This is How We Do It

By Posted in - General on March 15th, 2013 7 Comments

There’s this pervasive and dangerous myth that those of us who write and blog and maybe speak and travel and post photos of our kids doing cute things are somehow doing all those things at the very same time, that we’re somehow able to simultaneously write well and spend quality time with our children and throw charming parties in well-appointed homes, and we’re doing it all by ourselves, that we’re just merrily juggling our laptops and our sweet babies, capturing it all on Instagram, chalking it up to lots and lots of coffee.

This is a damaging myth, because what it says to me, when I slip into believing it, is that everyone else is living photo-worthy lives every single second, seamlessly blending work and play and parenting and vintage hair accessories into a happy blur of online fabulousness. And that makes me feel like I’m falling behind, or like I must be the only one on earth who can’t manage all that.

I can’t manage all that.

I don’t manage all that.

And what I do manage, I don’t manage alone.

There have been some great posts lately about time and writing and the internet, about mothering and help and how we do what we do.

I loved this one from Elizabeth Esther—I loved it for being specific about what she does and doesn’t do. And you know I super-loved this one from Girls Gone Child, because she busts open that myth that just because we’re working in non-traditional jobs, we don’t need semi-traditional help.

And I love it when Hollywood Housewife gets all “Who in their right mind…” about something. This line of hers kills me, in the best possible way: “Not talking about it brings shame to the people who are drowning by trying to create Pinterest lives all on their own.”That’s the heart of it.

If you think I’m a stay-at-home mom who occasionally swings by her laptop and writes a few lines here and there that eventually turn into a book, that’s not true. I’m a working mom with a toddler who goes to a childcare center four days a week and a kindergartner who goes to school five mornings a week. And during that time I write and blog and edit and return emails. I prepare for upcoming speaking events and participate in conference calls with my web designer and the marketing team from my publishing house.

Today I’ll do an interview on a radio show in Hawaii, a call with my agent about upcoming book release details, and have a coffee to talk about an upcoming event. I’ll finish a magazine article, exchange emails with my assistant about this weekend’s travel plans, and write some notes for a message I’m giving at our church in April.

When it’s writing work that I’m doing, I absolutely do it from home and in my jammies, but I also travel about twice a month and speak locally about twice a month. It’s not helpful or accurate for you to picture me playing on the floor with my kids for hours on end while my books magically get written in the cracks of stay-at-home mom living.

This has been a tricky journey for me, and looking back I can see now that in 2012 I didn’t have the childcare I needed to keep up with the writing deadlines and speaking commitments I’d made, let alone any version of rest, self-care, or margin. My life and my parenting especially suffered for it. Last fall I finally said out loud, “this isn’t working.” And now for the first time in a long time, it is. For the first time in a long time, I have enough childcare to actually get done the work I need to and want to get done. And it’s changing my life, in a thousand really positive ways.

There are (at least) four things that make it work for me:

1. My husband. Aaron is my biggest encourager, and he pushes me to write and speak and live up to my calling more than anyone in my life. His job, like mine, is a funny mix of super-flexible and totally not. Both of us have the flexible part of the job, the part that can be done almost anywhere, almost anytime—for me, writing, for him, preparing worship orders & recording songs. And then we have the totally-not-flexible parts: flights to catch, events to speak or lead worship at, respectively.

We spend kind of a shocking amount of time talking about our calendars, making sure that one of us is home when the other is traveling, figuring out which trips we should do together and with the kids, and which ones should be solo get-there-get-home style.

Our schedule has almost no routine—there’s no “normal” week these days. At least one of us is working every weekend, and sometimes our only shot at downtime ends up being, say, Wednesday at eleven am instead of Saturday and Sunday like most people.

That means we have to listen to each other, loop each other in, flex a lot. I say no to things to he can say yes to things. And he says no to things so I can say yes to things. And I’m so thankful for a partner that’s in the dance with me, making up the steps together along the way.

2. Our church’s childcare center. Our church has a little childcare center and preschool for kids of staff members, and it’s absolutely fantastic. The teachers are wonderful, and the space is great, and from the moment I dropped Mac off for the first time at four months old, so that I could duck into a nearby office and write between feedings, it’s been a truly terrific place for him. He just graduated to the toddler room, and there are about 10 kids, and half of them are our best friends’ kids, people we work with, people we’ve known for years. Henry went, too, and now he’s in kindergarten at the public school in our town, and we’re totally happy with that as well.

I don’t think it’s a downgrade for my boys to go to a childcare center. They spend the day with trained, passionate, educated teachers that care about them and engage them in age-appropriate activities. They spend time with other children, learning to play and share and create together. I don’t think it would be better for them to be at home with me full time. I don’t think it would be better for them, and I don’t think it would be better for me.

Aaron and I are in ongoing conversations about the best schedule and childcare plan for our boys. If we sensed that one of them or both of them needed to be home more, or wasn’t thriving at the childcare center, we’d make adjustments. Honestly, right now, there’s not a better scenario that I can even imagine. They’re thriving, and we’re thankful.

