This won’t be the most dire question you receive today, but I’m writing in the hope that you can help me with scripts, advice, and encouragement as I convince my wonderful family that the sky won’t fall if I’m unavailable to them for an hour or so each day.
In a lot of ways, I’m very lucky. Privileged, in fact. I have a husband (he/him) I love, two teenagers (a she and a him) that I also love, and a menagerie of adorable animals who are oh so lovable. I have a full-time job. I also have a book contract! I’m writing about something I’m passionate about, and I’m really enjoying the research, the writing, and the editing as I try on new ideas, write things down, and then edit obsessively to get things just right.
However, whenever I shut myself into my messy little home office to get some work done, all hell breaks loose.
Things will be going along swimmingly at home, and then I’ll say those fatal words: “I’m writing now. Please don’t come in unless there’s blood, fire, or vomit on the floor.” The door closes, I fire up my computer, and then:
Daughter: Can I go to Friend’s house?
Me: Ask your dad.
Daughter: He’s meditating.
Son: Mom, can you come here? It’s important! (Spoiler: It’s never important.)
Daughter: I told Friend2 we could drive her to Friend1’s house.
Husband: A SPORTSBALL PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF WAS TRADED TO A TEAM YOU DON’T FOLLOW!
Me: I thought you were meditating?
Son: Mom! The dog’s doing something adorable! Come see!
Daughter (via DM): Mom whats for dinner?
Me (via DM): I thought you were going to Friend1’s house
Daughter (via DM): No, she and Friends 2-5 are coming here.
Daughter (via DM): Dad couldn’t drive me so I said they could all come here
Son: Mom! What’s for dinner?
(Enter two cats. One of them takes up residence on my lap; the other, on my keyboard.)
Husband: THAT GUY WE SAW IN THAT THING BACK IN 1997 IS ON SVU!
Editor (via DM): So how’s the book going?
Me: Jesus, take the wheel.
Captain, I have tried it all. I’ve tried closing the door (the doors in my house don’t lock, alas). I’ve tried putting signs on the door. I’ve tried responding with a vague “Mmm-hmmm,” I’ve tried yelling (“WHERE’S THE FIRE?”), I’ve tried talking at dinner about my need for JUST ONE LOUSY HOUR OF SOLITUDE. And I love my family, but if the only time I’m able to get work done is at 8 a.m. Saturday when everyone else is asleep (the rest of my family is apparently part-vampire because no one goes to bed before midnight), I’ll never meet my deadline.
So, from one creative type with a family including floofy animals to another: How do I stake out and claim the time I need to do this thing that I really, really want (and, not for nothing, am contractually obligated) to do?
The Crowd in the Room of My Own (she/her)
I want you to try something for the next four Saturdays or whenever your Hour of Power is.
When it’s Writing Time, leave.
Go to a coffee shop or a local library or somewhere that is not your house. I know you have this room that you are supposed to be able to write in and you should be able to use it (I’ll get to that, I promise). Right now, you have to re-establish a pattern, and for that I think you have to leave. For a while, my secret writing spot was the Roosevelt University Library. Look at it:
They’ve probably updated it by now but for the longest time it had no Wi-Fi. The best. Every script or story I wrote in grad school was born in that room. I was not a student there but they let the public in. You have a view of Grant Park through the giant windows. It’s so quiet.
And listen, I have strategic suggestions about how to leave, especially the first time. Quietly get your laptop (or your cool writing notebook, or a tablet + a keyboard, whatever you can use to write) and your purse and your shoes and your coat and your keys all together, and then as you are about to go, say to your family, “I’m stepping out to get some writing done, I’ll be back around [time]. I won’t have my phone on, so I can concentrate, but I’ll check in if I’ll be later than [time]. See you!” and then walk out the door and go where you gotta go and write your book.
Would it be nice and polite and reasonable to give your husband more notice and discuss it the night before and make sure he doesn’t have other plans? Sure. You can definitely do that! But I suggested it the way I did for a very specific reason. You’re not asking permission to leave, and one of the things you need to do when you leave is to NOT have 10,000 logistical discussions about what needs picked up from the grocery store and who is driving the kids where (answer: Not You!). It’s not even that he would make you have these discussions, it’s that you would get sucked into them anyway because you are a mom and that’s what moms do, they keep track of who needs to be where at what time and how much milk is in the fridge at any given time, and we are trying to do an end run around that part of your brain. What we need: Shoes. Wallet. Keys. Writing materials. GO. The recycling that you could take a minute to bundle up before you go can fucking wait. The reusable bags that you could take a second to put in the car can WAIT. The errands you could run on the way home will still be there in 2 hours. Don’t give yourself or your husband or your kids time to formulate the million questions that only occurred to all of them because they saw you with your purse in your hand. GO. Go and write.
I want you to try that for at least four weeks in a row. I want there to be time that you are physically and electronically unavailable to anyone in your family. Turn your phone OFF. Close all social media & messaging apps & windows. Your husband can get a Twitter account, they’ll love his SVU observations there. The kids can “ask dad” for a change. Your family has been trained that they can interrupt you and you will respond to them. You must train them to stop doing this, but first you must train yourself. So, leave.
“But Captain Awkward, I have a room at home that’s for writing! Shouldn’t I be able to use that for one goddamn hour?”
Yes but it’s full of cats and your family doesn’t respect it. Maybe it can be your first-thing-early-in-the-morning writing space or your after-kids-are-in-bed writing space. It’s not working right now, and you’re having the conversations about what you need, and it’s still not working. So control what you can control, and go find a writing spot and write there.
Then, after that four weeks, see how you feel. Are you making progress on your manuscript? Got momentum? Is this a ritual you want to sustain? If so, this is the new normal! It’s okay to keep stepping out forever or whenever you want some space and a different ritual.
But also, to reclaim your writing room and your writing time at home, try this:
“Husband, I need Saturdays from 9am-11am to be my writing time and I need your help to make that happen. What would really help is if you took the kids out to breakfast and then took them to the library/the pool/the park for that time, so I can have some peace & quiet. I can trade off with you starting at noon so that you can get some quiet time, too.”
He has alternatives to taking them out, of course. He could actively engage the kids when he knows you’re writing. They could all play video games together. He could be like “amuse yourselves, Mom is writing, that means leave her the hell alone.” He could have been doing this all this time. But he’s not (literal LOL at “Dad’s meditating“), so, again, the routine has got to change to give y’all some physical barriers if the virtual ones aren’t holding. This thing where you are all home together and you go into the room doesn’t work because he’s not helping it work. He’s not telling the kids “Do. Not. Disturb. Your. Mother.” He’s not respecting it himself!
Nobody has to be the asshole for annoying patterns to get established, but this won’t fix itself without you taking some steps to physically absent yourself from your family so you can get some space and time to work. The door is not enough. Asking has not been enough. So go, and leave them to their own devices.
378 thoughts on “#1137: “There’s no room in the Room of My Own.””
The captain had some good advice, but I also want to rec this post that AAM wrote in March: https://www.askamanager.org/2018/03/i-work-from-home-and-my-mom-wont-stop-talking-to-me.html It’s about how the LW is trying to work from home and keeps getting drawn into conversations with her family. No kids involved in this particular one, but it may help provide some framework for the conversations you’ll need to have.
Also, if your kids are teenagers, I totally think you can sit down with them and have a “when I say I’m writing, it means I’m writing” conversation. They’re old enough to understand. You need to have that chat with your husband too, but your teenss are an equal part of the problem.
Yes! I also think your teenagers are old enough to sit them down for a conversation about emotional labor – what it is – why woman are programmed by society to take on the bulk of it – why they shouldn’t be expected to take on the bulk of it, and what everyone can do to change it. You have a boy and a girl so it is an important thing for them to both know. Talk to them, openly, about why they default to you and not dad even though they know you are working on something important. Listen to what they have to say – really let them talk and hear themselves. It shouldn’t be a lecture but an open conversation. I think it would help if you could really get to the root of why they default to you and not their father.
Yes to this! Also, if your kids are teenagers, can you shift some emotional labor to them? Can they plan the meals for the next week, come up with a grocery list, do the shopping, and take over meal cooking at least a few nites a week? Can they be in charge of laundry so when they lose that red hoodie and interrupt you to find it, you can shift the work right back with, “You did the laundry…where did you put it?” Can they whip out their phones and videotape the dog tap dancing so you can watch it later instead of bugging you like its an emergency?
It might also help to have a talk with husband & kids that that this is NOT just a hobby you can putter with here and there. You have a contractual obligation to get this work done. The fact that you’re working from home doesn’t make this any less a Job then what he does for a living. Just as he gets to, assumingly, be away at a jobsite to concentrate and be successful, you also deserve to be “away” even though your jobsite is down the hall. Just as your kids may need to really knuckle under and focus to get a school assignment done, you need to focus on your writing in order to get it done. Another poster referenced the Ask a Manager post on working from home – the gyst is that many peopel assume work from homers have TONS of free time when they actually need significant amount of time to, you know, work.
Oh lord have mercy, laundry.
We didn’t have the term emotional labor at the time, but it’s always existed. And one of the best things my mom ever did was go on Laundry Strike. Full on, full out, workers strike. Or really, an unpaid labor strike!
She’d been nagging, upset, and completely over laundry for at least a year. I was about 14 and my brother was about 16. We were ungrateful kids who would do things like not know whether something had been worn or not, and not bother to hang anything up (hello eighteen wardrobe changes before leaving for the school day), but pile everything from the floor into the laundry basket. She was washing and re-washing clothes that had never been worn! Those were my sins anyway. I’m sure my brother had some egregious ones specific to boys.
She announced she was never washing another load of laundry that was not her own ever again. And proceeded not to. She showed us how to run the washer and dryer and walked away.
Oh how we rolled our eyes. Oh how we pouted. Oh how gross were the clothes we wore there for a while. But you know what, we got over it. We started doing our own laundry. I for one actually got quite good at it. Notwithstanding early months of sheets left unchanged for weeks and towels left to molder until I realized if I wanted a clean towel it was up to me.
To this day I am extremely particular about my laundry. I have certain standard of how it has to be done, in what order, at what temperatures, with what soap, for how long, and whether hang dried, run through the dryer, or both. It took me awhile to get there! I shrunk a lot of clothes, ruined a number of items, and failed to get towels sufficiently clean for a long time. But once I got the hang of it, not only did my mom have laundry off her conscience, I would no longer let her do mine.
I never left home handicapped and unable to wash my own clothes. I now have a son and can’t wait for him to get old enough to go on strike myself.
Mom was right, washing other people’s laundry, and all the emotional labor that symbolizes, is for the birds. It’s a stand in for emotional labor at large. At some point mom has to go on strike from emotional labor in general!
Just wanted to write in to tell you I loved this story!
When I was a young teen, my mom was both a full time college student, and worker of a full time job. We lived with my grandma and great uncle, and the expectation seemed to be that Mom would also do the bulk of laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. I got tired of being without clean clothes, so I taught myself to do laundry, and did so good a job that my Mom started paying me a small weekly sum to do *everyone’s* laundry. I got really good at it, and to this day, it’s the chore I don’t mind doing. (I have my ways and standards, also!) I eventually also started helping with making dinner on occasion. I was glad to take on some house work to lessen Mom’s load, and to learn! I’m a good home cook, very comfortable in a kitchen. It’s empowering!
Marina, I agree that laundry itself is a vanilla chore. Making sure that the kids have clean laundry every day, however, is emotional labor. Calmly explaining for the hundredth time that the kids really should do their own laundry is emotional labor. Silently picking up the slack for them when they “forget” to do their laundry is emotional labor.
Et cetera. Getting out of the doing-laundry business is shorthand for getting out of all the emotional labor, too.
As a kid I used to have these books (or possibly one book of short stories?) about a character named Amanda Pig, and in one of them Amanda Pig’s mother got fed up with the whole family expecting her to take care of everything and she, IIRC, climbed up into the treehouse for the day and pulled the rope ladder after her and went on strike. Nothing burned down and everyone survived. My mom was reading this to us in the mid 80s. It’s a little depressing that we still haven’t learned this lesson as a culture.
I do too, Hurray for your mom!
When I was a kid my siblings and I would take turns helping dad with the laundry. I greatly appreciate this, because we were taught at an early age how to do laundry. It was never a mystery, and moving away from home was seamless when it came to that part at least.
It was also a nice, calm time together, especially folding and sorting. Plus, I loved running the mangle and watching sheets and things get really flat 🙂 I still kind of like doing laundry.
I totally recommend this approach and I want to do the same with my kids. My 1,5 year old had fun with me in the laundry room today. I’m looking forward to when he’s old enough to fold things together with me.
That’s genius. I love your mom. She sounds very aware of what I kept thinking at the letter writer; “Your kids are definitely old enough to manage this stuff by themselves.” I started doing my own laundry and teaching myself to cook when I was ten because my dad never did it. It was gross to sift through the dirty laundry and find something relatively clean enough to wear, and his cooking was not good. So I learned how to do it all myself and eventually threw a fit when he touched anything of mine. I’m resourceful because I had to be. Twenty-five years later, I am appalled when I see people my age incapable of cooking for themselves or who don’t grasp that houses don’t clean themselves and are offputting to guests when untidy. The letter writer’s kids will benefit a lot by being made to stand on their own two feet.
I also think that, in time, the letter writer’s kids and husband will adjust to and even enjoy not having her home/unavailable. It can be the kids’ and their dad’s special bonding time. Maybe they can have a thing where they order pizza or Dad helps with homework or they all watch a show Mom doesn’t like or something.
Also, in addition to the library suggestion, there are TONS of cafés whose sole purpose seems to be this. There was an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie fled to a coffee shop to get some work done and said “I used to think those people who sat alone at Starbucks writing on their laptops were pretentious poseurs. Now, I know. They’re people who have recently moved in with someone.” The letter writer needs to be one of those people if she’s going to get her book done.
This! My mom had that conversation with me when I was like, 11. “Cleaning my room” meant picking up all the clothes on the floor and throwing them in the hamper, meaning I had three or four loads of laundry every week. Mom showed me how to use the washing machine and dryer, and that was that. Laundry became like, a gift we gave each other when one was having a bad week. When my grandpa was in the hospital, I did her laundry without her asking, and she cried. When my first boyfriend broke up with me during finals week, I came home from school and she had done my laundry. I’m nearly 30 now and have a little tub washing machine so I can avoid using (and paying for) the building’s laundry, and if I’m having a bad week, my mom will say “come over this weekend, let me do your laundry.” It’s a sign of love now.
I had to do my own laundry for 2-weeks for a girl scout badge when I was 9 or 10. After the project ended, my mom said that I seemed to have the hang of it and was now responsible for my own laundry. I grumbled, but I did it.
In my early teenage years, there was a laundry pile of which only the top layer got washed. For a year. I believe I washed my underwear by hand in the sink, because I didn’t want to do loads of laundry. By the time I actually washed everything in the pile, the things at the bottom didn’t fit anymore. My parents never stepped in, except to make sure that I was just being lazy, not ignorant.
Also, my parents still switch off on months for doing laundry and dishes.
This, but also, the LW says she also has a full-time job. Which I assumed was away from the home. So she’s at least as busy with work as Dad. I agree with the poster further up who said the teenagers are old enough to get this.
Yeah, the underlying issue here that’s prompting the immediate issue of getting an uninterrupted hour to work is the sexist division of domestic (especially logistical) labor. LW can address her immediate problem AND a whole bunch of other/future problems by starting to remediate the issue of the sexist division of labor. It is, of course, deeply ironic that she’s going to have to be the one to take on the additional labor of addressing the issue, but Husband and the kids are unlikely to do so without prompting for the same reason the problem exists in the first place.
If this pattern has been in place since the kids were born, or before, it may actually be the case that they have never had any training in basic domestic life skills. They may NOT be immediately capable of planning and cooking a (healthy) meal or even doing laundry. Mom’s writing time actually provides a great opportunity for Dad to teach them some of those skills – they’re all occupied with a task that not only keeps them out of her hair but addresses the underlying problem. And teaching your kids the necessary skills to survive on their own is the function of parenting, and a kindness to them (even if they don’t always see it that way); this should be something parents do regardless of whether Mom needs time alone for writing. Barring developmental conditions that impact ability, teenagers are developmentally capable of contributing useful labor to a group (family unit, community, whatever), making decisions, exercising agency, and caring for their own immediate needs. So, put that back on them (with any necessary skills training, which, again, Husband can provide, unless he’s one of those men who literally had women caring for his needs his entire life and never actually learned those skills himself; if that’s the case, some instruction for everyone on e.g. how to wash clothes may be necessary).
Transportation may also something the kids can handle themselves, even if they’re not able to drive, unless LW lives in one of those areas where there is no public transit and every destination is dozens of miles away, such that driving is the only practicable option (after fifteen years of biking as my primary means of transportation, I don’t think twice about biking 20 miles to get somewhere, but know that’s not the case for most people).
Whatever the specifics (there are probably plenty of other tasks LW does not mentioned in the scripted exchanges we got), I wholly encourage LW to have Husband and the kids start doing more for themselves and the household than they currently are, both becasue they should be contributing to the household as parts of the household themselves, and becasue both kids need to learn domestic labor skills if they haven’t already.
Also! The thing where the kids are interrupting during what they know is supposed to be time where LW is left alone is actually a fairly serious problem that’s not restricted to this situation. It shows they are not respecting clear boundaries, and that’s an increasingly big problem for teenagers who probably soon will be (or already are) engaging with other people sexually. LW, this is a good opportunity to talk about boundaries and consent in a context that isn’t sexual (which a lot of people find difficult or fraught), so take that opportunity (possibly discuss with Husband beforehand to make sure he will also reinforce those boundaries – it sounds like he’s not the best with this boundary, either, and that may well be an established family norm that the kids are following, so Husband modeling good consent practices and boundary respect is also really important here).
I know this is going to sound like whataboutism but I promise it’s not intended to be: this isn’t exclusively a gendered thing. When I was a data analyst, I worked from home the majority of the time, and my wife barged in on me almost every hour to gossip and talk about games and got very hurt and offended when I asked her not to, and our son emulated her behavior as soon as he was old enough to want someone to talk to. I’ve spent years talking to therapists (we went to a few couples therapy sessions but the sessions always wound up being all about how unhappy and un-self-actualized she is) and reading advice blogs, and never found anything that allowed me to make any headway on defending a boundary there. My wife does have multiple sclerosis, but she is still ambulatory and mostly lucid except for what her pain meds do to her, but exactly 0% of the operation of the household beyond her immediate self-care was her responsibility to make sure it got done. Laundry, cleaning, cooking, bills, anything requiring a driver’s license, was all me.
Not being able to concentrate, and eventually forgetting that concentrating was even a thing I could do, destroyed my career. I haven’t been able to get a tech job in nearly 4 years because I have no quantifiable accomplishments on my resume, my wife moved back in with her parents and took the kid and the cats (they’re less than 10 minutes away so I still do driving chores for them), I drive for Lyft full-time now (which is pure hell for an Aspie) and I’m about to lose our house. Ironically we still get along great when we’re just bullshitting, but we’ve never developed any ability to solve problems together.
No you’re right, I think it’s important to remember that logistical/emotional labour in the home isn’t always divided unfairly for the wife/mother figure. I think that often it’s a codependent learned helplessness that develops in any relationship. There’s a stereotype (though a bit outdated now) of women in heterosexual marriages who suddenly ‘forget’ that they can drive, or they suddenly can drive but really don’t like it and so their husband does all the driving and has to ferry her around, and it’s somewhat the reverse of the man who moves in with a woman and has no idea how to make a meal despite have kept himself alive for a number of years.
Obviously this stuff crops up in same-sex and nb relationships as well, so it definitely isn’t a strictly gendered situation. Though young women are definitely more often encouraged to learn to cook and help around the house, while lots of boys never engage in it. (For example I helped with domestic chores so I was always asked, my brother dragged his feet and ignored any requests and so he still doesn’t do shit even after I’ve moved out! Mum does it all! Somehow his only chore is mowing the lawn twice a year?) The amount of 18-19 year old boys who arrived in my uni accommodation without knowing you had to put oil in a pan….
So I think it’s important to teach all young adults to become independent and capable alone, (and that this process is done by not just the parent(s) but by external education too) so that they don’t fall into relying on a partner for the missing bits of their life skills, and actually removing the gender altogether helps this far more than focusing on ‘women should refuse to do laundry if they don’t want to’.
I’m really sorry your domestic situation is so unhappy right now. Maybe now that your wife is with other people to help care for her you can start finding pockets of time to exercise boundaries in and if the financial means ever comes along get therapy just for yourself because you sound like you deserve someone who’ll just listen to you.
I’m so sorry, Too Old, that sounds really hard.
