Frequently Asked Questions: How do you Balance Motherhood and Writing?

pexels-photo-356079So, here’s the thing. I think people ask this question a lot because I have SO MANY CHILDREN. There are six of them. Most of the time, taking care of six kids feels like enough to fill my day four times without spare time to pee, let alone write a book. So I’m never actually sure how to answer. Some days, I don’t balance it. I do the very best I can, and go easy on myself when it just doesn’t work out.

For many writers, the key to success is writing every single day. And I get it. When you’re immersed in your characters and you’re feeling your story, and everything is working and coming together, it’s critical to keep the pace going. I absolutely believe there will be a time and season of my life that will allow me to write every single day. Right now? I’m just not in it.

And that’s okay.

The reality of my day-to-day life is still diapers and cartoons and home school and music lessons. It is late night conversations with an almost teenager and games of Yahtzee with the twins and dinner on the table and laundry for 8 people. (That word. It deserves to be all caps. LAUNDRY. If I could make it a mountain shaped word, I would. Because that’s what is sitting behind me as I type. A giant, leaning mountain of laundry.)

So I don’t write everyday and I don’t stress about it. Though, when I am deeply involved in a project, I will write more days than I don’t. I tend to work in spurts; for three or four weeks I’ll write three or four days a week, and then I’ll take a step back and breathe for a week or two. I’ve found this helps me maintain focus and keeps me from getting  lost in the worlds that I write, rather than the world I actually, uh, live in myself. I also made a commitment when I started this whole writing gig (back when there were only 4 babies instead of 6) that I wouldn’t write during the day, when little ones were awake. I have this fear of my children discussing their childhood as grown ups…

“What was life like for you as a kid?”

“Well we learned to take care of ourselves cause Mom was behind her laptop all the time…”

I can’t see my kids’ faces when I’m staring at a screen. And also, if I’m writing and I am interrupted, I’m kind of a monster. Mean. Snappy. Totally irrational. Because the thoughts… I don’t want to lose them and if I have to answer a question or fix a glass of milk or tie a shoe or read a story I. WILL. BE. SO. MAD. Which, you know, is entirely unfair to the two year old who can’t exactly fix his own milk. So I write very late at night or very early in the morning when I am alone and the house is quiet. And I exist on very few hours of sleep. Which is something I’m good at because, hello, we already discussed this. SIX KIDS.

The truth is, it’s still very much a work in progress. I wish I could say I always feel perfectly content with the way things roll, but that wouldn’t be the honest to goodness truth. Some days I long for more time to write, and some days I think I’m too distracted by it all and hope the family isn’t suffering for it.

I’ve written about it before–this desire I have to keep all in proper perspective. I’ll link to a few of the posts below.

Just Write? Or maybe just Sleep.

Priorities

It’s 2014, and I’m . . . Here? I think?

Guys, this is so hard. It’s been so long and it feels like I’ve forgotten how to put words together. It’s funny, my writing started with blogging and now the thought of writing a blog post feels harder than writing a novel. But I have things I want to say so I’m pushing forward, hoping I’ll fall into some sort of a rhythm. I know better than aspiring to regular blog posts. (I’ll be happy if I make it to the end of THIS post.) But maybe if I get my feet wet again (by writing a post about nothing? I’m beginning to question my reasoning here.) it will feel easier to come and talk and share and write.

I didn’t post anything on Facebook or here on the blog about the New Year. I didn’t pick a word or make a list of New Year’s Resolutions. I didn’t even think about what my resolutions would be if I did decide to write them down. Last year rolled into this one with little fanfare or reflection. That feels a little sad, so let’s reflect, shall we?

1375973_10202146271526727_951125418_n

2013 was a good year. My family life morphed into something that frequently makes my head spin.  My oldest turned twelve, a landmark that brings all sorts of added activities and responsibilities. My youngest turned 1, turning my life into a constant stream of toddler induced chaos and total mayhem MOST OF THE TIME. Nothing screams peace like a toddler in a diaper, standing in the center of your kitchen table flicking the keys off your laptop.  I mean, I’m not complaining. He’s totally adorable which makes the mayhem much more tolerable. But oh my word, he makes me tired. Funny how easy it is to forget how destructive a tiny person can be until you have another one, streaking naked around your living room, squealing with delight and sloshing his overturned bottle around like a maraca, spraying your sofa, your hair, your dog, even the ceiling with tepid milk. You can feel it, can’t you? The peace that fills my home? 

