How to be a Writer and a Mom at the Same Time
When I moved to the United States 16 years ago as a young bride, I had no idea what literary endeavors were in store for me. I went to college in the U.S. to get my bachelors, and then worked in the nonprofit sector for many years. Unlike most desi couples, we didn’t have children until much later, and by that time my writing was taking off.
When my son was born, I had already started my own home-based writing company. Juggling a baby at thirty and a bunch of clients was no picnic, but somehow I managed. Three years later I signed a contract for a research-based non-fiction book and then discovered I was pregnant again. That was perhaps the most difficult pregnancy one could imagine, less because of the baby and more so due to all-night writing marathons to meet my publisher’s deadline. I remember emailing the final documents while ignoring labor pains as my daughter insisted on entering the world two weeks early.
When my daughter turned four I decided to try my hand at fiction, and a year and a half later Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan was born. Sometimes I feel as if I have four children, not two, and already I’m working on another book. This then, symbolizes my writing career. Juggling the hefty responsibilities of a mom and a writer is serious business, not because either writing or mothering are the most difficult tasks in the world, but because one requires peace and quiet and the other is steeped in noise and chaos. There were days when I felt frustrated, angry, depressed. Then there were days when I felt euphoria when a child took a first step or the very first copy of a book was sold.
Writing and parenting: it took me a while to figure both out, and I learned a lot along the way. So whether you are a novelist or a non-fiction writer, a blogger or a journalist, here are some tips for being a writer and a parent at the same time:
- Plan your projects carefully: When my first child was a baby, my writing business had already taken off, and I signed up more clients than I could manage with a newborn. The result: I lost many clients because my sleep-deprived self couldn’t focus. Three years later, signing a contract to deliver a book and receiving a due-date to deliver a child coincided in an unexpected way, but foolishly I didn’t realize that two stress-filled deadlines weren’t necessarily a good idea for me. The result: I became very sick, probably due to unmanageable stress. The lessons I learned: important events like pregnancies and newborns should take precedent over work if you’re planning to work from home, because the resulting stress can be unhealthy in more ways than one.
- Create a work place: when my children were very young, I used an upstairs bedroom as my office. It was my haven, with my beautiful curtains and my colorful ottoman, my bookshelves lined with books and knick-knacks. But when my son got older, he couldn’t sleep with us anymore, and we turned my office into his room. Guess where I ended up? At the dining room table, where the kids also did homework and we ate all the family meals and which was usually covered with a dozen items that didn’t belong there. I realized that when you write, you need a space to call your own, even if it’s just an alcove or a corner of a bedroom. Sometimes I will be honest and say that I have sat down in a closet and typed furiously.
- Be patient: Sometimes you may find that writing is really hard with children around, and then you just have to be patient. I found myself getting frustrated after my second child was born, and for a few years things were really tough. Then I understood that I needed to be patient, and wait for my children to grow up a little bit. And guess what? They did. When my second daughter started pre-school I finally became serious about writing Brick Walls. I also began studying for my Masters, just because having both kids in school was such a big relief!
- Spend time with your family: This is last, but it’s certainly not the least. I learned after a lot of false starts, that to be happy in any career, you have to spend time working but also spend time not working. My biggest problem in the beginning was that I wanted to find time all day to write, which was virtually impossible. When I stopped the unreasonably high expectations of myself, I was able to create a timetable for my writing, and spend the rest of the time with my children. They were happy, and I was happy. Yes, it may take longer to publish my next novel, but at least I can rest assured that I was able to be a writer and a mom at the same time.
So if you’re a stay-at-home mother (or father) and also want to work from home, I can assure you it is difficult but not impossible. Take a deep breath, make a plan, learn to be extremely organized, and take the plunge. It will work out if you want it to.
Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author living in Houston, Texas. Her short story collection Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan is available on Amazon. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
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