The Mommy Writer: The first two months

I’ve decided to do an ongoing series about how I get work done while taking care of a child. There are a few reasons for this. I’ve gotten good feedback on the few things I’ve said about this in the past. Also, I could really have used a series like this leading up to when my daughter was born, to give me hope that this working and parenting simultaneously thing was possible, when many, many voices told me that it wasn’t.   (I do recommend John Scalzi’s treatment of the subject. I know I’m not the first person to tackle it.)  I’ve talked about what I don’t do, now it’s time to talk about what I do.

I still don’t want to talk about my daughter online much, but I do feel like this subject is important, and is more about me than her, anyway. And no, my blog is not going to become all-baby all the time. But I think this subject is an important one to cover, periodically.

The situation: I have to say, I’m not sure any parenting experience can be generalized to fit other families, because what I do may only be useful in getting work done while parenting mychild. I’m also aware I have some advantages that many other working moms don’t have. I have a husband who works at home full time, who views taking care of our child as his responsibility every bit as much as it is mine. We’re bottle feeding, which wasn’t motivated by work, but has the nice side effect of making him every bit as capable of taking care of her as I am. And he does, about half the time. However, during his work day (he works 9-6), I really do need to let him just get work done, or we both start to feel stressed. (He does far more evening and night feeding than I do, so it balances out.) Also, I have something of a mellow baby, who doesn’t cry much, and as long as she is fed and changed and smiled at, doesn’t need much else from me at this time. The biggest challenge by far is the feeding; for a while I was spending eight hours a day holding a baby and a bottle.

*whew* Now that the disclosures are out of the way, how do I get work done?

In the first five weeks of my daughter’s life I had three revisions and a copy edit all bounce onto my desk. It wasn’t great timing, but it all needed to be done.

So I did it in very small pieces. It would be easy not to do any work at all, because from the moment I put my daughter down (asleep or otherwise), I have somewhere between five seconds and three hours before she will require my attention again. I never know which times will be which. Those first few seconds are almost always filled with immediate biological needs–prepping her food, feeding me, etc. The next few seconds after that I have to fill with the next most important thing. And often, that needs to be writing.

I was advised by many people never to try to write while my daughter is awake, but I do, and often. I write in 200 word snatches a lot of the time, but if I do that several times a day, I can etch out a decent word count. I also write while my daughter sleeps, even if it’s only for five minutes. I’ve totally ignored the advice to sleep when she sleeps. I don’t nap. I work instead. Whatever sleep I get at night is what I get. (I’ve been blessed with a good sleeper. If she wasn’t, this probably wouldn’t work out.)

Much of the time, my work looks like this:

If all that fails, when Drew gets off work, I ask for an hour or so to get some work done, and he kindly takes care of our daughter while I do that. Without his support, this would all be much, much harder. Our daughter also spends part of her day in a baby swing next to his desk, where he can talk to her and smile at her and I can get other things done. Sometimes this means dishes and laundry and such, but sometimes it means writing.

I also give myself permission not to work every day. If I haven’t gotten enough sleep, if I feel exhausted, if I’m having a hard time balancing everything, I give myself permission not to get work done. I take care of her; I take care of me. I try again tomorrow. Everyone needs permission to have a bad day, including my baby.

What helps me the most at this stage is being flexible. I get done what gets done. I view work as the interruption to my life, rather than life as the interruption to my work. I also make sure I’m not over-committed to other things.
I have to make writing the first priority after my family, or it won’t happen at all.

Overall, I’m amazed what I can get done a little bit at a time. (If this post is fragmented, it’s because I have written it, too, in tiny pieces.) This gives me hope that I’ll be able to continue to get work done, even as she grows and the shape of our family needs change over time.