After quitting my editing job about 15 years ago and moving to a different area of Virginia to stay at home with my new baby, I expected to feel a sense of relief. But what I felt was isolation, frustration, and a sense that, all of a sudden, I had become invisible to certain segments of the population.
In some ways, I still struggle with those issues—but I like to think I have a better perspective on it now.
The relief I expected to feel was a sense of freedom away from the pressure of deadlines, of selling my writing and editing to people who really had no appreciation for the skills I offered. In fact, some of them could barely put a sentence together. My writing was just another task they checked off their list. In the meantime, I sweated over every word and stayed late to meet my deadlines.
I was starting to make decent money in my career—but the lack of respect wore me down. That, along with the daily D.C. Beltway grind of just getting from point A to point B and loads of my time being sucked away in the process, pointed me in a new direction. As did the fact that my husband and I were lucky if we saw one another by 7 p.m. every night. We knew we wanted to spend more time together and more time as parents. What was the point of having a baby if we would hardly ever see her?
Freelancing, after close to twenty years of publishing experience, and moving away from the D.C. area, seemed a viable option. My role in my family began to be a shifting balance between writer and stay-at-home mom.
Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m pretty much broke, ridiculously busy shuffling my girls to all their activities, am never caught up on anything, and am still dealing with feelings of isolation, frustration, and invisibility.
Part of this is self-imposed.
I am a writer of novels. It is my choice to sit in front of the computer alone each day, spin stories, and meet my word count goal. The other part of it is that I live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where there’s no real outside work for me. When I’ve tried to enter the workforce, it’s been an utter failure. I’ve written and grown myself out of the local market.
So I need to make this novel thing work.
And my books do well enough to offer hope. I’ve been able to patch together a sporadic professional life freelance writing and editing, along with book writing and consulting, while maintaining a certain focus on my family.
Even with the financial woes and the other frustrations, I don’t regret the choice we made for me to stay home, freelance, and write, and for my husband to take a job eight miles from our house. This has allowed him to be an active partner in our parenting.
I know that the confident, secure, bright, and fabulous daughters we are raising owe a big part of their magic to my husband. But they also owe a part to me—the one who is always just a phone call away if the girls leave an important paper at home or if one of them gets sick in school. I’m also the parent waiting at the bus stop every day— and the one who asks how their day went and talks with them about the boy who’s their crush-of-the-week. All of that matters.
And then there’s all the volunteering I’ve done over the years—school, music, and dance studio functions—even when I’m not as available as what some people think I am.
I am not a stay-at-home mom. I have deadlines. I write books.
Yet I do try to be available because I want to be an active parent in my kids’ lives. Sometimes I stand back and think: How did I become THAT person? I often shake my head when I remember that at one point in my writing career I was called a “radical feminist poet.” Heady stuff.
So on the face of things, I’ve gone from radical feminist poet to mini-van mom in a matter of a few years. But I’ve also penned a couple of cookbooks, four mystery novels, and countless articles in magazines and on blogs.
My accomplishments outside of parenting are also for my daughters. I hope someday they will see and appreciate how I’ve managed to maintain a sense of self and patch together a writing career in a world that is constantly chipping away at selfhood.
I’ve decided the sense of relief I was after is not ever going to come. Deadlines are like heartbeats to me—part of what gives my life energy, balance, and structure.
Knowing who I am and what I can realistically accomplish has been a gift of maturing. Now I wear the skin of novelist, mother, and wife. In a few years, I’ll be a different kind of mother as my kids go off to college. My writing self will adjust. But for now, I walk a precarious line, gathering new strength along the way for whatever comes next.
Neither the path of mothering, nor the path or writing is an easy one. Some of us are compelled to do both. As writer Julianna Baggott so succinctly put it: “My fear was that if I gave up writing because of my children, I’d resent my children. If I didn’t spend time with my children — or didn’t have them to begin with — for the sake of my writing, I’d resent my career. I had to do both.”
And so have I, balancing my roles precariously at times but balancing them nevertheless. I am not a stay-at-home mom, but I am a mother…and a writer…who happens to work from home, the deadlines of editors and the deadlines of parenthood ever looming. And no matter how old I get or how much my girls grow, I will always occupy these roles–writer and mother, crafter of words and crafter of heartbeats.