Parenting and Writing

Over on the SFWA.org site, I have up a column about managing a writing schedule while being the stay-at-home parent, as I was while Athena was an infant, toddler and pre-schooler (and still am, as it happens). It’s features five tips I used to make it work for me. If you’re a stay-at-home writer with a child at home, some of them might work for you, too.

Note: You can leave comments over on the SFWA site (I encourage it, in fact), but be aware the comments are moderated and there might be a bit of a delay before your comment is visible. Patience is a virtue.

9 thoughts on “Parenting and Writing

  1. There are also additional issues with being a Stay at Home Dad / Being a writer. It is a little harder to develop the sort of social networks that Mums are able to be a part of. Here in Oz they have things called “mothers groups” which are organzied by the local maternal health nurses.

    These groups form the basis of much of the pre-school age social activities – especially if you don’t have family/friends with kids around the same age. There isn’t really an equivelant for Dads. Without a “mum” around for membership – you don’t really have access to a ready made social group of parents with kids at the same age as yours (though given that you end up going to about 20 1st birthday parties later on, there is at least one advantage to not getting involved)

    In the years before my son started school, I met about 3 Dads at the playground during normal work days, only one of who was another stay at home dad.

    Another odd thing I noticed around the start of Kindergarten was that there was a bit of resentment at the idea one could have a good career and be a stay at home parent. That’s something that other writers may encounter as well because in a way you’ve found an odd balance where you get to have the career and that time with your kids.

  2. Scalzi, you must be telepathic.

    I’ve been working on how to balance my artwork with being the stay home dad, and today I thought to myself, “hey, I should ask John how he did it.”

    Poof! It’s like magic! Thanks!

  3. You seem to have an impressive ability to focus. I find it hard to get alot of work done even in the office if I get regular interruptions.

  4. Thanks for that, John. It confirms a lot of what I already knew.

    On a message board I frequent, I once mentioned that I could see myself being a stay-at-home dad and writing at the same time. To which a female member and mother of 3 snarkily replied: yeah, I don’t think so. Trust me, she continued, you’ll never get any writing done with a newborn in the house.

    When I explained that I think I could, using more or less the same model of reasoning you outlined in your article, she laughed it off and said I was being naive. A few other mothers on the board agreed.

    But I knew it was possible — and now I have proof!

    Thanks, John.

  5. I’m going to have to throw the “every child is different” flag on this one, which may explain the reaction that Mr. Batista got. I was a freelance editor (and still am) when my son was born, and I figured I could adopt a system like Mr. Scalzi outlined. I knew lots of women who’d done it, so I figured it was possible. Turns out that my kid was the sort of baby who, if he was in the room with me, demanded my attention…100% of my attention…and screamed and wailed, continuously, if he wasn’t getting it. Toys didn’t do it; interesting things to look at outside didn’t do it; it had to be me (or my wife), and nothing else would do. Maybe if I’d tried longer I could have reached an accommodation, and I suspect Mr. Scalzi would say that his system didn’t work perfectly all the time, but I think that some kids can thrive in that situation, whereas others can’t, and there’s no way of knowing what kind of kid you have until you try it.

  6. Yes@Brian Mac. I don’t advise anyone to have the farm riding on whether or not the baby is going to have a nap. I know too many graduate students who thought they could write their dissertations “while the baby slept,” and then the baby effectively didn’t.

    So don’t bet too much on it, but if you get lucky, it sure is great. I feel so sorry for people who have to work 9-5 (if they are lucky) jobs away from their kids.

  7. I don’t know whether it’s best ascribed to my kids’ temperaments, mine, or a combination, but I am more productive working with them out of the house. When my son went from half-day kindergarten to full-day first grade, I rejoiced. When my daughter crawled under my desk from the other side and turned off the power button on the UPS for my computer, it was time for her to go to daycare before I lost my sanity.
    I know others manage well — and when my kids have sick days or snow days (or teacher in-service days), I use similar techniques to what you mentioned, John — especially prioritizing. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  8. David @5, I’m guessing you missed a couple things in the ‘more or less reasoning’ you outlined in that post where you got laughed at.

    One is that pre-parent, most people have all kinds of misconceptions about what life as a parent will be like, and how much we’ll be in control of our schedules. Once you become a parent, these things are fodder for in-jokes about what idiots we were. “Oh, I’ll just do X while the baby naps” sounds a lot better when you don’t end up using that nap time to catch up on your own sleep, do housework, do paid work from home, spend five minutes with your spouse, get in your twice-weekly shower, etcetera. The way to relieve the tension over this is to point and laugh at the idiot pre-parents who say the same dumb things you did.

    Another is that your situation as a stay-at-home dad is likely very different than that of a stay-at-home mom. For starters, the odds are much higher that the moms you were talking to physically gave birth, and also higher that they are breastfeeding – physically taxing demands on top of diapering, rocking, and so on that any parent would do. And realistically, in the US we live in a culture where women are seen as much more responsible for childcare than women. Scalzi notes in his article that his wife came straight home from work and took the baby off his hands – I’d bet my left eyebrow that very few of the moms you were talking to had the benefit of that situation, particularly if (unlike Scalzi) they weren’t already professional writers working to spec.

    Brian Mac’s point at @6 is also very insightful, although Scalzi didn’t bring it up in his article. Babies are not fungible. If you have a high-need, colicky Baby from Hell, I don’t care how nice your playpen is or how carefully you schedule your time, you will not get things done, particularly if you are still in the learning curve of parenting. People who have easygoing children may not understand this, at least until they have another child.

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