When You’re Trapped Between Work and Family: A Writer’s Doubts

This morning, I really, really wanted to chew a head off, or at a minimum, a hand. This is the absolute bane of all small business owners, particularly artists and writers: setting up a new business. Yeah, yeah, it’s exciting and I’m grateful and, well, yada, yada. But when three children are yowling, busting heads and basically working through their Ophelia, Hamlet and Polonius routine and the man is conducting scientific experiments in the kitchen, the whole process of arranging a freaking PayPal button on WordPress becomes more a bloodletting experience than anything else.

Unsex me now, I’m screaming inside . . . aw crap. I’m mixing up Macbeth and Hamlet. Did I mention that my fourth grader has chosen the latter as her topic for a book report? And somehow, in this vast library of ours, we’ve lost all five copies of said Hamlet? Right. It’s completely disconnected to my efforts to install a freaking PayPal button on WordPress (for autographed, pre-release copies of Ripple), except that while glaring at JavaScript and Text Edit and related noxious, horrifying thingies on the Mac, the fourth-grader mentioned that maybe we could go to the library.

And no decent mom refuses to take a child to the library, right? Right, but only after I get my new page set up on WordPress: this one. But right now, I gotta confess something: I’m not feeling like a decent mom. I’m trying, but I’m also working as hard as I used to work when I practiced law. Don’t get me wrong: this time around, I love my job, but I’m getting too obsessed with line edits, double spaces after periods (damn my eyes, I’m switching to single spaces), proof copies, mailing advance reviewer copies, and a plethora of other small details.

Front and Back Cover

You see, even though I’m self-publishing, I refuse to compromise quality. I’m rolling the dice on my own name and reputation, and it’s not like I can blame a secretary or intern or junior associate or asshole client if anything gets messed up. This book must look as good as anything that is traditionally published.

And you know what’s getting sacrificed right now? Sigh. Yep. My family. Or as Helen realizes in Ripple:

 Excellence may not be about making beds and cooking brownies, but excellence was about more than rising to the top of your profession. She’d fucked up. She hadn’t meant to. She really hadn’t meant to hurt her daughter, but she had. Her own excellence had been achieved by sacrificing her family and now she was paying the price for it. No, now Phoebe was paying the price for it, she realized, and she winced.

 Sometimes fiction mirrors life; other times, life mirrors fiction. All I know is that I need to find a balance, somehow. It doesn’t mean that I should give up trying to create the best product I can, but I need to try harder here on the home front. These twelve and fourteen hour days, after all, are nothing to be proud of—not when those hours take too much time away from my children.

How do you all do it, your working moms and dads? Do you feel trapped between work and home? As if you constantly fail work or family at the expense of the other?

42 Comments on “When You’re Trapped Between Work and Family: A Writer’s Doubts

  1. You have hit the biggest dilemma work-at-home parents face…balance! Even if you set up office hours where you aren’t to be disturbed, your kids still know you are there, they still disturb you, and you still feel, each and every time, as if you’re ignoring them or failing them. And so, you need to take a break and get your daughter to the library. It will be good for your sanity to take a step back from the frustrations of that stupid (but very necessary) PayPal button, and you will enjoy some time with your daughter. She’ll thank you for it too!

    • I know, hun. There is almost no solution, or no easy solution . . . but honest to God, I’d settle for a PayPal button. Oh please Lord, won’t you install a PayPal for me . . . my friends all want books can’t sell ’em for free . . .

  2. They will survive. Stop beating yourself up. Besides, they need reasons to go to therapy — it’s so good for the soul 😉

      • Oh, I should write a post on my therapy experiences (but since I am not a survivor of anything really horrible, I am a little bit reluctant to poke fun. At least I am today.)

        • You don’t need to be a survivor of anything “really horrible” to tell a really good story, my friend. I’m much funnier in person, actually. I spend much more time laughing than I do crying. Hell, I make my therapist crack up!

          • That’s true. But I try not to offend. Oh wait. This is me. Sometimes I try TO offend …

            Seriously though, I had a series of misfits — like guys from the Island of Misfit Toys. One actually looked like Sigmund — goatee and all. He kept stroking it while asking me “what seems to be the problem?” Oy.

