Writing and Mother Guilt. Where’s the Balance?

balanceSo  I can’t promise this isn’t going to get a little ugly, guys. I’m feeling the need for some good old fashioned truth telling. Some full disclosure, laying it on the line. Are you ready?

A few weeks back I wrote a post about balancing motherhood and writing. I still stand behind everything I wrote in that post. But that day, I was feeling optimistic and happy and in control. Today? Not so much. This might be what they call, the other side of the coin…

Here’s the thing. Being a Mom and a writer at the same time is really hard. Okay, maybe scratch that. Being a Mom and only a Mom is really hard. It is busy, and exhausting, and mentally trying. It is bone weary, patience wearing, heart wrenching work. It is HARD. Last night I told my kids that sometimes being a Mom is like running on a hamster wheel, doing the same things over and over. You wash the same dishes, you fold the same clothes, you pick up the same messes over and over only so they can be undone all over again. The thing is, there’s no way to get off that stupid hamster wheel because your running is what’s generating the energy to keep everything else in the house going. (A note: My kids help, okay? They work like crazy and fold laundry and do lots and lots of chores. I’m not their slave. They earn their keep. But I’m still in charge. They’re little still. They need supervision. I still have to help them help. Know what I mean?)

And it isn’t just the menial work of maintaining a house that feels hard. The mental pressures of being a Mom are tough too. When things don’t go right, everyone looks to Mom. When someone is unhappy, they look to Mom. When someone needs to finish a project or needs a new Sunday shirt or needs help practicing an instrument/learning a new skill/perfecting a cartwheel, they look to Mom. The need never stops. There is always someone who needs something or wants to tell you something or needs you to fix just one more thing.

I get it. I know that I will blink and they will all be grown. I know that there will come a time when I miss having so many happy children around me, that I will miss the noise and the chaos. (I don’t know… I kinda doubt that last one.) I GET IT. But sometimes, right now, for example, I just need to say out loud that it’s hard. I’m not wishing the time I have with my children away. I’m not counting down the days until they are grown. Really, truly, I love what I do. But I’m tired, guys. So much of the time, my brain is tired.

And here’s where the conversation gets dicey. See, I have this thing that I love to do. Writing makes my brain NOT tired. It makes my brain happy. If I had the time, I could sit and write all day. Grow roots out of my bum, forget to eat, sleep. Obviously, I have six very good reasons why this shouldn’t happen. (And also, food is good. I don’t really want to forget to eat.) But writing makes me HAPPY–genuinely, full smiles happy.

Which is tricky. Because mothering makes me happy too. Mothering makes me happy because it’s what brings me closest to God. It humbles me, it strengthens me, it teaches me to rely on God when I feel used up and drained out. In many ways, it sanctifies me, because I know that through serving and loving and caring for my children, I am becoming a better person. It is a happiness that comes from outside myself–a happiness that is rich and full because, well, these kids are pretty amazing.

Writing, on the other hand, is a very me-focused happiness. I get lost in the worlds of my novels. I feel real and strong emotion for my characters. I feel smart, and useful and validated. Sometimes it’s just writing related activities–working on a conference planning committee, or networking with other authors, or working as a critique partner. Doing these things, I feel like I am challenging the brain inside my head to do wonderful things, things that are far more stimulating than, say, unloading the dishwasher for the 300th time.

I guess the million dollar question is where’s the balance? I’d be lying if I didn’t say that every second I spend writing doesn’t affect my role as a mother. Because mothering is FULL TIME PLUS OVERTIME ALL THE TIME work. It doesn’t stop. With six kids in the house, homeschooling half of them, music lessons, church service, sports, general household maintenance, and just ALL THE THINGS, I could stay busy from sun up to sun down and still have work left for the following day. When I’m writing, (or doing writerly things) there is always something on hold. And that’s hard. It’s hard not to feel guilty. It’s hard not to feel like there’s something I could be doing with my time that might benefit my children a little more. Except, if I never wrote, I would be losing a part of myself that brings me a great deal of joy and satisfaction.

I want my life to be about my kids. I want to be a good Mom. But also, I need my life to be a little about me too. I’ve heard people say that by taking care of my own needs, I’ll be doing more for my kids in the long run. And in theory, I totally get it. It’s only in application that it still feels hard.

Balance is an elusive thing. I wonder, sometimes, if I will ever figure it out. I do know I won’t stop trying. I will keep mothering and (even if it’s only at 2 am) I will keep writing.

What challenges your sense of balance in life? How do you stay focused on the good things?

