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  • Writer's pictureClaire Bentley

PARENT-WRITERS: SHOULD WE WAIT UNTIL OUR CHILDREN ARE OLDER?

Many of us harbour dreams of writing a book, or writing multiple books, over the course of our lives.


Many of us also become parents.


Even if we don’t become parents, life enjoys throwing hurdles at us. Often when we least expect it. No one’s life is free from major change and upheaval.


Of all life’s ‘challenges’ (and I’ve experienced a few) none have been as enduring, exhilarating and exhausting as raising children.


When you add the desire to be a writer, the challenge can be overwhelming. And yet, for those of us who become parents, writing and parenting are likely to overlap for many years of our lives.


It is not enough to spew generic productivity advice at writers (and others!) in this situation.


This blog post addresses the question of whether or not parent-writers should wait until their children are grown before building their dream career, and ways you might be able to manage both at the same time.


SPOILER ALERT: You are the one who is best placed to answer this question for yourself!


Other related posts are linked below, and you can sign up for my free newsletter to gain access to my Productivity for Parents guide:


CONSIDERATION 1: THE PATRIARCHAL ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM…


Ironic as elephants are matriarchal, but I digress.


I intend for all the guidance in this blog post to be applicable to parents of any sexuality or gender who wish to pursue a writing career alongside their parenting life.


However, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that female parents still overwhelmingly take on the majority of childcare and household management in cishet relationships, even when both parents work full-time. I could go on a (very) long rant about this, but I’ll try to resist!


Obviously not every family works this way. However, before any of us can decide how our parenting and writing lives will co-exist, we need to take a long hard look at the comparative workload across employment, childcare, and household management for each parent in the family (note: based on number of hours, NOT salary size!) After doing this comparison, then any inequities need to be identified, discussed and actively addressed by all partners.


Drawing of a free time box with many different things around the outside competing to fit into the box, such as cleaning, life admin, writing, food prep, showering etc
Parenting workload shouldn't fall on one partner

Even with the amount of passion and determination I have, and even with great productivity strategies in place, there is no way I would be able to set up and build an editing business, and write novels, and be a present and compassionate parent to my children, if my husband didn’t share equally in ensuring our family’s wellbeing!


On a related note, when listening to techbros with six kids spouting productivity advice and going into detail about their goal-based meditation, three-hour daily gym schedule, and kale smoothie recipes, just remember who’s really doing the hard work in their family. It ain’t him.


If this section makes you uncomfortable, because you carry more (or less) of the overall burden (and be honest!), then stick with those feelings and examine them, because there’s a good reason you’re feeling them. If the total household workload isn’t shared equally between you, then that problem needs to be dealt with (together!) before you can figure out how to make writing and parenting work.


No one (no matter their gender) should build a career by exploiting an unfair division of labour in their household.


I will reiterate: none of these tips or mindset stances will help you if the parents in your household are not sharing equitably in the total workload of raising your family. If the workload is not shared equally, then this needs to be tackled. Urgently.


Now I’ve got the most difficult part out of the way… let’s get into some practical considerations, mindset stances and productivity tips which are useful when juggling parenting and writing.


CONSIDERATION 2: PRIORITIES


Where is writing on your list of priorities? Be honest with yourself. Is it high on the list, or is it languishing two thirds of the way down between keeping the shower clean and volunteering for your local pylon appreciation club?


No judgement at all here! For some people, writing is all they want to do in life. For others, it is something they’ve said to themselves from time to time (‘I’d like to write a book one day’) but they haven’t got further than that.


It is absolutely fine if writing isn’t a high priority for you (or if it never will be). That way you know not to dedicate time to it while you navigate the (metaphorical and literal) faecal storm that is parenting small children. I enjoy drawing and sketching and I’m pretty good at it, but it is fairly low on my priority list. It has no chance of reaching a higher position until my kids are a lot older (and it may not climb the priority list even then).


Assuming writing is high on your list, then look at the other high priority items around it. I’m assuming your family is somewhere there. I’m assuming your paid work (if you have it) has to be up there. Household management is probably up there as well (or at least doing enough of it to have clean dishes each day and not breed fascinating new diseases in your bathroom).


