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Housework, Children, and Writing: A Balancing Act

by Cynthia Arbuthnot

How does a writer who is also a stay-at-home mom strike a balance between caring for her children, keeping her home somewhat orderly and clean, and writing? This great tour de force can be pulled off by using everyday housework and children as a springboard for your writing.

While you are in your office writing, you can keep watch over a sleeping baby by keeping a playpen or a crib in your office. This way, you can get some work done while baby naps and still be right in the room when she wakes up and wants to eat or play.

'The Watcher of Paradise' by Sera Ersu
The Watcher of Paradise
by Sera Ersu

Small children (those between the ages of 1 and 6) can provide many cute little anecdotes that make great fodder for humor, children's stories, and fiction. One of my favorite stories concerns an explanation to my preschooler. I told her that she once behaved like a Veg-O-Matic, smashing her chubby little fists into soft foods like chopped tomatoes and lightly boiled peaches. This little girl had just been telling her baby sister to stop this same behavior. Knowing that she herself had once done this brought a strange look of surprise to her face. Before the explanation, this orderly tot did not realize that she had once been a messy little baby.

Older children (those between the ages of 7 and 18) can be an immense help in keeping the house and yard clean and spruce. Be sure to assign age-appropriate chores (such as picking up toys for the younger children, and cleaning the bathroom for the older ones) that they must do on a regular basis as part of their responsibilities. In addition to keeping up with the housework, you will be teaching your children that there are responsibilities in life. Besides regular chores, there should be extra tasks around the house that you will pay your children to do. The children learn that working earns them money, which can help them later in life. This also provides an incentive for them to take some of those extra tasks out of your way, giving you more time to write after they have gone to bed.

Finding the time to write when you have to mind little ones is easy, if you just use bits and pieces of time instead of long stretches. Write when the kids are taking their afternoon naps, when they are asleep at night, and when they are away, visiting with grandparents. A side benefit of using shorter pieces of time for writing is prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome and eye strain. These can be caused by long hours sitting in front of a computer typing. When the children are in the backyard playing, take along a notebook to jot down outlines for essays, articles, stories, and other projects, and to brainstorm with, too. If you can make practical use of what small amounts of time you do have, you can get those large projects done.

If you have older children, you can use the time they're in school to write, too. When they come home from school and are ready to do their homework, you will be on hand to help them with any problems they might have.

For homeschooling mothers, the time when the kids are doing their assignments on their own can be used for writing. One idea is to have a family paperwork table where everyone sits to do their paperwork; you can sit with them with a pad and paper to brainstorm. You will still be on hand to help, if necessary, but also get your own work done.

Housework serves a purpose in writing, too. The menial tasks to be done around the home are usually what one would call "mindless" tasks, things you really do not have to put much thought into while you are doing them. Mindless tasks may include washing dishes, scrubbing the bathroom, sweeping, mopping, dusting, and so forth. You can use this time to listen to a book on tape or news on the radio, or as quiet time to think about ideas for compositions you might want to write. Some of my best ideas have come to me when I was washing dishes or scrubbing mold from the shower walls.

 Child care and housework, which are everyday activities, can help you come to your writing with a fresh mind. These other jobs take you away from your office for varied periods of time, giving you a chance to brainstorm and think ideas through to their conclusions. In coming to your work this way, you can type your ideas onto the computer and not have to spend excess time sitting in front of it, trying to work things out in your mind. Through chores and children, you have already worked out the "bugs," and you can just write away to your heart's content.

Note: This article has been previously published in Inscriptions, The Painted Rock, and Heart of Romance: Coeur Du Bois Chapter, RWA, Inc.


Cynthia Arbuthnot is a freelance writer living in Central Florida with her tropical plants, cats, children, and husband. She is a stay-at-home mom who enjoys her two young daughters and is raising them to excel at whatever they choose to do with their lives.
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