Motherhood & Words

I finally realized that I can’t juggle everything—teaching and editing and writing and child care and house maintenance—without more time. So starting next week, Stella will be in an extended-day program the three mornings a week that Zoë is in preschool. This essentially means that I’m buying back six of the ten work hours I lost when D switched jobs.

I was feeling a little guilty about the plan, but then I sat down and really thought about those morning hours with Stella, which ideally would be spent fashioning pipe cleaners into princesses or practicing her reading, but in reality are spent with her in front of the television and me in front of my computer. (I know, I know. But how else could I make a dent in the work?) Now she’ll be able to craft and play outside with a few of her school friends (who also attend the program), and I can focus—without interruption—on my work for six extra hours a week.

Stella seemed ambivalent about it all, but when we dropped off her paperwork this morning, and she realized she’d be playing with two of her classmates, she begged to start today. Hallelujah!

I think it will turn out to be a positive thing for both of us, and I hope it will help me feel less harried and more balanced. Because I realized something else this week: multitasking sucks. I’m just not good at it. When I divide my attention, my attention is, well, divided. My darlings begin misbehaving to get me to look at them, and I become crabby and exasperated. So my goal with this new schedule is to compartmentalize my work time and be more present with Stella and Zoë and D when we’re all at home together. Talk about A Plan.

How do you all deal with multitasking versus focused family time?

Posted in ,


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Caz on January 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Buying time – how true! I to try to multi-task work and child care and you're right. It sucks. Yesterday I lost 1.5 precious hours of work when I lost my focus because I had to get up from my desk to go to the kids. Arrrggghhhh! Nevermind:) I have no idea how to do it, it's something I bumble through – but good luck with your new plan. Sounds like a winner to me. Think how much more focused and present you'll be with the kids in the afternoon.

  2. Andrea on January 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Bravo! I love to hear stories of women writers sanctioning their own work enough to make time for it. Yea for you. Multi-tasking sucks–last night I was trying to sew a patch on M's jeans while he showered and the twins took a bath and when all three of them started misbehaving I turned into psycho-b*tch mom (granted I was also just starting to recover from a multi-day illness and–I later realized–I haven't had a break from them–other than work, which really doesn't count for much–in nearly three weeks). If I'd just hung out in the bathroom, playing with the twins in the tub and helping M with his shower, I'm sure things would have gone much more smoothly (but then M wouldn't have newly-patched jeans to wear to school today!) Anyway, good for you and I look forward to hearing how it works out!

  3. Mummy mania on January 7, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    we're meant to be good at it, but doesn't mean its fun. I;ve ben snowed in with the kids the last 5 days and school cancelled and it's a real juggle between getting my time and giving them some decent me time too. Well done though for getting a plan – i have a new incentive – Daisy's preschool will take POppy two mornings a week as soon as I've potty trained her. Going out to buy pants tomorrow!

  4. Sara on January 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because I'm frustrated by not having any dedicated work time, except when Kathleen is asleep, which is still quite variable (especially with the holidays recently and now a cold). My goal is to survive with the status quo until May when Brian gets out of school and then schedule some regular work hours during which time I will leave the house and work. I keep telling him that this is the plan . . . we'll see how it goes.

    But in the meantime, I'm working on not being on the computer all the time just because I feel like I have a lot to do and no time to do it.

    Good luck with your plan. I hope the extra six hours make you feel more productive and in control.

  5. Patty on January 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Good Luck with the new plan! Sounds like you've thought it through. The best thing I've found for "compartmentalizing" my attention is to keep my computer in another room, that the kids and I are NOT in. Otherwise, I'm forever running back and forth checking email, sending email, reading blogs (heh) and the like. If "Ol' Yeller" is in another room, I'm less likely to be tempted. Likewise, then, when I'm in my "office" it's more clear that I'm actually working.
    But I agree with Andrea. Multitasking sucks the big one.