What I’m trying to say is: don’t try and take on writing at the same time as parenting if writing is not high on your list of priorities for your life. It can wait until the children are older, if you decide you ever want to do it at all.


CONSIDERATION 3: HEALTH


So you’re equalising the division of labour in your household, and you’ve examined where writing sits on your list of priorities for your life.


Another consideration is your physical and mental health. No matter how much you wish to be a writer, you must factor in the time you need to eat healthy meals, to get your body moving in some way, and to give yourself a mental break from the daily exhaustion of life with kids. Because parenting is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, and there’s no getting away from that.


It can be tempting to examine your calendar and assign any scrap of free time to writing. However, I don’t recommend doing this. Writing is enjoyable for me and is essential for my mental health, but it is also work, and I wear myself out every time I forget this.


REST IS IMPORTANT. YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH ARE IMPORTANT. EVEN MORE SO WHEN YOU’RE A PARENT.


You will be no good to your family, your writing, or yourself if you burn out from trying to juggle too many things, and by demanding too many things of yourself! Yes, schedule writing time, but please also schedule self-care.


CONSIDERATION 4: LIFE IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT


Time goes fast. Life is short. And we never know what could happen in a few years, or a few weeks, or even a few minutes from now. It sounds dramatic, but tomorrow is not guaranteed.


After losing my father to cancer as a child, when he was only a few years older than I am now, I know this better than most people!


However, this doesn’t mean we should throw ourselves headlong into every challenge life presents because ‘you never know what might happen’. If we did that, then our minds and bodies would be worn out and riddled with long-term health conditions before we reached our forties.


Like anything else in life, this is a balancing act. This is another reason it’s vital to know ourselves and our priorities. Yes, we might write more books over the course of our writing career if we publish before thirty and keep publishing through the storm of parenting. Then again, we might burn ourselves out and need to pause for ten years (or longer) if we don’t look after ourselves.


Drawing of green car with flat tyres, cracked windscreen, dirty and chipped, with smoke coming out of the exhaust
Writing (and parenting!) is a marathon, not a sprint

I applaud anyone who is trying to write at the same time as raising a family. I applaud anyone who is trying to do either of these things on its own. I applaud anyone who decides to delay or pause their writing until their children are grown (or at least older and more independent) because they know doing both at the same time wouldn’t work for them.


Now that we’ve covered the main considerations if you wish to tackle parenting and writing simultaneously, it’s time to look at several mindset considerations that will help with this.


MINDSET 1: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO EVERYTHING


If you have a newborn baby, even getting a shower or doing the laundry can feel impossible, never mind getting your word count goal for the day. If you have a toddler, you’ll be lucky if you get to sit down for fifteen minutes with a (tepid) mug of coffee. If you have a school-aged kid, there’s an approximate thirty percent chance on any given day that they’ll wake up with a cold and ruin all your best-laid plans. I speak from experience.


Even if things are going well that day, there are only so many hours to fulfil your paid work, look after your child, prepare the meals, tidy up, put the child to bed, spend an hour persuading the child to stay in bed… and somewhere you need to fit in writing, saying more than ‘hello’ to your partner, and getting at least some sleep (I won’t say eight hours because this ‘requirement’ is unhelpful and makes me want to cry. I can’t remember the last time I slept for eight hours).


In my experience, no parent has all their s*** together. Every parent is behind on at least one aspect of life. For me it’s usually cleaning or life admin. It is literally impossible to have everything under control at all times. Guaranteed: if you’re ahead on writing, you’re behind on something else. If your house is immaculate, I’m guessing your manuscript is pretty dusty. Sometimes one area needs more attention than another, but there is ALWAYS a trade-off.


MINDSET 2: DO NOT COMPARE YOUR PRODUCTIVITY TO WRITERS WITHOUT CHILDREN!


We are all at different stages of our careers and our lives, and no two creatives are dealing with identical life, family and health circumstances. It is useless to compare apples, bananas, oranges and grapes.


