Thursday, 1 March 2018

Author Mummy: How do you balance Home, Family and Author Life?

This post comes from a regularly occurring post in one of the forums I am on and after writing a reply, I realised how much I had to say on this - because after 10 years of authoring, I've had to either adapt or self-destruct. 
When I started writing I had a very demanding full time job, a new baby and a home to run because my husband commutes and was also doing the last stages of night school. It was tough. I can't remember how I did it, but somehow I did, and I wrote and published at least 5 novels over a 6 year period. 

Three years ago, I quit the day job to concentrate on the writing and to be more present for our children. I foolishly thought this would mean that I would, being a full time writer, be on my fiftieth novel by now. Oh, how I laugh!

Part of the reason was because despite being at home all day whilst the children were at school, somehow the house becoming a ridiculously demanding mistress, and because I was home there was an expectation (90% self imposed) that the house had to be perfect and that like a good 1950's housewife, everybody nurtured cared and catered for. 

Well suddenly between being begged by the kids to come and help at school, laundry, cooking, shopping, caring for my mum, organising tradesmen etc etc etc, time disappeared. Poof! Gone! 

I tried scheduling. It didn't work. It stressed me out. 
I tried communicating with my family. They tried. It didn't work. It stressed me out.
I tried running away to coffee shops. It sort of worked. It cost a lot. I wasted money. 

SO, I needed to take direct action. 

I wasn't prepared to compromise my home and family ideals. I wasn't prepared to make my family compromise for my writing by hiding away in an office, by making them eat off paper plates, by leaving them to fend for themselves. 

This is what I did, and it works - mostly. Family life is mercurial and chaotic by its very nature. Kids get sick, the dishwasher breaks, building work needs to be done, your pre-teen has a melt down every 5 minutes, family visit... but honestly, this has worked for us and we are happier, healthier, more connected, more content. 

A lot of the tensions have gone.

It's taken a good 4-6 month period establish the following, and that has been frustrating in itself but I had to remember I was playing a long game not a short fix that fades in a week or two, like schedules and conversations.

I had to change the behaviour patterns of my family and myself. Here's what I and WE did. 

This has been the gruelling bit, but stuff equals clutter, equals disorganisation, equals more hours of cleaning and tidying. We started at the top with our eldest's bedroom and worked down. 

We labelled the childrens' clothes draws and invested in storage boxes. We got rid of lots of stuff and rearranged the furniture for streamline hoovering and dusting - also making it easier for her to take more responsibility. 

The idea was that by eliminating unnecessary stuff, firstly it looked tidier and cleaner already without doing anything and secondly, it meant that everything had space to have a place and that meant if it had a place, it could be tidied by anyone and quickly. 

I reduced everyone (still a process in motion) to capsule wardrobes. How many t-shirts, jumpers and jeans do they actually need? How many 'smart' outfits. This saved money and washing time. The eldest has her own laundry basket and a weekend chore to bring it down. 

With her drawers labelled this enabled her to put away her own clothes without anxiety

Careful planning and doubling up means you can batch cook on a Sunday afternoon for a good part of the week. By doubling the quantities and freezing down you save huge amounts of time and mental energy. Good dishes for this are lasagna, casseroles, fish pies, stews, pies, chilli con carne, spaghetti Bolognese, curries etc. 

This ties to the previous point. Menu planning and shopping lists enable really efficient online food shops which are not only much more efficient but they're a really good way of controlling your budget and your health. 

By the front door, hang hooks and place a basket. You may be lucky enough for a cloakroom. Each person has a hook to hang their coat, scarf, hat, and school tie! A basket for work and school shoes. They have a further peg for their work / school bag and kit bags, and music art bags etc (packed on the Sunday ready for the week) Water bottles filled the night before and in the fridge. 

Our kids are very reluctant chore doers. However, the sight of money is motivating. I've made them chore charts with clear plastic wallets underneath that physically contain the money. When they've done the chore they get to put the money into the moneybox on the shelf next to the chart. Rosie is 10. Her chores are Recycling 1 Sunday (50p) Recycling 2 Wednesday (50p) Room tidy on Wednesday (£1) Make mum and dad a cup of tea in bed at weekend (50p each morning) and bring her washing down, sort into white and dark piles. Place in machine (£1) 

Betty is 5. She has make her bed every morning (10p a day) Hang her coat, shoes, bags etc on hook every day (10p a day)

These really help with teaching them responsibility. 

Ten minutes - and we put it on the clock timer like big kids and that's how we approach it. A race against the clock. In that 10 minutes we straighten the front room, load the dishwasher, take dry laundry upstairs, feed the cats and do a quick mess sweep. When the clock stops, so do we. 

This means we're already massively up on the day when we wake up. This means there is rarely more than 30 mins  of tidying and cleaning which done after the school run, means I'm totally clear from 9.30am-3.30pm 

I also need to be in a tidy space to work and it stops procrastination. Ready for the day and ready for work. 

One night a week the girls stay at school until 4.30pm doing Creative Writing and Cookery. This makes a huge difference on a Wednesday. I know I have 7 hours of uninterrupted writing and business time. 

I'm rubbish at getting up in the morning but on occasions, I have been known to sneak down at 5.30am and do a couple of hours quiet writing on a weekend before sneaking back up to bed for 8.30 before everyone else wakes and then having a little lie in after that. (Occasionally the youngest sneaks down too, but as she doesn't venture much further than the television on a Saturday morning, she's often not even known I'm up) 

So here are my very real and very doable tips for finding more time to write and to keep the home fires burning bright and warm. I'd be really interested to know what works for you other than the dreaded scheduling answer that I always seem bandied around.  


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