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38: What is like being a parent who writes?

This week, authors J Thorn and Crys Cain talk about the biggest, strongest, most harmful stories they had to struggle through as parents who wanted to write books. (The lie their characters believed, if you will.) 

Transcript

Crys: Welcome to The Author Success Mastermind. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost J Thorn.  

J: Hey, Crys.  

Crys: This is an episode that we are recording for the future when we need to take a break. So I have no idea what we have been up to since the last time you heard us.  

J: Could have been three months. It could have been a year. Who knows?  

Crys: But we are in person, which has been just a blessing this year. It’s 2021 as we’re recording this. I think we have recorded in person three times now?  

J: I think so.  

Crys: After not recording at all previous to that. So it’s been pretty exciting.  

Because we’re recording it, to release at some point in the future, we have no idea about comments. No idea what’s been going on each other’s lives, but we do have a topic slash question.  

And that is: what is it like being a writer with kids?  

J: This was the we talked about our children over coffee this morning. And I thought let’s capture some of this because we are in different life stages and our kids are different ages, but there are some unique challenges. 

So maybe we should go in chronological order. How old is Smalls as of the time of this recording?  

He is five.  

So what are the biggest challenges you’re facing as a mom writer with a child that is five?  

Crys: I have a really hard time switching between mom time and work time, particularly as he has not yet started school. 

And right now, in the summer of chaos, as we’re recording this in the fall, the summer is extended. We don’t have physical space from each other that often. And so I actually gave up on writing and working for most of the summer because of that.  

It definitely was easier in a lot of ways when we were in Costa Rica and he would go to his nanny’s house or she would have him at that house, but I was in my own like space with a closed door, but even then if I could hear him, mom brain was still on, regardless of whether I was in active mom role.  

And I had to take time–and I wasn’t very good at this –between work and when he got home to have switched over to. And like a good amount of switch over time. Otherwise I would be very distracted when he got home, and then I would get very aggravated with him because my brain is still trying to think on work things, but I know I’m supposed to be responsible to him and engaged with him and I just wouldn’t be. And then we’d both get very frustrated and not happy.  

J: Yes. I remember those days.  

Crys: And it was harder for you even because you had day job, so your writing time was squished into real life.  

J: Yes. I think when I first started writing the first novel that would go up on KDP. My kids were six and four, and I had, well, I call it a day job, but all the teachers will tell you that it’s not a 40 hour a week job. It’s more like a 60 hour a week job. Because you don’t factor in the grading and the parent phone calls and the things.  

All I could do to keep the train rolling was to get up at 4:00 AM. It was hard because by the time I got home from school and help my kids with their homework and then did whatever it is I had to do around the house, patch a drywall or whatever things parents have to do in houses sometimes, there’s just wasn’t really much time. 

There were years where I just, I had to go to bed early, so I could get up early and write because I couldn’t even get into writer brain when my kids were running around the room and asking me to play ball and all that.  

Crys: It was interesting, even though I have basically been a full-time writer since he was born… not completely. I had about eight months where I was not working and then I started publishing and just went balls to the walls after that.  

I think most people have heard my short version of that is that he was born, I started to work again a little bit, lost my job three days after going back to full-time. And then scrambled for a few months and then published something, it took off and I just ran at it.  

So I’ve basically been full-time writer since he was born. He’s never known me to have any other job. That’s been interesting because I’ve been the breadwinner the whole time, even when my ex and I were together. And there are societal and internal pressures programmed into moms that are a little bit different than dads.  

Agreed.  

I had to work through so many internal stories, particularly from my mother’s voice, about women who didn’t spend their time raising their kids. The first time I hired a nanny, it took me so much work just to let him go with somebody else who wasn’t me or his dad for two hours, three times a week. 

And when I told my mom that I had these stories. She’s oh I hope I wasn’t one of those stories. I was like, you were the voice. I can’t tell you how many times you told me the stories about how you worked with these women who are like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I have my job. I’m so glad my kids are back in school. I don’t know like how I could spend all my time with them.” And you would be like “Why did you have. Kids then?”  

And I can tell you 100% that I am a better mom when I am not 24/7 mom. But society has taught or expects women to at least want that, at least in the conservative Christian areas that I grew up in. I know that in, in liberal areas, that is not necessarily the same.  

There is more of an expectation that dads will sacrifice time with kids to get their work done. Not all dads, not all families, not all areas. But overall there’s a lot more stories that moms have to work through to let themselves put themselves above their kids for a red hot second.  

