Mama Writers and Guilt

Last week my younger son started Kindergarten. He did great–I, on the other hand, had to hide behind my sunglasses and try to wait until I got back to the car before losing it. But once I got over saying goodbye to him I heard a small voice whispering to me saying, “Now you won’t have to feel guilty anymore.”

For the last five years–ever since the day I started writing–I have struggled with guilt. Guilt that I was being selfish for pursing my own dreams. Guilt because sometimes over the last five years I’ve had to sacrifice family time in order to write.

When I started writing, my younger son was an infant, and it was easy to schedule uninterrupted writing time at, say, three o’clock in the morning after I’d put him back to bed, since I couldn’t convince him to sleep through the night for the majority of his first year. Or, I took advantage of the most powerful weapon any mother of young children has: NAP TIME!!

True story (one that happened over and over again): Once my son flung a ton of vegetables on the kitchen floor right before nap time. They stayed on that floor, in all their sticky, slimy glory, until after he woke up from his nap. Because darn it, nothing as trivial as house cleaning or hygiene was coming between me and my writing time!

So. Guilt. It ate at me–even more so in this past year when I acquired an agent, and a book contract. Because I treat my writing job just like that–a job. If my agent/editor gives me a deadline, I set an earlier, personal deadline for myself, just to make sure I meet it. This has meant that in the last year I have had to say things to my younger son like, “No, I can’t play another game of uno with you.” Or, “No, I can’t do special time right now.” Or my personal guilt-inducing favorite, “Would you like to watch a movie?” Every time I say that I imagine somewhere in the world a building marked “Parent Police” and inside a light bulb bearing my address blinking on and off and a robotized woman’s voice shouting, “Alert! Alert! Bad Parent! Alert! Alert!”

A couple things happened though that made me realize my thinking all these years has been off. First, my older son decided to make a sock doll in my likeness. This is what he made:

See the book in “my” hands? And the book next to it that he wrote about me?

Second, his teacher pulled me aside recently. “He talks about you all the time. He’s so proud of you,” she said. “He’s always telling me how you have a publisher in New York.”(Because to our laid-back California selves, New York seems like a glittering, mythical fairytale land.)

So this is what I figured out: I spent so much time over the past five years worrying about what writing was taking away from my children that I didn’t stop to ask myself what writing was giving to my children.

Namely, the knowledge that their mom is someone to be proud of (at least until the teen years hit!). That sometimes hard work really does pay off. And the belief that if I can make my dream come true, then maybe they can, too.

The other day after my older son and I finished hanging out together I told him I was going to go write. “Well of course you’re going to go write,” he said. “You’re a writer.”

Indeed. I am a writer. And slowly, I’m learning not to feel guilty about it.

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