‘It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.‘
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, 1999
As a young mom with four active daughters, involved in school, music and sports, my life was a hodge-podge of bustling activity. I wrote part-time, at night or in the wee hours of the morning, while my family slept. Back then, I fantasized about a time when my life would be my own – no more afternoons spent driving from one activity to the next, no volunteer work, no laundry fairy multiplying the loads. I imagined long, uninterrupted days at my desk, immersed in my work.
Now our daughters are grown, two with families of their own. While, yes, I occasionally spend 10, 12, 14 hours at my desk, those days are rare. Like most women writers, I constantly struggle to find balance.
My husband is a terrific guy. When the girls were little, he, not I, got up in the middle of the night. Even now, he does more than his fair share of the chores. When our daughters need something fixed – their car breaks down, for example – they don’t hesitate to call him. With emotional issues, I’m the one they rely on. Believe me, talking is far more time-consuming than finding a mechanic to fix the transmission.
Whenever the need arises, because I’m a mom first, before anything else, my work takes a backseat. Deadlines get pushed back, the article or story goes unedited, the book sits in a file, waiting, neglected. And I feel guilty for letting it go. If I do focus on work, I feel guilty for not devoting more time to my family. Either way, I feel bad about myself.
Every female writer I know says the same thing. We love our families – we want to give of ourselves – but why does it have to be either-or?
Years ago, I attended a seminar with Alice Hoffman as the keynote speaker. It was not merely that I loved and admired her work. No, I wanted to be Alice Hoffman. This successful female writer put out a bestselling book every year. And they were good. Very good. And she had kids.
This was a woman who did it all, and did it all well. I couldn’t wait to learn how. Imagine my surprise when she talked about the difficulty of striking a balance. ‘My kids,’ she said, ‘think I don’t have a job.’
Say what? Would the kids think the same if their dad were a writer?
Probably not. Because he’d have an office and it would be off-limits.
Most men I know store their roles in separate compartments, to be taken out, dusted off, and worn at appropriate times. Our role is fluid. We can’t turn off, tune out or otherwise escape family responsibility. We’re always on. In all fairness, fathers are fathers every day of their life. The difference is, we mothers are moms every minute of ours.
I don’t resent this, not for an instant, and I’m sure you don’t either.
I want to be with my family. In fact, as I’ve come to realize, I’ve actively chosen this life.
Men find balance – by marrying us. Yet, even if we had wives, their needs, I suspect, would be at least equal to ours. Most women are people-centric. Sure, we value success, but we’re relationship-oriented. The people we love truly are our reason for living.
I’ve spent a lifetime seeking balance only to find that it doesn’t exist. Balance is elusive, a figment of our imagination, reinforced by culture in movies and TV. If we’re to be contented, we have to let go. We’ve got to accept that we can’t always do it all – and quit feeling guilty!
She who dies with the most toys – or the cleanest house or the best brownies – does not necessarily win. Or maybe she does. But, believe me, unless she’s got ice running through her veins, she feels guilty too. That’s who we are. Better to accept it than always fight and feel guilty.
Our lives are big and wonderful and, yes, messy. And that’s OK. So go ahead – kiss those boo-boos. Call a friend. Spend an extra hour or two at your desk. The beds will get made, the cleaning picked up, the laundry folded. Maybe not in that order. Really, why does it matter?
What a beautiful post, Terri! How this article could be applied to all women be they writers, executives, mechanics…you name it. I am reminded of the saying "On your death bed, you aren't going to wish you spent more time at work!"
I look at myself now and say..I can't balance stuff now!! What am I going to do when I return to work on a permanent basis?? Like you, my child is grown, but I still have a husband, who likes to spend time with me. I think it goes back to keeping it in perspective!
I would be interested to see what male writers would say about this posting. Do they deal with the same thing??
