Being a working mama is no joke. When I was pregnant with twins, I wondered how the heck I was going to manage working from home as a full-time freelance writer with two new babies in my life and also rewrite a book I had been working on. I emailed my mom writer friends to ask their advice: How do you manage to write when your brain is running on zero sleep as you navigate newborns? I remember seeing this breastfeeding artist’s viral photo and her inspiring words about being a creative mom, and thinking, “There are others like me.” I reached out to friends and fellow writer moms in an online group (mom groups are #thebest) to share their best advice for new moms who want to finish that dream project/book/job/art while balancing the biggest change — a baby. We hope that our tribe inspires you to keep going, mama.
1. Art is a necessity. Writer Sarah Bradley, mom to three kids, shares this gem: “Treat art as a necessity, not a luxury. Treat it as something vital and valuable to your health, and by default, the health of your family and kids.” Most moms recommended using nap times as time to write. Back when my twins were wee, I used my pumping time to write at all hours. I wouldn’t say it was my best writing ever, but it kept my creative muscle flexed.
2. Be gentle with yourself. Some days, creative work is just not going to happen. “There will be periods when the well is dry, the kids are sick, and you don’t have childcare,” reminds Susie Margolin, mom and writer. Katherine Martinelli, writer and parent of two kids, seconds Margolin’s sentiments but adds this reassuring comment: “Just because you don’t have the drive or energy or whatever it is one day doesn’t mean it won’t come back.”
3. Get your partner on board. Showrunner SJ Hodges, who headed the TV show Guidance, shares, “When I’m in production, I may as well have moved to China. My husband takes over everything.” Jennifer Fliss, who started writing professionally after her daughter was born, says she insisted that her partner stay with her baby while she went to coffee shops and weekends away to write. “Let your partner do some heavy lifting, so you can have the time and space to write. Many women are reluctant to leave their babies. Do it. If you do it early on, it’s not as difficult later.”
4. Sometimes sleep deprivation can be a good thing. Say what? Writer Grace Per Lee, who has a four-year-old and a one-year-old, thinks the loss of sleep and time makes her a better creative. “Writing while exhausted, I have come out with some wacky/overly honest/unfiltered stuff that has taken my writing to a new level,” says Lee. “I’m less afraid to experiment, or to write a bad first draft because I just don’t have time for handwringing.”
5. Take advantage of nap time. Moms tend to use nap time to get chores done (hello, stack of dirty dishes!), but you can use it as a way to squeeze in some creative work. Writer mom Emily Farmer Popek encourages, “I’ve always said that a napping baby is a great antidote to writer’s block! There’s an urgency there that I hadn’t felt since the days of undergrad all-nighters.” For myself, when my girls were napping, I’d squeeze in a 20-minute nap, then write for 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but over a week, it adds up.
6. Plan, but be flexible. This advice is great for all moms. You can make the best plans, but in reality, things happen (your babysitter cancels at the last minute; you get more work than you can handle post-baby; a friend or family member you were counting on for support has to relocate). “Carve out times for yourself in your schedule. But also understand that you’ll need to have flexibility,” recommends Sara Robinson, mom to two boys. “Kids will get sick, you’ll feel tired, or you’ll end up with more time than expected. It will be a new normal, and because kids and schedules always seem to change, your creative/work life will need to change with that.”
7. Get childcare. It’s not easy to find quality childcare, but once you do, it’s worth it. Freelance writer and stay-at-home mom to two kids Lindsey Hunter Lopez shares, “You will have to get childcare, even if you don’t want to or can’t afford it. You cannot do anything while the kids are hovering/climbing on you/asking for snacks.” Say yes to the friend who offers to watch your kids for an hour. If childcare cash isn’t part of your budget, coordinate with other working parents in your area to start a babysitting co-op to share duties.
8. Involve your kids in creating. Work-at-home mom Sara Grim has a fantastic idea for integrating your kids into your creative life. “Involve your kids in creating. I set my two-year-old up with smaller, age-appropriate versions of my work. If I’m writing, he scribbles on paper with a pen. If I am painting, he has his own canvas. Creative time can be made and you can share your love with your kids at the same time,” Grim says.
9. Find your tribe. For me, asking other writer moms for advice was life-changing. Community — especially when being a new mom and creating art can be very isolating — is so important. Says lactation consultant Chrisie Rosenthal, “Find a village of local like-minded moms and support each other! That includes emotional support, camaraderie, brainstorming personal and professional ideas, networking, and sometimes taking each other’s kids in a pinch. Priceless.” Women-only co-working spaces (like The Hivery in the Bay Area) are a great way to connect with other moms in your area.
10. Take one day at a time. “Take it one step, one project, one day at a time — however you need to break it up, do so,” advises wedding planner and mom to three boys Shauna Harris Gartz. “When I think about everything I have to get done, between personal and work, it seems overwhelming and impossible, and I lose my momentum and train of thought. But If I can focus my brain on one project and then start doing, I am much better.” It might take you longer than you thought to finish what you start, but by breaking it down into manageable steps you can achieve your goal.
11. Accept your reality as a working mom. The real truth is that you can’t work and be with your kids simultaneously. For a long time, I struggled with wishing I could work longer but simultaneously feeling guilty that I wasn’t spending time with my kids. Once I created a work schedule that balanced both in a way that felt good to me, I let go of the guilt. “There will be days when you rock it as a mom and completely blow off a deadline,” admits showrunner Hodges. “You have an amazing weekend with your family, and then you’re running a room on Monday and the story is flowing, but you don’t make it home for dinner. You can’t beat yourself up for it. Just accept that flip-flopping proficiency is part of the process.”
12. Choose yourself sometimes. This is a hard one. Every mom struggles with this, because taking time away from your child is hard, but necessary. Young adult author Lillian Clark tweeted this as a response to my question about being a creative mom: “Don’t feel guilty for choosing yourself sometimes. Take a long shower. Sit in a coffee shop and daydream. It is so easy to funnel all of your physical, emotional, and creative energy into your kid. But it’s vital to maintain who you are as separate from being a mom too.”
13. Don’t listen to the haters. Sure, there will be doubters in your life who will tell you that your creative endeavors just won’t happen after you give birth. Or they’ll try to guilt you for taking a weekend to work on them. Author Melissa Sarno, who worked on her debut middle-grade novel while pregnant with her second child, has advice for dealing with them: “Don’t listen to the naysayers. You can have a very rich creative life after having children. If you’re able, take time — no matter how short — to be alone with your thoughts. Those small moments of quiet meditation were vital for me.”
What are your top tips for maintaining a healthy work/life balance as a mom? Let us know @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)