6 thoughts on “Writing and Mother Guilt. Where’s the Balance?

  1. Stacy says:

    I appreciate reading this. It’s something I struggle with constantly as a violinist/violin teacher and a mom of soon to be 5. Teaching lessons is a financial necessity right now, but I suspect that if I weren’t teaching, networking etc, I’d feel something missing. I like feeling like a person instead of “just” a mom, but trying not to shortchange everyone in the process is difficult.

  2. Vatermann says:

    As the father of many small children, I often have people tell me to enjoy this time, because it goes so fast. Like you, I GET IT, but I don’t like hearing it. As you say, parenting is hard, but it is the priority. I heard you say in an interview that you only write late at night or in the early morning. It sounds like you have your priorities straight. My wife is a writer/arranger of music. Luckily, that’s somewhat external in that she shares it with others. That helps her with balance, because she’s able to use her musical abilities in her church service, to teach the children piano, and to generally bless others. I’m sure she would be happy to write music all day long, but she knows that she can’t with small children around. She has chosen to let it fill in the cracks but to otherwise wait until the children are older before putting more time into her craft. I think that guilt is a helpful thing to help us all re-prioritize when we get off track, as long as we don’t let it rule us.

  3. Kelly B. says:

    I get it…and I only have two kids. I’m not a writer, but a teacher. I do well at leaving work at work. My biggest pull is for taking time for myself, being a mom and being an attentive wife. Sometimes, I’m tired of it all too. But I know my kids won’t remember those days, they will remember all the others. I ask for The Lord to give me strength daily, sometimes more than once a day. And I make it.

    I think you are awesome and it’s ok to be tired.

  4. Tiffany Dominguez says:

    I LOVE this post, like a whole lot!

    I’m a mother of four (ages 10, 7, 4, and infant) and my 4-year old has developmental delays. My husband works all the time trying to get a struggling business off the ground. Plus, I work around the clock not just as a mother, but as a realtor. I love my job as a realtor–connecting with people and helping them. It fulfills me and it helps bring in almost half of our household income. BUT I also love to write–like you said, writing is me-time, me-fulfillment, BUT I also think it develops a god-given talent, which is probably one of the reasons it makes us feel so good!

    There is no easy way to balance everything, nor a solution to this question we face as mothers of children still at home–how do we do it all? My way of coping is just one day at a time, and maybe if some days I can be superwoman and get more done than I usually do (when all the stars align) then maybe I’ll have time to sit and write. But most days that’s not possible. So I keep telling myself that I’m getting better and better at this and one day, I will be able to write, and it will make me extremely happy. But for now, other things make me happy, like tickling my baby boy, cooking a nice dinner for my family, and reading to my girls.

    Of course it’s important to take care of ourselves, but honestly? What is that really saying? “Get everything done and THEN you can relax.” HA! HAAAA! It doesn’t happen. So we keep going, day after day, and little by little, things will change and there will be a time and a place (right?)

    So I suck it up, put my needs behind everyone else’s, and know that one day soon, when they’re gone, I’ll have time for it. And like the other commenter above–I hate hearing how fast the time goes because yes, I KNOW IT! So I’m TRYING PEOPLE! I am. Thats why I put writing in the background and put a kid on my lap instead. And try to remember different kids of happiness come at different times of life!

  5. WO Brisco says:

    My daughter, a mother of two small ones, is going through a down period in her motherhood journey. I cannot wait for her to read this piece. Your fear, frustration, and struggles… are her. Your admitting that being mom is hard… is her. She awakens in about 5 hours to start another 18-hour day of being mom, wife, and part-time retail store worker. I will share this with her whilst she enjoys her one and only cup of coffee… before her little ones charge out of their rooms, ready to take on another day. This will be good.

  6. Lara says:

    I get it. Oh, I so get it. I’ve been struggling with this myself lately, which always happens during the summer months. The days are so full and endless and good, but what little writing time I’m afforded during the routine of the school year gets wiped out during the summer. No matter the time of year, though, the mothering/writing is tough to balance and the guilt always threatens to win out. I was trying to explain it to my non-writer friend the other day but of course she didn’t really understand. Where is the balance? I’m not sure it exists to be honest. I’m holding steadfast to the belief that by doing something we’re passionate about and letting our kids see this passion will only enrich their beliefs in themselves, that they too are capable of pursuing their dreams, no matter how far flung they might seem. I try to convince myself that I’m doing it for me, yes, but in some small way I’m doing it for them too.

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