filed under How To Write A Book.

I was recently asked how I juggle writing and raising 3 children, the oldest of whom is six. I’ve also just finished reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, originally published in The Atlantic and now found on just about every blog in the world. Her article is called Why Women Still Can’t Have it All and I can’t help but add my own far less credentialled thoughts into the mix about this messy work-child juggle.

Essentially I write when my kids are asleep. Not at night-time – I save night-time for admin: blog posts (yes, this is considered admin by me, which is not as rude as it sounds I promise!), invoices, tutoring preparation, emails, website updates etc – because I know I’m not a good night time writer. So, as soon as I put the 2 year old and the 4 year old to bed at 12.30 for their afternoon nap, I sit down at my computer and I write. (And I know I’m very lucky to have a 4 year old who will still have a daytime nap – 2 days of Kindy exhausts her.)

I have been doing things this way since my first child was about 6 months old, because for the first 6 months of her life I did absolutely no writing. And then I realised that another six months of no writing would fly by if I let it. So I started that day and unless I’m ill or some other catastrophe occurs, you will always find me at my computer for two hours in the middle of the day.

After 6 years, it’s now an ingrained habit. I don’t even think about it, it’s just what I do. And, I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I truly think there is no such thing as being in the right mood for writing or inspiration. Writing is literally the act of turning up to your computer and typing words into it. Some days, these words might not be that great, other days they will be. But the more you do it, the better you become at it. I can now easily do 2000 words in 2 hours if I’m on a roll. Some days it’s less, of course.

The key thing is, for me, to forget about everything else that needs to be done at that time. Washing, cleaning, cooking, all those things are less important to me than writing. They can be fitted in to other times. Writing needs its own dedicated time because it’s the thing I love to do. And if you love to do it, spending two hours a day is fun and rewarding and makes me a happier person.

How does this all relate to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article? Well I suppose it was a couple of things that she said, about this idea of having it all. Firstly that it was a feminist credo that she had been raised with. I’m not so sure about this. Does feminism really claim that women can have it all? I thought feminism was about equality, not about having it all. It’s about being equally able to have the same rights as any other person.

I don’t know if anyone has it all. What does having it all really mean? That you have a satisfying job, that you spend as much time as you want raising your children, that you can exercise, eat well, pursue leisure activities, catch up with friends … Who is really able to fit all of that into their life at the same time? The headline of Slaughter’s article,Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, seems to imply that men do have it all. But do you know any man who does? Who spends as much time with his children as he wants to and as much time at his work as he wants to and fits in everything else that makes him happy, thus achieving this elusive all?

I suppose what I am trying to say is that I think there is more to feminism than the idea of having it all and that focussing on having it all almost makes feminism out to be the thing at fault, the thing to blame when expectations are given a reality check. Instead of this ‘all’ idea of feminism, I like the way that Emily Maguire, in her book Princesses and Pornstars defines feminism as the idea that, ‘while there are differences between men and women, none of them justifies one sex having more social, economic or political power than the other.’

I don’t think we’re there yet in terms of achieving equal social, economic and political power. Which is why I would have liked to have seen, in Slaughter’s article, some more positive ideas about how to make changes in the system she was working within to help achieve equality. Surely no one should have to leave their house at 4.20am on a Monday and only return home on a Friday evening, working so late each night that the only shops she was ever able to go to were those open for 24 hours. Slaughter talks about systemic changes being needed but in focussing on having it all, I think she misses the opportunity, as someone who was on the inside, to articulate what those systemic changes might be.

Women in the writing world still operate in an unequal system and I admire the work of those on the Stella Prize committee who have done a great deal over the last year or so to highlight the inequality in the representation of women in literary prizes and literary criticism. These are the kinds of steps and systemic changes that can help make a difference.

So I don’t do as much writing as I would like because I want to spend time with my kids. I don’t clean the house as much as it probably needs because I’d rather write while the kids are asleep than clean the toilet. It goes without saying that having a supportive husband is critical in all of this. Because I want my job as a writer to be equally respected and important as his. And in our household, it is.

I don’t have it all. I don’t want it all because I think I would find it exhausting. I have a lot and I am very happy with what I have. That doesn’t mean I don’t want more and that some days I don’t grumble when I hear the first shouts in the baby monitor and wish for the day when they are all at school so I will have more time to write. I still have hopes and dreams and want more of everything, but not all of everything.

I’m not a famous, prize-winning author (not yet!) so I have fewer opportunities to join in the debate about equal power for women but I do what I can to share my story with people and to encourage writers, but especially women writers, to keep going with their writing in whatever way they can after they have children. Because I want women to feel as if it’s not an either/or decision, but nor is it an ‘all’ decision – just because we can’t write all the time and care for our children all the time doesn’t mean that all we have left to do is resort to provocative headlines in the newspaper. The way I juggle writing and children won’t work for everyone but it’s one example of how you can have small children and still publish books.

So, I’d love to hear from anyone else out there about how they manage the juggle. Also, do you think it is possible to have it all? Or should we be aiming for something else?