More to Belle than Too Old, but ran out of comment depth: you’re both right that this dynamic can and does play out in gender-reversed and non-gendered ways. Plus it can be extra awful for men to be on the receiving end of bad behavior that is typically aimed at women, for reasons including that it can be harder to find communities to validate their experience. So point well taken. But at the same time I would argue against Belle’s suggestion of taking gender out of the discussion, when the person suffering is female: being able to see the gendered patterns made it easier for me to explain to myself and my partner why I was setting the boundaries I needed to, and why I had strong emotional responses to certain (individually) small stimuli. Not that airtight whys are necessary to set boundaries, but it helped me work through my stuff and not be self-gaslighting.
Also, with the element of modeling for children – children get a lot of social education from advertising and media, in which emotional labor is even more strongly gendered than in real life (exacerbating Too Old’s feeling of erasure, I’m sure). So calling that out explicitly and giving the children the tools to critically examine culture is valuable itself (especially if you acknowledge these complexities in the discussion).
If the kids don’t have the ability to plan healthy meals yet, it may be worthwhile to write down as many of the recipes as reasonably possible and keep them in one place — learning to pick from an existing list is an easier task than pulling things out of thin air. They can then use the ingredients list to figure out what needs to be on the grocery list to make that happen.
That sounds like a great task Dad to take the lead on with the kids!
When the LW is writing! 🙂
I also kind of think, if the kids don’t know how to plan and cook a meal, there’s an internet. It’s full of recipes and instructions and videos about how to do basically anything. Assuming they can be trusted to not do permanent damage to the kitchen itself, it won’t hurt them to figure out how to cook by trial and error.
I don’t think teenagers are going to do something they see an adult not doing. It’s fairly natural behaviour to mimic the model of the higher-authority person.
I was horrified when I realized how much I tuned my mother out when she was talking–to the point that when I wanted to listen, it actually seemed HARD–because my dad had been ignoring her, interrupting her, and rolling his eyes every time she had to ask, AGAIN, for what she wanted or wanted done, for so so many years. </3 Unlearning that stuff is hard.
It was the same thing in my family. My Mom did the most work, got the least respect including from my Dad, and we modeled that behavior. Unforunately, the same dynamic ended up happening again in my own marriage, where my husband (now ex) contradicted, dismissed me, and the kids followed his lead, especially our youngest. I still remember when pointing out how he acted towards me, and that was not normal or healthy, he disagreed and said “I think it’s pretty normal to have contempt for one’s spouse.”
omg it upsets and freaks me out so much when I realize I am repeating some uncool behavior I learned growing up but then find myself weirdly unable to notice when I am doing it and therefore absurdly difficult to stop. I legitimately have to stop and turn my ENTIRE BRAIN around and focus on NOT doing that one thing. I have a few things my parents have done my whole life that I have picked up and I wish I could get some kind of emotional bark collar that just zapped me every time I started doing it.
I agree with teens being old enough to understand “when I say I’m writing, it means I’m writing,” but I think it should go both ways.
When I was a teen, my parents thought it was fine to interrupt my homework to ask me to do a chore. Generally, one that could wait a bit and it would take a long time to get back into focus, I think teens should be allowed to ask for uninterrupted homework time as long as they are actually doing homework.
I’d agree with that and actually extend it: teens should be allowed to ask for uninterrupted time, period. Obviously that period can’t be 24/7–they need to be available to participate in the household for at least part of the day, and it might need to be scheduled around family things, e.g. if the family eats dinner together–but homework isn’t the only valid reason to need some uninterrupted time. Maybe they want to write or draw as a hobby. Maybe they need some time to focus on an important conversation with a friend. Maybe they need half an hour to really focus on the big boss fight in a video game because they’re worried they’ll lose if they get distracted mid-fight. And maybe they just want a little time to themselves and their own thoughts. All of those are valid things to want!
Plus, letting kids set boundaries without making them ‘justify’ it to their parents is good practice for adult boundary-setting. It teaches them to trust their gut on their own needs and to expect others to respect their boundaries even if they don’t 100% agree with the reasoning (super important for avoiding peer pressure). And a kid who’s used to boundaries being respected is more likely to respect them in turn than a kid who’s used to having their own boundaries ignored.
I completely agree, but I don’t see where the letter writer or any of the commenters say or imply that teens shouldn’t be allowed uninterrupted time too?
Everyone should be entitled to time and space on their own without needing to justify why they want it.
YES. When I was a kid, I’d get home from school and do my homework at the kitchen table. When my dad had a day off work, he’d try to talk to me while I was doing homework. It was infinitely worse when my grandparents visited. I had to take my stuff up to my room to get it done, which I hated doing since I couldn’t spread out as much, but it was either that or not get it done at all. At least I figured out for myself early on that the key was to leave the noisy space. That’s still true, years later. I’ve repeatedly told my dad that I don’t want to talk politics because even though we share the same views, I’m sick of hearing his negativity. So I make a point to leave the room when he starts talking politics or another negative topic. Kids should absolutely be granted quiet time to do homework, read, etc. at the very least. I feel like the power dynamic of “I’m the parent, so you have to listen to what I say” can get really abused there. It took me ages to figure out that I could just get up and leave (seriously, he wouldn’t want me to even get up to pee!) when I was done.
I wfh 2 days a week. My 10yo is old enough to understand ‘mom’s working, talk to dad.’ He still comes in 1 day out of 4, but only when dad’s not around and he has a time-critical question.
He also takes the dog out for us. And he’s not the most responsible of the kids I know. LW’s kids can totally step up on this one, if they’re arranging social activities.
I agree. My ten year old definitely respects my boundaries. If it Is The Time Where Mon Does That Thing Where She Needs Left Alone, then he for the most part leaves me alone. My 6 year old doesn’t But, she is also 6. So if a ten year old can learn this, so can teenagers. Their cognitive abilities are there to where they can understand this and react accordingly. I think situations like these say more about the husband and family dynamic. I agree with Captain, because sometimes you have to do some pretty hard-line things to set a boundary and make it stick. A lot of time, those things involve physically removing yourself.
yeah, my 9-yr-old is about 80% good with letting me be when I’m working (and 100% on showering). My 6-yr-old…maybe 50% on showering, 25% good on working*. But that’s better than a year ago, on both kids.
* when their dad isn’t in the house. when he is, he makes sure they leave me alone. because he’s a goddamn adult who respects my time.
LW, why is “Dad’s meditating” respected but “Mom’s writing” not? (rhetorical of course; we know exactly why)
Do you think explicitly pointing it out would help?
You know your family best, but teens are old enough to understand how shitty double standards are. Your husband ought to know better.
The cats, I can’t help you with. Their need to lick your keyboard will always come first.
This. Esp the cats : )
Cardboard box on the desk next to the keyboard makes a great cat trap, I’m just saying. When faced with a decision between the keyboard and a box, we all know the rule: if they fits, they sits.
I see your cardboard box, and raise you a cardboard box with a seedling heating pad tucked underneath it. Gently raises the temp of the box bottom about 10-15F, just enough that when your cat jumps up there and starts to roll around and look cute at you, the warms quickly turn him comatose.
Or any other thing the cat specifically likes to sit on. My dad’s got a zippered folder thing he used for paperwork before he retired and the cat will sit on it if Dad’s in the same room with it, regardless of the surface it’s on.
I literally have a cat bed next to my keyboard. My writing buddy kitty curls up in it, and I can absentmindedly pet her while reading something or editing. It’s a win-win.
Ohhh the cats. My mum’s cat is deaf so only has one volume (howling like a hungry human baby). Between him and the attention-seeking dog it’s very hard for poor mum to get any work done on her Phd, which the dog sees as secondary to getting her ball out from under the chair and taking her to the dog park and holding the back door slightly ajar so she can smell the air but not actually go outside.
Fortunately I’m in a position where I can take the dog for a week so mum can actually get some work done. The cat is always better behaved if the dog isn’t there, so it’s a win-win situation. Yes the dog is high-maintenance and I have to rearrange some plans, but that’s just part of acknowledging that her work is important and she can’t always lug all her materials to a coffee shop or a library and nor should she have to.
LW, I probably have 10+ years on your kids so this stage is probably a ways away for them, but the cap’s advice of physically leaving and making the boundary non-negotiable that way is a great start.
My dog does this too – I’m like, are you just checking to make sure the backyard didn’t disappear in the 10 minutes since you last asked me to open the door?
YES. The “‘I thought you were meditating?'” bit really stuck in my craw because he’s obviously not. It sounded like he was just saying that to get out of dealing with the kids himself. Too bad; it’s his turn.
As for the cats: Putting a box on the desk next to the keyboard will work wonders.
My only change to the Captain’s advice is six weeks minimum.
I suggest this because my experience is that a reset takes more than a month.
Good luck. Happy writing!
After 6 weeks, if you decide to try writing in your room again, become a broken record:
Daughter: Can I go to Friend’s house?
Mom: I’m writing. Close the door. We’ll talk at X time when I am finished.
Son: Mom, can you come here? It’s important! (Spoiler: It’s never important.)
Mom: NO. I’m writing. Close the door. We’ll talk at X time when I am finished.
Daughter: I told Friend2 we could drive her to Friend1’s house.
Mom: I’m writing. Close the door. We’ll talk at X time when I am finished.
Husband: A SPORTSBALL PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF WAS TRADED TO A TEAM YOU DON’T FOLLOW!
Wife: I’m writing. Close the door please. We’ll talk at X time when I am finished.
Son: Mom! The dog’s doing something adorable! Come see!
Mom: Completely ignores son because she is writing. If he comes to door, repeat mantra.
Daughter (via DM): Mom whats for dinner?
Mom: Does not answer because she is writing and messaging options are disabled.
Son: Mom! What’s for dinner?
Mom: I’m writing. Close the door. We’ll talk at X time when I am finished.
Husband: THAT GUY WE SAW IN THAT THING BACK IN 1997 IS ON SVU!
Wife: I’m writing. Close the door. We’ll talk at X time when I am finished.
Editor (via DM): So how’s the book going?
LW: Does not see this message because she is writing and messaging options are disabled. Answers when she is finished writing.
It may take a few tries, but they will stop interrupting you if they know they will not be getting any attention or resolution whatsoever in doing so. Remove all incentive. Make it cost to bug mom the same way it costs to interrupt dad’s meditating. I promise that they can and will figure out whatever it is without you. My only advice for the cats is to buy a lock and some noise reduction devices so you don’t hear them fuss about it. In fact, that may be a good idea for your whole family. But you have got to train yourself to quit responding to them first. If they know there is a way to get your attention, they’re going to use it.
No, I’d suggest this:
Son: Mom! What’s for dinner?
Mom: If you disturb me ONE MORE TIME during my writing time, I am going to take your Xbox away. For a month. Got it?
Yes! It sounds like that’s the only thing that would work. The broken record approach will likely work, but the letter writer’s concentration will still be shattered so many times that she may as well not bother. Scorched-earth may be the way to go.
Also, there’s one very simple answer to “What’s for dinner?” “Whatever you make.”
(Some meal prep in advance can help a lot with this, but they’re definitely old enough to figure this out for themselves.)
I’d go a step further and put a sign on the door: “Unless we need firetrucks or ambulances DO NOT DISTURB”
And if they interrupt you after that, let there be consequences, whether that be angry mom, or they’re on their own for dinner because mom left, or “if you had waited, I would have said yes, but now, No.”
I vote sign PLUS lock for the door! Assuming it doesn’t violate the terms of your lease, it’s not as difficult of a home improvement activity as you’d think. You can get one of those “privacy locks” doorknobs. Just another visible “THIS IS THE BOUNDARY, THIS IS MY MAGIC ROOM, YOU CAN’T COME IN” boundary to help remind of the mental boundary.
Noise cancelling headphones! That might shave some time off the broken record script…first, if she doesn’t hear them at the door then she can more easily ignore them, and second, if they actually come inside and get her attention she can just shake her head and point to the headphones instead of saying the whole spiel.
I used to babysit, and my least favorite version of this job was when one of the parents was working from home. It is so, so hard to keep the kids distracted and quiet when they know their mom or dad is downstairs and COULD help them. Your kids are much older so no excuses, but I would have seriously begged the mom/dad to leave the house if they wanted to work, versus try to be undisturbed downstairs. I’m sure your husband is getting side-eyed and likely deserves that too, but also even for money I couldn’t keep kids from pestering on-site parents.
I heard of someone who would pretend to leave the house in front of the babysat child and then sneak back in to the home office. Sounds like it was a worthwhile strategy.
It is very hard to restrain myself from interrupting spouse when they are working from home office, and yet I can go 8 hours without needing to tell them something when they are out of the home working. My kids will ignore me for 4 hours and as soon as I sit down to work or concentrate (or heaven forbid make a professional phone call!) the kids have 10,000 urgent things.
In short, leaving the house is the only thing that works in my experience.
It is very hard to restrain myself from interrupting spouse when they are working from home office, and yet I can go 8 hours without needing to tell them something when they are out of the home working. My kids will ignore me for 4 hours and as soon as I sit down to work or concentrate (or heaven forbid make a professional phone call!) the kids have 10,000 urgent things.
In short, leaving the house is the only thing that works in my experience.
LW, I am all flames-on-the-side-of-my-face on your behalf. I agree with everything the Captain said, but also, I would like to give you permission to escalate on the parenting front, if needed. “Do not disturb me when I am working unless there’s a fire” (your husband can deal with any blood or vomit) absolutely CAN be a rule with consequences attached to breaking it, if you want it to be. Feel free to ignore this if it doesn’t fit your parenting philosophy, but I can be a bit of a hardass and in your shoes I would seriously consider taking away privileges for any interruptions (although my kids aren’t teenagers yet, so we’ll see).
Also, being willing to institute consequences might help your husband realize how serious you are about needing this time to work uninterrupted, since he clearly doesn’t respect it at all.
Also! Install a lock on your office door! Cheap and easy!
Then when it’s locked, use big headphones with the app WhiteNoise
That was my thought as well. Get a lock on the door, big headphones and do not, unless there’s smoke actively seeping under the door, respond to any outside stimuli. You’ll get several extinction bursts as people try to get your attention. Ignore them.
I totally agree. Lock the office door securely, play white noise through big headphones, and do not reply to any entreaties from outside, even just to say “I’m working right now!” or “Go away!!” Give no feedback at all. You are Not Available during this set time unless there is literally a 911-style emergency.
And yes, I would levy consequences if the kids continue to flout these rules. This is a good life lesson in boundary respect and also for future work situations where they will need to wait to ask things until the time is right. For your husband, you can always say, “I am going to write during these hours. It’s non-negotiable. So either I work here, or I work somewhere else. If I work somewhere else, that will take extra time for transportation, parking, etc., which will leave you in charge longer. Also, you will need to make dinner/drive carpool/etc. on those days because I will be gone longer and more tired from driving/parking/hauling my stuff around. So which will it be?”
Enjoy your writing! It’s so exciting to have a book contract!
Yes! LW seemed sad that there are no locks. A quick trip to the hardware store and a Youtube tutorial can change that. It still sounds like she needs to leave the house to reestablish the routine, but if a lock would reduce interruptions after that, I’m all for it!
An eyehook lock is ideal here, because it’s super easy to install and cheap. You only need an electric screwdriver with a few drill bits, to install.
Or even just wedge a chair under the doorknob, old-school style! Shove a bookcase in front of it if you have to.
Door wedge like those you get for extra security in hotel rooms, etc!
I like this one in particular! No need for taking MORE time out of a busy schedule!
Problem with this is you still get interrupted. I work from home, and when I was younger and still lived with my parents, keeping my door locked was something I did automatically. It prevented people from barging in or startling me or hovering in the door frame chattering away. All good things that did *lessen* interruptions, but people still knocked. Even if you ignore it, or get them to go away quickly, it still interrupts your concentration.
As note upthread – there will absolutely be extinction bursts, even with a locked door. The first session or two, I would suggest planning *not* to get anything productive done – riding out the knocking and yelling (without replying, even to say ‘go ask your dad’ or similar) will take enough of your concentration and effort; just read an ebook or some such.
Serious business headphones might help with this. Ideal scenario is noise-cancelling headphones playing white noise (gray noise, waterfall sounds, etc) under those big earmuff-like things that go over your ears. Less than that would still help though, especially if the white noise/music/whatever is loud enough. Also useful if going to a cafe or a library that isn’t actually that quiet. I second the people saying to turn messaging off. What’s going to happen that you NEED to be reachable?
OK, so maybe you can’t install a lock.
Try a doorstop on the inside, and a sign on the outside.
Totally. If they rent, not own, the property and can’t install a lock, there are still workarounds like a little doorstop you can get for a couple of bucks, chair against the door, etc. And headphones with some classical music or something are also a must.
I agree with this. Right now it sounds like you tell everyone that you can’t be disturbed and need to write, but continue responding to them basically like normal. Even after your reset, you’ll probably need to attach some consequences for interrupting and get on the same page about those with your husband, because otherwise, I think it will be really easy to slide back into old habits.
Yeah, this is what I thought of too. I don’t have kids, but I have a sister who I am actively trying to stop from dropping everything for HER kids. And as a writer myself, my first thought when I saw that LW is talking to her kids through DM was “what on earth is your cell phone doing within arms reach when you’re writing?” I can’t write when it’s near me. I put it on airplane mode and across the room, and *still* have to fight the urge to
get up and check it everytime my writing falters and my “this sucks I don’t wanna” lizard brain takes over.
Your kids can live without you for an hour. Your husband should not be freaking meditating during this hour, because one of the parents should be available and it’s sure as hell not going to be you.
Honestly, they’re teenagers! One of the parents doesn’t need to be available. They can handle themselves for an hour.
However, if Dad’s not going to be available, he needs to NOT say “I’m meditating, go ask Mom” which is almost certainly what happened here.
Even after your reset, you’ll probably need to attach some consequences for interrupting
A squirt gun? That would work on the husband.
Maybe a punishment/reward structure? If no one disturbs mom for three hours today we can all go to fun place for dinner! If not you all get Brussel spouts.
I would just like to say, that I know I am among my own people when anger is expressed with flames on the side of my face.
I don’t have the book on me right now, but iirc in Belles On Their Toes, the sequel to Cheaper By The Dozen, the mother eventually resorted to recording every interruption on a chart on the wall so each child could have a visual record of exactly how much of a pain they were being. I’d still go with the Captain’s “leave” advice first, but it’s worth a thought.
As someone who played the eldest daughter in my high school production of the Cheaper By the Dozen play, this makes me super happy to know, thank you!
Alternatively, this podcast about Lillian Gilbreth is excellent:
Thank you! It took an effort of will to restrain my comment to what was relevant to the discussion, instead of just gushing about what an incredibly cool person Lillian Gilbreth was, so I’ll definitely check it out.
I’m really not a fan of authoritarian parenting or coercion in interpersonal relationships, and I still second enforcing the boundaries with consequences. It’s not actually authoritarian – you’re setting and enforcing boundaries around interactions with you, not their behavior that only impacts them – and by restricting privileges (as opposed to needs), you’re not really limiting their autonomy, you’re just not enabling privileges they might otherwise enjoy. Learning consent culture, which includes taking others’ boundaries seriously, is an important element of addressing what’s going on here.
Agreed. My father was an academic and used to work from home to be in the house in the holidays when I was a young teenager with younger sisters. And we were simply not allowed to disturb him. He was working, and he would pop out at intervals that worked for him to say hello and have a chat and deal with anything necessary, and then go back and work for another hour. If we needed to ask something important then we could ask him that, but otherwise we knew not to. It helped that initially Mum was in the house to enforce it, but it became something that we could recognise for ourselves: Dad was busy, we would see him later.
TL:DR’s LW’s problem here is her husband, who should be facilitating her peace.
I agree this is a Husband Problem, both as a partner and as a parent. The kids I can excuse a little (even though reading this letter made me cringe), because they are KIDS. As teens they’re perfectly able to *learn* better behavior and more self-reliance, but they are still kids. The husband is a grown ass man, and has no excuse. He simply does not respect LW’s time. That’s a really big problem.
“Dad’s meditating”. Good grief.
Your story reminded me of the guy who was interviewed about a political situation in Korea by the BBC from his home office (via Skype) and then his 4 year old daughter burst in, followed by the baby, followed by his panicked wife.
That remains one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
The subsequent parody was less funny than the real thing but still amusing.
This! What’s the downside to getting a little mad that your time and your wishes are not respected? No kid ever died from being reprimandedt, and no husband either. “Can I go to a Friend’s house?” “WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT INTERRUPTING ME WHILE I’M WRITING???” “Mom, can you come here?” “WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT INTERRUPTING ME WHILE I’M WRITING??” Or, if you went to see the Important Thing, because you’re a mom: “That was NOT important and if you ever interrupt me again while I’m writing for that, you will [be grounded/go to your room/have consequences].”
