The Balancing Act of Being a Mother and Creative Work

You can quit a job. I can’t quit being a mother. I’m a mother forever. Mothers are never off the clock, mothers are never on vacation. Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us. Being a mother brings us face-to-face with ourselves as children, with our mothers as human beings, with our darkest fears of who we really are. Being a mother requires us to get it together or risk messing up another person forever. Being a mother yanks our hearts out of our bodies and attaches them to our tiny humans and sends them out into the world, forever hostages.”
― Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

Black woman with dreads and tattoos wearing a t-shirt that read First of All No

Being a mother and a creative…

It is a Saturday morning the week has taken a toll on me, but I have promised myself to rise early. Be the early bird who catches the worm, while my family sleeps, and catch up on the work that got left in the dust.

Great idea, right? Of course, except for one thing. My kids, especially Shaka the 3year old, seems to have a “mom is awake” radar!

And there goes my early start because it is Shaka-time now. He will nag for everything from breakfast to kicking a ball at 6 in the morning!

Sunday morning, surely the kids are too tired after a jam-packed Saturday, so this is the day I get to finally catch up on my writing and admin and helping other authors with their work, right?

Nope! The radar is forever on full alert. So it is time to beg the offspring, “Shaka please can you give mommy just an hour?” to which the toddler responds, “No mommy, I need you. Come watch this with me…” And on and on it goes.

The point I am making is that it is hard to juggle parenting and a creative gig. I am sure it is hard, even when your work isn’t in the creative space, I can’t speak to that though.

What I know is that, for me, writing needs silence, it needs me to have quiet time to reflect, it needs me to have time to conjure up inspiration and this time is hard to find. And sometimes when you do “find” the time, the guilt comes knocking…

When I do find the time to write- usually this means my little one is stuck in front of a screen and swallowed by whatever he is watching- the guilt about the dangers of too much screen time creep in and I wonder if I should abandon writing and go kick a ball?

Most days I keep writing because I don’t know when this time will present itself again other times I abandon writing and yank the boy from the screen, balance, right?

Or when my husband becomes the weekend parent and I haul myself in our room and sit in front of the laptop, with the intention of spending two hours and when I lift my head its dark outside.

On those days I don’t know what the kids ate, I haven’t seen my husband and I haven’t hugged or kissed any of the little humans. The knot in my stomach grips me and I wonder how many of these kinds of days can I have before my kids feel like I am a neglectful mother?

The above quotation by Shonda Rhimes is true, I can’t quit being a mother. I don’t want to quit being a writer(job). So what is the solution for this mom and creative conundrum?

Get a Plan Together

Yes, I can hear you screaming that plans and kids are a lie, I agree. The plan is not there so it can be executed perfectly, it is there as an anchor. I have learned to give myself a little grace by writing down what I MUST have done this week and what can fall away.

And to be clear this weekly plan is not extensive otherwise, I would go mad and, it would cease being an anchor and become a burden.

I start slow, I make a list of only five results I am after each week, the first three are high priority results and the other two can fall away and be a high priority for the following week.

For example, writing Amahle is always a high priority because ticking off this task, someday, will free up my mental space which will ease all other frustrations. Amahle always makes up the top three priorities of results needed.

The next will be working on a client’s book restructuring and or marketing campaign. The trick here is: be clear on what deliverables are expected each week, otherwise, you can easily disappear into a creative spiral and end up with nothing tangible to offer at the end of the week.

And lastly, the blog, maintaining this blog and the website is a high priority because this space is headquarters to everything else I am working to achieve in the writing space.

What sometimes falls away is the marketing of the book. Yes, it is a mess. But I have resolved that people don’t want to be yelled at each week about buying your book and so this helps me breathe easier and frees up time for me to connect with potential readers in an intimate and meaningful way instead of panicking about marketing ads.

Marketing is important, not all marketing is an advert and so in the weeks that I don’t get around the ad kind of marketing, I opt to spend the time forming real connections. This goes a long way and doesn’t need you to wreck your brain, it just needs you to care about the people who connect with you.