  3. Gosh, where to start. Finding a balancing between work and family is an ongoing battle – of guilt, time and patience. Most days I feel like I should be doing so much more for my career, and other times I let go and enjoy my family. I do believe it’s quite healthy that my kids see me work. On the other hand, I often find myself putting my own business needs aside when they want to show me something or just need to crawl in my lap. I have no balance, but I do have faith. Faith that sometimes you have to let go of some details on both sides to make it all work. And that’s where I’m at. And if I know you, you’re running yourself close to the ground. Take care, my friend. You are amazing. And why didn’t I ever think of putting a Paypal button my blog???? Especially with all those extra copies of Little 15 I’ve got hanging around! 🙂

  4. I think that work-life balance is a myth–or at least the idea that you can, in fact, balance them and make everyone happy all of the time. That’s why it’s always so hard to answer this question (and believe me, I ask it of myself constantly); there really isn’t a blanket answer, because it depends on each micro-situation, each day (and usually many times a day). Some days, my regular full-time job has to take precedence. Sometimes my own business does. Yes, even over my daughter. It’s hard to make those judgments in the moment, because there’s always a nagging guilt (which isn’t helped when your daughter takes the “deadline” sticker off the back of the calendar and says “This is you, Mommy!”) that you *should* be spending every last minute with the little dear. On the other hand, the reality of life just doesn’t allow us to do so, and it’s not practicable or even very healthy. Sometimes, she can’t take precedence, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love her or that I’m being a bad mom. In life, we can’t always be front and center. It’s a hard lesson for kids to learn, but it’s not a bad one. And it’s a good example when I show her how I make time judgments and she realizes that sometimes she needs to put aside fun times in favor of duty–and that sometimes her wants (not needs) have to wait.

    So what am I saying? Am I rationalizing? Or just trying to bring reason to a topic that’s fraught with dissent? Our foremothers went out and helped pitch hay, and the kids had to deal. I needed to fill a deadline, and the kid had to deal. On the other hand, I promised the Maiden I’d be there volunteering with her ballet company during Nutcracker, and the housework, the menu (we had canned soup or omelets or takeout every meal for two weeks), Christmas, my blog, my health, and my business all had to deal (to be honest, after eight hours at the theater plus an hour and a half driving plus an hour+ hair and makeup, I wasn’t in any condition to do ANYTHING when we got home!). I put aside work on Wednesday to play spa and make bath fizzies with the Maiden. That meant I had to sacrifice sleep.

    I can’t bilocate; I’m only one person with a lot of obligations and expectations. But if every moment is a process in which I make a conscious decision about how to spend it–well, then I’m doing my best, and in the end that’s what matters.

    • That’s absolutely brilliant, my friend. It reassures me to think that our foremothers pitched hay, etc. That’s so true. And it is really good for children to know that their wants and even needs don’t always come first–just as our wants and needs as mothers with lives and work that exist outside of our family circle don’t always come first either.

      No, indeed, none of us can bilocate–although that sure does sound like a good concept for a novel, lol.

      And anytime anyone brings reason to a topic that’s fraught with dissent, I for one appreciate it. I am sure of one thing: I’m so much happier now than I was when I didn’t have a career.

  5. I read an awesome blog on balancing work and life last week; let me see if I can find it.

    Right now, things are at a poor balance here, because my quiet time to myself was always my drive. Now, my solo drive is just a couple of minutes, and I don’t have that quiet time I crave to think and reassess. I’m trying to be patient with my son despite that, but it’s been harder this week. No writing or editing whatsoever has been done. I’m not beating myself up over that, because frankly, the new place (which we’ll move into next weekend) has three bedrooms. The third will be our office, and I’ll presumably get a chance to work before everyone else has arisen in the morning. Now, it’s more often than not the sounds of my keystrokes and mouse that awaken the little guy and get the morning train rolling.

    With the added joy of understanding that my body is now sensitive to just about every common allergen, I’m going through a detox that removes most common food allergens from the diet for weeks and only introduces one at a time to determine which I can eat without pain/confusion/fatigue, etc. I removed gluten four days ago; yesterday was removing all the rest, including caffeine. I’m not thinking my straightest.

