To the Writer Mamas

Writing while simultaneously being a mother to teeny children is a bit like trying to renovate a house while you're 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. It's 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.


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


  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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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!


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

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