Reader Request Week #7: Writing and Babies
Jess Nevins (who not too long ago sent me a rather spectacular gift which I’m not sure I ever actually thanked him for, so thanks, Jess, and the next time I see you I plan to reciprocate in some way) asks:
How did you manage to be a productive writer in the first two years of your child’s life?
Which is to say: what was your work schedule like? How did you manage to produce coherent text when you were exhausted from getting up every three hours to feed the baby? How did you manage to be productive and not let your wife feel like she was having to do everything herself?
(Why, yes, I have selfish reasons for asking).
Heh. I’m sure you do.
I had no problem at all with writing when Athena was an infant and toddler, to tell you the truth, and in fact I found it much easier to write when she was that age than I did when she was older. Here’s some of what I did:
1. I was a night owl back then, and Krissy got up reasonably early, so we’d divide feeding responsibilities according to our own sleep schedules. I’d handle the 10 pm, 1am and the occasional 3:30-ish feedings (from a formula bottle, to be clear), while Krissy slept. Then she’d handle the morning feeding before she went off to work and that would take care of Athena until 9am or so. So I would get a reasonable amount of sleep.
2. I was the stay at home parent, so you would think that would cut into the time I had to write. But it didn’t really. Infants when they’re young tend to sleep quite a lot, so for me it was reasonably easy to get work done while Athena napped (I would make business phone calls while she was asleep, for example). I’d do shorter work during the day, and then as I was also on the night owl schedule, I would do a lot of longer writing at night when everyone else in the house was asleep and I’d have stretches of time to work. You have to be able to be both flexible and disciplined to do this, but it worked for me.
3. One thing I did which seemed to help was that I put Athena’s paypen into my office with me, and made sure she had lots of stuff to keep her amused. That way she was generally fairly content because I was in the same room as her, and she had things to keep her occupied. As she got older we moved from a playpen to a larger, gated area of the office, and then to a toddler gate at the office door. And of course lots and lots of toys.
4. I did make sure that I took breaks during the day to focus attention on Athena, which served two purposes: One, it was good for her to have directed play and two, it was good for me to step away from my computer every once in a while and give my brain and my typing fingers a break. A little of this could go a long way for both me and Athena.
5. When she was edging into toddlerhood, I bought a new computer, set my older computer on a kid-height desk, and then bought a bunch of toddler software. It was sort of astounding how quickly she took to it, and how it would keep her occupied. One has to be sure the kid doesn’t get completely swallowed into it, of course, but it was fun for her and it helped me get work done.
In all, the first two years went pretty smoothly, in terms of work, and I can tell you when it became harder to get work done: Once Athena started talking (in complete sentences rather than words), because then she wanted to have lots and lots of conversations, and started making real — albeit totally adorable — impositions on my work day that she hadn’t before. She still does, although now she’s at school half the day, so I have time for longer work. Even so, on balance, I was more productive during those first couple of years than I was in the years immediately after.
Now, I did have a couple of good breaks in there: Being stay-at-home and not having to conform to a set schedule gave me more flexibility than most people have, and oddly enough I found that when I was doing corporate work a lot of my clients were more than happy to work around my baby-tending schedule, I think partially because stay-at-home dads were still something of a novelty when Athena was a baby. We could go off on why it is that me caring for a baby was seen as a positive by corporate America (or the part I consulted for) while it would have been seen as a liability if a woman were doing it, but that’s a whole other slice of thing that would take lots of time to work through. Unfair or not, it really wasn’t a problem for me. And of course, it was huge that there was another parent in the household and that both of us were willing to work out a schedule that had each of us taking a lead role while the other had time to rest and depressurize.
I think ultimately for writing when one has a baby around the secrets are: Be flexible in your writing schedule, and make sure you do, in fact, get enough sleep. Both take a little scheduling and patience, but both are worth it, if you want to get that writing done.