Also contributing to the general peace and quiet around here, 2013 was also the year we started homeschooling our three elementary age children. Because of limited educational opportunities in our very small town, we felt like it was the best option for our kids. I’ve been told all you should strive for the first year of homeschooling is simply to survive. And well, we are surviving. But I’m also not afraid to admit it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The constancy and the noise and the SO MANY THINGS to keep up with. It hasn’t been easy. It’s getting easier though, slowly but surely, which is promising. We’re settling into more of a routine and I’m learning not to be too hard on myself when things don’t go as planned. Because really. When does anything ever go as planned?

The House at Rose Creek Cover2013 was the year of The House at Rose Creek. Oh, what a lovely experience it has been to have my book out there in the world. I can’t think of it without feeling humbled and grateful and so happy that I have the opportunity to write and share my words with others.

book signingThe book launch party in August was a highlight of my year. I’ll never forget how wonderful it was to have so many people that I love helping me celebrate. It was a great night. My next book, tentatively titled Mountains Between Us (don’t get attached, it’ll likely change in the editorial process) is due out in August, 2014. I love this one even more than the first and can’t wait for everyone to read it.

I’m also working on a third novel, this one for the mainstream fiction market, which is both thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. To publish in the national market, rather than the smaller, niche LDS Fiction market, I’ll need to get an agent, a process I hope I’ll be ready for by Spring. I hope I’m ready; I think I’m ready. Nearly Nell (again, working title, but I’m hoping it’s one that will stick around) is a novel I really, really love. (I say this like it’s unusual… like there are authors out there who say, “I wrote a book but I don’t really love it.” Just bear with me, okay? I’ll be done in a minute.) It’s a story that is so very different than my first two and I hope beyond all hope it can find a home somewhere out there in the literary world. I’ve been told the agent hunt is grueling, but I’m hopeful.

Other 2013 happenings? I celebrated 13 years of marriage to a man I’m still falling in love with, more every day. I attended my first LDStorymakers Conference and met many of my online friends in person, validating the unusual fact that many of them I already considered to be among my most cherished friends. The writing community is a wonderful thing to be a part of, that’s for sure. 2013 was the year of musical beginnings for the kids… cello, violin, guitar, piano. We are a noisy house. But it is noise I love.

I have high hopes for 2014; for the family, for my husband’s career, for my writing. But one day at a time, you know? Anything more than that, and it all starts to feel far too overwhelming.

Seriously. Is this adorable, or what. These little people make me very happy. Also very crazy. But mostly very happy.

Seriously. Is this adorable, or what? These little people make me very happy. Also very crazy. But mostly very happy.

Do You Have a Strong-Willed Child?

I do. Oh my, do I ever.

I often say that Ivy rewrote the book on parenting. She’s number five, so I should pretty much know what I’m doing, right? Ha. Ha ha! Ha ha ha!!

Ivy is 3 years old. 3 has a reputation anyway, doesn’t it? Preschoolers can be tough. TOUGH I tell you! But Ivy has managed to take the requirements of parenting preschoolers to a level I’ve never experienced, in 12 years of parenting preschoolers. what worked with my first four children doesn’t work with Ivy. She doesn’t sleep like her siblings. She doesn’t react to punishment like her siblings. She very frequently cannot be coaxed, cajoled, persuaded or distracted. If she makes a decision to do something, (like, say, NOT go to sleep, or put her shoes on by herself or buckle her own car seat buckles) she is unrelenting, fiercely determined and completely affronted if you get anywhere near her with an alternative. Sometimes compromise works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Screaming is often involved. She has an iron will, a firm, unrelenting spirit and (lets be real) she is utterly and completely exhausting. Now, she is also out of this world fun, always entertaining and so very funny.

