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?