At some point your family will consider your writing to be as important as YOU consider it to be. If you tolerate them disrespecting it, they will continue to do so — completely without malice, but still.
LW explicitly says that the has tried this: “I’ve tried yelling (“WHERE’S THE FIRE?”)” and that it doesn’t work.
I think the idea is to also attach a negative consequence after it happens, e.g. being grounded, not driving teen & friends places, no permission to do the thing they wanted to do, docking their allowance (if they get one), etc.
Now that I think about it, having to put money (for US, I’d go with $1 to $5 each time – no IOUs!) into a jar that goes to LW each time they interrupt her writing time might be enlightening, as well as costly, for them. Appealing to them to be considerate of LW’s time has not worked, but maybe they would consider how import the interruption really is, if it will cost them something.
My thought, too. Put the proceeds toward a writer’s conference or gathering that concerns the subject about which she writes.
Time to take the Xbox away, or something. Whatever works. Make it SERIOUS. Big stakes.
Maybe put one of those “Answer Price Lists” on the outside of the office door?
“Answer – 5$
Correct answer – 10$
Answers after thinking about it – 25$
dumb looks – free”
I personally like this one (in German)
It includes a 250$ option for “answering stupid questions”
I think “WHERE’S THE FIRE” sounds a bit too amusing, so they’re not taking it seriously.
Also, you are the owner, or at least one of the adults, in your house. You can buy a lock for your door. If you’re renting, keep the old doorknob in a drawer but otherwise, it’s really easy and cheap to swap out a doorknob with no lock for a doorknob with a lock. Then I would also wear headphones for when they inevitably knock anyway.
Yes. I was thinking “white noise machine” but headphones are probably better.
Products exist for this situation. Google ‘portable door lock’ and on those occasions where leaving the house is hard (I say this as someone with occasional serious bowel issues) prevent them from getting in the room!
at the very least–a door stop on the inside (if it opens inward)
Also, even in a room at home, you can try replies like “That’s not an emergency, I’ll deal with it after I’ve finished writing.” and “No, go away, I’m writing” and “Not now, I’m writing”. If everything they say gets a reply of “Not now, I’m writing”, regardless of what they say, that will have a different effect than the current pattern where you’re listening to them enough to vary it between “Ask your Dad” and “I thought you were going to Friend1’s house”, and so they’re still getting subconscious encouragement to keep going. And you can silence your phone and ignore DMs.
Right. The problem with being a mom is that you tend to feel that solving people’s problems is part of your job. (There are certain paid jobs like this, too, and the people who have them can never just sit and eat a hot dog in peace at the company picnic because other people are coming to them to ask them to find propane tanks and beesting remedies.)
If you can be at peace with the fact that other people’s problems, during this period, are not your problem, then you can stop rewarding them for interrupting you.
I agree with the Captain that a period of being out of the house, followed by a conversation, is the way to start.
Just, afterwards, resolve within your own mind that the law now is: Nobody Interrupts Mom’s Writing Time And Is Better Off Afterwards. Interrupting Mom’s Writing Time Always Makes Things Worse.
“Mom, can you come here? It’s important.”
Son opens door: “Mom, can you come here?”
“No, and since you interrupted me, you’re spending the afternoon cleaning the kitchen floor. Go on, shoo. If I hear your voice again, you can do the bathrooms, too. “
This. So much this. It’s entirely possible that ‘Mom’s writing time’ is not respected, while ‘Dad’s meditation time’ is, is because interrupting Dad has consequences.
It’s entirely possible to teach people to leave you alone. You simply have to enforce your boundaries and be willing to make people unhappy.
It’s not so simple to be willing to make people unhappy – but I suspect that it really is what’s needed here, as uncomfortable as it may be at first.
It’s very hard. I think that’s yet another reason for LW to practice (relative) unresponsiveness away from home.
It’s not _making_ them be unhappy, it’s _letting_ them be unhappy, and it’s extremely simple. It requires precisely no action whatsoever on your part.
They’re the ones who have chosen to break an explicit boundary. If they don’t get the outcome they desire from this and are unhappy as a result, on their heads be it. You didn’t make them unhappy, they made themselves unhappy by having unreasonable expectations. If I’m unhappy because the grass isn’t purple, that’s not the grass’s fault.
Other people’s feelings are neither your responsibility, nor something within your control.
It’s simple (as opposed to complicated), but not necessarily easy (as opposed to difficult), especially for people who really want social harmony, and more especially for people who feel compelled to try to make that happen themselves. Just look at all the letters where people enable truly awful behavior at the expense of someone else, even when they recognize that the person they’re enabling is behaving badly, becasue it looks like the shortest path to social harmony (for most people, not the person at whose expense the ‘harmony’ is maintained). It can be a really strong impulse, perhaps with a genetic component, and definitely socially reinforced.
Or even simply because Mom will cave and Dad won’t.
Dad says he’s busy, and then continues to refuse to engage.
Mom says she’s busy, but a small amount of pushing gets her to engage.
Not gonna lie. Part of me wants her to dump a bucket of water on the head of anyone who comes in. If they were actually on fire, problem solved. If it’s *that* much of an emergency, they’ll be willing to pay the price. If it’s not that much of an emergency, they will soon learn that bothering mom during writing time is unwise.
OK, probably not really. The Captain’s advice to LEAVE is better.
Squirt bottle. Just let them have a few squirts whenever they pop in. Works for my 4-leggeds 🙂
Or airhorn, particularly for husband.
^ The air horn made me snort out loud
I second the idea that any interruptions of mom’s writing time = chore assignments.
“Can Sarah come over?” “No, you’re too busy washing the cars.”
“Mom, I can’t find my socks.” “Maybe you can locate them while you’re doing laundry.”
“Honey, do you know where my phone charger went?” “Not sure, but could you cook dinner tonight?”
Either they’ll get the message or at least you’ll come out to a clean house with dinner on the table.
I disagree about chore assignments as punishment.
People in a household do chores because household maintenance is a necessary part of life. If you’re only 2 years old your chores are probably “help” put your toy in this box. If you’re 15, your responsibilities are greater.
While I don’t disagree re: chores as a necessity, I do think chores as a punishment structure would work well here with the correct framing – “No, and because you’ve interrupted me, I now need fifteen more minutes to get my work done today and won’t have time to do [X], so you’ll be doing that for me.”
I would not think of these if punishments. I just think she should treat interruptions are a reminder that she needs more help around the house, which is true if her writing time is interrupted. My mom used to give us chores to do everytime we said we were bored, and boy did we stop doing that in a hurry. It’s not punitive, just reconditioning.
…needs more help around the house…
That’s exactly the point I’m making. Doing chores isn’t “helping” with Mommy’s responsibilities. It’s living up to ones own.
The problem with being a mom is that you tend to feel that solving people’s problems is part of your job.
Take it from a mom who is looking at her kid and his passivity–this is a HORRIBLE thing to do.
And I like the “you have to clean X” as a consequence!
But you want to be sure that you don’t follow the urge to direct or supervise. “If it’s not clean when I come out, there will be Trouble, buddy.”
And sit down with them before to say: “When you interrupt me, you blow my concentration. It takes me longer to get back in the writing groove. And so you are making my entire life more difficult, because I have to take time away from any household chores I do, or whatever. So your consequence is going to be that you do something to make MY LIFE (not yours!) easier. So if you interrupt me, you will do one of my chores, or you will tackle some bigger household project that will free me up to do MY JOB of writing.”
Better still, print them out poster size and stick them on the office door 😀
As a mom and a writer and a person who’s worked at home for most of the past twenty years, I would be answering those questions very differently.
Daughter: Can I go to Friend’s house?
Me: I asked you not to disturb me. Why are you disturbing me?
Son: Mom, can you come here? It’s important! (Spoiler: It’s never important.)
Me: I asked you not to disturb me. Why are you disturbing me?
Daughter: I told Friend2 we could drive her to Friend1’s house.
Me: I asked you not to disturb me. Why are you disturbing me?
Husband: A SPORTSBALL PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF WAS TRADED TO A TEAM YOU DON’T FOLLOW!
Me: I asked you not to disturb me. Why are you disturbing me?
Son: Mom! The dog’s doing something adorable! Come see!
Me: I asked you not to disturb me. Why are you disturbing me?
Daughter (via DM): Mom whats for dinner?
Me: (via DM) I asked you not to disturb me. Why are you disturbing me?
Son: Mom! What’s for dinner?
Me: I asked you not to disturb me. Why are you disturbing me?
(Enter two cats. One of them takes up residence on my lap; the other, on my keyboard.)
Me: Love you cats, time to be on the other side of the door.
Be a broken record. Set your boundaries. The answer to every question is “I asked you not to disturb me.” Maybe a sign goes up on the door that says something that mixes loving and firm — Closed for Business, Open Again at X?. But this is a boundary issue about respect and manners. TBH, I wouldn’t even start with the “please don’t come in unless there’s blood…” because it means that there’s room for them to come in. There is no room for them to come in. If there’s blood or vomit, they can deal with it themselves until you finish your time. If there’s fire, they’ll probably save you. But maybe they’ll even manage to put that out by themselves. As I think about this, I’m guessing that you’re conveying flexibility to them — in my case, I HAD to get the work done, that was how I earned the living that supported us. So there was no messing around with my time, because it wasn’t optional.
The “fire, blood, or vomit” part stood out to me, too, because DAD should be handling any blood or vomit. They should tell her if she needs to evacuate the house for her OWN safety, but otherwise someone else is in charge of emergencies.
Yes, exactly. Why does she need to know about blood or vomit?? There’s another adult right there.
Love the repetition and the not answering whatever question it is.
One of my favorite mom-friends has a couple repeated mantras for smaller kids that should be more widely known:
“That sounds like a kid problem to me.”
“Mommy doesn’t know how to play that game.”
What kind of question gets the “Mommy doesn’t know how to play that game” response?
Asking because I have a lot of trouble focusing on just *playing* with my 3 yo partially because she makes increasingly complex rules and gets mad when we don’t follow ones she hasn’t even verbalized. Also I just get bored.
Which is to say, is that a response to “play with me!” or a response to other kinds of interactions?
Note: I realize you’re not a parent; just trying to get techniques wherever I find them.
It mostly gets used (by my observations) when one sibling complains that the other one is not playing the game by those elaborate rules, but I’m sure it can be adapted for your circumstances! It’s never phrased as a question, like, “teach me to play your game!” it’s always “Oh, but that’s a kid game, have fun! Mommy doesn’t know that game.”
I get the bursts of gratitude every once in a while that I was (still am) an only child.
Song in my heart, at that age, it’s perfectly okay to start saying things like “I’m not having fun playing this game any more, and you don’t seem to be enjoying it either. Let’s play another one.” Or to say things like “I’ll play this game for X more minutes (set a timer). Then I’m going to [something else].” It’s good for them to figure out how to self-entertain, and to also realize that if they want someone to play with them, it has to be appealing to the other person too.
You’ll get some Big Feelings when you set these boundaries at first (young people are like older people, yes) but it gets better.
(Though I’m currently battling the “I’m bored and can’t think of what to do but all your suggestions are terrible” phase right now. Fun.)
We’re at “I’m bored and my cousins have a tablet, phone, laptop and three different consoles EACH and a TV in their room and I don’t like toys any more and I want to go out* and I’m BOOOORED”. I’m holding out against unlimited screen time and riding out the whinging but oh. my. goodness. I can’t wait for 10 to be over.
* This is a trap. He does not want to go out, unless it is to a fabulously expensive theme park or to the fabulously distant beach (where he does not, in fact, want the beach, but the arcade and candy shop and amusement park bits which are, you guessed it, expensive).
I feel that kind of bored precisely once a month. 😉 Eventually I figured out that I don’t *want* suggestions; there is nothing that will make the feeling go away besides time, so either I do something that passes time quickly despite not enjoying it, or I figure if I’m going to be miserable anyways, I might as well get some chores done so future-me can be happier 🙂
Somehow I doubt I would have been willing to listen to such advice as a child, though.
@Amphelise my mom always responded to “But I’m BOOOOOORED” with 1) “Only boring people get bored” or 2) “Oh you’re bored? Time for [chore].”
I learned not to complain to her about being bored.
I suspect that’s especially difficult for children who are unable to handle their own transportation* and don’t have their own money, becasue they really do lack the agency to address to boredom that older people might have. If I’m bored at 32, I can see if any friends want to meet up (and transport myself there, and spend money on food or drinks if called for, all without relying on anyone else), get a new book from the library or a store, rent a movie to stream, buy a new video game, go out to a bar to chat up random people, go for a 20 mile bike ride, visit a museum, go to the beach, etc. As a younger child, I may not have access to the skills, resources, or permission to do some or all of the things I can do to entertain myself as an adult. Entertaining oneself in boring circumstances IS a valuable skill to learn, since one will probably find oneself needing to entertain oneself while being unable to do most things one might find entertaining at various points for the rest of one’s life (say, sitting in waiting rooms). It’s why humans invented games; puzzle books (sudoku, logic word problems, etc.) or learning a few different kinds of solitaire card games could help kids entertain themselves without electronic devices, as could identifying a skill the child can practice (this will require actually being interested in developing that skill so that it feels like fun instead of work). Reading books is a great way to kill time, if the kid isn’t actively resistant to reading and isn’t necessarily looking to burn off some physical energy. I can still remember a little what that was like – for me it was sometimes nearly a claustrophobic feeling, where I felt trapped in the house and an impulse to do SOMETHING that wasn’t any of the available options. Irritating for the parents to be sure, but that’s being motivated by the fact that it also sucks for the kid.
*Whether because they’re too young to be out and about unsupervised or becasue motor vehicles are the only functional and relatively safe transit option and they’re too young to drive or they can drive but don’t have access to a car.
I definitely got the chore answer and the “only boring people are bored” answers when I was a kid. And I think learning how to self-entertain is a super important skill.
While she’s only 5 (and thus dependent on adult help for a lot of stuff) I know she’s capable of independent play since she does it regularly every morning. I think the “bored” thing is a combination of being tired and wanting attention, rather than not really knowing what to do. And if this is the worst I have to put up with as a parent, I think I’ve got it pretty good. 🙂
LOL, the kids I know would understand ‘I don’t know how to play that game’ to mean ‘so you’ll have to teach me’.
Or what about just – NOT respond?
**Put a “writing, do not disturb – back 5 PM“ sign on the door, lock the door (install a lock!!), begin writing*
“Mom what’s for dinner?” *SILENCE*
“Mom come see with the dog’s doing, it’s so cute!” *SILENCE*
“Mom come quick! I need you!” *SILENCE*
Even if you hear them – pretend you don’t, 100% if the time, no exceptions ( otherwise they will learn that you will respond on the 10th time they bug you, so they’ll keep trying). Yes it will be distracting at first, but if you train them to not expect a response AT ALL, they will stop bothering you after a while because they realize that it is 100% futile.
In my experience kids tend to assume not that you’re purposely ignoring them, but that you simply didn’t hear them. Which leads to eventual escalation of volume and shirt pulling. I think a short non-answer is better in the long run because it saves you the extra fifteen minutes of them not getting the message.
Stewie: Mum. Mum. Mum. Mum. Mummy. Mum. Mum! Mum! Mummy!
And if the silence part doesn’t work, a simple and cheap eyehook lock (as mentioned elsewhere) or flip lock (the kind that has a flat flap you flip over) will also do wonders.
The part that struck me was “Dad is meditating”. That gets my goat, as others have also mentioned. DAD is meditating but MOM is writing so…bother Mom?
Unfortunately, each interruption means an interruption in your train of thought. “What’s for dinner?” or “I need you!” takes you away from the work you want to be doing.
Heartily second the “GET OUT!” school of writing. Heck, my own kid is grown and gone and my domestic partner is a lovely man who understands that I need quiet and focus to work — yet my brainweasels whisper things like, “You know what would be great? To make a batch of rice pudding!” and “Hey, it’s sunny and the wind is blowing, shouldn’t you do a laundry?”
Which is why I spend a lot of time at the city’s main library. There’s a no-cell-phones-and-no-talking area where writers can have at it. (Although people also play games and watch films, wearing headphones.) I’m a freelance writer and if I don’t produce, I don’t get paid. I am very grateful for the library.
Oh, and what’s up with teen-aged humans not being able to do some basic cooking, or any other kind of chores? You’re not doing them any favors if you send them out into the world unable to cook, clean or do laundry.
I think this is going to vary significantly from family to family – but when I was 13 my full-time working mom started a PhD program, and had that been her response to the changes in her availability I think it would have actually been more disruptive for our family whereas the Captain’s 4 week routine (that I believe likely needs to be a bit more like 6-8 weeks) is better.
My mom no longer being available to me exactly when and how I was used to her being available was jarring. And hearing “I asked you not to disturb me, why are you disturbing me” could have easily triggered a meltdown. For better or worse – and I say this from experience… So then it would be a case of the meltdown taking on a variation of “I just wanted to tell this to Mom, Mom doesn’t care, no one here understands me, etc etc etc.” (add assorted teenage sound effects)
That being said, instead of Mom running grocery shopping trips and me joining her, my Dad started taking that over. And if I wanted to join him because there were foods I wanted to pick out for myself – great – but that was just the new routine. My mom had already been working full time for years, so it wasn’t like I couldn’t adjust to routines of her being unavailable (and this was pre-cell phones!) – so hearing “now on Sundays Dad is Grocery shopping/now on Wednesdays Mom doesn’t come home until 8-9pm and it’s just Dad and kids for dinner” was far easier.
Boundaries are great. Setting and reinforcing boundaries is great. I wish my family was better at that! But my mom starting to work on her PhD was also when I was 13 and had all the emotional stability and maturity of 13. And as it was that transition combined with its own meltdowns. But routines changing was the way for that to become the new normal far more so than talking, explaining the situation, or verbal boundary setting. Which then easily became it’s own time suck away from my mom studying.
Likely doesn’t make me the most mature or amazing 13 year old, but also didn’t make me a very unusual one.
I was the saaaaame way as a teenager. I was the worst.
My mom was pretty great at enforcing boundaries when she was doing work at home or even just reading/prepping for Bible study. But if I was in A Mood, I would ruin her productivity time and pick fights.
When she was physically not there, however, I’d handle my own shit just fine.
Yeah, there’s a difference between a parent not being there (normal, expected) and a parent just suddenly not responding the way they used to do. It’s easy for the second one to ping as rejection.
Exactly. And that is why I preface this in regards to knowing your own family and their needs, sensitivities, challenges, etc.
Years later, I remember the grocery store change because at the time it was *a big deal*. And then at some point my mom starting doing some and then later all of the grocery shopping again. I don’t remember if she was still working on her PhD when that happened or after – but while at the time the change was a big deal, eventually it became something unnoticed.
It can definitely be argued that taking the time to assert boundaries with kids has a benefit – but if the real goal is to get the OP time to write, taking on a boundary setting exercise with tweeners/teens might end up not giving the OP the actual time she’s looking for.
The OP definitely isn’t going to get the time she’s looking for if her teenagers think mom is not allowed to have work time.
I also had a hard time when I was young with my parents working from home, though I didn’t show it (I wish I had but I can’t time travel, so). It was, unlike the LW’s situation, a way more drastic 24/7 imposition on me. Anyway, I got the message that Business was more important than me. Whatever I had going on just wasn’t that important, and they never let me in on what they were doing really.
I think things could have been a little different if my parents had actually bragged a bit about the cool things they were doing, shared it with me a little. My Dad would talk about work, but it wasn’t really on my level, it was more like complaining to my Mom about Quicken. I wonder if the LW ever talks with her family about how much she loves her writing time, the cool things she’s writing about, how she’s feeling proud of herself for how much she got done? It’s actually really cool what she’s doing and modeling for her kids, even if they don’t show interest now she might still share with them because it’s worth while. And things might have been different for me if there were a cut-off time that was NOT “business hours,” but that’s not really relevant to LW. But along those lines, I would certainly have felt better about a routine, not just randomly springing it on me that Mom isn’t available. Sometimes that’s just how it has to be, but it can feel a bit out-of-control and inconsiderate if you’re an immature kid.
I’m sorry that was your experience. I had the opposite. My mother became very ill when I was 14, and suddenly it was a case of no interrupting mum when she’s sleeping, no one can call us after 9.30pm, and you will be doing these chores at this time. No arguments. I don’t think we were great at doing this, but there was never any doubt that we had to do it. We dealt. We didn’t feel abandoned. Probably the main thing that made this happen was that Dad strictly enforced this. In fact, our school holiday routine was dad calling us from his work at 9am to wake us up and tell us what chores we had to do that day.
