Creative people are usually the last to call it quits when “working time” is over. I use “working time” lightly, because if you’re a parent with kids at home, you work on your creative endeavor whenever possible. Kids, by their very nature, thrive on interrupting us when we are at our creative peaks, right? That perfect ending sentence to the scene you’re writing? It’ll have to wait until Tommy’s done throwing up. That new character you dreamed about last night and are literally shaking with anticipation to flesh out on paper? Um… sorry, little Betty has a Lego up her nose, again.
Interruptions. They come free the moment you give birth or bring your new child home, and they don’t go away when your shiny-faced goober gets older, either. In fact, my teenager is sometimes more of an annoyance to my writing mojo than my tween or grade-schooler. Luckily, and trust me, I know I’m fortunate, my kids are in school all day. It’s the evenings and weekends I have to contend with. Like many of my author compatriots, the writing inspiration really wants to let loose in the evening, you know, right around the time I’m earlobe-deep in Algebra and Shakespeare homework, making supper and breaking up fights.
Sound familiar? Maybe you have toddlers at home yet and are trying to carve out time in between diaper changes and the never ending vortex of exhaustion to write your novel, or paint your masterpiece. In this case, let me hail you in solidarity because I get it. I was you once, too— my oldest was three when I started working from home. Along came two more kids and BAM! That vortex of exhaustion was a raging bitch.
What’s an at-home creative to do with these little people? I have a few suggestions (and at the end, there’s advice from another creative brain mom too, so keep reading), but mostly, I want you to know that most of the time, you’re going to have to say eff it, writing, painting, drafting, etc. will have to wait. Let’s face it: kids want what they want, and if their sole (maybe, soul?) purpose is to interrupt the hell out of you, than that’s what they are going to do.
For the times you think that you might get a little cooperation out of them, try these things (age appropriate, of course).
They Clean. They Leave you Alone. They get Money.
Your kids probably have age-appropriate chores anyway, right? Why not up the ante to give yourself extra kid-free time to work. Take 3-4 envelopes, maybe more depending on how you want to do it. Fill each envelope with one dollar, the next with two dollars, the next with three, and then four and maybe one with five bucks, if you’re desperate enough.
On the back of each envelope, write down a chore with the dollar amount inside. Say, they have to clean the bathroom, including the sink, toilet, sweep the floor, wipe down the tub (whatever) for three bucks. Of course, keep in mind what cleaning solutions you’re kids are getting into—though, this is great for money-hungry tweens who need to know how to clean the toilet. Throw in another dollar if they don’t complain. Ha!
Chores can be as simple as folding a basket of laundry for a dollar, or busy work so you get the most out of it, like organizing shelves in the kitchen. Whatever tasks you know your kids can do safely and with minimal arguing or complaining. I can hear you thinking--, “Why would I pay my kids to do this stuff?” And my response is, “Well, how desperate are you for a little more work time?”
Hmmm??? Pssst: I’ve done this, and it works. Plus, less chores for you!
Now, this isn’t one of those suggestions meant to suggest that you should plop your kid down in front of a video game for an hour or two so you can work on your novel. Except that it kinda is, and I don’t feel guilty about it, and honestly, either should you. Lemme explain.
I see it on Twitter all the time, the guilt-tweets: “I let Johnny play Minecraft for four hours so I could write. I’m such a bad mom. #worldsokayestmom.” I want to flick those posts between the eyes. Electronics are not the end of the world, and are an effective way to buy you a little more work time. Below, our guest mom, aspiring author and all around creative, Mel Beatty talks about using Minecraft as an educational tool.
Chances are, if you give your kids the surprise of two hours of free electronics play time, they are going to run with it and leave you the hell alone. It’s not every day. It’s once in a while, and if you happen to have a brand new Xbox game hidden that you want to pull out for shits and giggles, go ahead. *cough, cough* That’ll buy you more than a couple hours, if you’re lucky. If you’d rather they do something higher up on the educational spectrum, try letting them explore websites like funbrain.com and coolmath-games.com.
I hear you groaning, but hear me out. This works best for older kids, like tweens, who will require little to no assistance. Unless by some miracle of the genetic lottery, you actually have older kids who like helping their siblings do stuff. In that case, let them all craft!
Creative moms and dads usually have creative kids, so there’s a good chance you have a ton of crafty materials lying around. Bring them out. All of them. Spread ‘em out on the table and let the kids have-at-it. I do this when I’m on deadline, because my girls will paint for hours. Paper, after paper, after paper. It’s a mess, but it meets my end-goal which is to have more working time (especially on the weekends). The mess they make? Hand out an envelope with a dollar in it…
In case you need some fresh ideas for crafting fun for older kids, try 23 Activities for Tweens. The water bottle bracelet looks pretty cool.
Mel Beatty, up-and-coming women’s fiction author and super-creative genius, is the mom of two very active grade-school aged girls. When she’s not working at the bookstore, Mel is home with her girls, attempting to write her book while encouraging her kids to leave her the hell alone, like the rest of us. I asked her about using electronics as a bribe:
“I’m blessed with two smart, creative kids who love to read books and do art projects, so I know they ARE capable of doing creative, individual play without electronics, albeit, I usually have to be way more present for that, because it often devolves into “SHE’S TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!” “NO I’M NOT!” If I thought they were lacking in learning skills, I probably wouldn’t let them play as much as they do. With screen time, we try to keep it creative, which is why I’ve been so tolerant of Minecraft. It’s like a virtual set of building blocks to which the laws of gravity don’t apply, so, naturally, they love being able to build whatever they want. I’m completely blown away by how much they’ve learned and how good BOTH of them have gotten at it. Even the four year old can build basic machines inside the game. I also like that they can often play better together inside the game than outside, except when the youngest fills the whole house with ocelots, or detonates a load of TNT in the middle of the living room.”
Mel’s other solution for getting some extra writing time when the Minecraft shiny wears off?
“I hide in the bathroom with my laptop!”
At some point, our kids need to learn that we need time to work, or finish up working, without being bombarded, and then they need to respect that time. It's not a substitute for good parental involvement, of course, but unless they are bleeding or that Lego has traveled to little Betty's brain, a few more minutes to write your little fingers off isn't going to hurt.
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