Mama Journaling 101: Neglect the Housework

ou are a mother. You do not exactly have heaps of excess free time lying around. I’m telling you to journal to help you fully recover from your postpartum experiences, but when exactly is that supposed to happen?

First and foremost, get enough sleep. Sleep is essential to mental health. Please don’t stay up late or wake up early because Courtney said you should journal. You need to have in place the basic building blocks of health – I’m talking about sleep, food, shelter – before you can worry about journaling.

But let’s say you are getting enough sleep and all the other essentials to feel sort of like a human being. You still have a tiny helpless human who needs your help! When are you supposed to find five minutes to write?

I wrote when Pippa was napping. I could only do this once I was getting enough sleep at night myself. But once that piece was in place, I wrote while Pippa napped.

I know what you are thinking: nap time is the only time I can get chores done.

Pippa, though, never liked napping in her crib. To many outside observers, this seemed like a curse. For me, it was a blessing. Because she took most of her naps in the baby carrier, with her sweet baby head pressed against my chest, I could not worry about things like meal prep and dirty dishes during nap time. But writing with a baby in the carrier? No problem!

I love the book If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. Ueland says that writers must neglect the housework. I could not agree more. You only have 24 hours in a day. If you currently do not have enough time to write, then you are going to have to steal time from an activity. So this is my advice to new mamas: let the counters get a little sticky. You do not have to sterilize the tables every day. It’s okay if there’s some toothpaste goo next to the bathroom sink. Let the dirty dishes accumulate until there’s a huge mountain and then cue up a podcast and tackle them all at once. Choose writing before you choose housework!

It’s okay to do housework when the baby is awake. That’s what I did when Pippa was a baby and that is what I do to this day. Guess what? Kids like chores! My children help me with dishes, laundry, sweeping, and wiping off dirty counters. If they get bored, they wander away and play.

When Pippa was a newborn, I thought I was supposed to watch and observe her every waking moment, always at the ready to shake a rattle or make silly faces. But then I realized: she needs time to play independently. She needs time to explore her world by herself. If I’m always entertaining her, then she never learns how to be an independent, creative thinker.

So as I recovered from postpartum depression, I learned to sit on the couch and journal while Pippa crawled around the living room and put everything (everything!) in her mouth. I brought my journal to indoor playgrounds and when she was occupied, I wrote. There were plenty of interruptions, but I figured writing time with interruptions was better than no writing time at all.

I have to be fully honest: I’m still coming to terms with the fact that my house does not look like a house that has been styled for a magazine shoot. Sometimes it drives me crazy that toys are scattered everywhere and do not get me started on the dried up bits of oatmeal on the kitchen walls.

But my expectation of an immaculately perfect house comes from external pressures. It comes from magazines, television commercials for cleaning products, and even the IKEA catalog. To this day, I am haunted by a commercial I saw when I was seven or eight years old. A mom was stressed that her mommy friends would disapprove of the state of her kitchen floors. That one commercial gave me a seriously twisted attitude about housework.

But guess what? My kitchen floors are far from immaculate. There are all sorts of crumbs. But when my mom friends visit, they do no hesitate to put their children on the floor.

The next time you want to write, but you feel compelled to vacuum, I want you to think about housework as a feminist issue. Housework is just busy work that keeps us in the kitchen and out of the board room.

Our children learn to live by watching us. If you spend your days agonizing over housework, then your children (especially your daughters) will do the same when they grow up. If you cannot ignore the vacuum for yourself, do it for your kids. I’m not saying you have to let your home turn into a den of filth and inequity. I’m just saying it’s okay to ignore the crumbs so you can have a few extra minutes to write.

Journaling Prompts:

  • Do you have enough time to journal?
  • When do you write?
  • Do you wish you had more time to write?
  • Are there any household tasks that you could let slide so you could have a little more time for writing?
  • How do you feel about housework?
  • What is your least favorite chore?
  • Are there any chores you enjoy?

As always, pick and choose or ignore the prompts as you see fit. It’s your writing practice! I just hope you find the time to let yourself write.