To the Writer Mamas

Writing while simultaneously being a mother to teeny children is a bit like trying to renovate a house while youre still living in it. House projects–or writing goals–abound, but messy, magical, mundane life cannot stand still for you complete them. But is it possible that every finished project, however inconvenient, will eventually improve your quality of life–and the quality of life of your family? 

Since I began writing more seriously eight months ago, several older people of faith have warned me not to get “too distracted and carried away” by writing, lest it infringe on my duties as a mother. As a result, I’ve been on the hunt for other mamas who are leaning into this tension of the dual callings of art and home and can help me answer the question: Is it possible to be a mother and a writer–and still do each one well?

Madeline L’Engle is a hero for those of us seeking to debunk the myth that being a writer and mama are in conflict. L’Engle inspires us as writer mamas because she managed to have a flourishing writing career while raising three children. I recently listened to a podcast by Ann Kroeker where she spoke of getting the opportunity to ask L’Engle how she was able to be a writer and mother at the same time during those years when her kids were small. After a long pause, L’Engle finally looked at her and answered, “It was hard.”

But in her book, A Circle of Quiet, L’Engle recounts a time when her eldest child noticed that she had been in a bad mood lately and said to her, “Mother, you’ve been getting cross and edgy with us, and you haven’t been doing much writing. We wish you’d get back to the typewriter” (p. 199). In Walking on Water, she refers to this story and says, “I had to learn that I was a better mother and wife when I was working than when I was not” (p. 166).

Like L’Engle, writing has made me a better mother. It sets me on high alert to notice the beauty, meaning or hilarity in the ordinary. Writing plants seeds of gratitude within me as I am more apt to discover the magnalia Dei, the marvels of God, in my daily life. I have the mind of an explorer, always on the quest for new places, people or ideas.   Writing shoves me into the presence of other pilgrims, seekers, and beauty-finders. It gives me the opportunity to “live life twice,” as Natalie Goldberg said, and finally work through my past, present and future with infant eyes. Like thumbing back through my pictures from a trip, writing allows me to slowly reexamine and delight in the minutia I might otherwise have missed as time whizzed by.

Writing also heals. As someone who has always called my journal my “personal counselor,” writing unlocks old, dusty treasure troves of experiences and gives them value as they are polished and given away. Healing comes as I write in league with the Spirit, who illuminates my path and reveals the times when I was not walking alone. Writing enables me to offer a more whole version of myself to all who know me.

Fitting writing into the more than full-time job of being a wife and mother has been a challenge. But L’Engle also admitted that, “For a woman who has chosen family as well as work, there’s never time, and yet somehow time is given to us” (Walking on Water, p. 165). We make time for what is important to us. Its been amazing to find that if I am willing to let my floor be a bit messier, the laundry to linger a little longer and the T.V. screen to sit blank and lonely, that I have time in the margins of my day to write. L’Engle remarked that “A certain amount of stubbornness—pig-headedness—is essential” to the mother who wants to write (Walking on Water, p. 165). For me, that is a 5 AM wake-up, writing during the kids’ nap time, scribbling notes for articles while sautéing vegetables for dinner and spending free evenings thumping on my keyboard.

But I also have to accept my limitations as a writer during this season of being a mother to tiny ones. In the conclusion of her podcast, Ann Kroeker finally got a more satisfactory answer to her question about juggling motherhood and a writing career from the writer Holly Miller. Holly told her, “You still have time to develop your career as a writer, but you only have NOW with your kids. Your kids are so little and they’re little for such a short time. You’ll never regret spending this time with your kids.” But she also encouraged Ann to “Keep your finger in the publishing world. Keep it going on a small scale and your time will come.” Years later, Ann agrees that these small deposits into her writing career did add up.

I will have more time later to write. Now is the season for delighting in the magical world of child’s play: splashing in the sprinkler, sending dandelion seeds flying, lying on the ground to poke ants and rollie pollies, taking very slow walks around the block, tickling again and again, building towers, blowing hundreds of iridescent bubbles that float into the neighbors’ yard, making toy cars talk, endlessly making up answers to the question “why?,” rolling out play dough snakes and zipping baby dolls into tiny clothing

It is talking to my children about this God-man, Jesus, who loves us so, reading stories about talking animals, kissing ouchies, holding up traffic to spot the prairie dogs in the field, finding pine cones in the pots in my cupboards and deliberating over whether picking up the toys again is really worth the effort. It’s wondering if I am still the same person that I was four years ago and deciding that I am not. Parts of me have been lost, but other, more fruitful branches, have grown where the others have been stripped and pruned. Though I may not be writing for five hours a day, this season of slowness is training me in the discipline of noticing.  

Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Ann’s podcast because it validated me as a writer, but also gave me permission to enjoy my children right now. To the other writer mamas wondering if their callings of motherhood and writing are in conflict, please know that they do not need to be. You will be more whole and available to your family if you are using your gift and following your call as a writer. But also know that you do not have to achieve all of your goals right now. 

Life is long, but the time with our kids is short, so keep in step with your kids and allow your writing to have the same pace that they do—even if that is stopping often, moving slowly and developing gradually. Our writing in this season has a similar rhythm and stride. It is slow, but there is progress as you slowly renovate your rooms. Keep celebrating the small advances in your life as a mother and in your career as a writer and know that these two are not mutually exclusive, but inextricably bound as you settle into the home of the mama writer self you were created to be.