LW, I’m actually really angry on your behalf, having had a former partner who refused to acknowledge the ‘I’m doing something now, I don’t care about the tv show you’re watching’. It drove me nuts. A grown man should be more than capable of understanding this, AND of parenting his own children.
As I mentioned above – these kinds of changes really do vary from family to family. In our family when I was 6 and my little brother was 3, my father had a very aggressive cancer that hung took a few years to treat. For better or worse, I would say that it definitely left me vulnerable about how important my needs were.
It’s not that tactics weren’t helpful for having me realign my needs and work together as a family – but my sensitivities and reactions were definitely more sensitive and emotional. I think there are a number of approaches for getting the LW more space to write, but some of them may simply involve more family discussions, negotiating, repeating boundaries, etc.
I think this is just where it behooves the LW to think about her family. and where they’re the strongest and where they’re the weakest. And it may just be that the quickest solution is to focus on tactics that feature where the family has the strongest coping mechanism as opposed to where it might be weaker or fragile.
I would drop the “Why are you disturbing me?” though. It will not be understood as rhetorical. Don’t give them an opportunity to talk more.
I love this a lot with one exception. I’d remove “Why are you disturbing me?” If you ask that question, it’s only too likely that you’ll get an answer when what you really want is for the disturber not to be there in the first place. From the disturber’s point of view, there’s no penalty for trying. When the disturber bothers Mother, there’s the chance that they will get what they want (an answer, attention, a ride, sympathy, whatever). At some point this has to be turned into a situation where there IS a penalty. Next time a disturber asks for a ride, after your hour is up, explain that if they’d waited until the hour is up, there was a chance they’d get a ride. As it is, however, the answer is an absolute NO. Make it a point to look at adorable dog things after your hour is up IF there was no disturbance demanding your attention during the hour. If you really want to drive the point home, disturbers have to do extra chores. Each disturbance = you’re doing the dishes tonight.
I also recommend something tangible to help the family with the hour. A sign and an alarm clock would do it. “Mother will be available at 6:00pm” and next to that sign is a clock counting down the minutes.
LW didn’t ask about this, but I think it important to throw this in: What you’re doing as far as taking some undisturbed time for yourself is something that will GREATLY BENEFIT THEM! There’s this pervading idea in the culture that women who take time for themselves should feel guilty because they owe everything to their children. In reality, those teenagers will become resourceful and happier if Mother isn’t available every minute. They’ll find that they’re able to remember interesting things to talk about at a later appropriate moment. They’ll get better at solving their own small problems– and will be proud of themselves for it.
Actually, for me, the “why are you disturbing me?” would be important because I always considered my first job to be that of mom. And I wanted to make the interrupter consider the question or whatever the variant was. Yes, it opened up the potential for a dialogue, but the dialogue might be an important learning experience on either side. If it was a six year old answering, “because I feel lonely,” then we’d make a plan to address that, after work time. If it was a ten-year-old saying, “because I need an answer right now,” we’d talk about priorities (and the answer would always be whatever he didn’t want it to be.) There were not a lot of those dialogues over the years, but my teenager still felt connected enough to me to interrupt me when it really was something I would want to know immediately, including the emotional “I hate my life and I’m never going back to school again.” It was important to me never to be a brick wall parent. And also to have good boundaries around my work.
I think it’s fine though if the LW DOES want to have her “first job” NOT be that of a mom for a few hours, and if she has to be a brick wall to get that done, I don’t think it will hurt her kids. While you were okay being interrupted for your teenagers’ emotions, this writer may not be, and that seems healthy to me.
5 Leaf Clover: +10000000000000
Also: THERE IS DAD. Let Dadding be his First Job while LW is prioritising getting her shit done. The kids are extremely unlikely to wither and die if Dad is the one fielding their questions for an hour a week.
Sarah– Yours sounds like an excellent compassionate answer to a question the LW didn’t ask. If the question had been “how do keep the lines of communication open with my children whom I believe might be lonely, troubled or depressed at any moment”, then telling them to come to you immediately even when you’re trying to work makes sense. But the examples Crowded gave were all funny interruptions having to do with rides and dogs and meditating which are different things altogether.
I often wished my mom would have taken time for herself for some hobby or interest of hers, time where us kids were expected to not bother her and wait until later if we had to ask her things. Learning to respect other’s time is a good lesson for any kid. But also for me, I always felt uncomfortable with the unspoken idea that she had to sacrifice all her wants and needs for us; I never wanted to be a focus for martyrdom.
This. So much this. Amateur writer here who also carves out the “writing, don’t bother me” space, and who also had a work-from-home job at one point. Broken recordisms can work wonders, though the “why are you disturbing me” question has the risk of provoking answers and degenerating into conversation that keeps the disruptions going — the LW’s trained herself to respond to them, so she needs to break that training and their expectations first. I’d use this as the tactic after the reset the Captain proposes. (My own wording would be a mumbled, obviously-not-listening “That’s nice” with no other response or action.) LW, write your chosen mantra on a whiteboard and stick it where you will see it as you work, and read it off to whoever/whatever dares to speak through The Writer’s Door.
Also, LW, the reset needs to happen on both sides. I know you have a fulltime job on top of the writing…so treat the writing as your fulltime job, too. You’re doing this already, yay!! It just needs to go a bit farther. Like CA said, leave the house, just as you do for your other job. Libraries are great; so are local coffee and sandwich shops with wifi — get the cheapest, plainest drink and claim a back corner, and you’re golden.
With November coming up, I whole-heartedly recommend NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org). Most cities have local NaNo groups who host weekly/daily write-ins, where it’s nothing but other writers writing. NaNoWriMo also holds various “camps” and other such things throughout the year, all with the aim of getting your writing habit/job firmly established in your life. The whole “50k words or bust” thing can also be a great, needed mental push!
THIS. The LW has to respect her own boundaries first, instead of caving or getting sidetracked (and things like assigning chores or making charts or whatever are getting sidetracked).
Dad needs to get the fuck on board and stop “meditating” when the LW is writing.
Jesus I got exhausted from just reading what goes down. The captain’s advice and 1000x better than what my immediate reaction was, which is “divorce lawyer for the husband, nunnery for the kids, and an isolated cabin in the middle of the forest for you”
The Captain’s advice is golden. And I echo it: LEAVE! Find a library or coffee shop or one of those super trendy work-share spaces that all my friends love! I don’t have nearly as many people and critters competing for my attention at home, but if I’m trying to work at home, I will 100% end up petting the cat/ chatting with my husband/ randomly doing laundry/ cleaning my closet instead of actually working. I wrote the vast majority of my dissertation at Starbucks because, when I was there, it was my work-space, and there were no piles of laundry/ cats paws/ cute husband to distract me. Good luck! You sound cool and super capable, and I know you’ll find a way to Write The Thing!
Yes. At almost 5, my kiddo has accepted that “Mama is going to Starbucks” is just a thing in her life. She’s not always happy about it, but she accepts that it’s happening. Ditto “Mama pottery time.”
But at home? Even with other adults actively running interference, I myself just can’t concentrate with her in the house. It’s too small, she’s too loud, and “Mama brain” fills up all the space in my head. Leaving is good.
(Plus I find it acts as a trigger to settle into work-brain, because the habit has been established.)
I think leaving the house to write is good advice, but what I got from the LW is that she needs to write for an hour every day, not just once a week (“…if I’m unavailable to them for an hour or so each day.”).
So what I’m wondering, LW, is this: since you have a full-time job, can you make your writing time immediately after work? Stop at the library/Starbucks on your way home from work, write for an hour with your phone and other messaging apps off, and then go home. If it messes up your husband’s and/or kids’ schedules, that’s too bad. If they could give you one goddamn hour at home to write in peace, then maybe their schedules wouldn’t be messed up.
Ahhhh, good catch, and perfect fix.
Brilliant. And I’d throw in a few “Oh, I got a sandwich on my way home. $Husband, what are you planning on fixing the kids for dinner?” instances in there for good measure.
bostoncandy, this script is awesome. Bcause If I said, “I’m writing after work, you’ll need to make dinner” my husband would assume I’ve put a menu up, pulled the meat out of the freezer, and dug out the special cooking appliance already instead of understanding that he needs to do ALL the thinking and working to make tonight’s dinner happen.
Oh man. All the times my husband says, “Well I want to cook XYZ dish but the meat is frozen and we don’t have all the ingredients” and I want to clock him with the Instant Pot.
“Gosh, honey, that sounds like a problem. What are you going to do to fix it?”
neverjaunty’s reply is spot on. My husband, who is basically a sweet and conscientious man, had a mean case of learned helplessness around cooking. He is sufficiently intelligent, however, to figure out the answer to the frozen meat + missing ingredients problem. It just took a couple of instances of “What do you think you’ll do about that?” for it to click that what he should do was problem solve rather than looking to me to make the food thing occur.
My husband and I very explicitly separate “planning dinner” and “making dinner” into two chores, which has helped with this tremendously. I’m the default dinner-planner, which is fine because we agreed to it, and I take into account which of us is making dinner on any given night when planning. And if I can’t plan dinner, I transfer that chore to him explicitly so he knows he has to do both.
Mr. Bells has learned to ask “do we have plans for dinner” instead of “what’s for dinner.” Because my answer to the second one started to be “whatever you’re making.” Now if I have not planned dinner, he can decide if he wants to order a pizza or plan and cook the meal himself.
I wouldn’t ask. I’d wait til spouse or spawn wailed “What’s for dinner?”
Then I’d say “Up to you! I ate.”
Or : “You know dinner is Daddy’s job.”
(As I’ve said before, sometimes reminding people that they already know helps. Not always, but sometimes.)
I would ask a few times, since I’m guessing this represents a pretty big departure from the norm. But I wouldn’t answer the question, only pose it.
If you’re right, LW won’t have to wait long.
But if I were to ask, my question would be “My dinner was a sandwich, what was yours?”
Mrs Morley – love it!
This is how I got through working an almost-full time job + going to grad school. While there were no kids in the picture, there was a (now ex-) spouse who would greet me by immediately launching into a minute-by-minute recitation of what he did that day, updates on TV shows/comic books/video games he’d enjoyed, etc. This would continue essentially until he was ready to go to bed and no amount of discussions about boundaries, needing decompression time, having to get classwork done had any effect. (There are many reasons he’s a now ex.) So instead of saying “I’ll be home from class by 8,” it was “I’ll be home from class by 9:30,” and I would go sit in the student lounge or library — I went to Roosevelt and can concur with the Captain’s assessment of how great that place was to get work done — or go to Starbucks so I could at least get a chunk of work done.
When I worked FT and studied by distance ed, I’d turn up to work an hour early and work in the break room. Or, I’d hang at the coffee shop outside. So much easier than my current situation – now a writer (yay for writers!) and WAHM, and my work time is when the kids are home lately, and leaving them home alone is not, I’m told, an option (little is only 4).
I have one small kid. When my wife is sleeping and I am not, I have to keep that kid out of the bedroom (and vice versa). This is the bedrock of marital harmony and everyone understands this, even small kid. Obviously I do not try to WORK at home for sustained periods because that is impossible with a very small kid but WTF, this dad?
My husband and I LIVE by this very mantra, and I recommend it to all new parents. Saturday mornings are mine – no disturbing mom until at least 9 AM. Sunday mornings are my husband’s. Sometimes, we don’t sleep in on our day. Sometimes, we read a book, or play video games, or take a bubble bath. But those few hours every weekend are our time to be alone and know that our toddler is enjoying some one-on-one time with our spouse.
My mom had me well-trained from the time I was about 4. She’d put a glass of milk and a peanut butter sandwich on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so I could get my own breakfast on saturday mornings, and I wasn’t allowed to wake mommy until whichever cartoon started at 9:00 came on. I got to feel very grown up, and my parents got to sleep in. Win-win!
While I agree that mom should talk with the teens, about boundaries and about the patriarchy and gender roles (and I think that these shouldn’t be dinner-table pleas for respect, but actual conversations) and maybe even set up some consequences or rewards if absence and monotonous replies don’t retrain them, Dad is where I would place my initial efforts. He should be leading by example, as well as actively redirecting and refocusing the kids onto himself as the person to turn to.
I wonder if taking only one hour per evening is backfiring. If it’s only one hour, that means that all the dinner and ride stuff probably still falls on Mom, as opposed to Dad actually taking over. OP, are you selling that one hour to your family and your husband as time that won’t even inconvenience them, it’s just one measly hour? Are you trying to keep it from putting a burden on your husband, either consciously or unconsciously? Because your husband should be stepping into a combined role of house manager and wife’s-time-protector and it doesn’t sound like he has internalized either of those roles.
Oh, and on that tip, the meditation thing is niggling at me. I am going to presume that you both work full-time, and that your husband needs time to do his thing(s) to unwind. Could you ask him to not use your writing hour for that, since he needs to be actively Dadding? If that feels unbalanced to you, maybe brainstorm with him for ways to balance it out over the week?
Oh, and I meant to add, wouldn’t it be great if *Dad* could talk with the kids about women’s work and gender roles as he actively redirects them towards himself when they need something? I can see my own husband falling into this bad pattern, but he would come around if I argued things out with him. He probably wouldn’t do as thorough or accurate a job as I in teaching the kids the lessons, but that’s okay.
Re the meditation thing, I have two kids and am also writing a book (on a rushed deadline). My husband has taken over everything from housework to shopping and cooking to childcare when he’s not at work so I can write and make stuff (a lot of the book is photos of the stuff I make). His attitude is that this is a family project and everyone needs to make sacrifices. But I’ve been insistent that he do things to recharge and have given up potential work time so he can go to shows now and then or just hang out alone at home and listen to records. The kids are having to see less of me and have gotten surly and clingy sometimes, but I’ve also tried to carve out special time one on one with both of them. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s helpful for me to see this as kind of a family marathon where we all individually need Gatorade stops now and then. But we’re still all going to need to run until this is over because we, as a family, could really use that advance. So I would t side eye the meditation (not that your comment was doing that) but it needs to happen around your work schedule, because you are writing a fucking book, it won’t be forever, and these guys don’t want to hear about the book that could’ve been every time you have too much wine for the next fifty years. (Kidding)
This is such a great approach, and good on you and your family for working so hard on it – because I’m sure it *is* work to make it a success. But as you said in your last sentence, better to do this work now to make your book happen than to do the work of dealing with the book not having happened: it’s work either way, so may as well do the good work so you can reap some eventual benefits.
, Dad is where I would place my initial efforts. He should be leading by example, as well as actively redirecting and refocusing the kids onto himself as the person to turn to.
I remember when my daughter was a toddler, and I needed to cook dinner. And she’d want to interact w/ Mommy because she’d been in daycare all day. But I couldn’t cook safely with her in the kitchen. I was distracted, and burning things, and cutting myself.
I said to my husband, “Would you watch Kiddo while I’m cooking?” Sure, he said. And he did. Literally. He watched her. He watched her toddle into the kitchen to talk to me.
I had to blow up, finally, and I also had to change my directions: “You need to play with her and keep her distracted from me, and focused on YOU, or on her TOYS. And if you see her drifting my way, you need to GET UP and lure her back to the living room, and to you.” I had to be absolutely explicit. (I thought I had been–I’d be explicit about the danger of the distraction. But he didn’t have a clue about what he was supposed to do.)
Eventually, he became the cook. That was easier.
My dad used to keep us out of my mom’s hair during dinner prep time by reading us the newspaper, or reading a book.
OP, if you do really want to stay in your writing room and not leave, consider investing in a lock for the door (it’s not all that expensive to replace a doorknob with one that locks!) and some really good noise-cancelling headphones. You tell them you’re going to be writing and inaccessible for the next X hours; then, you go and do it, and you are *actually inaccessible to them*. The key is that you actually have to enforce the boundary. The locking door is to keep everyone else out. The headphones are to help you ignore them as they call for you, knock on the door, jiggle the doorknob, etc.
I suspect that after a couple weeks of this being a daily routine (or a month or two if it’s less frequent), they’ll get used to the fact that mom just isn’t available when the door is closed, and stop trying unless it really is an emergency. But right now they’re in the habit of going to you for every little thing, and you’re in the habit of responding every time they ask. It’s going to take time, effort, and strong boundaries to change those habits.
This letter really reminded me of Doris Lessing’s short story ‘To Room Nineteen’ for a very dark version of this type of situation. LW, this sounds super stressful and unfair. As someone who’s also trying to write a book while also working full-time (though no partner or children) , I’ve found I have to be so strict with my own jerkbrain/procrastination about blocking out fixed sections of time to write and telling myself I can’t stop for anything else during that time. In this case, the Captain’s right – your husband and children and external obstructions to your writing, and I think it would help to establish fixed times where they know they can’t bother you, whether you’re writing at home or leaving the house. And you definitely deserve more support from your husband about this, so I hope he comes through. Good luck!
Yes, leave! LW, I don’t know if your kids were ever in daycare, but if they were do you remember how sometimes they would cry and cling because the world was ending that you were leaving? And then 30 seconds after you left they toddled off to go play, happy as can be? And that the least painful way of doing drop off was to do it as fast as possible, because drawing it out would just prolong the clinging?
There might not be tears and teens glomming onto your legs right now, but you giving lots of advance notice is just prolonging their time to continue ‘requiring’ your attention.
An additional suggestion, for when you do attempt to reclaim your home writing room: don’t announce you’re going in there. Sneak. It may very well be over an hour before anyone realizes they ‘need’ you if they’re otherwise occupied doing other things.
I currently have a toddler which is why my comment is focused around that, but “sneaking” is how I get to move around my own house in peace right now. If my daughter is in the playroom with her dad doing a puzzle and sees me walk by on my way to the bathroom, you bet your ass she’s following me in there (or screaming and pounding on the door because I had the audacity to go alone). She does the same to my husband if she realizes he’s going somewhere without her. But if she isn’t alerted to the fact that we’re leaving her presence then it’s NBD.
And to be perfectly honest, I’m the same way with my husband. We could have been coexisting in silence and peace for a couple hours, but as soon as he’s like “oh hey, I’ll be outside if you need me” my brain suddenly starts trying to think of all the things I might need him for.
I’m thinking that at some point, adding in a ten minute warning could be helpful for just that. “Mom’s writing time starts in ten minutes. If you can think of any possible reason that you might need me, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
However, and this is a big however, I think I would not implement that until 6 or more weeks into the writing at home phase – after the 4-6 weeks writing away from home phase. If you do that from the start, they will just front-load all that emotional labor onto Mom. Let them figure things out for themselves for a while, and hopefully by that point, they will be somewhat trained in using their own resources and only bring up relatively important stuff when Mom makes her announcement. If not, you can always go back to not pre-announcing when you’ll be unavailable.
I have no advice to add to the advice that the Captain has given you. I would like you to know that I giggled as I read your letter and was laughing out loud by the time I got to “Jesus, take the wheel.” You’ve got a gift for humor much like Edna Bombeck’s . Escape the loving clutches of your lovable but clueless family for a few hours every weekend and write, write, write! 🙂
I might add a sign on the door/whiteboard/etc in addition to leaving when you can and setting times. My mother told us not to bother her before 10 on Sundays and so we didn’t, and I was an anxious kid, but those were the rules and they were followed.
I like the whiteboard idea. Maybe also implement a policy where if you have questions for Mom during her writing time, you write them on the whiteboard and she’ll get to them later?
I think that writing down “questions for mom” will lead to stuff like “putting off dinner til mom gets home” and “avoiding laundry because I don’t know which load”. In other words, it won’t ease the burden on the LW.
and honestly, they can figure this out. That’s one HUGE opportunity the LW has here.
“You are intelligent people. You can figure this out.”
My mom even told us that we could figure out whether we were allowed to borrow the car! She wasn’t home–she was at work, and the car was in the drive. We couldn’t ask her. Her rule: “If you think I would say yes, then you can borrow the car. I think you know whether I would truly mind or not.” And she was right–we did. I knew that if I’d asked her to take the car to the convenience store for a candy bar, she’d have snorted at me in amusement, and said yes.
I wouldn’t have had to ask permission to go to my friend’s house, because I knew what the answer would be. If I thought it woudl be OK, I went, and I left a note so people knew.
Laundry? Do whatever load seems sensible. If you’re wrong, what’s the true cost? Nothing. You can do the right load later.
This is a huge opportunity for her kids to become much more self-sufficient.
There’s also the “sit down and say: what will YOU do with YOUR time to keep YOU occupied while *I* am unavailable?” Make them come up with a specific plan of something THEY are doing. Maybe this can be THEIR homework time. Or their music-practice time. Or their “writing to my penpal” time. Or their “cleaning my room” time.
Something that will absorb them and teach THEM how to focus.
I like the Captain’s scripts, but I would also like to suggest something further: call them out on bad behavior.