It's so funny I should read your post now. This morning was VERY stressful — kids getting up late, clients needing attention, computer problems — and my stress level was high (higher than usual). But on the way home from walking my son to the bus stop, I had one of my "Big Picture" talks with myself: "What's so bad? Kids are happy, healthy, work is plentiful, clients seem happy." And I felt better. There will always be stress, especially for me — I thrive on it. So I try to put that stress in perspective when I can in order to keep it from overwhelming me. :)
It's so nice to see you! Wonderful news about your forthcoming ebook – BABY GRAND!
You're right – there will always be stress. I love that both you and Naomi talk about putting it in perspective. It's so important to remember (to remind ourselves of) this!
You know, people still find and visit your "Night Writer" post. http://blog.tglong.com/2011/06/night-writer/ It's such a fantastic piece. I'd love to have you back to talk with us about BABY GRAND!
Terri, I would love to! I should have a publication date in a few weeks. Crazy excited and crazy nervous, as I'm sure you were with the release of IN LEAH'S WAKE. But — as stressful as it is — it's all good and fun and totally worth it! :) Talk soon!
Oh, yes – it can be crazy, but such an amazing experience! I'm so excited for you, Dina! Please keep me posted on your pub date. Can't wait!
I could have written this post myself, word for word. I'm sure many, many women can. Even with a husband who did far more in the way of chores and child care than average, I'm the mom, it's *all* my job, right? :-) At least to my way of thinking. And like you, Terri, with all of my children grown, one with her own little ones, I will drop anything and everything at a moment's notice if any of them needs anything. Some days I have balance, and sometimes I don't even know what the word means. And yet…I truly wouldn't give any of it up.
Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by! I hope you're having a fantastic trip!
I think that's exactly it – we feel it's all our job, whatever that job is! It's our responsibility to do whatever needs to be done, to do it well, to smooth things over when problems arise . . . one of my professors once said, long ago, that women/female relationships are organic – meaning connections are vitally important to us. That felt very right to me. Of course, this means a pull in one direction pulls the opposite way in another.
I love that you wouldn't give any of it up. Such a wonderful attitude! Safe travels!
I enjoyed this post – but I think I'm an unusual case as Mr B is often more the 'Mom' in our house. He does the cleaning, washing, ironing, drops everything when I'm ill, looks after our boys (cats). I sometimes feel I'm more like the traditional 'man' – I even do the DIY!
I think in that way we're (just about) finding balance because we've thrown both our conventional roles into the blender and shared out the somewhat sloppy mix. It seems to work – but I have a feeling it's a delicate balance that would be decimated if children entered the equation!
Great post! I will be sharing!
Thank you so much Kimberly!
Thank you so very much, Naomi! My husband feels the same, so I know exactly what you mean. And I think you’ve nailed it – it’s about keeping things perspective. Of course that’s not always easy.
I’d also be interested in hearing what men think. I may be completely off base, but it seems men are better able to compartmentalize, whereas for many (I won’t say all, but I’d venture to say most) women the various parts of our lives overlap. We are daughter in as much as we are mom, sister in as much as we are friend. We are by no means our work, although – at least to me – it sometimes feels that way. We want to give 150% to all the people we care about, all our responsibilities, all the projects we’re involved in – and it’s just not possible. Something has to give. If we realize and truly internalize this – in other words, give ourselves some slack – I think we’d feel a lot less conflicted. Again, maybe I’m wrong.
Guys – what do you think? Do you feel stressed and conflicted if you’re not on top of everything at all times? Or, if you’re busy or involved in one area, do you feel okay about letting other things go?
Yes! That’s it really, I agree with every last word of it!
I wouldn’t really change any of my life, except to be able to do everything I do – without the guilt. If I can’t stand it any longer, abandon all work and play to clean the house from top to bottom – I feel guilty. If I abandon the house and the play to work – I feel guilty. And so the dreaded wheel continues to turn! I’m trying really hard to make realistic lists and not to add something on the end when it looks like I have half a chance of achieving what I set out to do at the beginning of the day. I spend a little bit of time on many things, my children right up there at the top of the list and my husband not too far behind (and only because, largely, he can look after himself, he can drive, at any rate ;) ). Success for me would be to die fully embracing and having come to terms with that, rather than still being disappointed at not managing the impossible. Great post, Terri!