  6. Sara M on January 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    We (mothers) do what we can, and I know you're not the only one who's used the t.v. as a distraction for the little ones. ahem. Kudos to you for making time for what feeds your and your family's well-being. We need to hear stories like this, and you need to know we encourage you to keep writing!

    Cheers to you for a happy 2010!

  7. Elizabeth on January 8, 2010 at 1:57 am

    I've given up. I'm actually a pretty decent juggler and what I can't do, I just can't do.

  8. Ines on January 8, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Oh this dilemma. I read your post yesterday and have been wanting to ignoring it, willing it to not exist. Thank you for asking such an honest question. By the answers you have gotten it seems no one has one solution. We all struggle and it remains a (good) challenge. Elizabeth's (the last comment before mine, I think)words resonate with me the most, 'what I can't do. I just can't do.' At the same time, I don't want it to sound like all is lost. I think it is more like a moment to moment decision. But then, again, I have not written in months. Now, on the other hand, I am keeping a one sentence-at-least-once-a-week journal. So, there is SOME writing.
    Congratulations in your new found time.

  9. kate hopper on January 8, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    You ladies are wonderful! One thing I'm hearing is that it takes patience and the ability to let go: be patient until you can work in the you-time and let go of things that you can't get done. Now I just have to follow your wonderful advice!!

  10. Pia on January 8, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    I JUST wrote a blognote about Jonathan at daycare and how much he loves it… what I didn't write about is how much I love it!!! I felt horribly guilty at first, but once I saw how many gains he has made in daycare…. well, I have let go of the guilt and feel really good about both his time and mine. wonderful!!! So, make your work time good and kid time good and you time good. All good!

  11. Ericka Clay on January 9, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    i understand feeling guilty but as long as she's happy in the program and thriving in it then that's what's important. and you can never get enough time. kudos on the 6 extra hours!

  12. Brenda on January 9, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Aach! I am not good at the multi-tasking. So not good that I am typing amid a pile of laundry, with kitty litter and cheerios scattered on the floor. But if one thing is going to fall to the wayside, let it be my house and not my child. Plus I just like to write more than I like to do laundry. Sorry, Mom.

  13. Mary on January 11, 2010 at 2:17 am

    I feel like I lost my ability to focus on a single task when I became a mother. Everything feels like multi-tasking..and even when I am spending time with one kid or another my mind is almost always thinking about that long list of other things I should be doing. One BIG goal for 2010 is to be more present in whatever I am doing, whether it is playing a game with Ruby or folding laundry. I need to stop letting chores and tasks haunt me throughout the day…it just adds up to me feeling scattered and grumpy.

    Congratulations on the extra six hours!

  14. gillian on January 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Oh, I'm sitting on the couch near you ladies with this one.

    My attempts at multi-tasking produces rubbish in all areas…I'm with Mary on trying to be more present in general.

    With that being said, my two little ones (who are three and have Down syndrome) are now in preschool from 8 to 10:30 five days a week and so far every morning I close the door on all four kids (my husband drives them all)I breathe out a 'thank God' before I even realize I'm saying anything.

    My 'goal' at some point is to devote a few of those days a week to writing. We'll see.

    Not only do the kids like school but I like them better when they come home.

  15. kate hopper on January 13, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Stella seems to like the program, though it's only been one day so far. For me, the block of time was amazing!

    Gillian, I'm so gald you have that time to yourself. I hope you'll be able to set it aside–or at least part of it–for writing.

  16. Cecilia on January 20, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I want to echo what Pia said…letting go of the guilt was an important lesson I learned. When my son was 2 I was so "against" putting him in any kind of daycare that I would kill myself working until 2-3 a.m. or getting up at 4 a.m. to do my work. No need for that. Now he's 5 and in school and the 3 things I devote myself to are my son, my work, and my reading. I let the house go. Anyway, good for you for finding a good program for Stella and for "compartmentalizing"!