How to be a parent and a writer without losing your mind

‘Write what you know’ they say, but as a new parent all I knew was dirty nappies, sleepless nights, and the smell of milk permeating everything. I felt like it had all been covered. I didn’t want to become “just another mommy blogger” writing about the daily minutiae of raising kids. Having never read a parenting blog or opinion piece, I confidently believed it was all narcissistic and dull. How wrong can you be, right?

I’ve written before about the unrealistic depictions of parenthood that we are fed through commercial media and this is exactly the reason why the real and honest stories of parents need to be told. Those tales that you think are “just another parenting post” hold vital messages that need to be reiterated by a thousand voices until we change the rhetoric around parenting.

So write. Or record, if that is your thing. Or both. Share your stories of burning the dinner, or forgetting the kid but remembering your iPhone. Share the embarrassing, the brutal, the true. Get deep and tell the tale of how things weren’t like you expected, or how you had an existential crisis, or how you suffered loss. It may sound naff, but each individual tale is important and they each resonate in a different way.

That’s not to say we should dwell only on the negatives of parenthood, just that there needs to be a more realistic dialogue. There is laughter and camaraderie to be found in sharing our shortcomings alongside the joys.

If you are brave you can publish, if you are braver you can keep it for friends and family. If you genuinely don’t feel the need to share then lock all your stories away for yourself and just use that writing time as a purge. Writing things down externalises your thoughts and feelings, which can work wonders for mental health.

How to be a parent and a writer without losing your mind | Katie Melbourne

“You can’t be a parent and a writer” someone once said. “Oops” I replied. Well, no one had ever told me. In fact, I began writing professionally when my firstborn was four months old because I thought it was a vocation that perfectly suited the parenting life.

The brief periods when my kid slept I would grab anything that I could eat with one hand and spend the time before my laptop writing furiously with one hand while stuffing my face with the other. Sometimes I’d look up from the screen to see the piles of laundry, floor covered in toys, dirty dishes, and for a second I would think that maybe…maybe I should be…cleaning? No, a clean house never paid the bills (unless you are a cleaner, I guess).

There are some benefits to being a writer and a parent. It is said that creativity flows best when given constraints. Well there ain’t no constraints like having children. Pre-kids you may have thought there was plenty of time to pursue your career, travel, write that novel, but now there is no more time to waste. Those precious moments when you are not serving your kid somehow are filled with a desire to do something for yourself. And boy, do you deserve to do something for yourself! You can use this as motivation for your writing.

Being a parent means you have also lessened the need for external validation. Previously it may have been important what others thought of your work, or of you, whether they liked you, or thought you looked good. Well with your tracksuits pants on and your hair in a nest you no longer need worry yourself about that. Plus, you know how hard you work, how important you are – someone’s life literally depends upon you and they are still alive so you’re doing a great job. You don’t need anyone else judging you, who has the time for that anymore? That sense of self-assurance that comes from being a parent will make you a writer that doesn’t waste time fretting over the critics.

How to be a parent and a writer without losing your mind | Katie Melbourne

One thing to remember however, is that any lengthy writing project or career goal will now take longer to reach than it would have sans kids. And that is okay. Enjoy the ride. Try employing the Pomodoro Technique (I use 10-15 minute blocks rather than the recommended 25), join a Shut Up and Write group, or check out Write Or Die.com. These are all great ways of learning to write in limited blocks of time (like during nap time or while you have locked yourself in the bathroom).

If you can, create a space and a time that is your non-negotiable writing time. Somewhere that you can shut the door and be left alone, or maybe a favourite cafe, or the local library. That said, I still have my desk located in the lounge room and generally work off a stable table with my laptop, anytime, anywhere. So I’m rubbish at this one.

Most importantly, if you want to be a writing parent you must be innovative and flexible. For example, my little one took to falling asleep in the car so I started packing my laptop on every drive. Once the bub was asleep I’d circle back home and pull into the driveway. Keep the car running, access my home wi-fi and there I could happily write until they woke. You don’t always have to change your children’s habits to fit in with your writing, just inject some innovative thinking. Of course, a few months later and they suddenly hate sleeping in the car but like being in the carrier so now you need a new plan. Flexibility is key.

How to be a parent and a writer without losing your mind | Katie Melbourne

Here is the part where you stop reading and start writing. I hope these tips and words of encouragement are enough to convince you that your voice is needed and you should definitely, absolutely get to writing about your experiences as a parent. For yourself, for your kids, for the general discourse. Go. Do it. Start writing now!

One thought on “How to be a parent and a writer without losing your mind

  1. Love the idea of writing in your car with little ones asleep! My kids are now 12 & 14, but there are still plenty of time constraints, especially as I have a day job too. They are also on my back to write/publish my next book, and that’s great motivation. They also provide inspiration for many stories.

    It’s refreshing to see a post from a writer who also writes with little snippets of time as life affords 🙂

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