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Balancing Writing and Parenting

I’ve been asked on multiple occasions how to balance writing and family, and I’ve given a number of answers. “One day at a time.” “Prioritize and organize and schedule.” “Hell if I know!”

When you get down to it, the most honest answer I could give based on my life and experiences is, you can’t. Balance is a lie. An illusion that taunts us with its song. It’s freaking Shangri-La.

As a father, balance suggests to me a mystical state of equilibrium where I’m giving my children all of the time and attention they want and need, while at the same time devoting enough time to my writing and career. The trouble is, there’s no such thing as “enough.” There’s always more I could be doing with or for my kids, whether it’s quizzing my son on his multiplication tables or taking my teenage daughter out to start showing her how to drive, or just sitting down to play a three-way brawl on the Wii.

Then there’s the writing. I’ve got three short stories and three novels on my To Write list at this particular moment. Then there are the blog posts, the emails I’m chronically late in responding to, conventions I’d love to attend, anthologies I’d like to contribute to, at least one anthology I’d love to edit, and so much more.

The sad truth is that no matter what I do, I’ll never have enough time to write everything I want to. I’ll never have enough time for my children.

I quit my full-time day job a month and a half ago, and it’s helped some. I’m finding my writing groove and increasing my wordcount. I’ve also been able to do things like walk down to meet my son at the bus stop and pick up my daughter after school. On the other hand, I’m now the one who gets the phone call when something happens at school. I get the text messages when someone misses the bus. When the puppy horks up a big clump of half-digested grass — well, you get the idea. There are more interruptions and less stability and predictability in my day than I had before.

Just now, in the middle of writing this post, my son interrupted me to share some of his thoughts on pigs. It’s frustrating, because writing productivity is all about momentum. And it’s awesome, because I love him, and he has creative, often surreal thoughts about things.

Sometimes I resent the writing for taking time away from my kids. And yes, sometimes I resent my kids for taking time away from my writing. And I feel guilty about all of it.

Writing isn’t unique in this. I watched my coworkers struggling to find good day care for their kids, and I listened to their struggles to balance the need for a career with their role as a parent. But it never seemed quite the same. Maybe because writing still doesn’t feel like a legitimate career. I mean, we all recognize the need to work and support the family, but we don’t tend to recognize writing as real work.

I’m relatively successful as a writer, and it’s my primary source of income to help support my family. It still feels harder to justify spending hours focusing on the writing than it did spending hours sitting in a cubicle. Both take time away from my family and kids, but one is a “real” job. The other feels like a luxury. It feels selfish. This is something I want to do.

The guilt was exponentially worse when I was struggling to break in. When I couldn’t point to advances and royalty checks to justify the time spent in fictional worlds, away from my wife and children.

Part of the quest for healthy balance means getting that guilt under control. As parents, we can’t devote 100% of our time and energy to our children. Sometimes it feels like that’s what we’re supposed to to, but it’s not healthy for anyone. We need time to take care of ourselves, and as they grow up, kids need time to become their own people. It’s okay to take time to focus on writing. And it’s okay to step away from the computer to spend time with my family.

The Quest for Balance has no end point. No Big Boss you can defeat. It’s a daily struggle, and it changes from day to day. Do I have a deadline coming up? Did my son have a rough day at school? Is there a writing project I’m super-passionate about? How long has it been since I got to do something fun with my daughter? Is my email at critical mass? Is my son giving me puppy-dog eyes and asking me to play Mario with him?

How do you balance being a writer with being a parent? You keep trying. You accept that you’re never going to get it perfect. You listen to your kid(s), your editor, your partner(s) if you have them. You listen to yourself. You communicate. Sometimes I have to say no, I can’t play Mario until after dinner. When I talk to my editor and agent about deadlines, I talk about and factor in not only the time I need to write the book, but the time I need to spend with my family.

Balance is a process. Learn to set boundaries. Expect disruption.

In my case, I keep reminding myself that writing is my career, and damn right it’s legitimate. I remind myself that taking time to do something I love isn’t necessarily selfish or awful. I also try to recognize that spending too much time on myself can be neglectful, and I try to monitor that from day to day.

I love my children. I love writing. And it’s okay to love both.

