I am writing this as a little reminder to myself, because it's everything I need to hear right now and I'm guessing it's something some of you will want to hear too. I'm writing this so that maybe together we can feel renewed, inspired and committed to putting ourselves first even if it's just for a tiny moment or two. We are deserving of it.
Sometimes I feel so guilty for making time for myself as a mother whether it's to do something creatively productive or simply for me. This week, I finally had my first haircut in over a year since my youngest was born - something I was wildly excited about even though I had barely half a centimetre taken off. It wasn't about the hair, of course. It was about a tube journey, alone, to read. About an uninterrupted few hours with a good book and green tea while someone nice made me feel good about my appearance. About not having to give anyone else any attention.
Although my husband plays no part in this guilt, although he absolutely waves me out the door on these rare occasions that I go out alone to do something entirely for myself, I still find myself asking him if he's sure it's okay for me to go. It's not because he can't look after the children himself. It's not because I need his permission in any antiquated way. It's so that I can quieten the unreasonable and unrealistic voice in my head that tells me that I should be with my kids all the time, that I'm selfish for not being there for their every single waking moment. So that's why I ask my husband if it's okay if I go do something. And I need him to say yes, so that I don't have to feel as guilty as I do about simply taking some time for me.
So imagine the guilt that's involved when you have a creative sideline, simply a pursuit or a passion or a fire inside you, that you just want to explore. It seems so indulgent to take time out and prioritise this sort of creative pursuit when you've also got little ones to take care of. Take writing this long read, for instance. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I've been housebound looking after a poorly ones with chicken pox. But I still wanted to write this. Is that wrong of me? I did write some of it with him and his little brother around - while they were napping or when they'd both perked up enough to play together. And yet a small part of me still feels guilty for spending my time on this while they've been unwell (my desk is in the family room, so it's not as if I've left them).
I've realised though, that if you take guilt out of it, it's really all just about time. With enough time, I can do both - be with the children and do the things I want to do for myself.
I don't have much childcare outside of nursery which means I don't have as much time as I'd like or need to explore Our Story Time, both the shop and my writing for the blog. My older two children attend a Montessori and don't quite yet do full days but they both finish at different times; my baby is with me always. Although I am lucky enough to have a babysitter I can call upon, whom we love dearly, she doesn't free me up so that I can get out the house and work or have some time to myself. Rather, she helps me out with nap-sitting the baby so that I can pick up one child without waking the other. I shan't bore you with the details, but it's a light-footed dance co-ordinated around sleep times and two sets of different daily pick-ups. When it comes to weekends, I feel we should all be together, and I want to be. I feel it's not fair to disappear and work on my on my writing or Our Story Time in whatever shape it needs - even though my husband is around to help with the boys and is wonderfully supportive of what I'm doing. And yet those waves of guilt come crashing, over and over, again and again. I'm fairly sure these conflicted feelings will make sense to so many of you.
For the longest time, I'd simply accepted late nights as the solution. I wanted time to be with my husband too, so it got to the point (as it has when writing this long read) that I'd sit down after we'd eaten together and then start writing or blogging or editing photos, sometimes at my desk, sometimes with my laptop on my sofa. But throw a night-waking baby and also an unreliable-three year-old sleeper into the mix and it is just way too exhausting to sustain. And I also hate the way night-sofa-working in my pjs feels. It just feels stale. When I slip into this terrible habit, my work is rushed and becomes something I have to, rather than want to, do - which is the exact trap I have never wanted to be snared in.
Our Story Time is at an exciting point, I've put so much of it out there and I feel like I'm finding my voice with it. I have plans, sparky and alive, to write a writing course and all I want is to get going. I don't want to lose this energy. So I am making a conscious effort to turn things around, to plan, prepare and stop feeling guilty for making time for my own creativity. I'm bored of feeling the guilt being a mother comes wrapped up in (aren't we all?) and I'd like to change my own internal narrative on it. So I am starting over. I choose to no longer feel guilty about pursuing my own interests. It's not about prioritising my needs over those of my children. It's simply about finding balance. I am not taking anything away from anyone. I'm just finding balance.
You don't have to have children to feel this way either. I know even before marriage and babies, I felt unjustified in taking time to explore my own writing instead of working on newspaper pieces. I sacrificed, even though it didn't make me feel happy. It would never have occurred to me then to take time off to explore all the things that truly made me happy.
