Balancing Writing with Family


by Jennifer Yates Tebben/jentebben

When I was asked to write a blog post on balancing writing and family, I about spit my drink out my nose. Seriously? That’s the blog I need to read, not write.

But then I let the idea sit with me for a while. Maybe I do have something to offer on the topic. After all, I am a mom and I am a writer. But this self-reminding mantra will only get me so far. It’s not just myself I must remind of this, it’s the Others who also occupy my living quarters.

I’ve tried cohabitating the writing self with the Others and it just makes for one miserably frustrated mother who neither produces any writing nor any endearing time with the kiddos.

I have heard the advice of plenty of other writers. Teach your family to respect your writing hours. And when your office door is closed, the family knows not to disturb you. I don’t know about your Others, but my Others are not that easily trained.

I know every family is different. But to be honest, the only sure way I can get any writing done is to do it without the family. Period. In the five hours when everyone else is at school/work, I meet my reasonable writing goal of 1,000 words a day. Granted, some of that time I have to schedule errands and appointments, but I try not to do any household tasks that could possibly be done while the Others are home.

I can put food in the oven while kids are beating on each other. I can put clothes in the washer while the 13-year-old watches his 100th episode of “Lab Rats”. I can run the vacuum while the 10-year-old empties the can of Reddi Whip into his mouth.

But I cannot write when any of these things are going on in the house. The best way is to send them all away to school and the office, and then sit down with my coffee and get lost in my other world. Attention deficit limits my ability to effectively switch between worlds—the one in my house and one in my head. I must choose one or the other and dwell there.

“But what about those of us who have preschoolers?” you might ask. Give yourself a break. You are in the most exhausting season of life. You can do it all—but not all at the same time.

“What about summers?” Want to know what I did this summer? I read, watched movies, hiked, swam, cheered at swim meets, ate ice cream, went to the beach, and visited family with my kids. It was awesome. No frustration. No anger. Why? I put my laptop away and just enjoyed my kids. They will not be with me forever.

I have to admit, though, that by the end of July, I was ready to get back to writing. I had the school supplies and my kids’ backpacks packed and by the door—even though school didn’t start until the end of August. Once the kids were back to school, I found the break was great for my creative brain; I could return to my work with a fresh perspective.