J: Yeah. There’s some dads stories too.  

Oh yeah, I’m sure. Let me tell you the dad story.  

Crys: Oh yeah, do it!  

J: That we don’t talk about a lot. The dad story though, interestingly enough, for me, didn’t revolve so much around kids as it did around creative pursuits. So the dad story that I heard, especially when I was starting out was, ” Grow up. Take care of your family, quit messing with music and writing and art. You can’t make a living from art.”  

Crys: And that’s just as damaging.  

J: You’re being irresponsible. You should be working or you should be playing with your kids, like you shouldn’t be spending time on these creative pursuits. That’s what teenagers do or that’s what young people do.  

And you sir have a wife and a family and you are a provider and you must provide. And like your story is, that’s not to say that’s the dad story everywhere, but in, in my case, predominantly Christian, Catholic, blue collar upbringing, like the man in the family, in those situations is supposed to carry the lunch pail to work and punch the clock. 

You don’t spend time on these creative things.  

So for me, that was the story that I really had to ignore. And I just had to say, no, this is important. This is important, too. And then in all fairness, it wasn’t my dad specifically. It was just the dad voice.  

My dad was ambivalent at first. And then once he saw I was able to start making some money, he became more curious about it and he never once said anything to me about you shouldn’t be doing that, but I felt that societal pressure.  

Crys: Yeah, I know my ex and I did talk about some similar ish things that he had to go through with not being the breadwinner. 

And the expectations that people had about him and his relationship and all of that. There, I’m going to, I’m going to say toxic capitalism again! And at some point I will put together my thoughts enough to like actually have a whole episode on like how I think toxic capitalism hurts us. 

But one of the elements that is toxic, that we are taught in the US, is that our value comes from our work ethic and our production. And if you are in a stage of life where you are not producing and earning money, then you are not as worthy as someone who is.  

And that is BS.  

J: Well, and it’s because if you take it out through its inevitable conclusion, it’s because historically, we have assigned status based on net worth.  

Crys: In some ways, yes. But there are plenty of communities and this is not a stage that the world is in, in most places right now, where we had small communities that supported each other and took care of each other. And if you had someone who was disabled, they were recognized for what they could contribute and not expected to kill themselves to contribute more than they were actually able to.  

That’s really difficult to engineer in a non small,… tightly knit community.  

J: So if you’re a mom or dad and you’re listening to this you and I have both been through this and my kids are a little bit older, so I have a slightly longer perspective on it. 

What do you say to a mom right now who’s hearing that voice? Any one of those voices you’ve described. What do you say to her?  

Crys: If I were to ask you in 30 years, what do you regret? What would it be? Would it be not taking 10 minutes a day to write, on the toilet. If you have to, to build up your creative or, whatever your creative endeavor is, or would it be that you weren’t fully there with your kids? 

The answer is going to be different for everyone. Everyone has different values. That’s what my… I wouldn’t have an advice. I would have a question, which is the thing that you would regret? 

For me, it’s definitely that I didn’t forward my personal endeavors and that I sacrifice myself to mom hood.  

Because I have this full-time job as a writer, the question now is switch for me. Because so much of my time is on writing, which pieces are you going to regret? It’s going to be if I work too much. So those have been different at different parts in my life.  

How about you?  

J: Yeah. I love that. I would have an observation for dads. 

My observation is this, the traditional fatherhood model is dead and gone.  

And what I mean by that is the model where you. You graduate from high school or college or neither, and you get a job and you have a career for 40 years and and you make all the money that you need to support your entire family until your kids are grown and gone. That model is gone, statistically speaking. Not just dads, but people in general will have seven to 12 jobs throughout their entire life.  

What that means is not only do you have permission to step into creative pursuits, but you have an obligation to do that because the world is not the way it was when our fathers grew up.  

Crys: Yeah. And building off both of our pieces, I think for everyone, I would specifically say what kind of world and pursuit do you want your kids to feel free in and how do you model that for them?  

J: Modeling… yeah, this is going to sound like a soap box, but this is going to be my final comment on this topic. I’ve said from my first couple of years of teaching that kids do what you do, not what you tell them to do.  

Crys: Okay. Yeah, absolutely. As evidenced by the amount ofcuss words that come out of my five-year-old’s mouth. But…  

For our listeners, and this one is going to be for our parents out there. 

How do I want to frame a question for y’all?  

J: Maybe what expectations have you had to fight against or disregard as a writer?  

Crys: Yeah.  

Thank you so much for joining us this week. If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Success Mastermind is all about.

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