Losing naptime is a panic-inducing prospect for many work-at-home parents. When it comes to working with a little one at home, you have several other options after naptime has been crossed off the list.
Keep an open mind
The key thing to remember is that “ideal” is not necessarily relevant while you have a small person at home. It’s not uncommon for creative parents—especially those who aren’t earning a living from their creative pursuits—to complain that they “can’t” work without at least three hours of uninterrupted time, or they “can’t” work when others are at home, or they “can’t” work unless all of the household chores are done first. When I hear these objections, I have to ask, “What’s more important: Getting your creative work done on your own terms, or getting your creative work done?”
When you make your art a priority, you’ll find a solution, even if it’s several notches down on your list of preferences. A self-described night owl may find that her only work opportunity is from 5:00 am to 6:30 am before the family wakes up. So she gradually gets up 15 minutes earlier each morning until she adjusts to the schedule change and has a work window she can count on. It’s not ideal given her internal clock, but she can enjoy the rest of each day knowing that she’s already taken care of her creative work. Most importantly, she’s writing every day.
Conversely, an early-bird whose children are very early risers may decide that he needs to rely on an hour every evening right after the kids go to bed, even though his creative mind isn’t at its best at that hour. Sometimes making do is the best you can do.
Examine your basic routine and look for places where you might be able to juggle things around to give yourself a work window. This may well require giving up something else, like watching television with your spouse or attending a regular evening commitment. You may need to give up an hour of sleep on one end or the other, if you can manage that without deprivation. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll also benefit from lowering your standards on the domestic front during this preschool period. What’s more important: writing your book, or dusting picture frames? Prioritize and become extremely careful about how you spend your time. In the larger scope, you can have it all—but that doesn’t mean you can have it all right now.
The options below, alone or in combination, are your basic menu for creative work:
- Get up early and write in the morning
- Work after your child goes to sleep for the night
- Enroll your child in part-time preschool or hire a babysitter
- Barter for regular babysitting or develop a playdate co-op
- Arrange for your spouse or other family member to take evening or weekend stints
- Learn how to work with your child around
Regarding this last suggestion, many parents balk at the idea of combining writing with parenting. I strongly suggest developing this capability, however. The more your child enjoys independent play, the more latitude you can enjoy. I know of one mother who wrote most of a novel on a hand-held PDA in 5-minute blocks while her two children were playing on the swing set or occupied with Matchbox cars. This strategy requires a lot of flexibility, as you need to be able to set your work aside when your child needs you—and it’s important to have plenty of time with your child when you aren’t staring at a screen—but the ability to blend your creative life into your parenting life is a huge advantage. As a writer, you have this portability. Potters, for example, are far more tied to their studios, and their work requires a greater investment in setup and cleanup time. It’s also not usually safe for young children to entertain themselves in a studio that might have lots of fascinating (and dangerous) tools and materials lying around.
The best solution will come from you, as you know your child best. While you’re working it out, be sure to take a second look at any option that you immediately write off. Sometimes something that seems implausible at first glance turns out to be quite workable.
Without fail, just when you get into the groove with your new routine, the parameters will turn on end and you’ll end up going through this process all over again.
The plug-in Mary Poppins
If you’re inclined to let your daughter watch television at all, be sure to capitalize on her TV time by writing during that window. Children under the age of 2 should not watch any television whatsoever, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are many parents who commendably keep their older preschoolers away from the TV entirely, but others among us rely on the electronic babysitter (preferably free of commercials) for 30-60 minutes of creative productivity on occasion. Don’t abuse this distraction, however, and ensure that your child is getting plenty of physical activity, imaginative play, fresh air, and face time with Mom.
Bend and stretch
The schedule of a work-at-home parent must be fluid by nature. The more flexible and broad you become with your creative paradigm, the better. If you’re working on your project regularly, it will stay fresh in your mind and percolate in the background as you go about your day. Then, when a sudden opportunity strikes—your child becomes engrossed in the dollhouse or takes an unexpected nap—you can grab that opportunity for creative work. When you aren’t in regular contact with your project, the prospect of jumping in can feel like standing at the edge of an icy lake in midwinter. The more frequently you work, the less intimidating that work becomes. In this sense, frequency can actually be more important than duration. A mere 30 minutes every day adds up to 15 hours over the course of a month. That’s significant.
Become a creative opportunist
Live large by reveling in the beauty of small, everyday moments. Allow yourself to follow creative threads that intrigue you, even if you aren’t sure where they’ll lead. By deepening your practice of creativity in other areas of your life, you will enrich the process and output of your primary artistic focus. Your senses will strengthen and you’ll be ever more able to be creative on the fly. Make notes while you sit in your car waiting for a child to emerge from gymnastics class; write a haiku in your head while you’re in the dentist’s chair; use your camera phone to take impromptu photos of anything that strikes your interest during daily life. Record a funny conversation you overheard at the grocery store or a perceptive observation that your child makes. Fill your well.
This too shall pass
It’s also important to remember that whatever is happening right now is not going to last forever. Adopting a less-than-ideal work solution is more palatable when you bear in mind that it’s only temporary. That said, it’s important to be as regular as possible with whatever time slot you’re aiming for in a given time period. Regularity breeds habit, and habit gets the work done.
Be well, and be creative!
Want more practical tips to support your creativity? If you’re an artist or writer with little ones, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years is the essential survival guide written just for you. Concrete strategies for becoming more creative without adding stress and guilt. Filled with the wisdom of 13 insightful creative mothers; written by a certified creativity coach and mother of five. “Highly recommended.” ~Eric Maisel. 35 pages/$11.98. Available for download here.