Being a stay-at-home mom while trying to write a novel is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Of course, there’s never enough time. I think that’s a universal though. Most people I know who write, whether they have children or not, have to carve out time for it. Unless you’re one of the lucky few, you don’t get paid to write.
The problem is that you have a limited amount of energy to give, and anything you give to your book is some you’re taking away from your kid. It doesn’t make you selfish to do this. In fact, it is ultimately the best thing for your kid! Mothers who feel creatively satisfied are better, happier mothers. Kids who have parents that successfully balance their needs with the needs of others will learn to do the same thing in their lives. All these things are true, but no amount of truth is enough to successfully entirely eradicate Mommy Guilt.
Mommy Guilt is the worst. Mommy Guilt creeps up on you in the middle of the night and chastises you for that morning you let your kid watch three episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba so you could finish a scene in your novel. Mommy Guilt side-eyes the checks you hand babysitters while making snide comments about college funds.
The other thing that being a SAHM has made very difficult is finding a place in the writing community. I’m lucky enough to be connected to Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Writing department, which hosts dozens of monthly events designed for writers to network and learn from each other. However, taking advantage of these opportunities has proven difficult. Readings during the day? Forget it. Those late night events at bars? Hah! I make the effort that I can, but there’s only so much you can do.
All those difficulties aside, motherhood has been the #1 Best Thing That Ever Happened to me as a writer. And here’s why!
Focus: When you don’t have a lot of time to write, you take the time you do have very seriously. I have eight guaranteed hours a week to myself, that’s it. I can’t go to the coffeeshop and “wait for inspiration”, because if inspiration decides, as she often does, to be fashionably late, I won’t get anything done.
Perspective: Being a parent and having my own family puts some distance between me and my fellow writers, as I said above. But distance is also a good thing sometimes. I finished my last semester of school after I had my son, and I thought it would be difficult but I kicked ass. Before I had Atticus, school was many things to me: social structure, support, place of learning, anchor of my identity. Now I don’t have as much invested in school, I’m just there to learn and improve. I like the people in my classes, but I don’t crave their approval anymore. Motherhood has given me the perspective I need to take my writing seriously. Before I felt insecure and foolish. How awful is it to want to be an artist, I thought, how selfish! Now I think: is that the message I want to send my son? Do I want to model self-loathing and half-efforts, or do I want to show him passion and perseverance?
Experience. Life experience matters when you’re writing. It doesn’t mean that the young and relatively unsullied can’t write amazing things, it just means that every thing you go through adds to your understanding of the world. Quite frankly, several years ago I had a very narrow view of the world. Motherhood was the catalyst that woke me up and caused me to start looking at things from different perspectives. I’m not claiming to be Old and Wise, I’m 25! I haven’t earned that yet. I’m just less of an insufferable twit, which has deepened my writing.
The biggest lesson I have learned from my son though, is the true nature of Creativity.
I often find myself looking at the huge gap in quality between the material I want to produce and the material I do produce. It’s easy to get frustrated and throw your hands up. I quit! Screw this, I suck.
I’ve told this story many times, but I think it bears repeating, as I do think about it often. When my kid was just a few months old, he was learning how to coordinate his hands. At first, he’d just look up above him and watch his hands waving around wildly, as if observing a separate creature. At some point, he realized that they were under his control and began the difficult work of controlling them. It was full of failures. One time I saw him fiercely glaring at one hand, presumably trying to will it to move, while the other moved around wildly. Other times he would try to bring toys to his face and not being able to control the speed, would smack himself in the face. He would get so, so, so angry. Sometimes he would lose patience and just scream. But he never stopped trying. How could he?
My son is now 2 years old and has full control over his hands. He can pick up things, throw things (and he does often), use a spoon and fork, drink out of a cup, open any door he finds, build towers out of blocks, etc. He does these things effortlessly, but I know all the work that went into him getting there.
Becoming a better writer/artist isn’t any different, I’ve realized. Sure, the draft of the novel I’m writing right now is the linguistic equivalent of repeatedly smacking myself in the face, but I’m only going to learn to control my words if I keep practicing. It’s a cliche that we all learn as children–practice makes perfect–but in a world that so often devalues hard work in favor of instant gratification, sometimes we don’t really learn this lesson until we are adults. My son taught it to me, and so now I have to perfect it, so that when he’s older I can model it for him and return the lesson.
Motherhood isn’t for everyone. It’s not a quick fix-it for any emotional problems you’re having or _the_ one path to creative fulfillment. It requires sacrifice, discipline, and constant self-reflection. It also brings, if you let it, great opportunities for growth as an artist.