When It’s Time for a Writer to Look for Mary Poppins

My daughter, Juliet, turned one in April. I thought I had been working during the first year of her life. I mean, I tried. I sat in front of my laptop during all of her naps, neversleeping when she was sleeping, instead dedicating one eye to my manuscript while the other was locked on the baby monitor. Guess how productive I was?
While I’m sure there are people who can work like this (God, bless all of you), I found that I was merely putting words on a page. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t thinking. Heck, one time I didn’t even remember that I had already introduced a character I was about to accidentally introduce for a second time.

So I came to the proverbial fork in the road. I could either admit defeat and give up the writing gig until my daughter was old enough for preschool (of course by then, she could have a future sibling moving into the crib) or I could double-down, bet on my career, and hire a nanny.

I’d like to say the decision was obvious. I’m sure you want to read, “Of course, I immediately starting searching for child care. I’m a career woman, after all!” But that wasn’t what happened.

Honestly, my first instinct was to give it up. I even told a few friends and family members that I was ready for a break. It was just too hard to be split in two—feeling guilty that I wanted to work on my book instead of playing with my daughter, and feeling unfocused on my writing when I did have time to work.

Then an interesting thing happened. I tried being a stay-at-home mom. I spent Monday-through-Friday caring for Juliet, taking her to playdates, singing along at music class, going to the park, doing tons of laundry, and meeting moms for coffee. I did no writing. And you know what happened? I turned into a crazy person.

Now, this isn’t me knocking stay-at-home moms. I have the deepest respect for any woman who can care for her kids full-time and feel self-fulfilled. That is what makes motherhood the hardest job in the world, in my opinion.

But for me, focusing my days on solely caring for Juliet had me feeling like I was in Tahiti any time I had more than an hour to myself. I don’t mean this in a good way. So many weeks passed where I couldn’t remember a single moment when I was without my daughter that it made walking to the drugstore alone feel like a holiday. A trip the hairdresser was a vacation. And don’t get me started on what a luxury it was to use the bathroom, or shower, by myself.

I was never alone, and I needed a break so desperately I was almost in tears when our family vacation ended.

That was when we hired a nanny.

I told myself I was going to wait to hire a caregiver until after I sold my next book. That was the plan. But then I found I couldn’t produce a next book if I didn’t have help—regular help, not just the occasional “sure, I’ll babysit” help.

So my husband graciously agreed. We hired a part-time nanny, just 8-12 hours per week, to see what I could produce. The end result? Three months after hiring a nanny on that limited basis, I have a completed manuscript.

Don’t get me wrong, it still has to find the right editor, but I can tell you it’s light-years better than what I was attempting to produce the first year of Juliet’s life. And it’s amazing how productive you can be when you know you’ve only got four hours to work. I won’t even check my email when the nanny’s on the scene. I’m completely focused on my writing.

And this carries over into my time with Juliet. When I’m with her now, I’m more present. I’m no longer wishing I could be writing, or wishing she’d nap longer. Instead, we’re happily playing and I’m not distracted. I’m a happier mom. And I have to think a happier mom makes for a happier kid.

So as I wrap up my Work-In-Progress and get ready for submission, I’ve got my fingers crossed that my second year as a working mother will be different from the first. At the very least, I’ll continue the illusive quest for balance. Maybe by the time she’s eighteen, I’ll finally figure it out.

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One comment on “When It’s Time for a Writer to Look for Mary Poppins
  1. Yes! I totally hear you on this one. My daughter is 2.5 now, and I didn’t even try to work on a book for the first nine or ten months of her life. Instead, I just did the stay-at-home mom thing, living for her and going quietly crazy. It was an impossible catch-22; it’s hard to justify hiring outside help when I’m not bringing in writing income and there’s no guarantee that I ever will, but without outside help I may never have the chance to write something that will earn that income. We finally put my daughter in a daycare/preschool program two mornings a week, and it helps a lot. I tell myself that it’s good for her, too. She not only gets to play with other children and learn from someone else for a change, but I’m present now when we play together. Plus she gets to have the example of a mom who goes after her dreams, and what could be better for a daughter?

    If it helps, too, it really does get better. While my toddler still needs a lot of help, supervision, and one-on-one attention, she can also play by herself now. I’ve actually been able to work while she happily pushes her dolls around and around the family room in a tiny stroller, or reads books, or dances to music. It is wonderful – so, so much better than it was. So hang in there! And good for you for doing what’s best for your whole family!

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