Where Dreams and Reality Collide

There’s nothing more rewarding than being a mother—at least, that’s what they told me. [they didn’t mention dirty diapers, pre-teen attitudes, and sleepless nights, but  parenting is still rewarding despite those things] I grew up in a religious community that highly valued motherhood, and most of the women I was exposed to didn’t work outside the home. Actually they didn’t have many interests that pointed outside their homes either, focusing mostly on sewing, decorating, and crafty stuff for their families. Which is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle, if that’s what you and your family want.

When I decided I wanted to write romance, my daughter was two. Just like I found time around her naps and meals to clean house, I scrounged out time to pursue my dreams: brainstormed, plotted, and wrote while she played next to me, watched a cartoon, or slept. As my family grew, along with my dream, incorporating them together became much harder. Time is finite, as is energy, and quite honestly I’m not Super Woman (except when the hubby demands I wear the cape). So I’ve had to get, well, creative.

As I say in my bio, my journey often takes me through the valley of dirty dishes, school assignments, and what the heck are we having for dinner moments. But I’ve found a few coping strategies to get me through the insanity without going ’round the bend.

1. Lower your standards (along with everyone else’s).

I never felt so validated as when I read an interview with a best selling author, where she admitted that one reason she could keep up the pace of her writing was because her house wasn’t always clean. Thank you, Lord! While we aren’t in danger of being reported to the local authorities, my house is nowhere near spotless. The yard—maybe we shouldn’t even go there! In order to spend time on my writing and quality time with my family (not to mention the necessary day job), cleaning isn’t high on my priority list. Luckily, I have a family that doesn’t really care, and I ignore any extended family  that would be bold enough to voice their opinions. (if they don’t like it, they are welcome to come clean themselves!) When the carpet starts to get dirty and dirty dishes start overflowing onto the counter, its time for me to clean. And to force myself to do deep cleaning a couple times a year, I’ll have a big party or family to visit.

I also insist that the family do their fair share. My kids are old enough to do their own laundry (even my son at 8) and they all have certain chores that are their responsibility. I think it’s a necessary evil for them to see what all goes into keeping a house up, and I remind myself that when they eventually move out (in the distant future) they will not be clueless about reality.

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2. Steal every small bit of time you can – well, not every small bit.

I’ve been juggling writing, work, and family for a long time. Ten years, in fact. In the beginning (that sounds ominous, doesn’t it?), I used every single second I could find to write. Whatever wasn’t taken by children and family. Now I realize that if I schedule every second, then I burn out – fast and furious.

I do spend a lot of time multi-tasking: I never just watch television without writing/editing/reading as well and most computer surfing has to do with writing or the business of writing. But too much drive will have my well dry pretty quick. I make judicious use of my time, but I also allow myself to “chill” every so often. Reading just for pleasure. (Just) watching a movie. Hanging out with the fam. Or window shopping with no pressure to be anywhere. If I find myself with a day off from work, you won’t find me cleaning or running errands unless I absolutely have no choice. I have always maintained that refilling your well is important, but I could write an entire post just on that.  🙂

3. Create time for special moments.

In the same way that I put aside time for writing, I have to consciously schedule time for my family. We authors often get caught up in the process and business of writing, which never ends. I remind myself of that and set it aside for a time to just be with the hubby and kids. Movie night with hubby and/or daughter. Shopping. Special school events. But mostly I try to do something “they” want to do. Let them have that sleepover I’ve been putting off. Meander down a road my teenage daughter (Book Worm) finds intriguing. Listen (and pay attention) when Little Man tells me about his video games. Hang out at the book store. Make a Starbucks run. Little things they enjoy that I often put off in the face of a looming deadline.

4. Let go of the guilt (an ongoing process).

Yep, this one never has and never will come easy. Like most women, I experience an overabundance of guilt. I often feel like I’m not giving enough attention to either my family or my writing. I have to step back, look at my time realistically, and realize I can’t do it all. Then breathe deep, and blow the guilt away. I figure simply being conscious of it and continuing to juggle priorities means everyone will eventually get their turn.

5. When all else fails, b*tch to your friends.

I wouldn’t survive without my sister, mother, and the Playfriends. When life gets overwhelming, they’re just a phone call away and always willing to listen. Sometimes they simply lend an open ear, sometimes they offer advice, and sometimes they call me on my own behavior. But the simply act of talking it out always makes things seem better, and not so lonely.

