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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23 Responses to Mama Writers and Guilt

  1. You are a tremendous Mom and a wonderful writer. I’m so proud of you. This is a good message too because so many of us juggle the notion of what it means to live out our dreams when our kids are young. Or let’s face it, many people simply struggle to live out there dreams at all – no matter what stage of life. There is certainly a sense where we lay aside certain plans when our kids are young because we have to, but I think you’re a great example of how someone can accomplish something very hard to do (get published) while still being very present to the kids.

  2. I love this post! I’ve suffered from mom guilt in the past and then realized the same things you did. It’s just the most awesome feeling when your kids brag about you and are proud of you!

  3. J. Anderson Coats says:

    Yep, been there. I spent a lot of time and a lot more ink working this “guilt” thing out, that feeling guilty didn’t help anyone – not me as a writer or a mother, and not my kid.

    I love that sock doll. It’s friggin adorable.

  4. Chris Tellez says:

    I’ve always known I’m not the only one to have “parent guilt” but it’s nice to see someone else write it up and put it out there.

    Here I have had frequent pangs of “parent guilt” working late hours which resulted in all household chores waiting until the weekends and time I felt I should be spending with my son. He knows he’s loved by me to no end, but still the guilt comes.

    My son’s teachers have told me in past meetings that he talked about me all the time and suggested I could fix things and take care of all sorts of problems. I was always incredibly honored that he would think of me so highly but it wasn’t until this post that I connected the dots and now realize that I’ve been giving him something as well.

    Thanks for the wonderfully inspiring post and for helping me feel less guilty. 🙂

    • What a sincere comment, Chris.

    • Chris- No problem and thanks for stopping by. I wish I could say I won’t ever struggle with guilt again, but I know I will. I wrote this post partly to remind myself not to feel guilty. BTW- I’m also a native of Southern California.

      • Chris Tellez says:

        My pleasure. Your hubby is one of our wonderful REALTOR association members and I found it through him sharing the post on Facebook.

        I try and write down stuff as well to remind me I’m on the right track, be it as a Dad, a worker, a friend, a son, etc…

        These moments of clarity and insight are incredibly powerful and worth putting into “digital ink”. After all sometimes it takes forever to get to those insights…gotta put it down someplace so we remember it later.

        When is your new book going to be released? It didn’t say on Amazon. I have a 10 year old niece who’s has to wear glasses for awhile and I think she’d love your book.

  5. lynette says:

    You hit the nail on the head when you said “what are you giving to you sons as a writer.” We should be asking ourselves that imposing question, what are we giving? Not, what we are taking (or think we are taking) from our families. I am having to learn not to entertain such questions and to think differently.

  6. Thanks Lynette! It’s way too easy for me to focus on all the ways I’m falling short as a parent. Hoping to change that.

  7. Beautifully said Jenny. What a gift to show a child that it’s possible to make dreams a reality.

  8. Heidi says:

    Thank you, Jenny, for writing this. I’m in tears because I struggle with this at least every couple of weeks. I think all working moms do. When I level with myself, I feel good about the system we have going and the balance we mostly maintain, but then a comment from someone that wasn’t meant as judgment will make me feel guilty. It’s good to be reminded of this from someone else who has gone before and is pursuing something creative while also contributing to supporting her family. I have no doubt that your kids will grow up very well-rounded, focused, selfless, and creative.

  9. Proud of you! On all counts. To be a good mama, pursue a dream, and work to reconcile all the feelings connected to both is not easy work, but you are doing it. Inspiring!

  10. What a wonderful post. I think we all suffer from mom guilt when it comes to writing. But if it wasn’t that it would be something else. I can only play certain games so many times. They will remember that their mom was a writer. Congrats on your success.

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  12. Love this and am so glad you addressed this topic because I struggle with the exact same thing.

    Found you through the Inspire Christian Writers’ shout-out on FB. Glad to *meet* you. 🙂 Congrats on your publication as well. Woot-Woot!

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