Thursday, June 18, 2015

How I Got My Kids to Respect My Writing Time During the Summer

First off, just because something worked for me and my kids, I cannot guarantee that it will work for you and yours. So here's my disclaimer right off the bat.

I have been writing at home, and the primary caregiver to two daughters, for almost fifteen years now. For several years while the girls were babies, I didn't write at all. And then when I started writing again, I only did it during their naptime. Starting when my youngest child's was the age of 4, and naptime went away, I implemented certain "rules" for the kids so that I could write successfully while they were home (ie. without a ridiculous amount of interruptions).

Rule #1: Don't talk to me if I'm typing

When the girls were young, I'd fail at parenting 101, and use the TV as a babysitter. They were allowed to watch one movie a day. At the time, I didn't allow TV shows because I thought commercials were evil (don't laugh, they kinda are, but at least now my kids are old enough to realize when they are being marketed to). But now there's Netflix, so commercials aren't as pervasive as they used to be. Anyway, during that one movie a day, I would write.

I would sit in an adjacent room and wear headphones and listen to classical music, and the "rule" was, they could come in and ask me a question, or talk to me about the movie, or whatever, as long as they waited for my fingers to stop moving.

If I was typing, they had to wait.

I know a lot of you are thinking, "That's impossible! How can a preschooler possibly wait for anything?"

Believe me, this rule didn't work immediately, but I stubbornly stuck to it. I would make them wait until the sentence was finished. Sometimes, if they forgot, I would make them wait until the end of the paragraph. And I wouldn't do what they interrupted me to ask for if they interrupted for something they could do on their own, or for tattling.

Besides which, it's honestly good for your kid to learn patience, and respect you at the same time, and this achieves both.

After years of this rule, my now teenaged daughters are conditioned to wait until my fingers stop typing. Although an occasional reminder is always necessary.

Hopefully, this rule can work for you, too.

Rule #2: Don't burst into my office (or writing space, etc.)

I write horror. When I'm writing at home alone, I don't use headphones. If the dog barks at the front door, or the cat knocks something to the floor (the jerk), it can scare the crap out of me.

When the kids are home, and I sit in my office, wearing sound-cancelling headphones (only now I listen to white noise instead of classical music), and they wait for me to stop typing, I can't hear them when they eventually speak.

If they walk into my office without warning, I've been known to scream - and then I scream AT THEM. If they touch me on the shoulder...Well, one time on reflex, I elbowed my daughter in the stomach.

Nobody wins if I'm spooked. Nobody.

"New Rule!" I announced to both of them. "Flick the light switch to get my attention."

This has worked wonders, I must say.

Now, they wait for me to stop typing and flick the light switch in my office and then I look up and there they are in the doorway, waiting to interrupt me.

It's quite magical when they actually remember to do this.
When they don't, well, it's not pretty.

Rule #3: Don't read over my shoulder

This rule is especially important if you write horror, or erotica.

Once the girls learned to read it got increasingly difficult to keep their prying eyes away from what I was typing while they waited for my fingers to stop moving.

One time I wrote the work 'fuck' in a sentence and didn't realize my daughter was behind me. She gasped so loudly I nearly fell out of my seat. She then proceeded to "tattle" on me that night to my husband, who thought it was hilarious.

If you don't want your kids to read sex scenes and bad language, and you write sex scenes and your characters use bad language, then this can get tricky, especially since my desk doesn't face the door and my kids are behind me when they enter.

There is no true solution to this other than to remind them to 'mind their own business,' and that reading over somebody's shoulder is rude. You wouldn't read over a stranger's shoulder on the subway, why would you let your kids do it to you?

Mild punishments can be implemented when kids break this rule. For me, it was loss of electronic time. Enforce this on every infraction, and eventually, they'll either get better at sneaking around and reading over your shoulder, or they'll give up.

Either way, it's better for you.

Since implementing these three rules, writing from home (particularly during the summer when they are home more often), is still not ideal, but at least it's not impossible.

Hopefully, these rules can help you, too.
I wish you the best of luck!