    Basically, I’m telling myself, during this time of transition, I’m going to drop a few balls. I’m going to try to do it as gracefully as possible, and to communicate as best I can my transition back into juggling a little more delicately as we phase out of this period.

    If you take a long view–a week, a month, three months–and know that you’re guiding yourself back toward a more sustainable balance, maybe that’ll help easy the worry about this particular day?

    • Aww Deb, I’m sorry about your work-family-writing-health woes right now. It’s the only reason I haven’t been calling–as weird as that sounds. It’s like this morning, I was working and a couple of my closest friends pinged me, and I was pissed at being pinged. (I didn’t get too snappy but I felt like it). It’s just incredibly nutters having to balance all of this.

      One of my friends on FB responded to me, and it was a great response, so I’m going to quote it here. He name is Ann Davis, and she’s in theatre.
      “I can’t comment on anything else but this: Creative impulse is a strong beast. It is like any other thing good thing that can hold you in chains and creative work can become a taskmaster because it insists on your participation or NOTHING happens. Do not be afraid of it…you probably respond every time you feel you need to put words down, or doing the other work this has required. Remember you are the boss and it will happen when you say it will happen, that you will meet deadlines because it’s in your nature to come through and that taking a break is a good and necessary thing. And if you don’t have time, and you gotta get it done, pack up, set a time limit and commit to spending time with those you love later. You’re a good mom. They will be proud of you and remember this time.”

      All I know is that the creative impulse is a very strong beast. And so is the impulse to mother. I must serve both the way I best know how. Crikey. The middle kid is throwing a tantrum so I’d better wrap this up.

    • Perfect response, Deb.

      Maybe treat writing like a job – with a start time and end time. For example: I write from 7:30 am until 1:30 pm MWF and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I work from 4:00 pm -7 pm. These are my hours. If one don’t have set intentions, it’s easy to lose balance. In the statement you wrote about yourself, you state that you don’t plan. But planning can be a life-saver. I wish you peace of mind. I really do.

      Alas, there is no such thing as an Easy Button.

      • A lot has changed since I wrote that “About” page. It’s probably time to revise that. When it comes to launching a business or a book or both, an immense amount of planning goes into it. And there is no way around the investment of time and energy that such a launch requires. As far as scheduling, to each his or her own. I don’t have the luxury to work less than full-time hours at this stage in my career. Which is why I try to work around the family’s schedule.

        Alas, there is no easy button for anything.

  6. Have you ever had to try and pass a field sobriety test? I have, a few times. 😉 My balance, at very best, has always been poor. Ask anyone who knows me well, and my bruise covered body. 😉 Learning balance when you have a creative brain is like—well, me, trying to do math in my head. It takes every ounce of my being, and I have to shut down several parts of that being to focus and accomplish the task. I love what Deb said…balls will be dropped. Choose the ball that matters to you the most at this moment, and hold it in your hand, and marvel at it. Marvel at your book. You should. Marvel at your kids and husband. You should. Choose a ball for today, and just marvel at that one ball, knowing that the other balls will still be there, right where you left them, tomorrow, when you have more strength. I think jugglers start with one or two balls and then add more. Some of us, like me, will never be good jugglers. It’s a lovely aspiration and I am sure it would be fun, but it isn’t going to happen. Be kind to yourself always, and know that you are greatly loved. That is the single most important ball of all. I love you! Xoxoxo

  7. Just hearing your position in life right now has inspired so many…well, it has me anyways..LOL. Thanks for the post. I feel your pain, and I am just starting out on this journey. Can’t wait to have a book ready for print…an inspiration you are I say. 🙂

  8. –Balance.
    What the hell is that? It’s as if we spend our entire lives balancing out one thing or another. It’s hard, Mama. Just when we have something perfected, something else tips over….
    Btw, Ioooove your “voice.” Can’t wait to read Ripple. Xx

    • Hahaha, Inner Chick!! Right! The concept of balance is an elusive one indeed! Thank you for reminding me of that. For me, the concept of balance is often yet one more thing I use to second-guess what I’m doing and how. Awww thank you many times over for the rest of your comment! xoxo

  9. El, it does sound like you’re working as hard as when you practiced law. You are clearly stuck in the minutia and I think you need to be in order to create a product that is satisfactory. But just as you grueled over the Bar exam before becoming a licensed attorney, the publishing prep for your book release is also temporary. I remember waiting for my husband to get his Bar results and it seemed like an eternity. This time next year, I guarantee that you won’t be putting in 12-14 hours day trying to get a PAYPAL button linked to your site. Hopefully, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear because Ripple has reached record sales. That, and balance will be restored on the home front.

