Overcoming Mom Guilt: Why I Un-Quit

February 16, 2017 | By | 3 Replies More

When fellow mothers of young children found out that I was a writer, some smugly said that sure, they’d like to write too, but couldn’t possibly take the time from their children. No, those mothers would write when their children were grown.

Cue mom guilt.

I had several little ones, a demanding church assignment, a house to care for, and a husband who needed love and attention if I wanted my marriage to work. I felt ready to crumble under the weight. Something had to give. So I figured I should take a break from writing.

At the time, I genuinely believed that setting my dream aside was the wise and responsible course. After all, I wasn’t yet making money from my writing. I didn’t have a book contract. Writing was just a hobby—and a cheaper one—than scrapbooking. That’s all. Right?

So I stopped. I didn’t touch the computer to draft a new scene. I didn’t jot down story ideas or research notes. I didn’t read any more books on craft or attend meetings with local writing groups. I selflessly focused on my home, family, and church responsibilities.

And my entire life fell apart at the seams.

No matter how hard I tried to keep the house clean and the laundry done, everything got messier, the piles of laundry and clutter bigger. The stack in the sink looked more like Everest than cups and plates. No matter how much attention I gave my children, they needed more—and started throwing tantrums. No matter how much love I tried to show my husband, my marriage felt strained. My church job grew more stressful.

What was happening? I felt as if I were running on a hamster wheel, desperately trying to reach a place of peace and happiness, but going nowhere.

Actually, I was moving, but in the wrong direction. My life looked like a bomb had gone off, and there I sat in the middle of the fallout, desperate to figure out why it had happened and how I could fix everything before the tsunami in the distance slammed into us.

After two months of this, in dire need of a break from the chaos, I withdrew to the computer and—gasp!—worked on my latest attempt at a novel. After 20 short minutes, I dove back into the fray of Play-Doh, dirty toilets, and diapers. But I felt a little better. The next day, I wrote for another 20 minutes.

That’s 40 minutes over two days—less time altogether than a single episode of Sesame Street (that’s how I tracked time back then).

After indulging in my “hobby,” I braced myself for everything to get worse. I’d taken time, attention, and energy from my real responsibilities. Those things would suffer, right?

Instead, the tsunami receded. The cyclone quieted. Somehow the house became tidier with less effort. My children played happily—and they behaved. I had more time for my husband and church work.

The math didn’t add up, but life had smacked me over the head with a clear lesson, and I paid attention: When I’m writing on a regular basis, even a little bit, I’m more balanced. I’m better able to manage stress and juggle life.

In short, writing makes me a better version of myself. And that benefits everyone in my life, especially my children.

That two-by-four to the head was over fifteen years ago. I can now count on one hand how many years I have left before the nest is empty. And I can say unequivocally that I’ve done a better job raising my children because I’ve been a writer than I ever would have been if I’d stopped.

A bonus lesson happened several years after the first: my third child, then in second grade, popped into my office while I was working to tell me that she wanted to paint when she grew up. “And I know I can do it because you wanted to be a writer when you were my age, and you are. I want to be a mom, too, though. And an artist. But a mom first.” As she trotted off, my eyes welled with tears.

I was doing something right.

I have three daughters, but not until that moment did I realize how my example of following a passion would affect them. They take it for granted that they can pursue a dream and succeed at it. They also know that I value being their mom over everything else, that they really do come first. I’ve canceled book signings and left writing conference to attend at a school event or recital. My writing is a must, but motherhood comes first. They can count on me.

The key in being a good mom is that I’ve done both. That’s what has made all the difference—for all of us.

Annette Lyon is a USA Today bestselling author, a 4-time Best of State medalist for fiction in Utah, and a Whitney Award winner. She’s had success as a professional editor and in newspaper, magazine, and technical writing, but her first love has always been writing fiction. She’s a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English and is the author of over a dozen books, including the Whitney Award-winning Band of Sisters, a chocolate cookbook, and a grammar guide, and she is a regular contributor to and former editor of the Timeless Romance Anthology series. She has received five publication awards from the League of Utah Writers, including the Silver Quill, and she’s one of the four coauthors of the Newport Ladies Book Club series. Annette is represented by Heather Karpas at ICM Partners.

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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, How To and Tips

Comments (3)

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  1. Heather says:

    You have absolutely done something right! Showing you children that dreams are worth pursuing is a priceless gift. So is being your best, complete self for them. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Rachel says:

    I just finished a novel and my son is six months old. It’s a good balance. We are mums but we are also human beings with passion and needs. I’m a better mum because I know that my passion for writing is not quelled because people think I should stop everything. My son gets the same amount of attention but I’m in a better place because I have that balance xxx

  3. This is so true! I wrote my first novel during my infant son’s naps because it was the only guilt-free time I had to do so. It was my way of keeping sane even when every around me saw it as a silly little hobby. Most of us have enough trouble justifying time for writing anyway, without all this extra criticism heaped on top. Good for you!

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