How in the world can an author get anything done with two small kids and no childcare?
That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? The one I’ve tuned into countless podcasts for the answer to, only to be disappointed when the author spends five minutes on how great their nanny, or day care is and that’s it.
What about those of us who just can’t afford child care, be it daycare or a nanny?
Well, through trial and error, I have figured out how to write a book and start an Indie Author business without going crazy. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system by any stretch. And maybe a few of you out there have some tools and tricks that I won’t mention here; if so PLEASE share. But if you need some simple guidance to get you through the weeds until your kids are in full time school, then read on friend.
First of all, basic information:
My daughter is seven and in first grade, so for most of the time she’s taken care of. Except, of course, for snow days, and holiday breaks. My son is four and is in his first year of preschool three mornings a week. Now, that preschool time is HEAVEN because I get two and a half uninterrupted hours of work during what is my prime creative time. I know that not everyone can afford most preschools. There are some programs through community centers that have very low or no cost preschool programs that you might want to check out if you’re interested. On to the good stuff!
#1-My Secret Weapon: Quiet Time
I am an introvert. My children are extroverts. If you know what this means, you know that they have been steadily sucking the energy out of me since day one. (No, I’m not saying my kids are vampires…not exactly.) When my son was an infant and my daughter had started to phase out her nap, I knew that I just couldn’t get through the day without that precious break. So, I instituted Quiet Time.
At first, my daughter would stay in her bed and play quietly for about two hours. You read that right: two hours. When she got too bored with staying in bed, I let her out of bed, as long as she stayed in her room. Now, this took time to perfect. She hated being alone, I mean with a fiery passion. But now, at age seven, she asks for this time when she’s not in school. As she’s gotten older, I’ve changed the activities she can do. Now, she gets a little Kindle or Mine Craft time, she can do art projects with markers, things like that. My son is also on Quiet Time since phasing his nap out this year. For him, the concept of quiet play time is hard, but he’s getting better.
This time in the middle of day, which used to be recharge time, has become Author time for me. I give myself a forty-five minute lunch, during which I eat and do something that fills my inner well. Then, it’s work. Some days I get an hour and half, other days between running upstairs to help my son with the potty or ask him to be quiet, it’s more like forty-five minutes. I’ve found that working against a hard time constraint helps me focus better. I’ve written four thousand word chapter in an hour because I just had to.
Quiet Time has been stretched out to about two and a half hours these days, and the kids are far from bored. In addition to a little Kindle time, they have some art supplies, my son has his huge Hot Wheels track and cars, puzzles, books, dolls. They have a very rich imagination, so usually they end up playing there. Sometimes I go to check on my son and he’s asleep on the floor or in his bed, which isn’t bad either. Basically, they both like Quiet Time, and I feel like I’m not only getting some work time but teaching them a valuable life skill: How to build down time into your life. Which is something we all need.
#2-Use Screen Time Strategically.
This might be a bit controversial. Screen time is a huge hot button issue with many parents, I get it. But I find that without child care, this is a necessity for me if I’m going to be an indie author. During holiday breaks when I’m home alone with both kids I need a few extra hours to build an author business.
Now, before you think I just plop my kids down in front of the TV for unlimited shows, let me say this: We limit their screen time. They get less screen time than the average American child their age, but also more than I’d like if I’m being honest. They will get about an hour either in the morning or afternoon depending on how the day plays out. This is in addition to the Kindle (or in my daughter’s case Mine Craft) time they get for Quiet Time. The parent controls on the Kindle Fire allows me to set a time limit, so they don’t play for the full Quiet Time.
My son’s time limit is anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. My daughter’s time, because she‘s older, is around an hour to an hour and a half. Now, combined with their TV time that may sound like a lot. Like I said, in an ideal world, they wouldn’t have that much.
Maybe your kids are the kind that will sit and play wonderfully on their own for hours on end, never needing your attention or input. That’s not my kids. They will play with each other for long stretches, but it’s loud and rambunctious. That’s not something I want to squelch, it’s who they are. Though there are boundaries to how they can play in the house, I also give them freedom. Having said that, listening to your kids play loudly and eventually devolve into a fight, isn’t really conducive to getting work done. So if you’ve been feeling hot pokers of guilt in your heart every time you put on Sesame Street just so you can edit one chapter, STOP! There’s nothing wrong with it, seriously! It’s a tool at your disposal, it’s there to be used. So use it.
