At Meagan’s I found compelling content about real life motherhood. She didn’t sugar coat the messy bits, but she didn’t play on mother’s usual complaints either. I was captivated by her insightful, well-developed and practical writing about motherhood. I’ve remained a regular reader for almost two years.
Now Meagan has published a book The Happiest Mom: 10 secrets to enjoying motherhood. You can imagine my excitement when she asked if Coffees & Commutes could be a stop on her virtual book tour. I was only too happy to oblige! There is much to say about the book, which I enjoyed tremendously, but today I’m pleased to feature an interview with Meagan on two of my favourite topics: writing and motherhood.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I have been writing professionally about parenting since 2003, but was always most interested in writing about the mother’s experience: her relationships, home, work, passions, and outlook on life. It was difficult to find magazine outlets that would let me explore these topics in-depth, so one day I thought, “I ought to start a blog!” It was very well received, so a few months later I thought, “I ought to write a book!” I went back through my blog and pulled out the topics that readers seemed to identify with most, those that seemed to form the “skeleton” of a book, and wrote a proposal. In early 2010 I received a contract from Weldon Owen to write The Happiest Mom in partnership with Parenting magazine.
How did you manage to write it and manage such a big family?
Well, I’ve been writing around kids for a long time, so I had already gotten my routines down to some extent. But then my daughter Clara was at a very difficult age–just a little over a year–when I started, and my dad died very unexpectedly when I was just a few chapters in. I stopped working entirely for a couple of weeks, but I found that having the project to return to after all my family had gone home formed a welcome distraction.
I’m not sure writing with a large family is any more difficult than writing with a smaller family. If anything, there are more hands to help out in a large family. For instance, my older boys did the dishes every day all summer and would often take their younger siblings to the park behind my house. My seven-year-old son would often get up the minute he heard the toddler stirring and they would play happily together for an hour sometimes while I’d rush into my office and work. It’s amazing what you can get done in an hour of quiet time when you know it might be all you get that day.
What was the writing process like? How long did it take and how did you organize your time to do it?
The deadline was tight–about three months to write the whole book, and there were lots of revisions flying back and forth between two sets of editors–so I had to put pretty much all my other projects on hold and lean heavily on my husband and other family members for help during that time. My husband generally took one full day off of work each week, (he’s self employed) and I would work from about 9 AM until 3 or 4 PM those days. Then I’d work for an hour or two in the mornings before the kids woke up on the other days and try to eke out time when the kids were playing happily or at the park.
Every night when I went to bed I’d jot down a few things I’d absolutely need to get done the next day, so that in the morning when my brain was still trying to wake up I could just glance at the list and pick something to get started on. That cut down a lot on aimless Twitter procrastinating or spinning my wheels.
I also took advantage of every little snippet of time I had. If the kids were playing together quietly I knew I might only get 15 minutes, but that’s long enough to write a section, come up with a list of quiz questions, or print out revisions and take a quick look. You really have to guard your time when you’re working at home around little kids. Every minute counts.
What advice can you offer other aspiring writers, or people who want to share their stories about life and motherhood?
Stop talking about writing. Sit down in your chair, apply your fingers to the keyboard, and do it. You will write some stuff that’s not ready for prime time, but every time you write you’ll get better. Obviously, a blog is a great place to get practice, but I’d also recommend submitting your work around so that you get used to being edited, criticized, and rejected 🙂 Being able to deal with those three things with grace and persistence are what take you from “wannabe” to really doing it.
What’s it like to have a house with so many kids? How do you find time for yourself?
Well, it’s kind of crazy sometimes, to be honest! But usually it’s a good crazy. Mostly it’s the noise levels that can be really hard to deal with. That and the minute you address one child’s needs, there’s usually another one wanting or needing something! On the other hand, the kids are built-in playmates. Rarely do you see a lonely kid moping about and nobody is ever bugging me to entertain them–except my five-year-old, when his big brothers are all at school.
I don’t so much find time for myself as make it. I joke that a lot of moms seem to be waiting around for the Time Fairy to show up and grant them eight hours of conflict-free “me time.” I have found it works a lot better to decide what you want or need, and take it. So maybe that’s putting your yoga class on the family calendar and just going. Or maybe it means getting up early on a Saturday morning and just leaving with your laptop so you can go work at the coffee shop. There is really so much more time in the day than we like to admit to ourselves. We lament the lack of time but don’t realize how much of it we waste on blogs that aren’t worth our time or just refreshing Facebook over and over to see if anything interesting has happened. If something that interesting happens, it’ll still be around in a few hours.
Probably the biggest way I make time is by trusting my spouse to be competent and able to take over for me without my having to do endless preparation before I go (I’m not perfect at this, but working on it). Even if he doesn’t do everything the way I would, he takes good care of the kids while I’m gone. He knows where the cereal and milk are. He knows where the diapers are. If the boys end up with the wrong kids’ clothes on, it’s not the end of the world.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a mother, but that took you completely by surprise?
I think the realization I’ve slowly come to is that my happiness and self-worth are separate from my children, no matter what a huge presence and focus they are in my life. Motherhood is not going to make me happy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be happy in my life as a mother. Regardless of how my children turn out, or how they feel about me, or how they behave today, or who they become tomorrow, how I feel about my self and my life and what I put out into the world is all up to me.
How do you think your children would describe you?
Probably depends on the kid. I think my 13-year-old would call me “annoying” right now. He’s convinced I’m a horrible taskmaster because I make him walk the dog and empty the dishwasher every day. My 11-year-old is very sweet and loving at the moment and we have hilarious conversations. He’d probably say I’m “funny.” My five-year-old is a mama’s boy and loves to snuggle with me and sit with me and play with me and, wow, he just really loves to be with me right now. I could imagine him saying that I’m “warm.” My two-year-old would probably simply say I’m “mama.” At her age, I am still front and center in her world.
My seven-year-old was the hardest to answer! He’s at the age where he’s becoming so independent of me, and has never been super warm and fuzzy with me to begin with–he’s just not that kid, though he can be very sweet and loving, he’s not gushy or snuggly. Our relationship right now is much more about what I can do for him: help him with homework, get him a snack. I honestly think he doesn’t give me much thought otherwise, and that’s OK. Kids are self-absorbed and I’m not delusional enough to think my kids spend a lot of time thinking about my inner life (yet.) So I think my seven-year-old would say I’m “there”–and I think sometimes just being “there” is enough.
Where do you turn when you need advice?
My sister, my friends, Twitter. Depends what kind of advice I need. I miss my mom for that–she died when I was 22, and I know there are so many things I’d ask her about now if she was still around.
If you could change one thing about motherhood what would it be?
I think it would be great if there was a pause button. Like if I was getting overwhelmed, I could hit “pause” and have ten minutes or so to go in my room and breathe with all the kids stuck in place. Or I could go on trips without the kids without feeling conflicted about leaving them. Truthfully though I’d probably abuse the “pause” button. I think sometimes those overwhelming, conflicted moments are the things that teach us the most about ourselves, even though they can be so unpleasant to live through.
The mom in me can’t live without…
Snuggles, because they make all the rest of it worthwhile.