As you can see, this writer has a (tenuous) grasp on making her dreams come true, even in the face of pesky reality. It can be tough, and I learn more with every year (boy, that makes me feel old). But my family and I work it out, and I hope that my children see how very hard I pursue something that I love. One day, I hope they too have something that they want enough to chase the dream!

How do you balance your dreams, family, work, and down time? I’d love any coping strategies you’d like to share!

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11 thoughts on “Where Dreams and Reality Collide

  1. I think the best advice you’ve ever given me on this topic is to schedule a day off. When I’ve found myself scheduling every moment (which as a chronic OCDer, I do ALL the time), I have to stop and schedule a day off. The next one is the kids first day back at school…woot! 🙂

  2. Great post. And yes, your children will fly the coop one day and be grateful they learned how to do laundry. I don’t know how you can watch TV and do anything else — especially write. I find the TV too distracting. So my hat’s off to you on that front. And yes, we do b*tch to each other, don’t we? LOL A good gripe session is healthy and we’re a lot cheaper than a psychologist.

  3. Wonderful post and advice. I have three kids of my own, a book due in December (I’m on page 13), a book coming out in a month, my first YA that I’m starting to edit, and I just finished 15 months of chemo for Ovarian Cancer (scan today at 1 PM ET if anyone could send up a little prayer). So yes, life is over busy. But life is GOOD, even when it is crazy.

    One thing I did when I was balancing car pool and soccer/swim practices and meets, was to carry an AlphaSmart notebook with me. It’s not a lap top so it’s light and clicks on and off. You don’t have to boot up. I could whip it out to write fresh and plug it into my computer at home where the laptop would format it and then I could edit what I wrote. The key to this is keeping the story running in your head while driving or doing things like walking the dog (not with your kids, then they need your attention). Then when I had time to type, I’d get it down. I could fix it later. The words just added up and I had a book : )

    Living a year and a half battling for my life has changed me. I really do stop and smell the roses now, watch the birds, do a crossword puzzle, snuggle with my kids more. My 5-yr-old (my baby) just started Kindergarten today. It’s sad but so good too. God has lined up my life just right. If I get a clean CT scan today tomorrow starts recovery and I can write full time, something I’ve dreamed about for 13 years. And then I can still bake some cookies for my kids, because I’ll always be a mom first.

    Heather

  4. Great blog! I agree that is is waaaaay to easy to over fill our lives. I like to have what I call “pajama days” where I don’t get out of my pajamas and just lay around and read for pleasure all day long! I only get days like this a couple times a year but they are great for letting me recharge!

    I would love to read a future blog on refilling our wells. I think that is something many of us struggle with.

    Best of luck with your new blog, Dani!

  5. Hi, Dani! Congrats on your new blog. I totally agree with stealing whatever little bits of time you can. The older I get, the more conscious I am of not wasting a single second!

  6. Ella, You are so right!!! I love scheduling a day off, because even my weekends aren’t days off. I love to read all day or go to a movie. So much fun!

  7. Oh, Heather, you are such a role model!!! I’m so anxious to hear that scan comes back clean — you’ve fought long and hard, and I just pray its free and clear!
    That’s exactly how I felt when my son started kindergarten 3 years ago (OMG, has it really been 3 years?). It was a little teary, but also good for him and me. Both of my kids (8 and 12) get more self-sufficient with each year, so I’ve become very conscious of every time they ask me to snuggle, talk with me, or ask me to do something with them. Those are the moments I try to stop and live in the moment — rather than worry about my page count. 🙂
    Speaking of, heaven help you on that book! I hope the words fly fast and furious for you!

  8. I will get to work on that, Stephanie! I think refilling the well is something every woman needs, and few of us make a priority. I used to think that my mother never refilled her well. Now I realize that she refills her well by cleaning (of all things). I don’t think I’ll ever have this issue, but she loves to put on the music really loud and dance while she cleans. Kinda cool, actually.
    Pajama time!!! (we loved that book when Little Man was tiny) I have been known on my scheduled days off to stay in my pj’s all day — it just feels so good! You know what, I bet my kids would love that too during the busy school year — a Saturday filled with reading, video games, and movies in our pajamas. I need to keep that in mind!

  9. Vanessa, thanks so much for stopping by. Stealing those little moments can be so hard, yet so rewarding! I wish I could have a little bell that rang every time the opportunity presented itself, otherwise I look back to see that I missed it. I wonder if someone could invent one of those? 🙂

  10. Praying things come back clear, Heather. Health issues are difficult, but there are no words for the difficulty of facing cancer. Many blessings on you and your kiddos and the writing you are keeping up with!

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