The LW has been clear about her needs and the family refuses to meet them. It’s okay for her to call the behavior what it is: rude, disrespectful, mean.
I would suggest trying these out if they’re needed:
– “I have a book contract and writing is one of my jobs. You need to respect my work hours so that I can meet my commitments to my publisher.”
– “I’ve repeatedly asked for time to complete my work. You know that this is important to me. Why do you continue to interrupting me?”
– “It’s rude to interrupt someone when they’ve explicitly asked not to be interrupted. This cannot happen again.”
And if they continue to behave badly, make a stink out of it. Punish the kids. Fight with the husband. They continue to do this because, so far, there are no consequences for them. They’re able to do what they want and the only person who is upset by it is the LW.
This might meet the short-term goal but it’s not a good long-term solution for health family dynamics 😦
Sayevet, the kids and the dad are both harming the mom. I’m curious about how you think a family dynamic where three people regularly trample the needs of a third is “healthier” than pushing back, with requests first and consequences/fights if necessary. Do you think couples shouldn’t fight when one is hurting the other? Do you think punishing children is always wrong no matter how badly they behave? If that’s true, should our LW never get what she needs? In other words, should she be the one to suffer so the “family dynamics” can be unharmed? That seems so unfair to me.
Some of this is quibbling about language, but yeah, modern child theory is that “punishment” is always an unhealthy dynamic. Instituting natural consequences and outcomes is healthy; explicitly punitive measures are not.
The thing is you don’t expect “fairness” from your minor children and while you do expect it from a spouse, lecturing and fighting is generally toxic and ineffective as a way of making change with anyone. The LW describes her family as happy. We read this and see an injustice being done to LW. But LW has multiple competing priorities and her approach to parenting and marriage is clearly one that prioritizes harmony even if sometimes at great expense to herself. The best solution here is not “fundamentally change who you are, what you value and blow up your family in the process” but what the captain advised which is essentially “find a way to nurture yourself and prioritize your needs the way you obviously do so skillfully for everyone else’s.” Making other people change by lecturing them is a losing strategy. Protecting your boundaries is a winning one.
If the other people are repeatedly ignoring clearly stated boundaries, maybe they SHOULD change and grow up.
Clearly stating and enforcing your boundaries isn’t “lecturing”. It’s important for everyone, but especially the kids, to realize that their behavior affects other people, sometimes negatively. They can’t just keep doing what they’re doing without being asked to consider how they are making the LW feel and the affect that they’re having on her ability to work.
Well, I think teenagers can certainly be taught how to be “fair” to other people (otherwise, how are they going to learn how to behave ethically and respectfully towards others? Or is it only ok to disrespect their mother?). And LW has been explaining her needs and trying to protect her boundaries for a while now, to no avail, so obviously the “maintaining harmony” approach has failed. What is she supposed to do? Be a martyr while her family gleefully walk all over her boundaries?
When are children supposed to learn how to respect other people’s boundaries if that respect doesn’t start at home?
And pretending that laying down boundaries is akin to “blowing up the family” is playing into the very harmful idea that mothers should be expected to forget their own needs and lose their own identity to motherhood.
So well said!
I dunno, I think it might be a good long-term solution! The family dynamics at home got a lot better when my mom stopped doing all the emotional labor forever and started actually enforcing some boundaries. There were fights and arguments and tears and at one point a glass tabletop got broken, and it was uncomfortable all around for a while, and it was so much better for the whole family than if she’d just kept sacrificing all of her own goals for the sake of addressing problems sweetly and politely and calmly no matter how much her boundaries were stepped on.
I learned a lot of good lessons as a kid from having actual punishments for bad behavior.
What’s your definition of “healthy family dynamics” if you feel that telling someone they are behaving badly isn’t healthy? The kids are teenagers. Teenagers who are being taught by their dad that mom’s need to have time for herself can be walked over. Kindness isn’t working.
It is too a good long-term solution for healthy family dynamics. It’s not necessary for it to all be sweetness and light.
I’m not sure this is a good dynamic for the kids. Teenagers are at the age where they’re learning to set and respect adult boundaries. If they’ve never had this kind of boundary with their mom before, it’s not surprising that they need some time and reinforcement to learn to respect it (and the fact that their dad is ignoring it really doesn’t help them here). There should be consequences to them interrupting mom, but ideally those would be along the lines of natural consequences rather than arbitrary punishment–e.g. “When mom is busy, I don’t get an answer to my question even if I interrupt to ask her” guides kids to look elsewhere for answers, while “When mom is busy, she yells at me even though I just needed her for a second” may well feel disproportionate, rejecting, and scary to a kid whose mom has historically been available for everything.
I’m all for making a real stink with the husband, though. He’s old enough to know how to respect boundaries already, and instead, not only is he ignoring LW’s explicitly stated needs here and setting a bad example for their kids, he’s actively making himself unavailable during the one period of the day where he’s been asked to be the go-to parent. Come on, dude, really, you just HAD to meditate in the ONE hour of the day when your wife said she’s not available for parenting? Did you just not think this through, or are you actively trying to undermine her?
Yeah. About the meditating thing. Sure, Dad should get alone time too. But why THAT time?
If Dad gets alone time to meditate, I sure hope the LW gets that too. Because this isn’t a break to recharge for her, it’s time to _work_, to fulfill a contractual responsibility for someone else.
It’s really not equivalent at all!
My reply suggested punishments only if reasonable boundary setting (explaining reasons, asking them to consider their behavior, etc.) didn’t work. It would be a last resort that hopefully wouldn’t be needed.
The kids are kids and are learning about boundaries.
Unfortunately, what they are learning from their dad is that Mom is not allowed to have boundaries. So that’s where she needs to focus her effort.
The Captain as always has excellent advice. I thought I’d add, should you decide to try your writing room again after the four weeks or whatever, something that might help the door to work. I have 1930’s doors with skeleton key locks that would probably lock the door forever. So before I had my kid, I put surface bolts, like the ones on French doors, on all of the doors. When I’m working at home and bolt the door, it works great for keeping out the 2-year old.
I think Mom and Dad need to get on the same page. The commenter Sarah above gives great advice on boundary setting, and the captain’s advice is great! I think this is the key sentence: “You must train them to stop doing this, but first you must train yourself. So, leave.”
Train yourself, then get on the same page with Dad, then set boundaries.
Great advice-and as much as it sucks to leave your own home for the retraining period it really is the fastest way. I speak as someone who is a homebody and accidental stay at home and work at home parent who just needs a lot of downtime from parenting, with a partner who travels a lot and does a lot of projects and has a lot of interests. We (ahem, I) instituted a rigid coparenting schedule a few years ago in which one parent is ON completely (dinner, dishes, requests, bedtime, decisions) while the other parent is OFF: two nights a week, one family night, trade every other weekend duty. It’s like we are divorced in our own home and it’s fabulous.
I really notice the difference this arrangement has made when my little son asks both moms and dads for help where as all his little friends ask only me for help, with DUMB STUFF, with my he-partner standing right there, also with two hands and a brain.
This is a really cool idea. Thank you for sharing.
Note that although finding a place without Wi-Fi is great for concentration, it might not be appropriate for the type of writing the OP is doing. If you can’t get past what you’re writing until you know exactly which benefice Reginald Pole held before he fell out of favour with Henry VIII* or the difference between dinner and supper in Regency England**, you need a Wi-Fi connection.
* He was the vicar of Piddletown, Dorset. I kid you not.
** Dinner was the main evening meal for the middle and upper classes; supper was a late night meal sometimes served during balls. Calling the main evening meal “supper” would have marked you as provincial and probably over 75.
I accomplished writing several books with a family by working daily for 1-1.5 hours early in the morning before the household was up and doing. There were aspects of the work I could accomplish later in the day but laser-focus, creative-groove production happened when they were all safely tucked in bed and unconcious. They knew if they woke early to read in bed until 7am.
There were some times that my husband was home and I wanted to work undisturbed. I would be in a room with the door shut. There were probably a few times at first when someone came calling for me; all they got was, “No.” They learned to deal. Good luck, LW!
The advice is good because it’s not about “convincing”. It’s not a matter of them “understanding” and so giving you permission. You give yourself permission. “Smell you later!” If there is no space in your marriage or family for you to be alone and do what you want, that’s a problem. It’s not the point, but it will also be good for your kids to be deliberately de-tethered from mom periodically.
I would pay cash money to see the LW actually say, “Smell you later!” while walking out the door.
The Captain is right about all of this.
I feel like it’s also worth pointing out that doorknobs are fairly easy to replace (tools required: a screwdriver) and cheap (internal locking doorknobs: ~$20-50 depending on finish) so the “doors don’t lock, alas” situation doesn’t need to continue indefinitely. Also, sound canceling headphones are a thing (though usually more expensive than doorknobs, admittedly). A combination of the two could be part of phase 2 of the plan.
It’s not rude or inconsiderate to be unavailable and unresponsive within your own house when you’ve stated that this is what you’ll be doing for a set period of time. It’s incredibly rude to constantly interrupt someone who’s clearly and directly asked for undisturbed time.
LW, I wish you the best!
“I’ve tried closing the door (the doors in my house don’t lock, alas).”
This is eminently correctable. The hardware store sells little slide locks that require nothing more than a screwdriver to install. Our old home had a bathroom with a door that didn’t latch correctly and had no lock, so I put this on so people could pee without risking intrusion and the door hitting them. If you aren’t up to the task then you likely know someone else who is or the hardware store has a list of handypersons who will come do it for money.
If you want to establish a pattern here with locking the door and making people go away then you might try “trial runs,” meaning don’t go in there and lock it expecting to actually get the writing done. They’re going to need to learn that knocking or talking through the door doesn’t work. So go in, lock the door, and read a magazine or something else that won’t make you actively angry when they ruin your concentration.
Beyond that, my kiddo is five so I don’t have any real feel for disciplining teenagers and maybe this isn’t practical. But I wonder, can you not find some way to add consequences to when they bother you after being told not to? Maybe you let a few sessions of trial run go by before you implement it, but if one of your teens were to, say, ruin your notebook would you have a way to discipline them? Or many some lower stake item like borrowing something of yours without asking. Right now interrupting you (1) works and (2) is consequence free. You need to correct both of those situations.
And as a bunch of people said above, your husband needs to step the fuck up and be a part of this solution. If he needs to “meditate” in the hallway between your office door and the rest of the house to make it work then he should do it. You shouldn’t have to but perhaps you need to tell him “this matters to me” and “I need you to be a part of making this better.” I find in my marriage that we cut through a lot of junk when we just make it clear to each other that This Needs Doing and we’re not just shooting the shit about things we wish were different.
Daughter: Can I go to Friend’s house?
You: Ask your dad.
Daughter: He’s meditating.
You: Ask him anyway. He’s in charge while I’m writing.
Yes. This one stuck out at me, too. It’s supposed to be LW’s writing time, so why is Dad in “Do Not Disturb” mode when he’s supposed to be the on-duty parent?
Exactly, and even if he’s missed the memo that Writing Time means Mom is out of commission (and not just looking at something different right now), why is Dad’s Time impenetrable and sacred, but Mom’s Time is negotiable?
I’ve read through all these comments and there is plenty of valuable advice, but I’m still annoyed about LW’s husband.
This was the really big thing to me in all of this.
Kids? Are kids. Yes, teenagers as well. And as such they are learning how to deal with this and will take their cues from both mum (who still always deals with their question even when they interrupt when busy) and dad (who is doing nothing to actually help mum here and isn’t respecting her time).
It sounds to me like dad is actually doing a worse job of respecting LW’s boundaries than the kids are.
1: Dad is an adult and does not explicitly *need* LW to help with things for that one hour, and yet sees no problem with walking in on her to tell her completely unimportant things about sports or actors or whatever else he’s engaging with in the moment.
2. Dad knows LW is WORKING and is choosing to schedule “meditation time” for the time when he should be stepping up to take responsibility for the kids’ needs for A FUCKING HOUR FFS. One fucking hour? Really?
I think with all the discussion going on about how LW can try reinforcing boundaries with the kids, it’s far more important to have a serious and immediate conversation with Dad, to whit:
1. Why are you continuing to interrupt me with random conversation during the one hour a day when I need you to not do that.
2. Why are you making yourself unavailable to the kids and “meditating” during the one hour a day when I need you to step up and actually parent them?
Yeah, Dad’s behavior rings my “deliberate sabotage” bell.
Or: Can I go to Friend’s House?
You: If you had not interrupted me, you could have left a note on the bulletin board and just gone. But you interrupted me, so now you are grounded for 2 days.
Seriously–is your kid not old enough to decide whether it’s OK to go to a friend’s house? I bet she is.
This won’t work 100%, but before you sit down to work, say you have an hour or two of extremely important work to get done, and if they need to ask you anything, ask it now.
Going to the library will work best except you’ll get text messages and you may not be the kind of person that can ignore them in case there is an emergency.
Good luck on the book.
Re: Text messages–check and see if there *is* an emergency; if not, ignore.
Phones have silent and vibrate modes. I would leave the phone on silent for at least that first month to six weeks of extinction burst – no matter what the “emergency” is, if you’re at the library or coffee shop, you’re not likely to be able to get home in time to fix it in a timely fashion (and if it can wait until you get home, it’s not that big an “emergency”, is it?).
PS: Pick a library or coffee shop which is at least five to ten minutes drive from your house (if it can’t wait ten minutes, it’s not something you can fix anyway and they need to speak to the on-site duty adult; if it can wait ten minutes while you get home, again, it’s not really an “emergency”, is it?).
Depending on how new the phone is, it might also have a “do not disturb” mode that you can customize so that it’ll be silent for some alerts and actually make noise for others. That way, LW can set it up so that if the kids or Husband need to call her, her phone will ring – but if it’s just a text or a DM, it’ll stay quiet and she can deal with it later.
This does require kids and Husband understanding that if they don’t get an immediate response to texts and DMs from Mom, they are not to escalate to calling unless it’s *actually* an emergency, and is likely to result in an extinction burst, but it’s an option at least if her phone’s set up for it.
Better yet, “accidentally” leave the phone in the car. Not in plain sight, if theft is a concern, but under the seat/in the glove box. It’s a lot harder to check the phone if you have to pack everything in and go back out to the car!
if you’re at the library or coffee shop, you’re not likely to be able to get home in time to fix it in a timely fashion (and if it can wait until you get home, it’s not that big an “emergency”, is it?
I had this issue surrounding a coworker when I was leaving work, and she asked for my number so she could call me “in case of emergency”. I said, “It’s not an emergency unless it’s worth a call to 911. And if it’s worth that, don’t call me, call them.”
LW, as a writer I endorse both “leave the house” (and if you do, turn off all alerts on your phone and do not respond to texts and emails from your family unless the words “on our way to the emergency room” appear) and “get a lock for the door and stop answering when they interrupt you.”
But there is also a fundamental respect-of-you issue here that you need to bring up with your teenagers and husband—especially your husband, who should be running interference and not joining in with the kids to interrupt you. Somehow there is nothing more aggravating to many people than the idea that “The Woman Is Not Thinking About You Right Now” and they have to yank attention to them.
Your writing is work.
It is paid work.
If you received an advance, you have probably already spent it, and you are committed to turning in a book that meets both your and your editor’s standards on time. Your family need to understand that if you don’t do the work you have contracted to do, you are failing to do work you have been paid for already, and you will be in breach of contract. You would also like to get more paid writing work! Because getting paid is really great! But this will not happen if you cannot deliver.
You enjoy writing, I know, and perhaps you have been writing for no money. But money is on the table now, possibly in your pocket, and your family need to respect that this is a paid professional activity. You have a deadline. You are trying to work from home, and your family members are making it impossible.
I suggest a serious come-to-Jesus talk with them individually about respect and boundaries, because if you want to keep on doing this, and if you want to keep on doing it at home, they have to support you and not undermine you. If you need peace to organize your thoughts and if you have been mentally and emotionally available to your family 24/7, you also need to get yourself in the habit of not responding to every poke at all. No response. Dead air. Most important, your husband has to step up. If he does not have your back in this, you will never be able to work at home and you need to find a library or coffee shop space where you can do that. And don’t let them delay you on the way out the door.
Good luck. Please drop the Captain an update for us when you hit your deadline and when your book comes out!
I don’t think that this is the right strategy, honestly. Leads in the direction of a path where Mom’s time is not her own time, so she doesn’t need respect or privacy unless there’s a big outside of her type reason.
I agree with this. I hear and respect bostoncandy’s point above, but we breathe capitalist fumes all day whether we like it or not, and “I get paid for this” is a pretty powerful proxy for, “respect this.” On a broad scale, it’s toxic, but it’s likely to have an impact.
Another thing in that vein: when talking about this, I would suggest saying “I’m working” rather than “I’m writing.” I’ve found that it sometimes takes a metaphoric hammer over the head to get people to believe that working from home = actually working, especially if it’s creative work; emphasizing the “work” aspect can add some metaphoric force.
I’m not a parent but I used to be a teenager and I can see teenage kids rolling their eyes at “I get paid for this, it’s my job” AND “you don’t respect me”. Have the “We spent that money, I have to write this book” talk with Husband. Telling the kids is useless if every time they go to Dad with stuff they get “I’m meditating, do you want to be grounded?” But if Dad is saying “Don’t Bother Your Mother, She’s Working, what do you need?” that’s much more effective.
Some practical suggestions- Check to see if your local library has individual meeting/study rooms. Many of them do, so you can shut yourself in a room with four walls and nobody to bug you. If the nearest one doesn’t, look for a branch that does. If they don’t have individual rooms, they may have a quiet study room where the librarian will come and toss out noisemakers. If this fails and there’s a university near you, see if you can go find a quiet nook in their library.
Couple of other suggestions I ran into- go to a hotel and use their lobby. Buy something at the hotel coffee shop and they’ll probably leave you alone. Also, depending on your hours and theirs, a museum might be a study option.To use DC examples, the Smithsonian Natural History museum or Air and Space are noisy as heck, but I like to sit and read at one of the courtyard tables at the Freer, or downstairs in the Sackler. The American Indian Museum’s library is open to the public and you could work there. The Portrait Gallery is open until 7:00 and they have a huge courtyard. Plus, free wi-fi.
This +1. Sometimes you can even reserve a study room ahead of time! If the closest branch doesn’t have them, maybe there’s another one nearby that does; the library district website might tell you what’s available (or at the least, have locations and contact info).
Of course, that’s only viable if you have a computer you can take with you. Though, even if you only have a desktop and can’t drag it with you to the library every day, maybe it could work to use the library’s computers. Depends on how busy they usually are when you need to write, whether they’re time-limited, whether you can bring everything you need on a flash drive, etc. It’s not ideal in terms of quiet/privacy, but at least you don’t usually have people actively interrupting you and making demands, so it may be a step up.
I just learned a bit more about my county libraries. You can reserve study rooms up to a week in advance for two hours a day. They will also loan you a laptop while you’re there. A few branches even have laptops you can check out and take home for up to two weeks. This will vary system to system, of course, but it’s worth looking into.
Even if they don’t have loaners, you should be able to use a public computer. Check out the branches- some are always really busy and others can be practically comatose by dinnertime. Look for evening hours.
Google Docs has autosave and you can access it from anywhere with Internet. Win-win.
OMG 1000x yes.
OMG, I had this problem when I was growing up in my parents’ house needing to do homework. And, like you, calm discussion didn’t work; my parents kept interrupting me, but they’d just give excuses about why This Was Important or It Wasn’t A Big Deal. Finding another place to work wasn’t an option, because I couldn’t drive, there was nothing in walking distance, and the school library was always rowdy.
Here are the only two things that worked.
(1) Locking the door, ignoring all knocks or interruptions. In the ear + over the ear ear protection helped implement this. If they consistently got no response, eventually they’d move on.
(2) If they did come in regardless, I would go BATSHIT INSANE. Screaming, ugly character assassination, you name it. I’m not proud of it, I *definitely* don’t recommend this for you, since the power balance is very different and you have other options, but…by this point I was 100% out of options and it was either this or let my grades drop, which would make it harder to escape the dysfunction.
Now I live in a 3,000 square foot house with my own office, a spouse who respects my need for solitude to work, and a car to drive to any number of libraries. Thank God.
I did that too. I lost count of the times I said “stop coming in and out ” during exams. And never apologize for it. They learnt eventually.
I think your model is a good one if you change #2 to ‘cold staring, monosyllabic and general unhelpfulness’.
I work with kids in a school out of an office and they’re always diving in with issues during my free periods. Kids will take any energy you have lying out on the table, so just make sure there isn’t any.
At the appointed session times, I greet them at the door with a big smile. If they slope in uninvited, I give a short no, an ‘we talked about this’ and staringly wait for them to leave.
Looking at your watch (keep your hand up, mime style) and counting how many minutes level of waiting.
