For the past few months I have been trying to get a novel published. This is a dream of mine. Since I was quite young I knew I wanted to tell stories for a living… well fast forward 15 years and that still isn’t quite the case. But I continue to try. The book took years to write and I have taken huge swathes of time away from it to manufacture, and raise a child. Writing is a thankless task – unless you are very lucky, or happen to strike on exactly what the market is looking for, chance is you won’t find it easy to get into print. After tens and tens of rejections, I keep going, I keep pushing this novel and I have begun a new one in case that one is the one to make it onto bookshelves. Why? Writing takes up so much of my time (it would take up much much more if it was just me) and brain space, yet I don’t earn anything from it. So even though I take it very seriously I have to call it a hobby. Not like going to the cinema, or spending long boozy hours watching comedy in the basement of the Stand. But I think it is more than a hobby, it is something I take time to do because I feel I need to.
My question this month then is would I be a better mam if I gave up writing? Potentially I would be less frustrated, my limited spare time wouldn’t be a constant battle between writing and attempting a social life, catching up on favourite TV programmes, or reading a damn book (something I have only managed three times in the last two years!). Do mums with less invasive pastimes like clubbing, reading gossip magazines, or badminton feel the same? What about dads who love to play football? If I just had a hobby that took less time would I feel less guilt? What about the parents who are using their spare time to better their family’s future? My friend is a mum of two and is at college twice a week to change careers – even though she might be exhausted or feeling guilty about being away from home she knows full well she is doing it to benefit her family in the years to come. Same with my partner – we have just moved into quite the fixer-upper so he spends every waking minute, drill in hand, doing DIY. He’s missing weekends with his girl but he has the accomplishment of sorting out our family home to combat any sense of shame of neglecting dad duties.
When a baby is born the people who are suddenly, in the space of a second, in charge of it become different. Whole new selves. Priorities shift with every new development, long gone is the freedom you took for granted up until this moment. What did I used to do before I was a mam? I barely remember. Three years in I still haven’t found the right balance for me, and that makes me wonder if it’s the right balance for my daughter. Is it more important that I keep an aspect of my former self to make me more than ‘just a parent’, to make me a rounder human being.
I think the pressure for new mums (less so for new dads because the media doesn’t even expect you guys to change, or be involved, or even know the name of your child!) to get back to ‘normal’ feels insurmountable. Whether it’s weight loss, getting someone else to babysit, to stop breastfeeding, to get them onto solids, to get them into their own bed, to get them into an adult routine so we can fit our free time into sociable hours (not bleary-eyed at 11:30 at night then…). What if we don’t want to? What if we like the new us? What if the new us is even better than the old us? What if we are happy fitting our stuff into the four minutes of peace we get before having our own nap – I am not calling what I get at night sleep because that would be laughable! She will come and get me in an hour or two, so I nap.
There is no right or wrong answer here. What works for a family one day is completely wrong the following week. So while I try to figure it out I am going to spend the next month raising a child who doesn’t eat, sleep or talk; wrapping and buying Christmas presents; writing cards; gutting out an old house of its dated décor; trying to get to the cinema to see Nocturnal Animals; catching up with friends before they all disappear into their own family spheres for the holidays; organising my sister’s hen do; maybe spending an hour alone with my partner to talk about something other than cupboards and heating bills; trying to publish one novel; and writing that new one. Phew!