedule it during their screen time. Tell them to play. Do reading time. Whatever you need to do.
Sit down with your children (who are old enough to understand..obviously this doesn't pertain to infants and toddlers who do, in fact, need your eyes on them..) and tell them something like this:
"I'm so glad we got to have special time together. It's my favorite part of the day. (Insert a few details you enjoyed.) Now, it's time for mommy to work. I need you to behave and play nicely. When I'm finished, we'll have a snack together. But for the next sixty minutes, you need to let mommy work. You're so helpful. Thank you." (Why do we refer to ourselves in third person to our children....?) Consider avoiding phrases like: Do you think you can do that, or Is that okay... Lead with confidence.
You get the gist. IMO, our children can and should learn to:
a.) play independently/use imaginations
b.) respect the time you need to work, and
c.) put off inconsequential needs until the sixty minutes is up.
Consider giving them a stop watch or setting a timer. My kids love stuff like that.
All that to say, once they're old enough (5, 6, 7...) you can work this into your schedule. DON'T feel bad. And have grace. It'll take a little time to stick.
3.) It's okay to say no to activities.
This one's hard too. We want our kids to do everything and anything. And if you're homeschooling, you're likely starved for social activities.
All I'm suggesting here is that it's okay to have a limit. You don't have to say yes to everything. Pick and choose. That way, you aren't run ragged and too exhausted to put time into your projects. Time management is difficult with children, but this is one way you can minimize and open up slots.
4.) Pace yourself.
When I was first starting out, I felt like I needed to accomplish my goal yesterday. Hence the obsessive writing at the dining table. I'm like that. Once I get my mind on something, I have trouble stopping. But I've learned that I burn out hard if I don't find a good pace. And I lose patience with my children, which is the last thing I want.
Remember that small progress is still progress. Perhaps one day you'll write 2000 words. But the next, only 200. That's fine. It's okay. You wrote 200 when you could've written zero...well done!
With so much on your plate as a mom, you need to learn to celebrate the small victories. See every step as an important one, even if you didn't get as far as you anticipated. Eventually you may have deadlines to meet if you get picked up by an agent or publisher. In that case, you'll want to develop a writing pattern: ie X amount of words/day/week/month.
Whatever stage you're at, just be sure you're taking a deep breath and finding a rhythm that works for you.
5.) Lastly, DON'T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHER SUCCESSFUL MOMS
Ladies, comparison will suck the joy right out of your work. You are not her and she is not you and her life and your life are unique.
You don't know how much work went into getting her where she is. You don't know how many times she wanted to quit. You have your talents and she has hers...and all are important.
Additionally, don't go into writing hoping to replicate someone else's success. Mary Sue landed a six figure publishing deal, so I'll write a book in the same genre...but better. Then you're seeing red carpets and gowns and movie premieres and actors...
Listen, you should aim high. Just make sure you're honed in on your own target. This isn't Disney's Brave. Don't be aiming to slice your arrow through the middle of someone else's in order to prove yourself. There's room for everyone in this game.
YOU'VE GOT THIS, MAMA! Please comment or email if you have any questions or need further advice. I'll do my best to answer from my experiences.
I believe in you!