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Parenting and the Writing Life: Can They Co-exist?

on Tue, 11/25/2014 - 12:49

by Tracy Hahn-Burkett

I don’t know a writing life without children.

In my first child’s babyhood, I turned to writing as a respite. My initial “process” was a logical one: I wrote—about parenting—in short stints when my baby napped or when my husband was caring for our kid.

Later, a second child entered the picture. So did three characters for a novel, who walked into my head and said, “Here we are, and we have a story for you.” The kids and the characters competed for my attention, but part-time daycare allowed me to carve out long writing periods--I wrote for five hours at a time some days. I established a parenting blog, published essays and articles and completed a draft of a novel. Life had rhythm, and Writing was Good.

Then the kids got older.

With two kids in school, this was supposed to be the easy time. I would have five days per week, school bus to school bus, to do nothing but write. kids, as it turns out, need their parents. They have activities to which you must chauffeur them. They need supplies you must purchase. There are appointments to make, meetings to attend, emails to compose, inter-parental arrangements to organize. If you are a writer working from home, it is known that you have “lots of time” and you will receive the requests--sometimes demands--that you volunteer for various activities to ease the burden on the parents who “work.” Any of your own appointments--professional, personal, medical--now must be fit into the school day, too.

Also? Now that my kids are older and have turned into real people, I find that I like being around them. I want to spend time with them before they realize how uncool I am and decide they’d rather be around their friends than me.

So where does that leave writing?

Like my kids, my writing process is still a work-in-progress. I’ve learned to prioritize. My current novel revision has gotten rather brutal, but I can’t imagine not seeing it through. I’m committed to the blog--and parenting challenges are still on my mind--so that ranks high, too. I maintain a growing list of essays I’d love to write, but something has to take the number three spot on the list.

I’ve discovered that I can edit or write a blog post while sitting in my minivan beside a soccer field. But I’ve also learned I can’t draft a new scene of my novel unless I can immerse myself completely in my fictional world. So I search for hours-long blocks in available mornings; take (very) occasional, mini-writerly retreats when I can find or design them. I think through a lot of story problems in the shower. And I’ve reconciled myself to the reality that the current revision will take a loooong time.

There’s no question that sometimes the school bus shows up at my driveway at horribly inconvenient moments, like when my protagonist is finally about to reveal her motivation behind that awful thing she said to her best friend in the previous chapter. But I also wouldn’t be painting an honest picture of my writing life if I didn’t include my children in every stage of my evolving process. They were my spark and my first subject, they force me to focus and consider what’s important, and I see the world not just through my eyes, but through theirs. In a way, I am growing up right alongside them.

I wouldn’t be a writer without them.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett writes the adoption and parenting blog, UnchartedParent, contributes to the fiction-writing blog, WriterUnboxed, and has published dozens of essays, articles and reviews. Winner of a recent grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, Tracy is currently revising her first novel, and her story, “Cover Story,” is forthcoming at The Drum. Her website is She lives in Bow with her husband and two children.