Thanks to longtime LAFPI Instigator Cindy Marie Jenkins for this post , which we thought might speak to writers at home right now with kids!
“These are new books we just got,” I hear my five-year-old tell his friend in the pantry, otherwise known as my office. “My Mommy has a story she wrote in there. It’s about losing things. I helped her with it.”
My heart beat faster. For weeks I’d been telling him about this anthology and the story I wrote for it. He sat doing puzzles next to me while I drafted it, did bedtime with his Dad for a week while I finished it, and “helped” me set up marketing emails and social posts for the week that it was published.
Hearing him tell his friend about this, my first story published in a physical book, took me by surprise. He’s proud of me, I thought. He feels ownership of it, because of the time that he gave me to work and the ways I was able to involve him in my success.
Thinking back, I’ve included him since the day I started working again, three weeks after he was born. It wasn’t a traditional 9-5 job. I ran a small team of reviewers for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and part of our job was to pitch our services to the artists and publish micro interviews on their shows. I attended a workshop for the theater artists with my three-week-old baby in a Moby wrap, also learning how to navigate a bathroom decidedly not designed to change a diaper. When it came to my turn to speak, he was nursing, so I just stood and pitched this review site to over fifty people while my son happily drank milk from inside his wrap. Some people realized what was happening and cheered me on, but many didn’t notice and just thought I was wearing some elaborate infinity scarf.
I’ve continued to work from home as a writer and arts communicator. It isn’t always as easy as that first day, but I have found some interesting ways to involve my children and make it work as a work-at-home-parent, which is my motto. I hope you can apply a few of these hacks to your writing life!
- Clearly designate work time from non-work time. I go into this in more detail on my blog, but you can use clocks and timers to your advantage. Count down to the time that you will work, prepare snacks beforehand, and set a timer so they can see exactly how long it will take. Then the important part: that timer goes off and you immediately give your patient children a good tickle or cuddle! The instant connection helps them understand that it is family time once again.
- Create their own work to do along with you. They got into a big maze phase, so when I had a deadline, we made a challenge. Who can finish more mazes correctly in thirty minutes? A bonus tip here is to get the dry erase puzzle books for very busy work weeks on a budget. When I really needed to write and they really needed my attention, I folded construction paper in half and encouraged them to draw their own stories. Once they drew on every page of their book, I would write the words with or for them. That gave me twenty more minutes to write that day!
- Answer their questions, satisfy their curiosity, and they’ll happily give you time. One day, I sat down to write content for a website. My five-year-old son crawled inside my hoodie (a sure sign he needs connection) and asked what I was doing. Then he asked: “What’s a website?” Then he wanted to make his own. By taking twenty minutes to connect, show him how to write a short story and put it into a website, he was thoroughly satisfied and drew pictures beside me for the rest of the hour I set aside for work. He may never touch that website again, but it’s there for him.
- Involve them in research. I write a lot of marketing copy for live shows. When appropriate, I show my kids the video clips or pictures and talk to them about the shows while I take notes. Another example is that I’m writing a retelling of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. While researching how long it would really take to travel from Wittenberg to Denmark, we made it a mini geography and math lesson. We watched the first scene of Hamlet together from five different film versions and talked about which “ghost stories” were scariest and why. Then they wanted to make their own ghosts and I pulled out construction paper, glue and cotton balls. That activity gave me an extra thirty minutes after we researched together.
- Spend time at the beginning of your work-time to explain what you are doing and why you need that time. Involve them in your long-term goals. We go to the library and bookstore a lot, so one day I was trying to tell my three-year-old why it was important to focus without answering his deep questions about Bob the Builder. “What do you see when we go to the library and the bookstore? What are on the shelves?”
“That’s what I’m writing right now. And if I get the time to work on my book, then one day we will walk into the library, and the bookstore, and see your Mommy’s books on the shelf. You can point to them, and say that you Mommy wrote that book. Won’t that be cool?”
“Wow, Mommy. Yeah!”
That will be cool. And he’ll feel like he helped, that it’s as much of his success as mine.
This article was originally published at Writer’s Atelier in October 2019.
Cindy Marie Jenkins is currently a write-at-home mom in Beijing for [NDA Redacted]. Cindy’s editorials and articles have been published at The Mary Sue, StarTrek.com, Theatre Communications Guild, The Clyde Fitch Report, The Mom Forum, No Proscenium, Dwarf+Giant (a blog of The Last Bookstore), Better Lemons, Theatre @ Boston Court, and more. You can find more at her website, Patreon, Facebook and Twitter.