This is easier said than done if you haven’t been able to write for two weeks because every family member caught the same stomach bug. You sit there, wondering why you can’t draft an entire manuscript in a month, when the answer to that question is literally wrapping their little arms around your neck and trying to vomit in your hair.

We are each on our own unique journey. Ultimately, our race is only with ourselves.


MINDSET 3: STUFF WILL GO WRONG


This is a pep-talk for myself too!


I worked out that, for 2022, I lost ONE THIRD of my total writing time to family illness or other things going wrong. I haven’t yet faced that calculation for 2023, but I know it’s similar.


I never know when or how it will happen, but as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, multiple writing sessions will be t-boned by a sick or injured child. And I’m lucky because both my children are relatively healthy (touch wood) and don't have additional complex needs.


A full day of solo childcare is exhausting. Doubly so when it’s unexpected and your child is as grumpy as you are.


But please know that it’s inevitable, and you need to get used to it (and be kind to yourself when it happens!)


MINDSET 4: CHILDCARE IS PRODUCTIVE AND IMPORTANT TOO


Just putting this out there: just because a task has traditionally been labelled as ‘women’s work’ (don’t even get me started), doesn’t mean it isn’t important, or worthwhile, or any less tiring than going to work for the day. I’m a working parent. Trust me: a full day of editing is far less knackering than solo-parenting all day, no matter how sweet and funny my boys are.


A line of cuddly toys tucked up in bed
Childcare is important too!

Time spent with your children, or keeping up with life admin, or cleaning the house, is worthwhile and meaningful, and is not wasted time. You are looking after your family, your partner, and your household. Sometimes writing has to take a backseat to other important priorities.


MINDSET 5: PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF GOOD


This relates to both writing life and parenting life.


It is fine (in fact, it is good practice) to write an awful first draft of your novel. It can be a steaming pile of excrement, as long as it exists, and as long as it gives you something you can work with and mould into something beautiful. It is fine if your writing schedule consists of stolen ten-minute chunks at random points in the day (plenty of novels have been written this way). It is fine if your writing sometimes has to take a backseat because you’re exhausted, or because there isn’t any food in the house, or because your delightful little monster suddenly needs an outfit for World Book Day. There is no such thing as perfect writing, or a perfect writing schedule.


On a related note, there is no such thing as perfect parenting. Repeat this mantra: ‘I promise I’ll try my best, but I can’t promise to be perfect’. On some days my best will be pretty good. On other days, my best will be three hours of screentime followed by pizza for dinner.


I f*** up at parenting all the time. All. The. Time. Sometimes I lose my temper. Sometimes I forget to do their assigned reading with them. Sometimes I tell them I can’t play with them right now, because the thought of pushing a little wooden train around a broken train track for thirty eternal minutes actually makes my soul curl into the foetal position and weep. Often my house is untidy and hasn’t seen a mop or vacuum in days.


You know what? I’ve never seen a book-review that said: ‘I would’ve given this book five stars, but then I found out the author hasn’t cleaned their shower in over a month, so… one star’.


We are human beings. We will try our best, but we have physical and psychological limits!


FINALLY, MY MOST-EFFECTIVE TIPS FOR GETTING WRITING DONE AS A PARENT…


TIP 1: COFFEE


Enough said.


TIP 2: OUTSOURCE (IF YOU CAN)


If you can afford some hired help (cleaner, babysitter, daycare, gardener etc) then definitely look into that! For example, I’ve been getting a lot more editing and writing done since my youngest son’s free childcare allowance kicked in (I’m in the UK).


Even if this type of help is beyond your means right now, there are other ways to outsource or simplify certain tasks:


  • You and your partner (if you have one) give each other one evening off a week, with the other partner covering bed time.

  • Batch-cook and freeze meals.

  • If a trusted person offers to babysit, take it!

  • Reduce who you send birthday and Christmas cards (and presents) to. Does your second cousin who you haven’t seen for five years really need a birthday card?

  • Lower your cleaning and tidying standards. And then lower them some more. You live in a home, not a show home.