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11 Responses to “The work-child juggle”

  1. Glen Hunting

    Yes, what you’re talking about tends to pose the question: when is it living one’s life fully, and when is it being selfish? I seem to remember an interview once given by a female rock singer (I think it was Linda Ronstadt) in which she said something like, “When we were young, we were told we could do anything and everything. And we discovered that that simply wasn’t true.” Stevie Nicks frequently mentions the fact that the price she paid for her music career was not having children. She doesn’t complain about it, but she doesn’t deny that it was a price. One human being might be the centre of their own existential universe, but no human being is an unlimited font of experience and potential. It sounds as though Slaughter’s article (which I haven’t read yet) touches on the increasing self-absorption of Western life, without really realising that it is.

    I have trouble with that old mantra, “Live life to have no regrets.” I think it’s unrealistic. At least it is for me. If there was nothing to regret in life, there would be nothing to learn. Of course, if one’s regrets are numerous or deep or long lasting, then this isn’t good for anyone.

    Without disregarding gender socialisation, I tend to believe that too much is made of the supposed differences between male and female personalities. Particularly when they’re cited by each gender to denigrate or exclude the other gender, as if in retaliation for whatever so-called gender-based malignancies they’ve been subjected to by the opposite sex. This unfairly categorises and limits members of both genders, not just one. People often lose sight of the varying potentials and preferences that are based within individuals, not just sexes as a whole.

    That doesn’t mean that there aren’t gender inequalities, however. You only have to listen to Sophie Cunningham, at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival, rattling off all the pay and opportunity statistics to get a flavour of how bad and how insidious it is. So the Stella people should definitely be applauded for attempting to redress the balance in the literary sphere. I mean, where would literature and reading be in this country without women? That’s one gender-based criticism that I’m happy to accept on behalf of men, because the figures are there to back it up. C’mon fellas, time to pull your fingers out…

    Reply
    • whilethekidsaresleeping

      Hi Glen, Sophie Cunningham’s speech was very telling wasn’t it? Lots of the stats she gave have stayed with me since then and it would be nice to be a part of making a change to some of those stats. It was good to see Anna Funder deservedly winning the Miles Franklin this year, so maybe a start has been made.

      Reply
  2. marlish glorie

    What an excellent blog you’ve written Natasha. I agree with you, Women should be, and are, mostly, after equality. “Having it all” is a ridiculous notion…unless you want to go to an early grave. Even with adult children, I’m still juggling my writing with work commitments i.e. helping my husband with the sale of his artwork , running a household, helping an elderly mother, looking after young children which I love doing. The list of “to do” never ends and the juggling never stops! Then again, all this extra-curriculum activity does feed into one’s writing. That said, I keep aside Sunday’s and Tuesday’s for writing. Those days are sacrosanct.

    Reply
    • whilethekidsaresleeping

      Hi Marlish, thanks for your comments. And you’re right, everything feeds into the writing doesn’t it, even something as simple as taking the kids to school a couple of weeks ago gave me an idea for my next book.

      Reply
  3. Rashida Murphy

    Natasha, there are so many things about your article that resonate with me, and I agree with your thoughts here. I’ve written for as long as I can remember, and through raising a child, who is now a young woman. I’m still writing, and getting better at doing it almost everyday! This is a special time in my life, as I’ve taken time off work to focus on a book I’m writing. ‘Having it all’ is subjective, because women want different things at different times in their lives, and I’m doing what I want now. And if we didn’t have those setbacks, those moments of feeling overwhelmed, those times when shadows overcome the light, maybe our writing wouldn’t be as rich.

    Reply
    • whilethekidsaresleeping

      Hi Rashida, thank you for sharing your story. It’s nice to hear from someone who has made it through the early years of the children and into their adulthood and is still writing. Good luck with it!

      Reply
  4. Rosalind Appleby

    Great thoughts, thanks for sharing! I’ve thought a lot about this. Many people see any kind of activism as unhelpful or ghettoising for women. Certainly thats what a few of the composers said when I interviewed them for my book Women of Note (http://rosalindappleby.blogspot.com.au/). I think celebrating the achievements of women is an important part of 21st century feminism. Because in fact women can be found in every field now doing magnificant things, often it’s only the recognition that is missing. I don’t think we’ll ever have it all – men or women – but it is nice to have the option. To be able to choose to write rather than do the housework is half the battle! I hope my 18 month old doesn’t stop his afternoon naps for a long long time!

    Reply
    • whilethekidsaresleeping

      Good point, Rosalind. There’s probably not enough recognition of all the fabulous things women, including yourself, are doing. And I also hope for lots more years of afternoon naps for your child too!

      Reply
  5. A.D. Duling

    Hi Natasha,
    I enjoyed reading this. I am a mother as well and juggling that time to write is exactly what I do. Cleaning (especially those toilets) does rank lower than the writing. I too have a supportive hubby/family and I agree with what you said about “having it all.” I wouldn’t want to have it all and would be exhausted as well in having it. I love what I have so far, it’s plenty enough and as for my writing…I love doing it and keep on. Like you, I aim to one day be a famous prize-winning author,but am happy to be considered an author (even just by friends and the family). As for feminism and equality, perhaps there are still glitches, but I think you put it elequently. Maybe things are still not balanced between the male and female world ,but you know what, no one really can have it all. I love the share of thoughts and just loved reading yours…thanks for this share and encouragement :0)
    Alishia

    Reply

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