Five years ago, in the summer of 2011, when my girls were 7 and 10 years old, I answered these questions about being a writer-parent. It was for a blog that now seems to be defunct. We no longer have hamsters, but much of this still applies.
How do you balance your time between parenting and writing?
I like to think I do this simultaneously. As someone who for years managed to read The New Yorker while pushing a stroller, I find that I am actually good at this sort of thing. There is nothing separate about the two really at home as my “office” is in my bedroom and gets a whole lot of traffic. While I was writing that sentence, in fact, I was interrupted a number of times by my older daughter asking if I thought it would be easier if she put her sleeping bag into her backpack first before the other stuff, or on second thought, maybe the sleeping bag shouldn’t even go in the backpack at all? Or maybe she could try it both ways? And thus my thoughts went here and then there and then back to here again. And I can often manage this. On the other hand, sometimes I have to say, Can you just wait a few minutes until I finish this? Oh yes, yes, my daughters will say. And then, What are you writing anyway? Do you have to get it done today? Are you going to be working on it later too? One time it occurred to me to tell them that I actually like writing, which I was afraid they didn’t actually pick up on, seeing me as they sometimes do pacing around or saying, Man, I just hate this. But I think the most important thing comes down to the kind of parent you are and I confess to being sort of a relaxed parent in that I am thrilled to have my children go off on their own and then come back and tell me what they’ve done. Eventually they will write these things down.
What is the best piece of advice about being a parent and a writer?
Despite what you think, you will always find time to write. You will write while your child lies asleep across your lap for hours. You will write while your child plays for a few blissful minutes with your old Fisher Price barn. You will probably end up writing whenever your child is napping, which you think you could never do, exhausted as you are, but the ability to write and write with no interruptions at all will lure you from sleep. Also, later on, if your children want to find something to watch on Netflix while you are writing, let them. (This, by the way, is how my children discovered the Jonas Brothers all on their own.) You will also find that if you don’t write, that if your time is better spent dancing with your kids on your bed, well, that’s just fine.
I think the very best piece of advice that applies to being both a parent and a writer is: pay attention. Both occupations make you very watchful, which is actually something that comes naturally to me, but there is that second step of paying attention, which is a little more challenging. I tend to notice the light a lot more now.
How has your writing changed since becoming a parent?
I’d like to say that I can only write in short blocks of time now due to being a parent, but the truth is I always wrote like that. I find though that now the late late night has become my preferred time to write, not because I am a night owl particularly, but because I can count on the fact that someone won’t be walking up to me when I am so clearly in the middle of something and asking if I would like to pet her hamster. (I’ll admit that I have actually said no to this on occasion, but then felt bad and gave in. Turns out hamsters are always worth petting.) Sometimes I will pretend to write while my younger daughter sits on my lap just so that I can listen to her make the binder clips and staple remover talk to each other. Are you listening to me? she will demand. No, I’m just writing, I will say.
Tell us something we don’t know about you and being a writer-slash-parent.
I tend not to like to write about my children all that much. When I was growing up, my mother always stole stories from me, so I feel like I need to let my children have their own. And I expect they will sometime. To be honest, I am always encouraging them to draw and write comics, something that I have wanted to do my whole life, but I completely lack the artistic skills for it.
My younger daughter has asked me a couple times what I want to be when I grow up. I always answer: a writer.