I know that without focus I waver and I start to falter as a mama as well as a wife and everything I do here. Without focus, without plans that are rooted and written down, I doubt myself and that's when the world gets a little shaky for me. So I know that it's beneficial to everyone for me to weave this balance into my day. Here are the conclusions I have come to that are so important for me to remember, that help me keep my perspective and also help find that very balance I've been craving, allowing both practical time in my week to explore both the creative side of Our Story Time but also that quiet, alone sort of time that I simply need in order to think, read, write and make plans. In other words, the precious time to focus. Time that might still be shorter than if I didn't have the demands of family life, but time that doesn't wear me out by keeping me up late either. Sound familiar? Then I hope this will help.
first, a little perspective:
Know that this time won't last forever There will be a time when our children are older, in school hours (if that's the route you choose) and suddenly, we will be on our own to explore the things we've put on hold and find our own creative ways. But also, what a bittersweet time, when it does come (and it will). When I catch myself longing for this time, I also then stop that thought in its tracks and make sure I don't wish the present away. Because this time won't last forever, no, and I don't want to wish it away any faster than it's already going.
While little people come with their own challenges, I know that it will get easier. Right now, they are impossibly young. They all need me. And goodness; but the love. I want to be here for them, undistracted. I'm grateful that I can be here in the first place. My children are aged four, three and nearly one. With one starting school in September, I know things are going to change. I know I'm going to miss him immensely.
So every time you find yourself longing for that time when all the small people in your life are at school, pause that thought, and just be with them in this moment, today, instead. Because while it's exciting to think of all that you can achieve in that uninterrupted free time when they're at school, you'll also not get these thumb-sucking, hair-twirling days back. True, we'll not get the tantrums either but keep it in perspective because there's no need to hurry the whole world along. There will be room for your creativity - and time for it to flourish greatly - but your children don't need to carry the burden of you not being able to find it yet.
You don't have to hurry I'm guilty of putting the most impossible deadlines upon myself. I'm forever in such haste to do something, produce something, see results. If I upload a new product, I want it to be sold out by the end of the week. I want to see growth, and popularity and see my products and my words bring happiness to people. I want to earn good money. I want it all now. But all of this takes time and I have to keep reminding myself that too because otherwise, I'm just disappointed and so kicks in self-doubt and that circle of negativity that helps no one. Me, I have to remember that Our Story Time has only been running for eight months even though it feels like so much longer because I breathe the world I've created every day. Again, it's about perspective. You have to not only allow yourself time to grow, but also give your creativity a chance to grow too. Don't be impatient for it because then you'll only resent your lack of time even more (see the note above about burdens).
You don't have to find time, because it's there already You just have to claim it. You just have to give yourself permission to use it for yourself. Not for chores. Not for children. For yourself. And your creativity.
AND next: CLAIM THE TIME YOU NEED
You have more time than you think People ask me often how I work around my children. I'm not invincible. And I'm certainly not the only one in the world who is trying to find their way around small children. I don't have all the answers (I'm writing this for myself as much as for you). But I believe that when something really matters to you, you will find a way to make it work and holding onto that belief helps me. So I'm passing it along. Trust in your instincts. Follow them through. Like I said, the time is there, you just have to take it. For you.
Twenty minutes can be enough Commit just 20 minutes to your creativity each day. Just 20 minutes (I know the Pomodoro technique of efficiency talks about 25 minutes). But 20 minutes - it's not the kind of time you need a childminder for. It's not the kind of time that makes your children miss you (20 minutes after they're in bed won't make a difference to their day at all). Or maybe even 20 minutes whilst they're playing in the garden and you can still keep half an eye on them (if they're still young enough to need you) while you're doing your thing. It's just 20 minutes. Paint or draw or take photos for your Instagram. Practice yoga, write a little, finish that craft piece you'd been making with your own hands. Can you find 20 minutes in your day? I'm happy to bet that you can, somewhere. I'm not making a rule or being prescriptive about it being 20 minutes all the time, but for me, I find it's just enough to feel productive without also beating yourself up about it if you can't do it every single day. The aim is not to make creativity into another thing to do on another to-do list (which is a sure fire way to fall out of love with it), but to find the gaps in your day where you could perhaps shift things along to free you up for what you really want to do.
Create a schedule Again, this isn't to make creativity into a chore on a list in your diary. But it's simply to commit to that time, even if it is just that twenty minutes. I was running so many different branches of Our Story Time and yet I didn't really have a routine for it. I'd just sit down bewildered every day going through a to-do list and becoming bogged down in administrative things rather than doing the inspiring things I wanted to (like write and style). Now, I commit two days a week to writing a long read (written in stops and starts during daytime naps and then again in the early evenings after the boys are in bed, but before I get too exhausted) and I have now dedicated two early evenings a week to explore my creative writing course. Now that I have a plan and a weekly schedule, I feel like I really have a shot at working and writing creatively in a way that feels productive for me. When you know what you're going to do, and when you're going to do it, because you've promised yourself you will, then you don't feel so overwhelmed or waste time simply wondering what to do or where to start when you do get a moment to yourself. Nor does it feel like a chore - on the contrary, I look forward to my creative time because I know it's in the diary.