    • Oh my gosh, hun–you are so right. The bar exam passed, and so will this. It sounds simple, but that’s exactly the reminder I needed! This is a temporary state of craziness that will pass soon. Big smiles at you!! I hope you’re enjoying your weekend!!

  10. Walk away. When something is frustrating you, just walk away from it for a few minutes, 30 minutes or an hour or whatever you need. Whatever it is will still be there when you get back. This is the final stretch, that is why it feels so overwhelming. Just remember though, it is yours so there really isn’t a deadline except what you impose on yourself, so walk away. Stand up, shake it out smile at how close you are, take a deep breath and walk away.

    You are going to be just fine. You are a wonderful mother, a wonderful writer, a wonderful wife. This will pass, it is just temporary, do not under any circumstance allow the small stuff convince you that somehow you are anything other than wonderful. Temporary distractions, do not a bad mother or wife make. Don’t pick up guilt you haven’t earned El, they know you are right there and right there for them.

    I love you!

    • I didn’t just walk away–I ran!! Fourteen miles later (five of those with Maddie), I felt so much better, dear friend!!

      I love you too!!

  11. I purposefully skipped reading all the comments–will save for later– because, girl, have you posed a question I have a lot to say about and only when I’m done do I want to see if I’m at all validated in the comments, or if I’m just a whiny-butt.

    I work forty-plus hours a week at a day-job that would drive even the most patient, sane person slap bonkers. I’m married and my husband works swing shifts. No kids in the house, they’re grown and gone, but I have pets. Lots… of pets. I am also a writer–one book under my belt, two more in various stages of completion. Writing is not a game for me. It’s a second job and I TRY to take it that seriously, because one day I would love to quit that mind-melting job for something less stressful, less time consuming, which would give me time to have the writing supplement the difference in my income. It’s a plan.

    It’s failing.

    I don’t have time to breathe as it is and can never seem to do anything right at home. If I sit down to write and my husband happens to be home, he feels ignored. Well, I’ve worked all day, so the only time I can write is the evenings, so I either don’t write at all, or I stop and spend time with him. If, on the weekends when I’m off, I get caught up in a scene–because, praise gods, my muse is cooperating for a change–my husband mops the hallway and it feels like I’m being criticized for not mopping the hallway. So, I stop what I’m doing and go mop the living room and lose my train of thought. Writing shot for the day. It’s now gotten to the point that every time I sit at the computer–even when the house is empty save for myself, like now, and so clean you could eat off the floor–the back of my mind starts whispering, “You shouldn’t be sitting here, you should be doing something else.”

    *Two* jobs and a home-life. I cannot for the life of me find balance and keep everyone happy, including myself. Oh, the terror of a day-job is peachy–the one thing I truly despise with every fiber of my being is on sound ground. The rest? Well….whine over.

    So… I read the comments. Yep. I’m a whiny-butt.

    • I adore you–have I mentioned that lately? Whiny-butt? Nah . . . and even if you were, I would still think you’re swell. Not being able to write does something weird to me. It’s not good. Not at all. Hey, did you see that Amazon contest for emerging authors? The deadline is SOON–the 13th. You should enter it. Because your writing kicks ass. xoxo

  12. Balance. I actually love this word because it’s simple to say, even though it isn’t simple to achieve. But, I think that’s the key….trying to achieve it. And, I don’t think of it as a lifetime goal, but rather a daily reprieve. I just need to see where my balance is today. Some days are better than others, right? So it’s only on the “some days” where perhaps I need to take a step back, take a break, forget my “to do” list that really can wait when I look at the big picture, and listen to my daughter’s words. The other night she asked me, “Mommy, will you watch TV with me?” I was running from room to room after work in my usual “gotta get ‘er done” fashion, but when I heard that question fall from her lips, I simply replied: Yes, Honey, I will. And, I let my task-at-hand go knowing that in 20 minutes her show would be over, she’d be heading to bed, and it was more important for me to be with her right then. Daily doses, El. We learn it in program: One day at a time…and for me I even whittle it down further into minutes. You are awesome, wonderful, and a terrific mom!!!! Love the cover of Ripple…can’t wait to read it! XOXO-SWM

