The dark heart of writing and parenting

Detail of a woman hands writing in notebook and boy playing on the background. Home office concept.

Detail of a woman hands writing in notebook and boy playing on the background. Home office concept.I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how writing and parenting go hand in hand, and how my parenting informs my writing or my writing influences my parenting. Both these aspects of my life are so important and entwined for me. These three qualities come to mind:

1. Empathy

I have written a few times on this blog about how reading makes us more empathetic, and writing does too. Last week, my husband and I dealt with three separate mini-crisises with two of our kids. It took all my parenting skills to remain empathetic and calm! And this also called on my writing skills – to imagine yourself in the shoes of your character (or kid), to have enough perception to see the bigger picture, to see these small incidents as merely plot points in the growth of my characters (or kids.)

2. Invisibility

Sometimes writing, like parenting is invisible. Some of my best parenting moments have not been witnessed by anyone – the many times I got out of bed to breastfeed my hungry baby, no matter how tired I was. Or the one exchanged look across the room with Miss 9, which told her everything she needed to know at the moment. Or deliberately choosing to make the inner, positive shift in mindset which changed the whole mood for my family. Some of my best writing is in a letter, only read by one person. One of my finest pieces of writing is the letter I wrote to Mr 12 for his confirmation last year. He keeps it folded up tight and safe in his wallet.

3. Depth

It also takes such heart and courage to go into the dark places, in both writing and parenting. It’s so much easier to skate on the surface of both, to fob off a cry for help from one of my kids with a ‘It’ll be ok, it’ll sort itself out’. Or to say, ‘I expect better from you, don’t do it again’ instead of spending more time talking to find out why there is a change in negative behaviour. Or to merely state that my character is lonely, rather than show her wandering around the playground by herself. It would be so much easier to dismiss these emotions rather than delve deeply into them, and have those conversations with my kids about how they are feeling and why they are expressing themselves in anger, rather than recognising that they are sad or confused. And it would be easier to write ‘Freya was lonely’ rather than create a back story and a history which develops her character into someone who is unsure of herself. This dark heart of parenting and writing requires commitment and courage. But if I’m not prepared to go there for my kids and readers, then I’m letting them all down.

I am not a published author and I am not a perfect parent, but I am here and committed for the duration of both paths.

PS. I’ll be taking a short break over the Easter holidays. Have a lovely Easter, thanks for reading my blog and I’ll be back in a week or so.

10 comments

  1. You have the ability to write and to merge the two great loves into your life. Continue your journey with your usual enthusiasm.

  2. Karen,
    The continuing challenge for parents is to acquire all three qualities and then use them in the right ratio at the right time – seems you are succeeding. Well done. but be warned it is a lifetime challenge.

  3. Thank you for your usual thought provoking article. Happy Easter to you and your family.

    Re “Be Frank with me” thank you for pointing me in the direction of this quirky book. It is a film waiting to be made. I wondered how I would react to a “real live” Frank. How are “different” children perceived and treated? Lots of discussion points perhaps for book clubs.

    Terri.

    1. Thanks, Terri. Glad you liked ‘Be Frank with me’ – it would make an excellent bookclub book.

  4. I like the description of mini crises being ‘plot points’. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in these that we think they are the story, so, yes, it is valuable to remember that they are only markers along the way. And I can’t imagine you any way, other than calm and gentle!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *