Why My Kids Don’t Know Where My Office Is

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Author Elin Hilderbrand on how she balances motherhood and a full-time writing career:

Most of the world would believe that the words “novelist” and “mother of three small children” are mutually exclusive.

It’s true that the greatest challenge I face on a day-to-day basis is how to balance my work with my parenting. I have two sons, ages 11 and 9, and a daughter, age 5. Now, they are at the wonderful ages where I no longer have to strap them into a high chair and feed them pureed peaches and I no longer have to change diapers, and I don’t have to keep my eye on them every single second to make sure they don’t empty boxes of Cheerios on the floor or stick their fingers in an outlet. 

But there is an enormous amount of driving – to and from school, to and from friends’ houses, and yes, the baseball field. Then there are the games which I must attend (I proudly did not miss an inning of baseball through a long season plus all-stars for both boys) and the swimming lessons and dance recitals…you are mothers, and so this much, you all understand.

To get my novels written, I must have a long stretch of peace and quiet. For my novel “Silver Girl,” I did two things to achieve this. One is, I treated my job, writing novels, like a job, and I found myself an office. My “office” is a house in town (there is only one town in Nantucket, called “town”) that is owned by friends of mine who rent it in the summer, and then let me use it in the winter.

My children do not know where this house is, and when I enter the house I turn off my cell phone. It’s amazing how much one can get accomplished under such circumstances.

The second thing I did is I took a working vacation, more working than vacation. In the fall of 2010, I moved back into my own mother’s house for 4 weeks so that I could revise Silver Girl without any distractions. (My wonderful husband covered for me at home, with the help of our babysitter.) And then there are the things I do not do: I do not chat on the phone ad nauseum, I do not do Facebook, I don’t watch TV (except for Mad Men, which I meter out like rich chocolate). As much as I’d like to, I don’t have the luxury of wasting time.

So really, the answer to how I write and parent is much the same as any other working mother – when I’m working, I’m working, and when I’m parenting, I’m parenting.

I strive to be fully present in each of these – although there have definitely been those moments when I’ve interrupted a paragraph to make my son Dawson a dentist appointment, and there have definitely been days when I have made the three children stay absolutely silent in the car on the way to the beach while I took a radio interview.

The one thing I can say with certainty is I have two full time jobs, and I tell myself that when the children go away to college, I’ll have time to sleep and get to the salon for a pedicure and catch up on Mad Men. Then, and only then, I’ll have time to waste time.

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