I’ve struggled for the past year to get onto a regular writing schedule. No sooner would I have one than my daughter’s schedule would change and I’d be scrambling again. First I got up early to write, then my daughter started waking up earlier. When I started writing during her morning naptime, she dropped her morning naps. I sometimes continue to work on my novel during her afternoon nap, but now that it is my only time to myself other activities tend to win out. I know from experience that I do best when I write first thing in the morning. But mornings are usually taken up with breakfast, diapering and other aspects of a toddler’s early morning routine. I have the ideas swirling around in my head and even the motivation to write them down. But what I lack is energy. By the time my daughter is in bed for the night I don’t have much left. I always felt like lack of time was my problem. I had too many loads of laundry, too many meals to prepare and too much part-time paid work to do. But I’m quickly realizing that I can make time to do most of the things that really matter to me. But I can’t seem to manufacture the energy. I admire creative people who get up in the middle of the night or the crack of dawn, or stay up until the wee hours to hone their craft. I want to be a good wife and a good mother but I often wonder if that precludes being a good writer as well.
As I read Stephen King’s On Writing I find myself both inspired and discouraged. He recommends 1,000 words a day and a quiet place to write where you can lock the world away. I doubt my laptop on a coffee table surrounded by piles of toddler toys qualifies. I’m lucky if I write a couple hundred words a day, let alone 1,000. I try to remind myself that he wrote his early works in attics and garages with a typewriter balanced on his knees. He had young children too and he worked a crappy, physically demanding job. (Though he also had a devoted and wonderful wife who cared for said children and worked a second shift job of her own to help make ends meet, while also trying to write herself). I find myself wondering, if he could do it, why can’t I? Maybe I just don’t want it enough. Maybe I have too many other things that matter to me. So to all you writers out there, especially those who are also parents; how do you make it work? I’d love to know what tips you’ve discovered.
One of the things I used to love about girls friends, is that unlike most males, they simply offer support rather than try to fix your problems. Most men are more goal-oriented. When I come home with a problem, my husband tries to help solve it. Most of the time I appreciate this, but over our 8 years of marriage, he has also learned that sometimes all I want is for him to listen. Women, generally speaking, are good at listening and providing support or encouragement without necessarily dispensing solutions. Or so I used to believe. But since I’ve become a mother I’ve discovered this tendency to Mommy Solve all problems. When I mention my daughter wasn’t sleeping through the night yet at 9 months, I was inundated with ways to make it happen. When my daughter first started showing interest in the potty at 18 months, every mom I knew had an opinion about whether I should start full-blow potty training, or ignore the interest and delay until she was closer to three. Except for a few rare cases what I didn’t receive was support, or at least not without advice attached. Then when I didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t accept said advice, the support began to evaporate. Why does becoming mothers make us less supportive of each other as women?
Every new method and book has moms in a tizzy other whether we will accidentally mess our kids up. Today’s young mother seems to have little confidence in their own instincts, trusting the experts more than themselves. One of the things I love about the theme of Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) this year is that it emphasizes our own innate instincts as mothers. They call it Mom Sense. Common Sense + Mom Instinct = Mom Sense. I’m not saying books and advice aren’t helpful, but I think we forget that for centuries women parented based on the support of their mothers, grandmothers and larger community of women, not child psychologists. Yes, there were bad mothers then, there are still bad mothers now, in spite of all the supposed modern resources at our disposal. I too often hear the phrase, “It takes a village.” But I don’t see a village. I don’t see mothers banding together and supporting each other. I see experts, and even government, telling me they can raise my child better. I see moms criticizing each other’s parenting methods and gossiping about the moms who won’t use the current “approved method” feedings, diapering, discipline, etc. This is not a village of support. We have fostered an atmosphere of competition not cooperation.
I’m working on training myself not to become part of this trend. Things like asking open ended questions like “How is breast feedings going? Or “How is the baby sleeping” rather than “Do you have a feeding schedule yet?” or “Is the baby sleeping through the need yet?” Then whatever the answer, I try to offer encouragement and support, even share my own difficult experiences. I offer advice if it seems to be desired, but mostly I’m trying to keep my mouth shut and listen. I remember being the first time mom who just wanted someone to listen. Not to judge or solve, but to encourage me that I was doing just fine and that eventually things would get easier. We so quickly forget what it’s like to feel insecure and uncertain that we allow ourselves to fall into criticism and judgment. If we are willing to close our months and open our eyes and ears we can still make “the village” a place we all want to raise our children instead of a cloud of critics and cynics.