My favorite Ivy story lately is a perfect representation of her strong will working in her favor. Her baby dolls were upstairs in her bedroom. The lights were off, and as she looked up the stairs, she told me she was scared. She didn’t want to go upstairs by herself. Well, I was right in the middle of cooking dinner, had a baby on my hip and couldn’t walk upstairs with her. “Ivy,” I said, “You can do it. Just turn the light on in the hallway. You’ll be fine.” She walked back to the stairs, took a deep breath, and started up the stairs. The whole way, she sang: “I-veee, you can do it. I-veee, you can do it.” And she did. It only took  her a moment to muster up the courage to do something that was frightening. Similar scenarios are pretty common. She’s one tough cookie, and I LOVE her for it. But I’ve had to realize some important things about her personality in my quest to recognize those good qualities. I’ve had to accept that parenting strong-willed children is DIFFERENT. She is DIFFERENT.

I like to give my kids choices. I like to empower them to have control when it’s appropriate for them to have control. I like to teach them what is expected, what is good and right and true and then seek opportunities for them to make choices on their own, to learn and grow by their own experience. (All age appropriately, of course.) But my strong-willed daughter has little care for age appropriateness. Every day, every moment, she fights to be in control. Power struggles? Yeah. We’ve been around the block a few times with those. In my weakest mothering moments, I’ve felt tempted to break Ivy into submission. I will be in control. You will do what I say. You will answer/comply/stop right NOW. But over and over again, this sort of authoritative “Because I said so” approach just doesn’t work with Ivy. I’ve watched her eyes change as she’s made a decision, her little arms crossing across her chest. “Go ahead and make me,” her little attitude seems to say.

Now I’m not saying I think it’s okay for Ivy to stomp all over my authority as her Mama. But I am saying, because of her personality type, the getting there — to that place where we get along and make it through the day still smiling and loving each other at the end — has to be a different process.

ImageI’ve just read this book: You can’t Make me (But I Can Be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child, by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. I nodded through the first few pages. Yes, that’s my kid. Oh, yep. That’s my kid too. OH MY WORD the author has been in my house watching my daughter because THAT. IS. MY. KID. My favorite section of the book talks about how strong-willed children are wired. Tobias shares these three points:

1. Strong-willed children don’t have trouble with authority, but with how authority is communicated.

2. Strong-willed children don’t need to control you; they just can’t let you take all control away from them.

3. The quality of the relationships you have with strong-willed children determines the effectiveness of your parenting strategies.

These points gave me much to think about, particularly number 2. It was a process for me to realize that inherent in Ivy’s little personality is a desire to do things on her own, to feel in control. Funny, I really hate feeling out of control myself. If I recognize that, can I also recognize Ivy’s defiance not as a personal affront to ME and my requests as her Mom, but as an expression of herself, her desire to do things in her own way? It’s hard! I’m the Mom! I’m in charge! Well, yeah. But this little girl has a spirit in her that cannot be broken and if I can’t work with that, I have a feeling we will fight through her entire childhood.

Tobias goes on to outline suggestions for making it easier to communicate with strong-willed children, from toddler years, all the way through to teenagers, and adult children. Much of what she shared felt pretty intuitive to me, but I had many “ah-hah” moments where I thought, “Okay, I can do better with this one.”

I think the most important lesson of the book, with preschoolers in particular, is that we cannot take their defiance or misbehavior personally. We might say, “WHY are you doing this to me? Why are you making things so difficult? You’re going to make me late.” And on, and on. We make it about us. We think only about how their behavior affects US. This book reminded me to take a step back and recognize that Ivy, though in miniature form at the moment, has a personality and spirit that might very well be different than me. She has her own way of seeing things, her own way of experiencing the world. It’s up to me whether or not I make that a good thing or a bad thing.

I won’t lie. It is HARD WORK being her Mom. But I’m of the mind that every kid deserves to be championed, celebrated and encouraged. So I’ll take the hard. She’s totally worth it.

Image