Know Your Priorities

Okay after you get your loose anchor plan together, know your priorities. My priority at the moment is being a mother, especially to the 3 year old who at times can be forgotten because he is baby number two.

When my kids need my attention, it doesn’t matter the creative flow I am in, I have to stop and hope the creative gods will have mercy and return as soon as I have time to focus again.

I will admit, I am not as graceful at stopping as the statement above may suggest. I kick and scream and try to see how far I can stretch not paying attention to the kids until I have the little one grabbing my leg, that’s usually the cue that I am bordering on child neglect and I then slink off and neglect the writing.

This used to make me sad and question whether it is all worth it? Will my writing ever amount to anything worth writing home about? Am I ever going to have enough hours for my clients? These thoughts played out and I would find myself blaming the boys and my husband, telling them they dont take me seriously and they should all be doing better and just support my dreams!

I soon realised these were unfair burdens to place on them, for one my husband is supportive and he has a demanding job, so truly he does what he can and sometimes keeps going even after he has run out of steam.

Secondly, my children are still too young for me to require they silence their need of me in order for my writing and quiet time.

It became abundantly clear that there were truths I needed to come to grips with if I wanted to keep the spirit of my family harmonious and make gains in my creative pursuits.

Accept that I am a mother and that it is a huge honour to have been given the chance to raise these little boys.

Remember they will not be young forever and I can’t get back missing out on their growth but I have forever to write.

Take on fewer clients.

My writing career will progress slower than other writers who have the time to dedicate to writing and marketing every single day or have different priorities than mine.

My kids can be a source of inspiration.

That last point helps me settle into playing or listening to them when they have pulled me away from my work. I have moments when while playing my mind works out writer’s block and when I return to work I flow again. Not always, but enough for me to believe there is a superpower in letting your hair down and playing with the kids.

Is there a balance?

The short answer is: no. There is no balance, there are priorities and they shift depending on what is most pressing at the time. For me taking on fewer clients is a “balance” it means fewer people to worry about and less work overall which widens the deadline margins and frees up time to steal away with the kids.

It is also “balance” to work with people who align with your values, as much as possible, as these humans will understand what matters and will show you grace. Make sure you work damn hard for these people in your pockets of time.

The balance is knowing what matters when, for instance, if I have a client deadline and my baby is not well, I have to bite the bullet and fight the urge to cuddle with him and allow for our helper to run full steam ahead with playing mom so I can deliver on time. This isn’t putting my son last. It is understanding if he has been to the doctor and has meds, it is now a waiting game and I can take over cuddles as soon as I have hit submit.

The other example, if someone needs consultation and I have to watch my other son play soccer or watch a play he is in or any other moment that can not be repeated, in this instance every deadline can wait and every consultation call can happen the next day.

In these cases even my highest priority, writing and finishing Amahle, can wait because I will never again have the moment if I miss a play, or a game or time chatting when they are in the mood to chat.

More than anything though, your best chances of achieving a sliver of balance is by enlisting help! Do not go at this alone. If you have people who love you and want to see you win ask them to support you practically. Have a friend or family member take the kids for a weekend or your partner book a getaway with the kids or one for you.

If you have the money pay for childcare for all of the days LOL! If you can find someone to look after your kids on a Sunday and someone to cook Sunday lunch, go for it! Pay it all mama, this is an investment into your creative work.

I have since let go of my irrational peeve of buying groceries online, listen Checkers 60 has saved this mama some time! Get as much help as you can handle, free up time as much as possible. Remember to ask for help long before you need it, this is so that people don’t feel manipulated. Plan so you know in advance when you will need help. Yes, sometimes things come up but don’t make a habit of fire drilling everyone else’s life because you failed to plan…

Through it all remember to always always give yourself some grace, you are doing the very best you can and that is all you can ask for.

Over to you: How do you balance your creative work with being a mom?

Remember to share this with a mama who needs to cut herself some slack…

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