My daughter has begun spontaneously expressing affection. “Mommy, I love you,” she says as she cocks her little head to one side, smiles and bats her eyes. I will admit that it makes my heart melt. But it also taught me something new about my relationships with God. My daughter’s expression of affection is adorable, but she is really too young to know what love means. She says she loves me because I take care of her, because I give her things she wants and needs and because she knows I like to hear it. This is how many of us start our relationships with God, and if we aren’t careful it can remain that way. We love God because he takes care of us and gives us nice things. But truthfully, is that the kind of conditional love I want from my daughter? No. But I realize that as she gets older, she will develop a deeper love for her father and me that is based on more than just the nice things we give her.
I love her just because she exists. But at age two she can’t comprehend that kind of deep unconditional love. It’s even more amazing to me to think that I have a heavenly Father who loves me just because I exist, in a deeper and more sacrificial way than even my love for my daughter. I realize now how God must feel when I say I love him. He probably smiles to himself and thinks “Thank you, my child, I appreciate the sentiment. But I hope that someday you will know better what it is you are really saying.” If I want to grow up and not remain a toddler level Christian, I need to learn to love God for who he is, not just for what he does. As an adult, I feel like I have finally gotten to that point with my own human parents, but I know it will be a while before I can reach that level with God. But I will continue to strive for it. In the mean time, I will tell my daughter I love her and enjoy hearing her say it back.
When I agreed to send my two year old daughter to the beach with my mother, sister and brother-in-law, I felt completely confident. But as they drove away and I went back into my conspicuously empty house I began to feel doubts. I called my husband at work and cried. I felt ridiculous. I rarely have a day to myself and I can distinctly remember several occasions when I would have given my right arm for a day off from Mommy duty. Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter and I love being at home with her, but sometimes I need a break. Yet there is something stressful about leaving your child in someone else’s care, even someone you completely trust. It probably has something to do with feeling the need for the illusion of control. When my daughter is with me, I think that I control her environment therefore she is safe. But the truth is, it’s mostly in my head. My daughter has fallen down a short flight of stairs, off the couch and smacked her head on the edge of a table, all while my husband or I was standing right there. This is not because we don’t pay attention, but because with kids things sometimes happen fast and as a parent, whether we want to believe it or not, we aren’t super heroes. I don’t move faster than a speeding bullet, even when I see my daughter lose her balance and lunge for her. On the bright side, my daughter is a pretty tough kid. Now if she falls down, she gets up and keeps going. On rare occasions where she does cry for a minute she gets over it fast. I’m come to accept that as a parent I try to be careful, we baby proof and take other precautions, but the truth is, things will happen that are out of my control, whether I am there or not. She came home from her day at the beach tired and excited but completely unscathed. She can’t stop talking about how much fun she had. So, as it turns out, my daughter enjoyed a day off from me as much as I did from here. Next time maybe we’ll all go together.
Last Monday afternoon I was suddenly offered something I’ve never had before: a Mommy’s Day Off. My sister and brother in law decided to go to the beach for the day on Tuesday and offered to take my two year old with them. Suddenly I was faced with an entire day to spend by myself. I was tempted to take off shopping but my lack of funds and exhaustion of late changed my mind. I ended up spending most of the morning working on a sewing project. Then I had lunch followed by a nice long nap, something I can rarely justify. It was a strange sensation sitting in an empty house. For a while I just sat and enjoyed the quiet. No TV, no toddler music, no whining: just silence. Of course, inevitably I started feeling sad about how empty the house seemed. Imagining what life would be like without my daughter (aside from the fact that I would still be working fulltime and wouldn’t be home during the day), I found that I missed her presence. Though I got over it, and threw myself into enjoying my day. I mostly focused on rest and relaxation, two things that are rare for me. Had I had a few more days of notice, I might have planned a bit more.
What kind of things do you do on your Mommy or Daddy day off?