TIP 3: FLEXIBLE AND REALISTIC GOALS


Make sure your writing goals are challenging, realistic, and flexible (and be honest with yourself here!)


The most important requirement for writing parents is that they are flexible. Celebrate when you achieve them. Focus on what you did manage to achieve even if you didn’t fully hit your goals. Don’t berate yourself if you miss a goal or deadline (especially with how often child-related illnesses and emergencies crop up). Rework your goals as often as you need to.


Slow progress is better than no progress!


TIP 4: WRITE ON THE EDGES OF THE DAY


If your child sleeps in the morning, first of all I hate you, and second: try getting up before them and squeezing in an hour of writing time. If your child isn’t evil and actually has daytime naps, first of all I doubly hate you, and second: make the most of that time! Whether it’s to write, rest, or take care of some life admin to free up time at other points in the day.


Drawing of my hands at the laptop, a mug of coffee beside me, caption 6.01am, and a speech bubble off-screen saying 'Mummy!' and me sighing
Yep, my children don't like sleep

If your child is an arsehole who doesn’t nap or sleep in (*raises hand*) then you might have to become a night owl (if you aren’t already) and write in the evenings. I’m a ‘morning writer’ who has morphed into a permanently exhausted mutant owl with broken feathers and bloodshot eyes.


This is why it’s so important to work out how much of a priority writing is for you. I wouldn’t do this to myself if I didn’t care deeply about my writing, and I especially wouldn’t do it at the same time as raising evil, I mean, gorgeous little children.

At the same time, give yourself some grace if you’ve been up all night with your little cherub(s) and are too exhausted to get up early or stay up late that day. Passion is wonderful, but we have to balance it with self-care and kindness.


TIP 5: SCHEDULE YOUR WRITING TIME


This is (hopefully) self-explanatory, and your dedicated writing time should be treated as sacred: a vitally important appointment with, and for, yourself!


However, parenting brings the additional caveat that writing time has to be flexible in certain situations. No matter how carefully and thoughtfully you plan your day, children have a nasty habit of vomiting (metaphorically and often literally) all over your carefully crafted schedule. If this happens: take a deep breath, mutter a few curse words, square your shoulders, and move on (and be kind to yourself).


TIP 6: CHOOSE ONE WRITING-RELATED THING TO ACCOMPLISH EACH DAY (OR EACH WEEK!)


Writing your novel involves more than typing or editing words. There is planning, research, character development, brainstorming etc.


Depending on where you are in the parenting nightmare, I mean journey, you may only have time or brain-space for compiling a pinterest board for your novel, or thinking through one of your scenes, or jotting down a few ideas. That is okay! It is impossible for me to write every day, so I try to make up for this by keeping part of my mind in my story and with my characters. Each week, I choose one aspect of the novel to tackle by the end of the week (even if it’s something small). If I get more done, then brilliant. If I don’t, then at least I’m still slowly making progress.


TIP 7: WRITE WHAT YOU ACCOMPLISH, NOT WHAT YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH


To-do lists are useful for some of us, and they help prevent random pieces of life admin cluttering my (forgetful) brain. However, every week in my journal I write down everything I accomplished during that week.


Sometimes it’s easy to think we aren’t making progress (especially if we didn’t hit our goals). This is why I make a point of writing down everything I DID achieve, instead of looking at my half-completed to-do list and feeling bad about myself.


I’ll say it again: slow progress is still progress! Celebrate your accomplishments, especially the ones achieved during parenthood!


CONCLUSION


Ultimately, the decision of whether to juggle writing and parenting together, or whether to offset writing while your children are small, is a very personal one.


Hopefully the considerations in this blog post can help you work out what may work best for you and your family.


BEFORE YOU GO…

Are you writing at the same time as raising children? Did you decide to delay writing until your children are older? (contact details below).


Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions:

Socials: @cbentleywriter on most of them!


I welcome respectful and friendly discussion on the topics I write about, including if your opinion differs from my own.


Disclaimer: generative AI

I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.

 

 


 

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