Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Stephen Watkins from The Undiscovered Author.
The Plight of The Parent Creator
Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re a writer, like me. Chances are, you have a lot of other responsibilities, too. You might even be a parent, like me.
I’ve always been a writer. Three years ago I became a husband, and no sooner than I had kissed the bride I returned to school at the same time that I had a full-time job. For the past year I’ve also been a father. That’s a lot of hats to wear, and a lot of balls to juggle if I want to keep them all in the air.
Balancing the competing demands of work, school, being a husband and father to make time for writing hasn’t been easy. At times, I admit, I may have dropped one or two of the balls. But every time I’ve done my best to pick it back up again. I’ve had to, because each of these competing roles is central to who I am: I can’t stop being a father, I can’t stop being a writer. And I can’t let any of my other various responsibilities go, because they’re all interdependent.
Balancing Fatherhood and Writing
Parenthood is unique among all the responsibilities that come into our lives that compete for our time and attention. Most others are temporary or accommodating. You may spend all day at work, but you have a lunch break, and at the end of the day you can go home. Eventually class lets out and school comes to an end. Spouses are often supportive of our hobbies. So there are opportunities to negotiate your time and make room for writing. But you never stop being a parent, and the needs and demands of your child or children can intrude on you no matter where, no matter when. It’s impossible to create a sacred space for writing into which your children can never enter. They can, and they will.
I know you want to desperately to write. I mean, you have to write, because it’s part of who you are, right? But let’s be square with each other. You’re a parent now: a father, or a mother. And at the end of the day, that takes precedence.
I’ve reconciled myself to this fact. I can’t deny who I am, but if I’m forced to choose between definitions, between “Father” and “Writer”, it’s not really a choice at all. I’m a father, and I love my son far too much ever to say otherwise. But that doesn’t mean I can’t reconcile my urge to create, my impetus to write, with the realities of being a father.
You may know the score when it comes to setting aside time and space to write. Writers are notoriously ritualistic creatures. We like to set aside a specific time to do our writing, maybe early in the morning or late at night or on a break at work. Check. Maybe we have a place where we do all our work. Check. A little music to get us in the mood and get the creative juices flowing. Check. Silencing our inner editor to let the words flow. Check. All of these are valuable techniques. But whatever you do to make time and space for writing, resign yourself to the fact that when your children have needs, you’re going to have to be a little more flexible with your sacred space. You’ll have to let them in, but don’t get frustrated or discouraged. Always remember how much you love your children.
You Can Be A Great Father and A Great Writer
Here are a few things I do (and some things I will try to do as my child gets older), as a father and a writer, to reconcile the two. Sort of my “rules” for a parent-creator:
1. Read with your children
Writing and reading are intimately related. Sometimes, writing time is reading time. Sharing your love of reading with your children does two things: it brings you both closer together and it gives you an outlet to spend time reading. True, sometimes that means reading something you wouldn’t read, ordinarily. For me, lately, that’s been a heavy rotation of “Goodnight, Moon” and “Guess How Much I Love You”, which isn’t exactly in the genres I typically read and write. But knowing that I’m building a connection with my child through the medium of reading is priceless–and one day I know this will result in my child developing a better understanding of what I do as a writer.
2. Play comes first
Play is how your child learns about the world. And it’s another way that your child will form bonds with you. Whatever my writing schedule, time with my child–play–comes first. Learn to find inspiration from your child’s perspective. To him or her, everything is fresh, new, and exciting. Every day is an adventure. You will find from very early on that your child has a unique character and a unique outlook on life–even if he or she can’t express it to you. As you learn to see the world through fresh eyes, you’ll learn to write better characters.
3. Learn to let go
Sometimes, you will not be able to write, because of the demands placed on you by parenthood. That’s okay. Don’t fret, don’t stress out. Just let go. There’s always another day. But today, other things demand your time and attention. And those things are important, too. Give them their due.
4. Set age-appropriate rules
Pursuant to the aforementioned rules for the parent, you will also find that you need to set age-appropriate rules for your children. “Age-appropriate” is key. My toddler is just beginning to understand the concept of boundaries. It’s going to be a long time before he can understand “right now is daddy’s writing time.” By the time he’s a teenager, I’ll be lucky to interest him in a board game. In between, I’ll try to help him understand what I’m doing in ways that connect with him.
5. Get up and try again
Sometimes, you’re to have to invoke Rule 3. And it’s going to happen no matter what age your children. For me, it might be when he cries out suddenly, waking from a nightmare or from teething pain. For a some kids it’s because the big T-ball game is today, or something happened at school, or your child is making new discoveries and needs mom or dad to help them understand, or any number of reasons. When that happens, tomorrow, swallow your fear, your pride, and your shame (if you have it) from having not written and start again. Pick up the pen, sit back down at the keyboard, and write.
It’s often said that on their deathbed nobody ever said they’d regret not spending more time at work, but many would regret not spending more time with their children. That’s true. But if you’re a writer, if you don’t learn to make room for both writing and time with your children, you may come to regret both not finishing that novel and not spending more time with children. But if you plan your time right, and remember what’s important, you’ll find there’s time to be both a great parent, and a prolific creator.
Stephen A. Watkins lives, works, plays and writes in Atlanta, Georgia, where he recently completed his Master’s degree. He’s been an avid reader and writer, especially of fantasy and science fiction literature, since he could count his age in the single digits, and he still can’t get enough. Day-to-day he precariously balances the demands of his day job, loving his wife, playing with his toddler and walking the dog to find the time to read and write, and he blogs about his misadventures at The Undiscovered Author.
Are you a parent? How do you balance fatherhood, or motherhood, with your writing schedule? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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