My wonderful client Rebecca Ramsey, author of the now-in-stores-you-should-read-it-it’s-amazing-and-heartwarming FRENCH BY HEART was kind enough to agree to fill in for a day while I’m on the mend. She provides a glimpse into how one author juggles writing and having a family. Becky will be around to answer questions in the comments section as time permits (as you can see below she’s very busy). Enjoy!
Since Nathan has taken to his bed, hopefully watching reruns of America’s Top Model, I’m going to take a deep breath and post in his place. As a former high school teacher, I’ve seen what classes can do to substitutes, so I’m praying that y’all will be kind to me. I think I’ll model myself after Mrs. Longbottom, my favorite substitute from my own high school days, who loved her seventeen cats so much that she used to give slide shows of them, no matter the lesson plan. Hopefully my chosen topic will be of some use to some of you, and you won’t start shooting spitballs at me.
I thought I’d write about how to juggle writing and family.
I should begin by saying that I have not mastered this juggling thing, (just ask my kids!) but maybe I can tell you what has worked for me and what hasn’t.
I’ve tried to write for many years now, have given up a few times and started again, because I couldn’t seem to help myself. I wrote when my children were babies and am still writing now that they’re bigger. I have three kids, each with his/her own social calendar, and a husband who travels all the time with work, so my house is usually a disaster area. And that brings me to my first rule of juggling…
Rule One: LOWER YOUR STANDARDS!
I was one of those lucky children who grew up with a mother who greeted us every day after school with cookies warm from the oven and a spotless house. My friends were always coming over, (who wouldn’t, given the cookies?) the refrigerator was always full, and the dirty clothes my brother and I dropped beside the hamper every night magically reappeared in our dressers the next day, neatly folded and smelling of Tide.
This does not happen in my house.
After several years of self flagellation, I have learned to feel quite comfortable with a different style of mothering. I’ve discovered that children survive amazingly well with an occasional dinner of Cocoa Puffs, and that a daily doling out of Flintstones Vitamins assuages most traces of maternal guilt. I tell my kids never to eat off the kitchen floor (besides, that’s our dog’s job!) and never to let guests open the microwave. Luckily, most of my children’s friends have mothers like me, and the poor kids that don’t are more than welcome to play outside if that makes them feel comfortable. And that’s fine. The weather’s usually real nice in South Carolina!
(By the way, out of desperation, my older ones are learning how to do laundry, which I feel is an important life skill. See how effective my parenting is!)
Rule Two: Stop it with the multi-tasking!
Long ago, when my daughter was a baby, I drove myself crazy trying to write while cooking dinner, doing laundry, and cleaning up spit-up. It made me a nervous wreck and it didn’t work out very well. I don’t do that anymore. When I write, I write.
The minute my kids are out the door, I put on my blinders and march myself over to the computer, bypassing the dirty dishes in the sink and the ringing phone and the piles of laundry. (Okay, so I do stop by the coffee maker for cup #2.) Yes, I could throw the clothes in to wash while I’m working, but I don’t. I treat my writing as my job. I pretend I’m a regular person in a regular office and I concentrate.
When my kids were little and I struggled with writing and working part time or full time jobs, I’d trade babysitting with friends during any mornings off. It was hard to resist the temptation to get errands done without the “help” of whining children, but when I stayed strong and spent time writing instead, it was amazing how much I could get done.
Rule Three: Just say No!
Often PTA moms and dads who’ve heard that I “don’t work” call me up, asking me to head up a committee on this or that, or bake cookies or some such thing. I smile and say No thank you. This was especially hard to do before French By Heart sold, and I felt shy about calling myself a writer, but I made myself do it anyway. I do volunteer, but I only say yes to things that energize me. I’ve found that there are plenty of moms and dads tripping all over themselves to get in line to volunteer at school. And that leads me to Rule #4…
Rule Four: Feed your creative spirit!
I volunteer with old people because they crack me up and because they’re always telling me how young and cute I am! (I’m 42, and I’m not as cute as I used to be!) My daughter and I go look at art, or I read poetry or other books that I love. I also go to church. Sometimes I just need lolling around time, and my husband and I try to give that to each other.
Juggling writing and family isn’t easy, but I’m not giving up. My family is my best fan club there is (and I haven’t even mentioned my mother!) When disappointments come, they’re great at consoling me, and when we have something to celebrate, they’re the first ones with the high fives. And my youngest, Sam, still occasionally says, “Remember that day when Mommy got that email from that random house and wouldn’t stop screaming?” They all laugh and smile. And then they want to know what’s for dinner.