I definitely did try that, but it didn’t work for me! The problem was that mostly they kept popping into the room get things, which didn’t require my attention, but was very disruptive nonetheless. I mean geez, people, plan around the room being unavailable for a 3-4 hour chunk every evening. It was never a surprise!
Reading this letter made me angry. Yes, I like the Captain’s suggestions and I like the idea of a lock on the door, but I’m also furious on behalf of the LW. Her husband not only isn’t supporting her in this endeavor, but is actively undermining her. The LW makes this sound amusing. It’s not. Kids are kids and need to be trained, but adult partners who trivialize our very important personal projects are toxic. I’d be having a private conversation with my husband about why his behavior is deeply damaging to our relationship.
And a not-so-private “WTF, DUDE, GET OUT!” every time he updated on TV or sports.
The husband choosing to meditate during her writing time is what bothered me the most too. Teenagers will be teenagers but marriage is supposed to be a partnership of adults. LW should have a conversation with her husband where they do the unglamorous adult thing of busting out their calendars and planning their week. This should include her writing time and his meditation time and how they will handle the kids. Also, if I were her, I would be stating I needed 2 hours a day since the constant interruptions have probably put her behind schedule. Chores and responsibilities may need to be renegotiated. But the good news is they have teenagers. Teenagers are more than capable of being responsible for their own laundry, cooking dinner at least twice a week (since there’s two of them), and washing dishes.
When I was 6 and my sister was 3 both parents wrote separate books. Sister and I knew to go to Dad during Mom’s book time and to go to Mom during Dad’s book time. This was due to both parents having consistent messaging when the other was working. If I was near their office during writing time, the other parent would scold me and redirect me away. It didn’t take long to learn. If a 6 and 3 year old can do it, so can teenagers. To get the teenagers on board the husband needs to be on board too.
YES to two hours a day. Twice as much time as the OP thinks she needs, in fact, and for twice as long as she thinks she needs it.
Think you need an hour a day for the next six weeks? Tell them – don’t ask them, but tell them – it’s going to be two hours a day for the next three months. If need be, you can say “I am behind because of the interruptions at home” and it will even be true.
Include the kids in that planning time. What are THEY going to be doing while Mom’s working? They need to pick an activity that will keep them absorbed and keep them from needing Mom.
If it’s laundry or chores time, then they need to figure out in advance how to do it, and they should look at any problems that arise as challenges that will help them prove how grownup they are because they didn’t need Mom to tell them how to sort the socks.
Agreed. The LW takes on this very lighthearted tone that makes me thing she is a lovely person, but at the same time it undermines her assertiveness. Even when she yells ‘WHERE IS THE FIRE?!’ the chosen words make me think she is not actually channeling anger but it’s more a joke-ish yell. She protects her family from her feelings of being pissed off by softening it and I think this is part of the problem.
She really does sound lovely, but I think the children and the husband (especially the husband!!) are out of line and it’s not gonna change if there are not actual consequences. Like her getting angry and rising her voice without any softening, jokes or making it more lighthearted on her part.
The husband is the biggest issue imo. I’m not married or in a serious relationship so I really don’t know how to deal with your spouse undermining you like that and not treating you seriously, sadly…. The fact that she had a serious talk with him and it didn’t help and he still disturbs her over some very small things she is not interested in makes me worried even more because it just looks like he is very inconsiderate/thoughtless or – in the worst case scenario – is sabotaging her.
Yes, the husband’s failure to support her really stands out. She is working and he is actively, by not heading off the children and running interference and leaving her alone, making it impossible for her to work. LW needs to be serious about his lapse, if she is serious about writing. If, after she addresses this in adult, no-kidding-around terms, he still cannot respect her writing time, they may need to work on the relationship, because mutual respect is the sine qua non of marriage.
My reaction was the same as Shifrah’s. I found the husband’s behavior pretty unsettling.
Fundamentally, LW’s kids have no respect for her because her husband has no respect for her. Changing a dynamic like that after such a long time is going to be a huge uphill struggle.
If you really want to stay in your room and the lock isn’t a thing you can do, OP, I suggest the following:
1) Do not answer any shouts, at all, and turn off DM.
2) If someone comes in, ask them what the sign on the door says. The important thing here is to have a calm tone and to NOT LOOK AWAY FROM YOUR WORK. When they answer you with what’s on the sign, you say “Okay I’ll see you at [time to stop writing]”, again while still looking at and doing your work, and you don’t answer them again.
3)Don’t waver from this course.
LW, you clearly love your family, but they are being jerks. I feel like you’ve chosen the long-suffering sitcom wife posture, sublimating your frustation, sadness, and anger into good-natured eyerolling, but…what if you just let those emotions come out unmediated? It’s okay to be frustrated when people are being frustrating. It’s okay to be sad and angry when people you love are being disrespectful. It seems like right now, you’re taking on all the consequences of their inconsiderate behavior. This will never change until they suffer their own consequences. Return to sender.
An alternative approach: would the variables in your family allow for *everyone* (kids included) to get a designated Do Not Disturb time and/or a Do Not Disturb sign that is always respected? You could introduce it as a New Rule that applies to everyone, and tell the kids that when they are are in Do Not Disturb mode no grownups are going to interrupt them and tell them to take out the garbage or whatever. And, conversely, they aren’t to interrupt grownups with last-minute requests for rides or whatever. (You and your husband would coordinate privately between you to decide in advance who’s taking care of scheduled driving and dinner-making until the kids reach an age where they can handle those things themselves.)
If the kids perceive grownups to be arbitrarily interrupting them when they’re doing something they believe is private or important, they’re likely to conclude that’s simply How The World Works. Changing How Things Work for everyone might be a more compelling for teens than simply “Leave me alone!”
I really, really like this idea.
This is an awesome idea.
Yep! Have the respect go both directions.
I have one other thought.
Let your writing (or workouts or hobbies or or or) take real time.
That is, don’t carve time out at the edges of your day, small increments that won’t inconvenience others. When I’ve allowed my stuff to be pushed to the edges of my day (or week), I’ve stopped doing it.
So announce: “I’m not available on Tuesday and Thursday evenings before 9.” (Insert the actual dates and times.) Use at least 3 hour time slots.
And then, be absent.
Funny enough I had the inverse problem of having to set boundaries with my parents. One year during exams my mom decided it would be a brilliant time to have my grandad come do some non-essential but loud work around the house (tiling the kitchen backsplash). Without a word, I got in the car and left and turned my cell phone off. They were completely freaking out (because mother always needed to know where I was and when I would be back) and did not understand what the big deal was or why I just left, but it seemed to get the point across.
Flash forward to the time I was having a video interview in the open concept dining room having asked my dad to busy himself, and if possible leave the house entirely. He promised he would quietly watch tv in the bedroom… until he got hungry and decided he would scavenge the cabinets for snacks, and then slowly open the chips as to not disturb me?!?!
Love my folks, but very glad to have moved faaaaaaar away.
Did anyone else ever read “Belles on their Toes”? It’s the sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen. Cheaper by the Dozen is a memoir about a family in the first half of the 1900s who had twelve kids. Both their parents were industrial engineers who specialized in efficiency. At the end of Cheaper by the Dozen, the dad dies. Belles on Their Toes is about what happens next when Lillian Gilbreth has to support a large family and also go to work at a time when women were SUPER not welcome in the workforce in a male dominated field. She at one point was running a school on efficiency engineering for professionals out of her home and had to train her many children not to interrupt her. She literally created an interruptions chart that she hung up in her office. A kid would come in and ask a about a party dress, Mom would ask them to make a check mark on the chart and then everyone could see how much Mom was being interrupted and work on decreasing it. And this is in a family where everyone knew that Mom working was the only thing that would keep the family together.
Mom working time not being respected is apparently an issue we are still grappling with 90 years later.
And the kids did get it- IRRC, the hired man Tom did not.
Our public library has study rooms that can be reserved for 1-2 hours per day. They are a LIFESAVER when I need a quiet, private space to work. Maybe your local library has something like that, too?
Another strategy once you return home: EVERYONE in the household gets to have [x] uninterrupted hours of “me” time per week, doing what they want. Everyone.
As long as they get their allotted chores done, they get that time alone, uninterrupted…and respected. Period.
I think that we often don’t realize that all adults need private time.
When the boys were babies, DH was really bad about making me do childcare even when I was sick. One time, I told him if I couldn’t get any rest at home, I was going to get a hotel room. The threat of money being spent really focused him on letting me rest.
I really hope he has improved since, because this sounds awful
Dear LW, throughout my entire childhood, my mother’s writing career went as you describe. As I got older I started to feel really guilty that I was interrupting her all the time, but she kept saying that she wanted to be available to us—she just wanted us to choose to leave her alone.
Now I’m a parent, and I understand that boundary-setting has to come from the parent. You can’t offload this onto your kids (even teens). You and your husband need to do boundaries from the top down.
For you, that means leaving the house until your kids get used to you being “not there” even when you’re there. My grandmother, an artist, would say “I’m going to Paris” as she went up to her studio to emphasize how out of reach she would be. (This was before DMs made Paris a little more accessible from Connecticut.) It worked because she did sometimes actually travel far away, and her family understood how to cope with her being in Paris for two weeks, so she expected them to likewise handle her being “in Paris” for an afternoon. Once you’ve done a few weeks of working at the library, your family will be much better prepared for you to say “I’m going to ‘go to the library’ ” and shut yourself in your office with a sign on the door that says NO ONE IS IN HERE, LW IS AT THE LIBRARY.
For your husband, this means valuing your work and your time. If he’s not on Team You here, none of this will work. The Captain suggests springing it on him, but what would work better in my family (maybe not yours) is sitting down for a parents-only conversation as follows: “I have a book contract. This is real work and I need you to support it just like you support me going to my day job. What I need is a minimum of one hour a day to work on the book without any interruptions short of a someone’s-in-the-hospital emergency. How can we work together to make that happen?” Work out a plan with him, and tell him you’re counting on him to make the plan work, and stick to your part of the plan like a burr. “I wasn’t there because it’s your time to watch the kids while I’m working, as we agreed” and “I didn’t do that because I was working, as we agreed” may need to be part of your vocabulary for a bit until everyone’s used to the new routine. (“I’m working” is a useful phrase to apply to writing, to make it clear that it matters just as much as any other kind of work.)
Once you and he have reached an agreement, share that agreement with the kids. “From now on, I’m going to be at the library working on my book every day from 5 to 6. Dad is your go-to during that time. Do not interrupt me for anything other than an emergency, and emergency is not defined by how urgently you need me, but about how urgently I need to know about it. If you wouldn’t call me about something while I’m at the office, don’t call me about it while I’m writing. If you need a parent, you have one, and his name is Dad. If you need to inform me of something that isn’t a threat to my safety or someone being in the hospital, wait until 6. Dad and I have agreed on this and he’s going to be enforcing it while I’m working.” Saying this together with your husband will help keep him accountable and make it clear to the kids that you can’t be played off each other. Depending on how your family dynamic works, you might say “I’m counting on you to help Dad keep up his side of the bargain, so if he starts looking longingly at the phone, help him find a solution that doesn’t involve calling me” or “Does this schedule work for everyone?” or “This book project is really important to me and I need you to respect it, just like you respect my time when I’m at my day job” or otherwise get buy-in from your kids.
When you’re writing, turn off DMs! Squash those electronic interrupts. Your editor can email you. My phone has a “do not disturb” setting in which it will not buzz or ring unless someone calls twice within fifteen minutes. I use it when I’m asleep. My family and the daycare know about the call-twice thing and everyone else can piss off. Make use of a similar setting on your phone, close Twitter and email on your work computer, and work in peace. If your kids or husband ever use the call-twice feature, pick up with an anxious voice and say “Oh my god, what happened? Is everyone okay?”; if it’s not an emergency, let them carry the shame of having made you think it was. Having to call a second time will make them think twice about whether you REALLY need to know what they’re going to tell you.
And if you’re feeling guilty or conflicted about setting boundaries with your kids and husband around your creative work, please, please work through that with a therapist who helps you feel empowered and reminds you that your writing and your time are valuable and valid and you get to have boundaries around them. Don’t let your kids end up where I am, 40 years old and guiltily watching my mother still try to find even an hour to herself to get some writing done and wishing we’d been better about not interrupting her when we were younger. (My brother and I both moved out a long time ago, but it turns out that the dynamic of “my husband doesn’t support my writing time” is the crucial one, and interruptions from kids are just an expression of it.) Don’t let yourself end up where my mother is either. Protect that book like it’s your third baby and it deserves your focused time and attention.
I think your family conversation strategy is overall a good one. It’s so respectful and reasonable! And yes to a therapist.
The reason I suggest springing Library Time (at least the first time) is this:
1) The LW is already having respectful conversations and not being listened to.
2) It’s not a negotiation. The family already treats Mom’s work time as negotiable. So, for herself, it might be important to make it not a negotiation, especially the first/hardest time. It’s not weird to go to the library for a few hours. It is really ok to just say “stepping out for a bit!” esp. since the kids aren’t little and don’t need heavy supervision/care. It’s okay not to put a ton of emotional energy into getting everyone to see the point and getting the husband to agree to help enforce things and monitor whether he helps enforce things, especially at the beginning. It’s okay to just go even if he’s not fully on board – he will figure it out! She needs the writing time more than she needs the more supportive marriage talks. It’s okay to start with expedience and try to grow from there.
And if it’s not that simple? If there is a ton of friction around that, a ton of internal “Oh I couldn’t possibly” or the husband putting barriers in the way? That’s a sign of a bigger problem.
All totally valid! A lot depends on the existing dynamic in the household. I’m definitely coming at this as the parent of a toddler, and having teens probably means you can be much more casual about “I’m going out, back at 6”.
I pretty much lost all patience with the LW’s husband by the end of the letter and assumed that taking independent action would lead to endless whining and obstacles, and since the LW loves her husband, that means emotional management has to happen at some point and is probably more efficient before than after. But maybe I’m being too cynical there. I hope so. Your optimism about his ability to “figure it out” is very endearing. 🙂
…and assumed that taking independent action would lead to endless whining and obstacles
Interesting. I assumed that further conversation would lead to roadblocks and whining and attempts at negotiation. I suspect that’s because my experience of just doing what I want has had few bad repercussions.
Another strategy for the kids, especially as they get older: in cases where they’re authorized to solve the problem themselves, tell them that they’re authorized to solve the problem themselves, with some starting points on the ways they’re authorized to solve them problem themselves. They might not know – when you’re born, you’re not authorized to do anything, and sometimes grownups forget to tell you when the rules change, or expect that you’ll automatically know yourself.
So, for example, if the kids are authorized to deal with dinner without running it by a parent (make their own dinner? make dinner with their friends? order pizza?), tell them that. If the kids are authorized to bike or uber to their friend’s house, tell them that. If they’re authorized to leave you a note saying “I’m doing the thing” that you’ll see when you’re done working, as opposed to requiring your permission to do the thing, tell them that.
I like this! Teens always seem to want more independence and to be treated more like adults. Giving them the authority to make decisions in appropriate and specific circumstances — with the expectation of them being responsible to carry out that decision — sounds like a win-win to me.
Kids can be authorized to do almost anything.
I was authorized to decide that it was OK to go to my friend’s house–I just had to leave a note on the hallway blackboard.
I was authorized to give myself permission to use the car!
I was authorized to decide which load of laundry I would do.
If I guessed wrong? Well, we’d do the other load. Or Mom would explain that biking after X time of day in the winter was too dangerous, and I’d learn one more thing to put in the mix when I was deciding what to do the next time.
Also I 100% fell over and died at how spot on the Captain was with the “I could take out the recycling, should I see what I need to pick up on the way home, etc…..” My mom married and later divorced an (apparently) incompetent man and that’s the mantra I was raised with. “Isn’t that just like a man to not know what brand to buy?” “Oh there’s an unattended kid in the store, bet his father is the one who took him out today.”
So every time my husband comes home and he’s picked up dog food since he noticed we were running low, I faint. And I have to try really really hard to train myself out of that. So if it’s echoing around in your brain that it’s all your job, believe me, you will find out very quickly that everyone will find a way to make macaroni and cheese for dinner in a f*cking hurry.
Oh dear God, this is my life. I work from home, in my home office that I paid for and decorated. My spouse also works from home and he has ADHD and he interrupts me every. five. minutes.
He is at this moment pouting because I locked him out of my office because I was in the middle of writing concepts (on a rush deadline! Due this afternoon!) and he saw fit to open my closed door without knocking to ask me what “we” thought “we” should have for dinner tonight.
If I didn’t require unobstructed access to a bathroom in the mornings I’d be at a library right now.
Holy shit. Having ADHD is one thing, but pouting because you dare to point out that it’s ruining your ability to do work? Actually pouting?
Yo that’s RSD that’s not quite managed yet. Rejection Specific Dysphoria. Basically if you have ADHD your brain completely sucks at managing feelings chemicals and you go into an emotional tailspin when you face perceived rejection. Learning to challenge that and to recognize it as jerkbrain and keep it to yourself is a skill and an important one to acquire if you want to be a grown adult capable of your share of the emotional labor, but it would help if most doctors would even acknowledge the non focus/organization parts of ADHD so people knew that was a thing in the first place.
I mean or the husband just doesn’t have the coping skills or hasn’t chosen treatment/medication to handle the ADHD. My Spousey and both my other partners all have ADD and the #1 thing they work on to be in a relationship with me is their impulse control. I *don’t* have ADHD and if I’m interrupted and information flung at me, especially verbally, my autistic brain gets very unhappy and refuses to parse it.
We don’t know that he has RSD as opposed to a raging sense of entitlement.
Here’s a random slew of suggestions, I hope something is useful for the LW:
-I used to rent my friend’s spare bedroom to use as an art studio. We weren’t besties, so pestering me was awkward enough that it didn’t happen. So, is it worth it to rent a neighbor’s spare room (for very cheap since they have to do literally nothing to make $)? Do you have a neighbor in a similar position (or who has to leave the house to work b/c of their own motivation) with whom you could swap offices (you both go to each other’s house for an hour a day)?
-CA’s grand library suggestion sounds great, but the travel time would be too great a barrier for me (I’d have to make sure it isn’t rush hour, put on a bra, etc etc. Leaving the house always seems like a bigger deal to me than it really is). Frankly I’m best working in the car if I’m able, pulled over in the nearest WalMart parking lot or something. Or pull over in a safe non-creepy spot on the way home from work. Some people work best in Spartan environments, maybe that is you LW.
-I learned from an animal trainer (sorry for the comparison, but training is training whether human or animal) that if you want the animal to stop doing something, you need to train it to DO something else instead. Maybe you (or better yet your husband) could come up with alternative scripts for the kids while they get the hang of Not Bothering Mom. “Sure Friends 1-5, I can ask mom, but I’ll need to wait an hour.” “Hey Brother, don’t ask Mom what’s for dinner, she’s working.” “How can we can solve this without Mom?” “Whatever you want to ask Mom, ask me (Dad) first.” Personally I think Dad should come up with the scripts, then have the scripts talk, because he needs to change his mindset to be more active and involved in this and he is grown and you can’t do it for him and you shouldn’t have to, sheesh. So maybe ask him to do that and be clear what you expect. Or have the kids participate in brainstorming better responses to the situation. Another take on “train them to do something else instead” could be, “hey I’m going to work for an hour undisturbed” means that Dad actively engages the kids, as another commenter suggested.
-Would the rest of your family consider actually joining you for “quiet time”? They have homework and meditating to do, right? Maybe they also don’t want to be interrupted sometimes.
-LW, you had some brain block that kept you from thinking of “noise” and “door doesn’t lock” as insurmountable problems, when they seem to have cheap, simple solutions. I’m not giving you a hard time! It happens! But imagine some dude, maybe your husband, was in that position, and ask yourself if that door would already have a lock on it and if the $30 white noise machine would already have been purchased without discussion. Probably yes. Now keep that attitude going toward all the other little obstacles that arise that you haven’t given yourself permission to blast through.
I’m in a very similar situation (my writing space been a closet years, my teens are homeschooled, husband works nights so everyone is ALWAYS THERE). Seconding everything Cap said, with special emphasis on the fact that it’s really yourself you have to retrain. When I stopped giving myself permission to interrupt MYSELF to be a sounding board and solve problems, the problems started going away.
You say you’ve tried everything and you need scripts. You don’t need scripts. You need to stop responding at all. Silence from the office will eventually send the message.
Does anyone else think that it might be helpful for the LW to actually express anger over being so frequently disturbed and disrespected? (Assuming she does feel angry, of course.) I know that part of my “emotional labor brainwashing” has been to swallow my negative emotions in order to “protect the peace,” which generally backfires as not only does it prevent problems from being solved, it prevents others from knowing that a problem even exists.
