I wrote 10 children’s books—and then had a surprise pregnancy at age 41.
My son is now 20 months old. And while I might have thought it would be harder to maintain a writing career while caring for him, the truth is that I’ve never been more productive. It turns out that many of the lessons I’ve learned about being a successful parent apply to my creative life, too.
Here are seven of them:
1. Show up.
What’s the most important rule of parenting? Simply being there, being present, for your child. Similarly (if not equally), I make sure I give full attention to my other baby—my writing. These days, I try to write each day for two hours after my son goes to sleep; if I don’t show up for those two hours and nothing gets done, it means my “other baby” goes without. And nobody’s starving on my watch.
2. Make (and accept) messes.
Where I used to strive for a near Martha Stewart–level of perfection in all things, I’ve accepted the fact that my house is going to be in disarray while my son is awake and on the move. I don’t always get the laundry done, or take a shower when I want (or need) to, or serve meals worthy of Instagram (unless the Instagram account is “Husbands Eating Cereal”). In a similar way, I’ve surrendered to the sloppiness of the early stages of my writing. It’s very liberating on both counts; my son can play and make a mess, and so can I, and it’s all good. (Luckily, my husband happens to love cereal.)
3. Allow for time-outs.
For both my little one and my writing, the time comes when a time-out is necessary. He goes in his playpen for two minutes when he’s been naughty, and I set aside my work-in-progress for a while when it’s misbehaving (or I’m on the verge of a creative meltdown). We usually emerge with a fresh perspective.
4. Multitask like a mutha.
I try to stay in the moment when I can, but I’ve also improved my ability to do several things at once, and to always think ahead—whether it’s making grocery lists while I’m taking a (much-needed) shower, or thinking about my work-in-progress while I’m changing a diaper or cutting the crusts off my son’s sandwich. Really, the best story ideas come when I’m doing or thinking about something else, so if it takes my mind off a diaper blowout, all the better.
5. It takes a village.
My husband and I don’t want to be the only ones interacting with our son; he needs to engage with all different kinds of people (and so do we!). Similarly, my work-in-progress needs a varied audience, including my monthly writing group critiques, my handful of trusted readers, and my editors.
6. No more tears.
I used to let every little thing bother me, but now that I know how my stress level can affect my son (and my own health), I’ve learned to check myself. I’m doing my best to do the same in my work. It’s hard to stay upbeat all the time, but it’s even harder to write when I’m wallowing in negativity.
7. The sun will come out tomorrow.
It may sound corny, but when I put my son to bed each night, I sing him “Tomorrow” from Annie. It’s a way for both of us to end the day on a hopeful note; there’s always another day to try again, to do better, to learn from mistakes and discover new things about ourselves. And once he’s sleeping and I’m writing, a blank page or a new chapter or a fresh perspective awaits, without fail.