#3-Your Partner Can Parent Too.
Growing up the only time I really saw my Dad take over from my Mom was when she was horribly sick, like barely able to get off the couch sick. Any other time, my Mom was the primary care giver even when my Dad was home. Not that he was absent or anything, but it was understood that my Dad worked all day, had a hard commute and when he got home he was to be left alone while my Mom finished dinner and we set the table. After dinner, then we could engage with Dad.
It’s been a challenge for me to shift that thinking, no matter how feminist I am. When you’re raised with a particular example of relationships, your subconscious defaults there. To this day, it’s sometimes hard for me to ask my husband to take lead with the kids so I can get some creative time. This has NOTHING to do with him. He has always been fully supportive of me being an author, in that respect I am incredibly lucky.
One thing that helps, though, is if I ask him a day or two ahead of time. That way he’s not caught flat footed and I don’t feel like I’m springing something on him. The way we’ve worked it out goes something like this: I fix the kids dinner, and sit with them or do dishes. Hubby comes home in the middle of their dinner time, after changing his clothes, he takes over. I put on head phones and write for about an hour. Then he takes the kids upstairs and gets them ready for bed. I come upstairs in time to kiss them good-night, sometimes to read to one of them. Then, he and I enjoy dinner just the two of us either talking or watching a show. This sounds really simple, but I’d bet it’s not something you’ve considered.
For me I would feel bad that my husband was “doing my job”, as well as guilty because we weren’t having a family dinner. Turns out the kids don’t mind. On these nights they get some of their favorite foods like mac and cheese or chicken nuggets and fries. And, it makes family dinners all the more special for all of us. On average I ask him to take over with the kids about twice a week, more if I’m sick or it’s been a particularly hard day as a Mom (because let’s face it, stay at home parenting is one of the hardest jobs out there without trying to be author on top of it).
This one took a while to figure out. I love using an old fashioned paper planner, but I wasn’t using it optimally. I heard an author on a podcast say once that she will assign certain days of the week as either Writing days or Business days or Marketing days. If she only has a few hours that day, she spends them doing whatever she’s assigned to that day. That has really helped because I can get overwhelmed with all the things that need doing as an indie author.
So, on the days my son has preschool, those are writing days. Any time I have for work on those days, I work on my novel. The two other days of the week are for business development, education, website, blogging, or marketing. Since I started doing this I’ve been WAY more productive.
I usually take Sunday and look over my week, making sure that what I’ve assigned for each day works. Sometimes I drill down into specifics for each day if necessary. If it’s a holiday break, then sometimes I have to shift things around, but I still try to adhere to this as much as possible. I also do some basic menu planning for the week so I know when I need to stop working in the afternoon in order to start cooking. I’ve found that this helps a lot because by about four o’clock, I can sometimes have some pretty bad decision fatigue. Which brings me to-
#5-Take A Personal Day
I know what you’re thinking: “But I have a novel to finish, butts to wipe, lunches to make, puke to clean up, Lego’s to trip over, doll heads to glue back on….” Yeah, I know. I do too. But we are USELESS if we are tapped out. And let’s face it, being a Stay at Home Parent alone can zap our energy reserves. I had to learn this over and over again the hard way because I hate taking time off. Sometimes, however, my body will just shut down and I have no choice. Those are the bad kinds of breaks, the ones that take us out for a week or more.
So, I had to ask myself: Do I want pneumonia or a day of being a little lazy? I’ve decided one day every few weeks is a much better option. I usually plan a day around my menstrual cycle because that wipes me out. Then I will reserve another day during the month that is for myself. Instead of creative time or marketing during the times I talked about, I read or watch TV. Sometimes I’ll catch up on podcasts but usually not because that ends up feeling a little like work. Taking a personal day is still a challenge for me. Sometimes my husband has to remind me that it’s necessary. Sometimes I find myself tense and thinking about my To Do list when I’m supposed to be resting. That’s when I take a deep breath, tell myself that what I’m doing is OK.
In the end, Heroic Moms and Dads, trying to be creative with kids is hard and can make you feel like you’re all alone. But you’re not, I’m right there with you. If you need a pep talk, if you have questions or need to vent, then I’m your gal pal! Leave something in the comments, join the conversation on Facebook or feel free to email me. I look forward to hearing from you!