Being flat-out mad definitely isn’t as good a solution as what the Captain suggested, but is it actually a bad idea?
I absolutely agree. Displaying anger isn’t inappropriate parenting. It doesn’t have to be whist hot flaming rage, but if everyone who went through that door got a snapped/cold/whatever LW’s anger looks like brief respond it would demonstrate that there is a problem here. When you’re repeatedly told people not to do something, then “I TOLD you not to do that” is a fair response. Showing you are angry at repeated thoughtless is not unkind, or bad parenting, it is showing that people need to respect you.
I agree as well.
My perspective: I grew up in a household where the female persons were expected to always be thoughtful, “kind”, to bend themselves into pretzels to make things work for male persons – double this for my Mom. It would have actually been really helpful for young Me to see Mom lose her shit over unreasonable expectations – over having to revisit things that had been made abundantly clear. Doesn’t have to be be complete rage, just anger over being ignored and treated as if her boundaries were somehow negotiable. (there are may reasons it was unsafe for her to do this, but in a relatively healthy, non-abusive home I think it’s important for kids to see their parent’s emotions)
To add an anecdote of my own, my mother definitely did get frustrated with us when we disrespected her boundaries, and it was not harmful at all and almost certainly good for me to see it. Parental anger is terrifying when it’s unreasonable or seemingly random; when it’s predictable and comes with clear communication (like, “We’ve talked about you leaving me alone when I’m balancing the checkbook, and you can plainly see that’s what I’m doing”), it’s just communication. And it can drive home that boundaries are important and something worth caring about.
I have a feeling the reason Dad isn’t disturbed when he’s meditating is because he’s not afraid to snap at the kids to get out and stop bothering him.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he just pretended he has no ability to help them anyway, and only Mom has that power.
“not only does it prevent problems from being solved, it prevents others from knowing that a problem even exists”
This is such a valuable insight, especially becasue humans have a strong tendency to overestimate how obvious our own internal thoughts, emotional states, etc are to others (this is probably the source of all of the cases where people apparently expect others to read minds). That particular bias is called the illusion of transparency; here’s an article – https://effectiviology.com/illusion-of-transparency/ – that does a pretty thorough overview and also links to a lot of specific studies. This Atlantic article – https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/04/mixed-signals-why-people-misunderstand-each-other/391053/ – looks at the problem of emotive signaling more generally.
Yep! My husband and son would get a very cranky “What part of Do. Not. Disturb. did you not understand?” and likely slink out sheepishly.
The Brazen Husky thought “Get out of the kitchen!”, complete with hurled potholders or dish towels, was a great game, but even she knew when/where the line was. Current dogs recognize when Mamma is grumpy and disappear from whatever room I’m in or decide that its naptime, although Slurpy-Twerp is sometimes inclined to back-talk. 🙂
100% agree. I started having seizures and became unable to drive when our kids were at an age to be quite socially active but not yet old enough to drive themselves. And since I had always been the one in charge of the scheduling and transporting, while Husband had previously worked long hours, we went through a transition spell where breaking their habit of defaulting to Mom was a challenge. They’d ask me even when their Dad was sitting in the same room! And it really didn’t help that every question of, “Can I go [place] today?” or informative, “I have [event] at [time] on [day]” was just a painful reminder of what I could no longer do for them. After enough time had passed, and abundant gentle reminders had been given, and several mix-ups had happened where they didn’t get to go where they wanted to be, or last-minute changes had to be made because I thought they were just asking my permission and would ask Dad for transportation on their own, whereas they were assuming I’d tell Dad about their need for a ride, I started to snap. I generally have a rule of, “It’s ok to be angry; it’s not ok to act ugly to others because you’re angry,” but I started to give pissy responses like, “Did you forget you have a father?!” or “What, am I supposed to carry you on my back?” or “Do I look like Dad to you?!” It made an impact and they began to make much more of an effort to adjust. So I think it’s ok to let teens know when they’re being thoughtless and allowing the consequence for that be a negative response sometimes. Moms have feelings too! And “I don’t want to make her mad” is as good a reason as any not to interrupt.
The best lessons I got about chores, boundaries, sexism, equality etc. were the moments when my mom would straighten up, lose the smile, and snap out, “I don’t get some great joy from washing dishes, you know!” or something similar that had just never occurred to me. Her being clearly somewhat angry (not “out of control”, not dangerous, but clearly I had Effed Up) made the message ring true/real in a way it wouldn’t have if delivered in a calm kind voice with a smile.
I’ve found this true in my own life too. If I’m saying “this is really important, I need you to change __ because it’s really hurting me” in a quiet sweet voice, nothing happens. But when someone steps on your foot, you yelp. People are set up to recognize that as an important message. Do the same thing when they step on you metaphorically.
One million percent agreed! I’m kind of shocked at how…overly “nice” and self-effacing some of the scripts people are suggesting are. “Get the hell out!” is probably what I’d say after the second time someone violated the “do not disturb” guidelines. After a scenario like the LW described, I’d stop my work, come out of the room, and read everyone involved the riot act. Every single one of them is being disrespectful, and that hour (or 15 minutes) was lost. I’d make it clear it Must Never Happen Again, and would inform everyone that I’m instituting a restarting clock method–I need an hour, so if I am interrupted by any one of you, I restart the clock. If that means it’s an hour past dinner time before I reemerge, I guess that means “you have to make your own damn dinner” is the natural consequence of your thoughtless and disrespectful actions.
Pretty sure it would stop happening rightquick. (And of course I would make every effort to be the fun, happy, loving mom who loves her family and enjoys being with them as soon as Writing Time was over. This anger isn’t punitive, it’s a natural consequence, and moms get to have feelings, too!)
This! If it was me I’d be more likely to give a Look at the teenagers and then call my husband to come and deal with the situation before closing the door. I love the logical consequence of increasing the time (although I would use more than 1:1).
A couple of suggustions-
Consolidate writing time into bigger blocks so husband has to take ownership of the evening. They will not see you until 8:00 or whatever. Husband needs to handle dinner. He can then have a different evening to himself or half an hour before your shift starts to meditate.
Give a five minute warning before you disappear for last minute questions, and be clear when you’re available again.
The first person who interrupts you- take their phone.
If they do it again, take their tablet.
Give it back when you’re done.
Captain did an excellent job with this advice, but let me just reiterate how important it is to -never- phrase the fact that you are going to go write as if you are asking permission to do so or making certain it’s “okay” with your spouse/kids. This is a type of boundary setting I had to learn the hard way, and I ONLY learned it after reading the Captain’s letters and replies at the age of 31. You see, I had a similar boundary setting problem with my parents, whom I live with because they are partially dependent on me financially. Even so, they would treat me like a child and freak out if I stayed out late “without asking for permission” because me not being home was apparently the end of the world. (And they didn’t even NEED me to do anything for them- it was just a matter of “Is Seph at home in his room where we know where he is at all times, or is he out in the BIG BAD WORLD where THINGS might happen!!!” Keeping in mind I was 31, and really needed some adult things to happen in my life. Except that I was mostly sitting in a library writing! )
Eventually I learned that in order to gain space and personal freedom without doing the “but we need you HERE” dance, I had to just go do what I was doing and inform them, without prior notice or asking for permission. It was simply a fact that I was going to go do the thing, and eventually they came to respect that. You have to make the fact that you are going to write absolutely inarguable.
This place makes me appreciate my parents sooo much sometimes. When I was 12 or so my Mom was delayed coming home one night. I KNEW she should be there by 4:30 and she WAS NOT. I told her how that upset me and we made a deal. She’d let me know when to expect her, and I just owed her the same courtesy. I could go to anyplace on my approved list, just had to let her know when I’d be home and it was all good. New destinations were added as needed. Now, 40 years later, we are living together again, and the give each other the same courtesy. I’ll be late getting home. I’ll let you know if it’ll be later than 9. etc.
Letter writer give yourself the permission to do the same. Out! Will be home by noon. In office. Will be out by 7:00!
And you could pretend to still be in your office while you are retraining the family. Get a lock on the door, pretend to go in it. Then leave. They will have no response for the training period and you will be able to return after the training period is over.
ooh, I love this! Can you sneak out the window? LOL
Something else to prepare for, dear LW, is the strong possibility that your loving family will not figure their shit out while you’re at the library, meaning you’re going to come home to an hour’s worth of questions and undone chores and “what’s for dinner we’re STARRRRRVING” that they saved up since you weren’t home.
Which means you may need to plan for several iterations of, “Why did you wait for me to get home to deal with this when your father was right there?” “You don’t require my permission to start your own laundry.” “If you’re waiting until 9 to get dinner, of course you’re hungry. I grabbed Chipotle on my way to the library.” “It’s nice to see you, too, honey. Do you want to stay up to scrub the tub now or should I plan to get you up thirty minutes early tomorrow?”
Douglas Adams had a beautiful concept: the Someone Else’s Problem field. If people keep bringing you their crises to manage, turn on your SEP field.
This is simply disrespectful.
They’re probably not being disrespectful intentionally, but totally disrespecting your boundaries unintentionally almost makes it worse. They don’t see you as a person, not in the same way all three of them see your husband (his meditation OK, your paid book gig not…!!).
Other writers are correct. Deliver effective consequences immediately and stick to your guns.
I would have one more talk with your husband in which you discuss how *he would feel if this is the type of support and respect you gave him when he was on an important work project with a deadline. This is really not OK.
Another idea regarding the phone – rather than turning it off, leave it prominently on, full volume, on the table that is most central to the house design, whether you have left the house or are in the room that Has. A. New. Lock. On. It. That way when they do try to ping you, you don’t have to worry about “oh no, what if this is the one time someone is trying to get to me in an emergency” and they won’t think “but this one was really important why is she ignoring this too”. They text/call, the phone goes off, they hear it, they realize Mom did not get that message. It’s an audible reminder to them that they are trying to contact you when they shouldn’t be, they know their big problem isn’t being ignored on purpose, and if there is a true emergency they will notice it and track you down.
This is so frustrating. You could set up a price per interruption as a consequence. For every interruption, the interruptee pays a dollar. Including dad.
Estimate how much the book advance is worth per writing minute left before your deadline, and charge in 10-15 minute intervals for each interruption. Because the ultimate consequence is having to pay back the advance. Make that explicit to them, and take it out of their pockets.
Writer here, who is also a teacher – I do each part-time. I’ve found that one days when I’m writing, it’s easy for friends, and for me, to think of it as “free time” because I’m not “at work” (meaning there is no physical place I have to be for any prescribed amount of time). So it’s been a big effort to reframe writing days as work days. Ie: “Hey, are you working today, let’s hang?” used to be, “I’m not working but I’m trying to get some writing done.” (and often resulted in “Oh well then you should come hiking!” or whatever). But my answer is slowly becoming, “Sorry, I’m working today.” You have a book contract, ergo writing the book is your job, as much as your day job, and should be taken as seriously by your family.
I’m not surprised you have a book contract, Crowded, ’cause you write a mean line of dialogue. That’s from one author to another–that was good stuff!
The Captain’s advice is golden and is what I was thinking while reading your letter. The point about your husband not helping (or hopefully, not helping YET) is huge. I am able to write and meet my deadlines because I have specific writing times when my husband has our four year old and it’s consistent, daily, he always has him at those times whether I’m writing or not, it’s always there. I also have been lucky enough to have an out-of-home space, although it’s usually been just an unused little room in a neighboring house and believe me, the value of being GONE is massive. All the home stuff is just none of my concern when I’m in my writing room. It’s another world. It can’t BE connected to the home world. That’s partly other people (especially the kid who–even more so when he was younger–had certain reactions to realizing Mom was in the house) but it’s also partly me. I got my husband to sabotage my computer’s connection to the Wifi of the house my writing room is in, which means I have no internet in there. This helps massively as well. The writing room has to be its own thing, separate from everything. And yeah, ritual matters greatly. If you can find that one coffee shop or library that becomes the writing place in your brain, that might be wonderful for you. Or if you can reshape the home office into that–but the more the home office is used for other things, your taxes or whatever, the harder that will be on a mental level as well as a family level, so I might go with the coffee shop or library if it was me. YMMV of course.
Absolute best of luck to you. You will do this, you will find a way, you will make it. Mine comes out in September. Yours will come out on its day, and it’ll be a beautiful thing.
I just want to say, Congratulations crooked bird!!!
Aw, thank you!!
Hmm. I have a kind of related problem. I have ME/cfs which has got a LOT worse in the last few years, to the point I had to stop working about a year and a half ago. The only thing I can do to try and make it better (there is no treatment or cure) is take regular rest breaks. My partner says all the right things, but often, as soon as I go and lie down on the bed with my headphones on for 15 minutes to listen to some soothing background sounds, he will crash in and out doing stuff or ask me questions about house maintenance or come in to tell me something. I’m pretty sure those things could wait 15 minutes but I just can’t get the courage to tell him. I already feel guity about all the stuff I’m not able to do.
Hi! Chronic pain sufferer here. I understand how frustrating that can be. I have two suggestions:
1) Can you lock the door for those 15 minutes? If you share a room, that might be more complicated, but even if he can unlock it, say, you can lock it as a reminder that, “Hey, zola needs a few minutes, come back then!” – interrupting an automatic process can make a person stop and think about what they are doing.
2) Can you make or obtain speaking cards or a sign? Just, something that says “Please remember I need a break. I’ll find you when I’m done checking out.” that you can either hold up or hand to him when he pops in? I frequently find it easier to say something in writing than I do to verbalize in the moment. In this case you wouldn’t even need to make eye contact. You could also practice a verbal script without your partner there until it feels normal to say it, so when he comes in, you have an easier time speaking up.
Alternatively, can you set up some kind of cozy spot that isn’t a shared bedroom? I know I need very specific supports (best provided on my bed) when I’m in excruciating pain, but what if you could find sufficient pillows/cushions/whatever to set up in a corner that otherwise doesn’t get used much?
oh sorry for earlier finger-misfire!
LW, your story had Erma Bombeck*- level of house-funnies in your description. I hope some of that becomes a book. Then I wondered what it’s like to be as loved and depended on as you are. Your letter was a nice change of pace from the letters that sound more like the killing fields of my own world.
But your problems are still serious. You’re an artist who hasn’t had space to create. I’m glad you are escalating this.
I’m an ardent fan of “The Bloggess” an author whose photos show her dreamy, private office & writing space with a Peter Pan chandelier over her desk, but even she has said she’s gone out and holed up in a hotel when she had to write and it wasn’t coming otherwise. She also has a lovely teen daughter who still enjoys her parents and being part of a family. You guys are both doing something right.
Other things I thought of was recalibrating your daughter’s (but both kids) desire to have friends in your home into “It’s lovely you want to do this. Let’s now go through how to plan, shop and host a (small) event that you prepare for.”
Can you get your kids to align with the idea that you also have writing assignments that have deadlines, just as they do? What about a conversation (obvs outside of your writing time) where the three of you share tips on working with this type of long-form writing? What if you encouraged them to try writing? Maybe the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
Another thing about you grabbing the morning for your power hour is if you decide to tell husband that he gets his time in the PM, this would align with televised sport-things, if he’s into that. I had to laugh out loud at “dad meditation” as my male ex did a lot of that, in his bathroom. Having separate bathrooms = happier marriage.
*olden-days humorist. Sold a lot of books, actually.
This is really such a positive and beautiful response. I love the idea of developing the kids’ sense of themselves as writers.
“15 YEARS IS BIG METAL CHICKENS” never gets old!
Ugh. The husband needs to buck his ideas up.
When LW is writing, he can’t be meditating. He can meditate in any one of the other 23 hours of the damn day. Also, why is his meditation so important he can’t be disturbed but LW’s writing (contracted, with deadlines!) is small potatoes and she can be interrupted for any reason. My blood is boiling. The teens are just following Dad’s lead. They don’t respect Mom’s time because he doesn’t respect Mom’s time.
My mother worked nights when I was a young teen, and my dad would be the go-to parent while she slept in the daytime so me and my brother wouldn’t disturb her. LW’s husband needs to shape up.
You know when I think about growing up I always remember my mom as super-competent, amazing, solution-focused, extremely available, busy as fuck and… exhausted. My dad, a good man, a generally loving husband and father and also a hard worker, always had time for his hobbies and swam a few times a week. My mom died young of a cancer that in my mind is linked to her being chronically depleted (I am not saying I know why cancer comes, just that’s how it felt to me in this instance) and 10 years later my dad is retired, remarried, in a band, he paints, meditates, swims, hikes…
I, her daughter, struggle with self-care and with feeling entitled to relax or have my own projects or pursue work that is interesting but not immediately remunerative. Dear LW, you should take your space/time to write because you deserve to and it’s your work and you should not need any other reason. But any time you struggle with the strength to do so, think to yourself that taking back your time (thank you Maxine Waters!) is actually doing a supermom thing; you are modelling something essential for your daughter (and your son too). You are showing your children what it looks like for a woman to be assertive in looking after her needs. It’s no small thing.
_Especially_ modelling for your son.
A lot of people are suggesting getting a lock for the door, so I’m starting a new thread because I don’t want to single anyone out, but…this isn’t a lock problem, it’s a family problem. They’re still DMing LW and hollering through the door when they’re not actually walking into the room. They’d do it if the door locked.
LW, I think the Captain’s suggestion of removing yourself to a place with no WiFi and turning your phone off is a good call. What needs to change is your family’s expectations of your availability, not your door’s lockability. And good luck with the book!
(Also, shoebox lid on the desk really works for cats!)
Maybe you should hire a babysitter for all three of them, given that they’re all acting like small children. “All three kids are potty trained, and actually they all have driver’s licenses. Your job is to keep them away from this room. I don’t care how you do it. Coloring, snacks, naps, TV . . .”
(In all seriousness, this situation seems insane. My mom is a freelance writer, and her career took off around the time I was born. My dad was off at work and she didn’t have a room of her own to write in. It was made very clear that if she was sitting at the dining room table with her typewriter out, I was responsible for my own snacks, amusement, etc. Any interruption was met with, “Sweetie, I’m writing right now. We’ll talk about that when I’m done.”
It might be good to reframe these hours to your husband as times when he is oncall and supposed to manage the house. It sounds like he’s been doing whatever while you’re writing when he needs to be actively handling whatever “important” issues, rides, etc. arise.
Also, one thing my parents would do when me and my sister kept asking where things were without actually looking for them was to say that if we got them to look and the thing was in a really obvious spot, we would get a pinch. This usually got us to look harder instead of bugging them.
We challenge the boys to ten jumping jacks. If I can find it, they have to do it. If I can’t, I have to. This is more theoretical now, since 80% of the time, they would look harder, and 80% of the rest they would do jumping jacks. Which only left 4% where I had to, which apparently wasn’t enough fun to make them take the risk.
Jltz, I love that! Kids love showing grownups up. Sounds like a win-win!
if we got them to look and the thing was in a really obvious spot, we would get a pinch
seconding this hard NOPE.
In general, I would agree with you, but families can differ, and a gentle playful pinch that’s part of a consensual understanding is different from pinching someone hard as a punishment. When I was in third grade, I absolutely hated learning my times tables. What wound up working and making it fun for me was for my mom to start very gently pinching me while quizzing me, increasing the pressure as I tried to remember the answer. Of course she never got to levels that would cause real pain; it was the adrenaline rush and the sense of…safe fear?…sort of like the feeling of being in a haunted house attraction where you know they can’t really hurt you but you get into the illusion. And of course if I ever indicated that I wanted to stop, she would. This would obviously not work for everyone, but it was literally the only thing that made rote arithmetic memorization tolerable for me. I think it would only work in a family with a culture of playful roughhousing and a strong concept of consent.
Just throwing this out there, but do you have a set writing schedule, or is it an ad hoc kind of thing? Is your schedule such that you can designate set “office hourse” every day as writing time (ie, “From 6pm-8pm I am writing and may not be distrubed)? It may be easier to enforce this if you can point out that you are *always* unavailable for those hours and this is not a surprise to them. They have every opportunity to plan around that time. If you feel some Mom Guilt about leaving your family without you, you can also comfort yourself with the same facts — you all knew the schedule, they have every opportunity to plan for this, etc.
I also agree that you need to stop responding to interruptions. It communicates that you’re OK with being interrupted. The boundary is clearer if you just say, “Honey, I’m writing,” and go back to what you’re doing without engaging in whatever the interruption was about.
In case you need this reassurance: they will be fine without you during Office Hours. They will adjust. They don’t actually need you right that second. Remind them of that, remind yourself of that, and remember that humans are astonishingly adaptable. They’ll figure it out.
When you get back to writing at home, maybe buy some isolation headphones to wear while writing.
Non-parent here, just want to add that I write best at Starbucks and the library, so that I’m not distracted by the cats or what needs to be done at home.