Let the children be a part of your creativity too Now I can't exactly write my next book with my sidekicks beside me. But I can have them come into my little Our Story Time cabin and keep me company while I take photos, or get them to help me unwrap the non-breakable things or fetch surprises from a drawer to pop into customer parcels. That's fun for them, and it's fun for me too. I like having my little guys around. And if I can be productive and creative at the same time too - then all the better. As you'll know by now, writing is a huge part of me. We read together constantly. I write stories, they call themselves my illustrators. These are the moments I keep safe inside of me, the moments that will one day be my most cherished memories of their childhood. I only hope these moments make their way into their little memories too.
Simplify all the other stuff that takes up your time in a resentful, negative way so that you can enjoy more time in a positive, creative way. I'm one of those people that doesn't feel comfortable around clutter and chaos and mess. I feel calm when everything has its place, and when I'm calm, I'm more productive. I'm also more open to intuition and listening to my ideas and having a chance to really get lost in some writing. If I spent all my time tidying up, I'd have no time to write these long reads, for instance. We live in a fairly minimalistic home. There's not much superfluous stuff floating around. The children's toys are rotated, meaning there's only a manageable amount out at a time. Meaning that when I get that precious nap time to sit down and read or write, I don't have to spend all of that time tidying up first. Because less stuff is out, it's quicker to put away. It might not work for everyone. It's still hard work keeping on top of the clutter and regular, thorough sort-outs have to be done (I have one planned to get the house in order before the summer holidays). But it works for us. It means my time is not completely consumed by tidying up. It means I don't resent our home or our stuff or the toys or what little space we have (although I am only human, and I do voice this sometimes when I falter). It means instead I'm freed up to do what I want to do. Maybe it's yoga one evening or maybe it's working on Our Story Time in whatever shape it happens to be that day (Instagram, shop or blog). My version of a capsule wardrobe does the same thing - less time wasted thinking about what to wear, more time to simply start the day. Marie Kondo writes that putting your house in order and decluttering the excess changes your life in positive ways. I fully embrace this sort of logic. I believe her.
Make childcare a priority when you need to I'm just about managing to do what I need to do with minimal to non-existent childcare outside of nursery hours but I know that if I'm to write my creative writing course (which I will), I'm going to need more time. I may not even leave the house - I may just shut myself up in the Our Story Time cabin - but either way, I accept that I can't do it all and that's perfectly okay. It's normal. I don't have family close by enough to call on to help, also three is a handful for relatives I find, but I do have my wonderful babysitter. Childcare costs can be prohibitive, especially in London. I have to pay for it and I have to factor that in to our family costs as well as my business costs but ultimately, it's worth paying someone to give me the time I need. It's worth it for the rewards that are to come. Without childcare, I won't be able to do what I need to do. Also - it's good for everyone. The boys need a change, they love having a playmate in the form of a babysitter who is kind of like a very cool young aunt. And - it's not forever. So don't feel guilty (see point below).
Don't give in to guilt I was asked once not so long ago, by a well-meaning but misunderstanding friend, if I didn't want to just "stop and enjoy it all" by which she meant, why put myself through this juggling act? Why not just be with the children? After all, I'm a mother, right? I chose to be so, right? I'm not here to judge anyone. But all I know is that making time for my creative side makes me more balanced as a person. It makes me calmer, kinder and happier. It makes me less anxious. A former colleague happens to be soaring ahead with her journalism right now; knowing we started from the same place, this would have floored me in the past. But I know that I'm working on something magical now, something that means something not just to me but to other people, you, too. Making time to be creative doesn't mean I'm taking anything away from the people I love the most. Making time for being creative means I can be a better person to the people I love the most. It means I take time to see the wonder in the every day and this makes me more thoughtful in so many ways than ever before. How can you ever feel guilty about knowing that you're being your best, truest self - not just for you, but for everyone that means something to you and even to those that don't even know you yet too?
I'm making a promise that whenever I feel guilty about putting my creative work first, I'm going to come back and read my very own long read. It's as much for me as it is for you. I don't have all the answers, but through through these long reads, I'm learning that we don't have to go through the difficult bits alone. So let's not feel guilty anymore. Let's lift ourselves higher, dream a little deeper. Good luck. I'd love to know how you get on.