Deb Dana’s New Normal

Working mom

Last week, I sent out the following tweet:

“Writers with infants: how do you do it????? And by ‘it’ I mean write anything worth a damn. My brain feels scratchy and broken-like.”

Unfortunately, I only got one response. He wrote,

“Ha. It can be done simply b/c it has to be done. (This is the most significant thing I’ve written in two months.)”


I don’t expect much sympathy from other working moms out there because, on the surface at least, I have it easy. I work from home, I set my own schedule, and I have the luxury of working in my gym shorts with unwashed hair and no makeup. Some nights, as I’m feeding my little munchkin before putting him down and can barely keep my eyes open, I think, “Wow. Imagine if I had to put on nice clothes every morning and head to an office and work a full day dealing with jerks and THEN come home and do all of the things.” I bow down to all of the women for whom that is their normal. There are many of them. They are amazing.

But as “easy” as a writer’s life may seem to outsiders, on the inside, I promise you, it isn’t easy. Even before I had a baby, a lot of people would say, “It’s easy for you since you don’t work.” To which I’d reply, “Yes I do — I’m a writer.” And they’d say, “Well, I mean, that isn’t really working.” It’s hard to convince people on the outside that sitting in front of a laptop in sweatpants is a job. But it is. And if I didn’t treat it as such, I wouldn’t be a Deb telling you about THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS or my future books.

I will admit, even I underestimated how much having a baby would impact my ability to write. In some sort of deluded fantasyland, I envisioned myself typing away on my laptop while my precious babe napped beside me, his lips pursed together like a little rosebud. That has happened precisely…never. When he naps, I have an hour — max — to do anything at all, and even when I attempt to write, I never get very far before he awakes, at which point, forget writing.

Here’s the thing most non-writers don’t realize: a huge part of the writing process doesn’t involve writing at all. It involves imagining and dreaming and thinking, sometimes while staring at a wall or out the window. It involves letting your brain roam freely, unencumbered by other thoughts. That’s really, really hard to do when you have a 15 1/2-pound doughball screaming in your ear.

I’ve hired a babysitter for a few hours a week, which helps. I can lock myself away in my office for a few hours and buckle down, without worrying about feeding or changing diapers or playing peek-a-boo. But I’m not gonna lie: it’s hard. It’s hard to imagine on demand, to think through plot holes, to be creative when I’m overtired and still have to do 10,000 pounds of laundry.

I know this stage of parenting isn’t forever. But what you lose in diapers and nursing you gain in soccer matches and math homework and birthday parties. The days of writing with a very limited set of distractions are behind me. I’m not complaining. I adore my little love bug and can’t imagine my life without him. But he has definitely made writing a little harder.

Some days I think we’ve hit our stride. Other days everything seems to spin out of control. I think it will always be that way, to some extent. I’m just hoping for more of the former days than the latter.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Any working moms out there with tips on keeping it all together? How do you DO ALL THE THINGS???



11 Replies to “Deb Dana’s New Normal”

    1. I know. And I’m gradually coming to terms with this. It’s just that there are some days where the laundry has piled up and the kitchen is a disaster and the baby is crying and I think, “GAH!! I need order!”

  1. I’m in awe of moms with little ones who write books. I shake my head. I couldn’t have done it, but the fact is, I didn’t try. Writing wasn’t on my radar back then. You’re going in the right direction as a writer and a mother. Can’t really ask for more than that just yet! xo

  2. Feeling for you Dana! I was never in your exact position but take a look at @allykennan who was/is. She produced several books while having several babies and is lovely to boot. I’ve sent her a DM asking her to offer up any tips if she has a chance to check out your post. I just retweeted one of her tweets about her baby biting the ‘x’ off her keyboard!
    Best I can tell you is that when I was a journo, my OH wd take J for a whole day to give me time to write a feature – an hour here and there isn’t really enough. But I def had to lower my expectations about what I cd achieve. And as time passes and you get more sleep, everything does get a little easier x

    1. Thanks, Soph! Having a part-time babysitter has DEFINITELY helped. What’s hard is that when she’s here, that’s also some of the only time I have to email people back and take calls (agent, editor, etc etc etc), so sometimes I’ll look at the clock and wonder where the time went! But in a strange way, it’s focused me because I know I don’t have time to spare. Now if only those cobwebs in my brain would disappear…

  3. I am a mom with 2 kids, soon to be 3. I trade babysitting with my sister-in-law to give me a few uninterrupted hours a week to write. The rest of the time, I’ve had to adapt my writing process to be able to handle interruptions of “Mommy, I’m hungry!” or “Mommy, he’s hitting me!” or “Mommy, she’s taking my toys!” They come even when I put on a DVD to keep them entertained.

    One thing I’ve found helpful – do daydreaming when you’re away from the computer. During laundry and feeding the baby. When I do dishes, I listen to a writing podcast so I can continue to learn how to improve my skills.

    It sounds like you have the discipline needed to make it work. You have to treat your writing time (whether its before the baby wakes up in the morning, or during nap time, or during babysitting) as sacred, and you can’t let anything else interrupt unless its more important than your writing. As for dealing with a brain feeling scratchy and broken-like, make sure you take the time to take care of yourself, eat healthy and get sleep when you can.

    Congratulations on this new endeavor into motherhood. It’s a challenge, but well worth it.

  4. I’m in the midst of juggling writing and baby raising. It’s tough. As you said, you’re exhausted and consumed with the little munchkin you love more than yourself. It’s very hard to set aside time to sleep and be rested, never mind write and daydream/problem solve.

    We were too broke to hire any sort of help and our families lived out of state, so we were stuck with just us. I learned to be very forgiving of myself for the first six months. I would sit down for an hour and if all I could produce was a paragraph, so be it. If I planned to write but needed to sleep, OH WELL. Writing went on the back burner. But around six months you settle into momhood and you feel like you’re going to make it…you’re sleeping more, it’s less overwhelming. You can strap that kid on while you cook, clean, shop, eat, sit, exercise, etc. So at that point, I adjusted my expectations of productivity. When the kid napped, I worked OR, I’d get up uber early and work for a couple of hours. But the sacred writing time for me was weekends. I would pump loads of milk, leave the house around 6 a.m., and camp at Starbuck’s until noon-two o’clock and write EVERY Sat. & Sun. In fact, that’s still my routine. I find working from home impossible as they’re constantly banging on the door in need of my attention. Even my husband! lol.

    Now they’re four and six and it’s still difficult, but for the first time, I’ll have three hours every morning while my youngest is in pre-k this fall. I’m so excited to have a more “normal” schedule. (And sad they’re growing up! It’s such a bittersweet ride.)

    So my advice? Block off at least an hour per day (or every other if need be) during the week and 5-7 hours per day on weekends. That book will get written! And just know that it doesn’t last forever. 🙂 Good luck and hang in there!

    1. Thanks so much for this advice, Heather — SUPER HELPFUL!! We moved to be closer to my parents, and yet I do sometimes feel guilty for asking them to babysit because part of me feels like I’m taking advantage (even if they don’t feel that way!). Clearly I need to get over that a bit. What’s also tricky is that my husband works from home, too, so on the weekends, he isn’t fully “off” either. Methinks this is when I need to call on the grandparents!

      Thanks again for your helpful comments — seriously!

  5. My pleasure! And don’t be afraid to go to your parents. Next to you and your husband, they love your kids more than anyone in the world so let them take an active role in helping you raise them. They won’t see that as you putting them out, but as you trusting them and caring about them enough to include them in your baby’s regular routine. 🙂

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