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Are you a writer mama?  What has your experience been?

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  Resources for Writer Mamas:

Ann Kroeker (Writing Coach) Podcast mentioned in this post: Here’s to the Writer Moms (just 7 minutes!)

How Alive Do You Want to Be? by Ashley Hales (mother of 4) for The Mudroom 

An Interview with Sarah Bessey on Faith, Art & Motherhood (writer and mother of 4), by Jerusalem Greer 

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Previous Post: Lessons from The #MotherLetters 

Next Post: Monthly Mentionables {May}

Linking up with Grace & Truth

 On (most) Thursdays this year, I’ll share thoughts, tips and inspiration for writers.  I’m certainly not an expert, but am simply seeking personal encouragement in this art and want to share with anyone who’s also trying to find their way as a writer.  These short posts will come from books, articles, the Bible, my own thoughts, and other people.  Subscribe in the upper right corner so that you don’t miss a post.  If you’re new to the series, find all the posts here.  Come meet me in the comments–I’d love to read your thoughts on writing.


Happy writing!

Leslie


Is it possible to be a good mother AND a good writer?


23 Replies to “To the Writer Mamas”

  1. Oh I love those lengle books! She has been such an inspiration for me too! I have so much to write…. There are a few tricks though being the missionary in transition becoming the country pastors wife… But I'll get there:) Have you read Dillards The Writing Life?

  2. Such great wisdom here. I live int his tension daily. THIS -"But also know that you do not have to achieve all of your goals right now." I put expectations on myself to achieve all my writing goals while I work a full-time job AND have two little ones. That's just crazy! I need this reminder so often. I actually just decided to back off of blogging (I have other writing commitments I will still fulfill and some submissions this summer) as much this summer to enjoy what time I do have with my kids, since I still work. But there is that nagging feeling like I will be missing out somehow and I have to fight that. Thanks for these words.

  3. I'm rereading it right now! Looks like she has one child…I wonder if she's written anything about the tension of being a wife and mother? And for you, yes, so much transition. It will still be there ready to work through even years from now when you have time to do it!

  4. Obviously I wrote this mainly for myself because I need to hear these things, too! I'm trying to give myself grace in this season. But I really am inspired by other mama writers like you who are doing the work, loving it and still being fully present with your children. Thanks for your example.

  5. As a fellow momma blogger, I could not agree more. There is a struggle between finding time to write and caring for little ones. It really has made me a happier, better momma and made me realize that I need to cherish things more as a mother. It's made me become a better mother as well. Thank you for sharing this, and providing great resources!

  6. I love this. This is just the questions I have been hashing out in my head and with my mom (she says moderation in everything, wise woman). I love that you are encouraging us not to quit, but instead to embrace the walk in the tiny revelations that are around us each day. So much love!

  7. This is so good. When my four were all tiny at the same time, I found that all I could manage to write was thank you notes and birthday scavenger hunt clues. I am in awe of some of the bloggers I read who have young children. One of the offset blessings of older children and an emptier nest has been time to write, but even so, I find myself doing it in the mini-van and in stolen moments. Maybe the preciousness of the time spent writing is what keeps me going. I'm re-reading Walking on Water right now, and Madeleine is one of my book-mentors — always a source of inspiration!

  8. Beautiful post, Leslie. You captured this dilemma/delight/challenge so well – that of being *both* a good writer and a good mama. And to know that I have to prioritize the "mama" part during these years, while not entirely neglecting the gift/calling of "writer." I will be looking up these resources, too.

    There's a great book that I quote in my own musings on this topic about a year ago – a classic by Brenda Ueland. You can read more at this post: https://heatherdavisnelson.com/2015/03/15/why-writers-ambiverts-and-thoughtful-living-need-both-solitude-and-community/

    Glad to be in the writing/motherhood trenches "with" you – even though from a distance!

  9. Hey Heather! So good to hear from you here in this space! I think it's seeing other mamas do the work of writing that has spurred me on and shown me that it is possible even in this season of life. Thank you for being a part of my tribe that has encouraged me in this!

  10. I so appreciated your words in this post. You've been a big encouragement. Yes, I'm a writer mama. The story about Madeline L'Engle made me think of my own experience. I have always loved writing- but the struggle was real when my kids were younger. I decided to put my writing aside for awhile, thinking I was doing everyone in my family a favor. It surprised me when my kids actually expressed sadness that I wasn't writing anymore. They knew how important it was to me. From then on I made time for writing, even when it was hard. Thank you for linking with Grace and Truth last week!

  11. Dawn, That's such a great story–and takes so much pressure off to know that our writing may actually be GOOD for our kids! Thanks for stopping by!

  12. I want to be a writer mama. I used to write so much more. Now I so often feel like life sucks all the words out of me and leaves me dry. I love this quote by Henri Nouwen though, it encourages me and makes me hunger to write! I thought you might like it too

    “Writing is not just jotting down ideas. Often we say: ‘I don’t know what to write. I have no thoughts worth writing down.’ But much good writing emerges from the process of writing itself. As we simply sit down in front of a sheet of paper and start to express in words what is on our minds or in our hearts, new ideas emerge, ideas that can surprise us and lead us to inner places we hardly knew were there.
    “One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.”
    — Henri Nouwen
    And again from Nouwen
    "Writing can be a creative and invigorating
    way to make our lives available to ourselves…
    we may discover that the better we tell our stories,
    the better we will want to live them."

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