Other posts from the Parenting and Writing/Editing Blog Tour.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
dickgloucester
Oct. 13th, 2015 02:12 pm (UTC)
I have found that it's pretty much impossible to write while the children are in the house - so I have to cram the most I can into the hours when they're not. Most other jobs can be accomplished with children underfoot, but not writing.
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2015 05:50 pm (UTC)
It's gotten easier as the kids got a little older, but yeah. I'm worried about how this process will go next summer after school gets out.
jeliza
Oct. 13th, 2015 06:52 pm (UTC)
Start budgeting for some summer day camps now, even if just half-day ones. It's the only way I survive (and this is experience learned from the terrible experience of summers where there were no camps. So many missed/almost-missed deadlines and lack of sleep from trying to RedBull my way to being on time) And unless you are already hooked up with a good playdate network, they will appreciate the chance to play with other kids.
dickgloucester
Oct. 14th, 2015 09:40 am (UTC)
Be prepared for the fact that you may not be able to write at all...
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2015 05:49 pm (UTC)
When we bought this house 10+ years ago, I started to set up an office in the basement, but that room is unpleasant and soon turned into the Den of Storing Miscellaneous Stuff. So the real "office" is in the living room ... with no doors to close.

I may need to rethink that.

It's definitely been nice to be around when the kids have gotten sick or other things have come up. But a door would be nice.
retsuko
Oct. 13th, 2015 06:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. It gives me hope that my writing and my child will, one day, somehow, be able to coexist. I'm especially grateful for your honesty about the difficulties and the recommendations for books, because I was starting to wonder if I was going crazy.
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2015 06:30 pm (UTC)
Going crazy is all part of being a writer. And a parent :-)
klwilliams
Oct. 13th, 2015 10:22 pm (UTC)
I love my new job. It means I get to work from study at home, and play with data. It's a "real" job, because I get a paycheck from a big company, but I'm at home all day. Usually my husband is here, too, and he takes care of most of the house things, like...the boys. My husband is off this week being feted by the Minister of Culture in Mexico City, because that's what he gets to do as part of his real job, which is being a full time writer. So I'm left at home with my real job, and our cats, who have become clingy. I don't know what they think I've done with Chaz, but they're suddenly spending the night and most of the day sleeping right next to me. When Mac is awake he keeps eyeing me, and follows me to the doors when I go out (briefly) and is waiting when I come back in. Barry is hurt because I have to put him in Chaz's study when he has his breakfast, because he's on a special diet and can't clean Mac's bowl for him, and Sunday I forgot about him and left him in there for over an hour. So I need to give Barry extra attention. Thank God Chaz gets home tonight.

You're right, everyone's real job is different and everyone's life balance is different. You feel guilt over the kids, and I have cats to give me guilt. We all muddle by. It's life.
sunlit_music
Oct. 14th, 2015 10:36 am (UTC)
This is a great post. :-) It made me feel much better. Nobody can be the super parent and super writer at the same time. Nobody is perfect, and that's okay. Its a real eye opener reading this, and I'm glad I read it. I'm not a parent yet, but I'd like to have children in future.
deborahblakehps
Oct. 14th, 2015 02:11 pm (UTC)
Even without kids (other than the furry sort), striving for balance is a never-ending endeavor. If I write enough, and blog, and network, I inevitably don't see my real-life friends enough, or spend enough time on exercise, meditation, the garden, the house, my day job...

Every year when I state my goals for the months to come, balance is on the list. I suspect it will be there in twenty years, although I hope by then to have made a little progress...
elialshadowpine
Oct. 16th, 2015 09:02 am (UTC)
Something some writer friends of mine with kids do is have some sort of non-verbal communication that they are busy and not to be bothered unless it is truly important. For the younger set, a friend who had a kid who would bother her every five minutes for something completely random (often repeating ads heard on TV and begging for whatever was being advertised), and so if her daughter insisted on barreling in and not respecting the "BUSY" sign, she would barrel in and interrupt her favorite TV show, and explain that it is basically what her daughter did -- it interrupted, and took time away from something she wanted to do. It certainly got the message across, and when the writing sign or symbol is up, the kids do not bother unless it is a true emergency. Anything else can wait until the writing icon is gone.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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