Do you know how they say that women become their mothers? Well, I had a lot of clues very early that I was mine, but an undeniable giveaway was when I followed in her professional footsteps. One of my earliest memories is of my mom sitting at her corner desk in our one-bedroom, basement apartment, banging away at her typewriter. She had one of my She-Ra action figures sitting on the edge because she said it looked like the main character in her book, and I was messing around with it in her work space.
"Jamie, what are you doing? Go play somewhere else."
"But I want to play here."
She held up one finger and didn't turn to look at me.
"But what time is it?"
"Mommy's writing time."
"Mommy's writing time. So go play and when I'm done we can do something together."
Mommy's Writing Time is something that required respect from a very, very early age. Part of that was due to the fact that, as a single mother with two small children, she didn't get a ton of it in those days. As I got older, and we had moved from a basement apartment in New Jersey to a colonial in Connecticut and she moved from a typewriter to a computer, and all of my younger brothers and sister went to school, mommy had more writing time. I was the first to arrive home and my arrival signified the end of her "writer" shift. Her desk was still in her bedroom, and she could see me coming from her window. I always joked that she looked like a witch up in a tower casting spells.
I am so grateful, for a lot of reasons, that I had a writer as a mother. I also feel lucky that I got to actually witness her writing more than my siblings. For one, it gave me an appreciation for the fact that this lady wasn't just my mom; she had thoughts and ideas and a life that had absolutely nothing to do with me, which was both humbling and inspiring. For another thing, it showed me how incredibly disciplined you have to be in order to actually produce even a modicum of work. And, of course, it gave me someone to look up to.
I'm pretty sure my mom would tell you that being a writer affected who she was as a parent, and I know it has had an impact on my interactions with my children as well, whether through complementary skill sets or the convergence of two disparate but incredibly important roles that may have more in common than we initially realize.
You're Good At Seeing The Big Picture AND The Details
People often describe themselves as either focused on the big picture or detail-oriented. Writers have to be both, focusing on both the placement of your em dashes as well as the overall structure and tone of your piece. This definitely comes in handy as a parent as well, when you have to figure out how you're going to get through the next couple hours in a way that complements your plans for you and your child for the next few years.
You Have To Get Creative About When You're Going To Fit In Writing Time
This is easiest when you have one child who takes long naps. (Sure, those dishes are going to sit in your sink for a while, but as my mother says, "self-care is more important than home-care." While writing can sometimes be frustrating and annoying, for a writer, it's still fulfilling.) But when your child outgrows naps, or you have two or more kids, things get complicated. Right now, my sweet-spot is while my 20-month-old is sleeping. Yes, the 4-year-old is still a concern, but I can set him up with a movie or, adorably, he'll want to "get some work done" at a desk next to mine (and the next generation is born).
Writers often turn a keen and insightful eye to the world around them, so they have a leg up on the whole parenthood thing. (Though, in my experience, many non-writer parents develop this skill as time goes on.)
You See Your Children As Characters
As a writer, you are used to mentally picking people apart to see what makes them tick. So as a parent, you are able to see your child more clearly outside of the context of their relationship to you.
You Know You Are Going To Screw Up
To this day, I will not go back and look at any of the countless stories I wrote in college. It's too embarrassing. But despite the fact that I do not care to stare into the precise depths of my past failures, I know that those failures are not only natural, but necessary. Becoming a good writer is a messy process. And even once you don't totally suck at it, you still always have to go back and edit/rewrite portions of your work. Any writer who tells you they don't write second drafts because they get everything right the first time is, I promise you, someone who doesn't realize they are actually a terrible writer. This is exactly like parenting. You're going to screw up, but you learn from your mistakes and move on. This also teaches you an important lesson...
You Also Know You Can Muscle Through Anything
Because you are going to screw up, but you know your love of your baby (either your literary baby or your literal baby) is going to make you push through the difficulty and the screw ups and make something beautiful.
You Know That What You Want Or What's Easiest Isn't Always What's Best
As a writer, it would be easy to do something hackneyed and annoying to work through a particularly difficult aspect of your piece. Like, if you've made things very difficult for your main character and you don't know how they're going to get out of it, you could start your next chapter with something like, "And then she woke up! It had all been a dream!" But that's cheap and contrived. So you think and think and rewrite if necessary until you find something fresh and believable. Same with parenting. You know it would be easier to give in your child's tantrum, but you know that in the long run you're going to be glad you stuck to your guns — it makes for a much better finished product.
You Know What You Set Out To Do Is Almost Never What Happens
Most writers I know say that the story they set out to tell is often not the story they wind up telling. Writing has a way of evolving as it is being created, which can be as fascinating as it is maddening. It's sort of like when parents-to-be smugly announce all the things they will "always" and "never" do...and then when their baby is born, reality kicks their well-laid plans right in the teeth.
You Don't Get To Do A Whole Lot In Your Limited Free Time Because You Want To Spend It Writing
"Free time." That's pretty adorable when you're talking about any parent, right? But when it comes to writer moms, it's like "OK, I could take a shower... or I could pump out another 500 words..."
Late Nights Are Guaranteed
Either you're up with a kid or you're up gazing at a computer screen with a red pen in hand. Either way, with writing and parenthood, you're going to be working late nights.
You Always Hold On To A Piece Of Yourself
The best advice I've ever received about parenting is to always hold on to your own identity and let your children see it. When you're a writer, that's a bit more built in to who you are. Because you have an intellectually rigorous internal life and no one can dictate or interpret that for you.
I can't pretend that being a mother hasn't changed my life in a million ways that often overshadow other aspects of who I am. But being a writer has been part of what enables me to never stop being myself as I am someone's mom.