    • I love that–trying to achieve it! And gosh, yes, some days are better than others. That simple question, will you watch tv with me, argh! Groan! “Of course I will, sweetie.” At least, that’s what I hope I will say!! And you, my friend, are awesome and wonderful too!! xoxo

  13. It’s so weird that I found you or you found me, don’t remember, and it doesn’t matter, cause after reading your post, you really just highlighted my life recently, and like you, I had to put balance back into it. I was so focused on my blogs, my writing that I put my family on hold, but they didn’t hold there for very long. So this past X-mas, I put everything aside, my writing, my script, my blogs and have just gotten back from a three week hiatus, plus I was sick, and lo and behold first thing I read is your blog. I was scared I’d lose all my followers … rational … no? Anyway, nothing except a good break happened. Life is so well made. I look forward to reading your book.

    • Your comment made me smile, and nod, because my gosh yes, I do understand. I am glad you put it all aside to take care of other stuff (forgive the inelegant phrasing!) . . . and as far as losing followers, to be honest (shhhh whispering), I would never leave a blogger for lack of posting! The only thing that sometimes annoys me is when people post constantly, but that’s on me (I have an obsession with keeping my in-box clean, and that happens for about five minutes a month, lol). And yes! Life is so well-made!! Thank you!!

  14. El, I homeschool two autistic elementary students who have therapy twice a week. I have the SIB (stupidest inbox in the blogosphere), corporate and private email, a BlackBerry whose brand new battery is dead no less than three times per day, two forums of my own and social media. I balance that with M3 and now RP and the demands of being a full time publisher. And still have seven other children in the mix. It is clearly about boundaries.

    It is never about sacrificing quality. I refuse to be the mother whose pictures are all drawn away from the rest of the family because she is always working. I take days off (not that anyone could ever prove it). I go places with my children. I also flatly refues to put my trademark on anything which does not meet quality standards.

    I do it by a calendar. And no matter what is on fire, it will either burn out or burn up before I get to it. Either way, there will be a mess to clean up. The choice then becomes: Do I want to clean it up with blisters from trying to put it out before it was manageable?

    It makes saying “no” significantly easier.

    • Red:

      Man–you homeschool two kids? Have seven more? And build a publishing empire? I already admired and respected you. Now take that and multiply it ten-fold. My jaw just dropped so far, I gotta get off my chair and go look for it under the table.

      I can already tell that you don’t sacrifice quality. Your output is always top-notch (granted, I’ve only known you for a few months, but that is obvious even from a short period of observation).

      So the key to it all is applying a very structured calendar and then refusing to deviate from it? That reminds me a great deal of my legal career, where the calendar *truly* was queen. I was a litigator, and, well, you ran your life by those dates.

      And then saying no would be a matter of holding up your hand with your thumb pointed backwards over your shoulder. “Is it on the calendar? Then no . . .”



      • I learned to enforce the calendar early on. My paralegal experience was still when I had only a handful of toddlers and elementary school children. Now that I have grandchildren and elementary school children, it means we do not have to miss anything. xxx

  15. Oh, I’m feeling more and more as I take on new writing assignments that I’m falling short in other areas. (like yeah, motherhood.) No answers really . . . for me, the work, the writing work I mean, sometimes happens at 2AM. How do I function the next day? I’m not sure . . . coffee?

  16. I used to work full time and write part time. That meant a 80-90 hour work week easily. I didn’t have kids to take care of, but my relationships suffered from my schedule. Right now is your crazy busy time. This will pass. And sometimes different priorities seize the front burner in your life. Everything is still on the stove, you just can’t give your attention everywhere at once. Take a breath. You’re a great mom. This is your first time self-publishing so you had no way of knowing how much or little time it would take. But all this experience will help you plan ahead so next time you won’t be as crunched. 🙂 Promise to spend a little extra time with the kids once you’re out of crunch time and maybe do a few more family activities. It will all balance out.