3. The nanas and the papas. We live five minutes from my parents and 15 minutes from Aaron’s parents, and they are, four for four, totally engaged, involved, loving grandparents, and we absolutely couldn’t work and especially travel the way we do without them. Our boys look forward to sleeping over at both their homes, and they have little routines and traditions that make it fun.

4. Administrative help. Brannon is one of my oldest, dearest friends, and she works with me between 3-5 hours a week, helping to schedule my travel and event details. Please don’t picture an executive assistant, someone in a business suit with a Bluetooth behind a fancy desk.  And please don’t picture a personal assistant, running my errands and following me with a water bottle and doing lip gloss touch-ups. Picture my friend, who is off-the-charts gifted administratively, who can arrange more travel and event details in the three hours that her daughter’s at Montessori than I could in forty solid hours of email.

It’s about math & sanity & calling.

My only goal with this post is this: if you’re at home with little kids, and you’re peering into your computer wondering why it’s so hard for you to get as much writing done, or do as much traveling, or do as much entertaining as I do, please don’t ever feel like I’m doing it all, or, heavens, like I’m doing it all alone. Neither are true. There are a lot of things that I’m not doing. And the reason I get to do the things I am doing are because I have a lot of help and support, and I’m thankful for that help every day.

If writing is what you want to do–or more than that, what you feel called to do, get the help you need. Ask for it. Pay for it.

Work is noble, for men & women, for moms & dads. It’s not wrong to be passionate about something in addition to your passion for being a great mother. And it’s not wrong to get paid for it. And it’s not wrong to pay someone to help with your kids so you can do it. And it’s not wrong to pay someone even if you’re not making money doing that thing you love. When you do the work you love, you’re making something more valuable than money.

So don’t do it my way or Rebecca’s way or Elizabeth’s way or Laura’s way. But let an inside glimpse into our ways give you the permission to do it your way, in a way that works for your life, for your family, for your season, for your calling.

(7) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Jill - Reply

    March 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Loved this. Just loved it. As a mom just starting to dabble in the world of blog-creation, I awe at all the hilarious, heartfelt, ingenious and creative words being published online every day. (To think that a couple of decades ago, all this sharing could not have been possible.) But it is sooo easy to be intimidated by the sea of impressive moms out there. So thank you for your honest words!

  • Meredith S. - Reply

    March 18, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling, up to my eyeballs in kids mom…who is trying to blog/write, but is most likely just going insane. Reading this and the linked stories gives me permission to breathe and make it happen in whatever way I can! I need to say goodbye to the myth that I can do it all! Hearing more stories like this are such an encouragement to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • kathryn egly - Reply

    March 18, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Great post! Thank you Shauna!

  • Dana - Reply

    March 24, 2013 at 1:03 am

    Thank you for this.

    I teach 8th grade English and I do think my boys (big and small) and I are happiest and healthiest when I am not the sole caretaker in their lives. I’m so grateful for the gifted people in our lives who take care of them while I am teaching.

    I also write — when I’m not teaching, grading papers, or being with my boys — so that means a bit and piece here and there right now.

    Your honesty and authenticity is affirming!

  • Becky Johnson - Reply

    March 30, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Shauna, back in the 90′s I did what you are doing. It was nuts nuts nuts, and there was no way I could have done it without help. You have a Brannon, and I had a Rose. I called her The Missing Half of My Brain. Thankfully, before things got too wild my four kids were in school and those free hours helped so much. I look back and wonder how the books got written, when I slept… how I did it. I’d tell you if I could remember now. Today, it is all a blur:) God bless you writing/speaking moms. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.

  • Liz Naithani - Reply

    May 14, 2013 at 2:37 am

    Love this. I have a two-year old and a four-month-old.
    I pay for help so that I can lead the successful women’s ministry at our church, a(n unpaid), time-intensive job that I truly love. My closest friends are in the women’s ministry and it gives me balance.

    Here in urban Germany things are starting to change, but the notion still is prevalent that a mom/wife (who isn’t working full-time) should do all tasks of running a family herself with no paid help until the kids go to Kindergarten at age three. Would anyone expect a woman running a business to do everything by herself? Not just “run” the business, but also do all bookkeeping, marketing, administrative tasks – and also clean the offices at the end of the day? ;)

    Last weekend I was at a wedding. It was a tiring day. I had a cold, the (catholic) church was freezing cold, my four-month-old was refusing to sleep, whiney, wanting to nurse non-stop, my husband was away rehearsing for the church service. I said to an acquaintance: “Attending a wedding with a cranky four-month-old is really the pits.” She says: “I don’t feel one bit sorry for you. YOU wanted to have kids.” This really hit me. How bizarre – I’m not allowed to express feeling overwhelmed by my role as a mom. Now, what if I was a judge and expressed feeling overwhelmed with my job? Would the answer also be: “YOU wanted to be a judge, so stop complaining.”

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