When I was laid off, my counsellor suggested I leave the house for job search activities, so I would associate home with the stress of looking for a job. I hope LW will discover the glory of being able to write, write, write, away from home.
Related issue – our neighbor works nights and his family will NOT let him sleep during the day. We were over there for dinner a while ago and his wife was mad that he was happily talking to the Mr. while he had “been yelling at her earlier.” I asked what he was yelling about and she said “because I kept waking him up to do things for me.” I said I’d yell at her too if she kept waking me up. The poor guy has fallen asleep at dinner on more than one occasion and just recently totaled his car because he fell asleep on his way to work. I don’t know what it’s going to take for them to figure out a livable schedule, I told her that she’s screwed if he dies if she can’t survive without him for 6 hours or less a day.
Yikes, that’s dark. Sleep deprivation is literally a torture technique. While accidentally waking someone up can and will happen, that can generally be managed with something like good ear plugs and maybe an eye mask; intentionally waking someone, repeatedly, for something that isn’t a literal life and death emergency qualifies as abuse in my book. I hope this is cluelessness and not malice (and maybe the crashing-the-car incident will clue Wife in?) and can be addressed in good faith, but if you’re good enough friends that you care to help intervene, you might want to start planning an exit strategy with this neighbor.
The whole “training yourself” thing is important. I’m lucky in that the jobs I’ve had have involved cutting contact with the outside world for varying periods (hours in the case of my current role in an operating theatre, days to weeks in the case of my former military position) giving me opportunity to realise that people can, and do, survive even serious emergencies without me. Unless you’re doing leaving someone alone who is physically or mentally incapable of meeting their own needs, they’ll find a way to manage.
One of the things it requires on your part is giving up control to some extent and letting go expectations of *how* things will be done, which can be pretty hard at first.
Developing a theatre hobby has done wonders for my spouse’s ability to function without me! At first, I had to remind spouse that once I walk into that building, I’m turning off my phone, but now spouse mainly manages to cope with children and pets on their own. (I don’t actually turn off my phone because I have a behind the scenes management job and communicate with many of my volunteers via text message. However, I can willfully ignore text messages and calls from spouse for half a day at a time when necessary 😉 )
You should by a lock for that door! There are very economical ones available on amazon, at Home Depot or maybe even lowes? Then, turn off your phone. Disable any type of messaging service. Hang a sign in you door “do not disturb” and put your noise cancelling ‘phones on. Or put your favorite writing tunes on a good volume.
Enjoy the peace and quiet.
Your letter is wonderfully written. KEEP WRITING!
What I don’t understand here is why aren’t the kids doing homework? As in, it sounds like this is mostly a weeknight problem, so shouldn’t there be a few hours each night when the kids are busy doing homework, and the husband can entertain himself. Why are the kids demanding rides to friend’s houses on school nights? I think it would be really helpful for the LW when she returns to working in her home office to set up a nightly schedule with her family, where maybe after cleaning up after dinner, everyone retires to their own space for 2 hours each night to do their own thing. And if the husband continues to interrupt, he can be told to eff off with a clear conscience. Also, I really like the suggestion of a box or cat bed next to the working area to contain the kitties in their own space.
One obvious reason the kids aren’t doing homework is that LW wrote to the Captain during the summer. Parents’ lives and work go on year round, whether or not school is in session. Some of this stuff may be eased when school starts up again, but with the pattern as it now stands, LW’s husband would likely tell the kids “don’t bother me, I’m meditating” if they asked for help with their algebra homework or couldn’t find clean gym clothes.
It’s also possible the homework was done before dinner–it’s fairly common to tell children that they have to finish their homework before they can play. That doesn’t guarantee that the homework will be done–I did some of mine in the high school hallway before homeroom. and did all my reading for class on the ride to and from school–but it means that the answer to “why aren’t you doing your homework?” is likely to be either “I finished that” or “I need help with this.” (Whether “a few hours a night” of homework is actually a good idea is a separate issue.)
I agree, leave the house.
Working in your own home can be very hard at the best of times, sometimes even if there’s no one else home. Trying to do it with kids who don’t get it and a partner who refuses to do their job as a partner and as a parent seems like a whole other level of challenge you don’t need right now.
The most effective way to get someone to step up and do their job is to make some physical distance. And it’s also the easiest way to create a psychological (and auditory) space for yourself. Put your phone on silent, put it somewhere you can’t see it, and set an alarm for a couple of hours. I recommend three hours, personally, to give you time to get into it.
There is nothing that can’t wait three hours. If you were visiting family three hours away, your family would deal with it and so would you.
Maybe once you have a solid routine you’ll find you can move your work space back into the office. Or maybe you’ll find that nothing beats an outside office.
Writer and parent here! Your mileage may vary (as with all parenting things) but here are some ideas:
– Leaving the house, as CA suggested. Leaving the house is seriously the best. I love working at libraries and cafes, all my usual sources of interruption are absent and if I’m at a cafe I can have coffee and cake, which are wonderful things! And as an added bonus I’m way more focused and I write a lot faster. And if any of my family does attempt to interrupt me it is 1000x easier to fob them off because they’re not *there*. I got a text from one of the kids a few weeks back in the middle of my writing time saying they’d locked themselves out, and I sent back a sympathetic text but left them to wait around patiently on the doorstep until I got back. They were bored, but they survived.
– This feels incredibly counterintuitive when I want my children to leave me the hell alone, but sometimes I find the best way to create an uninterrupted space is to give them a solid, regular block of attention with boundaries around it. A few years back I used to set a timer for 20 minutes and give my then 5yo as much attention as possible for that length of time, I’d listen to whatever she wanted to talk about, play whatever she wanted me to play, try my best not to look at my phone or get caught up in anything else until the timer went off. And then it was time for me to write, and time for her to entertain herself. It wasn’t totally foolproof because nothing is with a 5yo, but it was more effective than anything else at the time. We had a special name for that time and she knew the rules around it and that it always came before my writing time, and she really, really loved it. If I was doing that with teenagers I’d probably adapt the method a little to suit teenagers (like maybe it would be some special activity we did together every Sat afternoon, like baking or going out for icecream or watching a marvel movie, or some other activity that appealed to all parties). The idea is that it’s basically like a substantial regular deposit in the attention bank, and if they already have plenty of credit in the account already then (hopefully) it makes them a little less likely to come looking for it in times I’ve set aside for other stuff.
– I don’t really do punishment as such, but teenagers are old and independent enough to look after themselves for a few hours (as are spouses!) and if I was dealing with perpetual, endless interruptions during designated writing time, that time would need to be made back somewhere, and it would be somewhere that impacted the person interrupting me. That might be time I’d spend making them dinner, dropping them at their friend’s house, doing their washing, or helping with their homework, something they usually get my help with that they can deal with by themselves instead while I get my writing done.
(Also I’m not going to tell you how many times my children interrupted me when I was typing this comment about not being interrupted, but there were SO MANY OH MY GOD SO MANY. #irony)
I love this suggestion so much – the idea that, before you want time to yourself, you spend 20 minutes going out of your way to make sure your child has lots of attention.
Love it!……. X
A positive reinforcer for, say, a whole day, week, and month (or six weeks) in which everyone manages to not interrupt you could also work, even if it is only your neutral broken-record reaction if they do come and your giant appreciation routine if nobody came for a whole hour etc.
Um… this might work for Saturdays, but what about the other days of the week? They refer to being “unavailable to them for an hour or so each day” and the problem seems to be that at the moment they can only claim an hour to work on Saturdays – and so won’t meet their deadline.
I’m guessing that during days when husband is working, Crowded can’t actually leave the house as they have kids in it (even if they are old enough not to need direct supervision while they’re working).
Just a thought, as your advice is great (as ever!) but I think maybe missed the note about needing to work every day, not just Saturdays!
The LW has a full-time out of the house job.
I don’t think having teenage kids in the house would need to stop the LW from leaving anyway. I mean, people hire teenagers to take care of younger kids for few hours all on their own.
“Mom, do you know…”
“I’m not Mom.”
“I’m not Mom, I am Writer.”
“Stop being weird, Mom.”
“For one hour in every forty-eight, I possess this body, as per The Contract. Mom will return again in… thirty-seven minutes’ time.”
“OK, fine. ‘Writer’, do you know where my favourite blue T-shirt is?”
“Gosh, that sounds like something Mom would know. Maybe you can take a note of any such questions for her to answer upon her return.”
I love this!
This would work best if your kids were younger, but my dad did do this with me when my brother and I were young. When he was doing tasks that would be dangerous for underfoot children (usually painting) he would take on the persona of ‘Painting Man’. Painting Man was, we were told, a friend of our father’s who he sometimes asked to do things like painting walls, or heavy gardening. Any attempt to ask questions about issues not pertinent to the task at hand (painting) would be met with a ‘you’ll have to ask your father when he gets back’. And then, of course, once the painting was done, Dad would be back and ask if we had seen Painting Man around today. It was great fun, and it actually got the job done fairly well.
Quick thought about the “Dad’s meditating” factor – it sounds like the husband wants his meditating to take place under the same circumstances as the LW’s writing (ie. that he’s undisturbed while doing it.) That’s fine if that’s an important part of his spirituality, but the problem is that 1. He apparently expects the kids to respect his meditating more than LW’s writing and 2. He’s not coordinating with the LW to ensure the two don’t overlap. I think there needs to be a ‘We both have this thing that it’s important we do undisturbed, can we agree set and separate blocks of writing/meditating time so one of us is available to the kids?’ talk. And then present that decision to the kids jointly – ‘Mum’s meditation and Dad’s writing are both times when you need to bring any problems to the other parent’. Maybe even have a calendar on display somewhere?
I want to thank you for writing this entertaining question. Your problem is that you have a family of big, loud cats! When you want their attention, they are busy doing whatever, but as soon as you get to work they want to sit in your (metaphorical) lap. They remind me of my grandmother’s cats. Every time she was busy solving crosswords, the cats would show up to lay on the crossword pages. Somehow she still managed to solve an amazing amount of crosswords every week…
When I was little, my mum made herself unavailable simply by being absorbed in her work. She only heard questions part of the time, and it took her 5-10 seconds to answer when she heard. Sometimes she also involved us kids in her work or studies. That wouldn’t work very well with writing, of course, but if you have any research questions maybe you could hand them to your husband and kids?
I recommend setting phones, e-mail and other communication on Do not disturb, or even shut them off completely to get some calm. If you don’t get the message you won’t be annoyed by it, and as a bonus you won’t answer so your family will have to find another solution. I also like ear plugs or these industrial ear protection thingies. The good thing with the big ear protection thingies is that they also send a message to people that you aren’t listening. Maybe you can walk around with them at random so your family can get used to you not hearing them?
Good luck with your writing!
As always, the Captain is wise. A coffee shop should have all the comforts of a home office where people respect your boundaries (mostly; sometimes there’s that one person who can’t stand to see someone alone working). And I do believe you need to have a larger talk with your husband and children about boundaries. There’s no point talking to the cats.
There’s always a point in talking to cats. Maybe not much -effect- though 😉
My feeling is that the LW here is used to subjugating her needs to everyone else’s. Her letter starts off with how it’s not the most dire question (it’s not a contest and you don’t have to be locked in the basement of a serial killer to have a problem worth addressing).
As far as locks? Any hardware store will have locks for your doors – it can even be just a latch-type contraption that stops at 3 inches. It sounds like your family may need that physical reminder that you are not available.
Portable door lock that doesn’t require any equipment: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Howsar-Portable-Quick-Door-Lock/dp/B001BN3I68
Boyfriend has one and it is really handy!
LW, there are three parts to creating a new boundary:
1) Deciding what you want that boundary to be.
2) Communicating the boundary to the relevant other people.
3) Enforcing the boundary yourself, irrespective of whether the other people involved choose to respect it.
You’ve done #1, and tried #2. I feel like the importance of #3 hasn’t gotten enough attention. Talking about the importance of writing time, shutting your door, even yelling when the boundary is violated — these are all #2. What is stopping you from enforcing the boundary rather than just coming up with other ways to ask your family for space?
I think the Captain’s advice is very solid. It can’t work long term, though, if you can’t do #3: if you check your phone while you’re away, agree to let errands eat into your writing time, come back early because one of your kids wants you to do something for them at that time. You have to deprogram your family, yes, but you have to deprogram yourself, too.
God bless my parents for introducing my brother and me to the joys of jigsaw puzzles as early as five years old! (“Kids, mom and dad have things to get done, so we need you to take care of yourselves. Here’s a 1000-piece dinosaur puzzle – have fun!”)
LW, your husband and kids definitely have issues with disrespecting your boundaries. I am assuming that nobody in your family has amazing magical crystal balls or inconveniently awesome telepathic powers that allow them to look into each other’s minds, so here is what I would recommend. Hopefully, this strategy will not only help you get your writing done, but also help you reclaim Your Room:
1) Clearly present to your husbands and kids what you need and expect of them. Do not let them interrupt you. Do not sugar-coat it. Do not give reasons or justifications. Do not apologize. Tell them very clearly: “Lately, you guys have constantly been interrupting me when I was in My Room to do my writing. That’s both rude and unacceptable, so here’s what we’re are going to do: the next time one of you interrupts me while I am in My Room to write the book I am tasked and paid to write, I will pack up my stuff and leave the house. I will turn off my phone. I will not tell you where exactly I’m going and I will not have any whining when I return. You are all old enough to fend for yourselves for an hour or two and I expect more maturity from all of you.”
2) Follow through. If any of them interrupt you, whether by coming in or knocking on the door or calling out for you, just pack up your stuff and go. Don’t say anything. Most importantly, don’t address whatever thing they want from you. Don’t tell them where you’re going. Just … writing supplies, wallet, phone (on mute!), keys – go!
3) When you come back and the world will predictably not have ended and the house will still be standing, but your kids/husband will inevitably act like you just caused the apocalypse, tell them: “I warned you this would happen. If you had respected the one hour of writing time that I wanted to have, then I wouldn’t have had to do that. This is on you. Not on me.”
4) There is a good chance that whatever they wanted you for has not yet been done, so at this point, do it together, with emphasis on showing your kids/husband how to do it. “Okay, so we’ll do the laundry together now. This is where you put the clothes and the detergent. Then you push this button, that button, and then you wait an hour. Got it? Cool. Next time, you will do it on your own.”
5) As for your cats: provide them with a nice cosy box near you where they can just curl up and fall asleep.
6) If your cats decide to be pushy assholes, put them outside of Your Room and close the door. Presumably, they are not just your cats – they are the family’s cats, so the rest of the family can bloody well look after them for an hour.
I wish you best of luck, with both your writing and your herd of proverbial boundary-violating trolls.
I love the Captain’s “Leave the house!” solution, but wanted to make a couple of suggestions that might help after the month of working away from home.
1) An “Interruption Jar”. The offender – child or husband – will be required to put $1 in the jar every time they interrupt. They still will not get a response to their interruption other than “This is my writing time. $1 in the jar. It’s $2 the next time you interrupt me today. Come back in an hour.”
2a) A small whiteboard or notebook outside the room, for the interrupter to write down what’s so important, in case they’re ADHD like me, and just KNOW they will forget before you’re done and it’s IMPORTANT.
2b) A clipboard with a stack of forms on it that the Interrupter has to fill out. The form includes a reiteration of the rules on not interrupting at the top, and assorted items and questions for them to answer like:
“Is Dad home? yes, no”
“If Dad is home, what is the reason you are not bringing this problem/issue/idea to him?” ____________________ .
“If the answer to question #2 is “It’s Dad’s meditation time”, why is it okay to interrupt Mom’s writing time, which has a deadline and not Dad’s meditation time, which doesn’t? Please show your work. _____________________________.”
“If interruption is for anything online, social media or on television, please enter web address, twitter hashtag, login info, and Management will view it within one business day. _________________________________________.”
And then a price list at the bottom. “If the answer to question #1 is “yes”, interruption will be $1, and no response to the form will be given until after Mom’s writing hour is done. If form is not submitted, interruption fee will be $5. Please slide interruption fee and form under the door. Management will get back to you within 1 business day.”
By the time the child has filled out the form, the hour will be up or they will be reminded why they are not supposed to interrupt you.
… and of course, the fees collected will buy Mom a coffee shop gift card, or a massage, or popcorn-and-a-movie or lunch out.
I had to work at my office for several years because my family could not keep themselves from interrupting. Eventually, they grew out of it, and now I can. It also helps to say, “No, I’m working” to any question.
First of all I wanted to congratulate you: you have a publishing contract! Yay! So very well done! I am not a published author (not at least yet) but I have written all my life since I learned how to write when I was 6 years old. Your letter made me realize how privileged I have been: all my life my family members have understood how important writing is for me so they have given me the uninterrupted writing time I need.
I am completely with The Captain on this one; the lack of understanding and respect for your need to write is the issue here. I have managed to get long study related writing tasks accomplished in an apartement where I did not have my own room but only because my husband understood my needs and took my back then 3 years old daughter out when I needed to write.
I second also the commenters pointing out that this is a great opportunity to teach your family about emotional labour. I admit I am in a happy position with my children: especially my daughter has wanted to be independent and to have all the necessary life skills from a very young age. Beside me, my family also consists of intoverts so they understand very well the concept of “alone time” since they also need it themselves.
It is clear from your letter that you have been a mother who loves being a part of her family’s life and also has been present as much as possible. That is great; you have taken a lot of responsibility. I do not know how old your children are; mine are teenagers. So many of the things you describe are also familiar to me, especially the things related to pets. Our house is also full of cats and preventing them from disturbing one’s work is almost impossible.
I have tried to minimize the disturbances caused by cats by choosing places in which they enjoy napping around my desk: footstools of different size and shape. Of course cats have individual preferences; while our cats seem to enjoy the footstools (they are very particular about which cat owns which footstool) those might not be the right thing for your cats. It sounds like they really love to keep you company. While a shut door does not (yet) keep the human members of the family out, would it work for your cats later, when you have established your routine (if you decide to write in your room at some point)?
Best of luck to you! Stick to your routine!
LW, I’m sorry to tell you that I think I may be your evil twin 😦
Having BTDT too, I can’t agree more with the Captain’s excellent advice here. GET OUT. One excellent option is to check for Meetups – there is one gathering called Shut Up And Write! where people go to meet at a library or coffeehouse for a couple of hours to do exactly what the title says. It’s great because when you’re in a group of other silent, writing people, somebody can watch your laptop if you have to pee.
Also, shut off your phone and your IMs.
One thing I don’t see in your letter: have you ever talked to your family when you’re not writing? Asked them why they keep interrupting your paid work? Have you sat down with your fabulous husband to say “Dear, when I’ve said I need you not to disturb me, you nonetheless disturb me with things that aren’t critical, like factoids. Why is that?”
Because it’s odd, isn’t it, that he’s so unsupportive? That he can’t manage to field kid needs while you’re doing paid work? That he’s “meditating” yet somehow just has to burst in, in person and not over IM or anything, to tell you about completely trivial and non-urgent things? Your kids have the excuse of being kids. What’s his deal?
If he’s ADHD or realizes he’s dealing with Issues and genuinely wants to support you, then he’ll figure out how to do that and solve it himself – like putting a Do Not Disturb reminder next to his computer, or setting a timer that reminds him he’s 100% on teen-fielding duty until it goes off. But if he just makes apology noises, or god help you pouts or gaslights or denies – then you know what, you have a serious husband problem.
LW, I wholeheartedly agree with Captain’s advice of being absent from the house during writing time for a minimum of 4 weeks. I agree with many of the other suggestions discussed here, especially a door lock and a cash charge for each interruption, but find what works best for you.
My additional suggestions are:
– Find a backup location or multiple locations to write outside of home, if possible, in case primary location isn’t available at the time.
– If you take your phone with you, do not respond to or make texts or calls. Life or death emergencies an obvious exception. If your phone has some sort of locating feature or app that lets family and friends know where you are, disable it. Turn your phone off entirely, if necessary. (But you would still have it, if you need it.)
– The answer to every interruption is “No, I’m working.” Broken record. No discussion. No time spent even considering the issue during writing time. You aren’t obliged to acknowledge their presence by looking at them, or let them finish speaking when they interrupt your writing time. “No, I’m working.”
May you have strength during the family’s readjustment to the new normal!
I don’t know about anyone else, but for me it’s been very difficult to find a quiet place for myself. It’s a major reason I stopped going to school.
I often just feel like other people have some kind of secret that I’m not in on and nobody wants me to know.
One thing I would emphasize if your husband pushes back against you going out or claiming a set period of time in your home is that you have a contract, which means this is work.
This is work that, fingers crossed, will contribute to the family income. It is work which will build your reputation and help you gain more work (book contracts) in the future. You may not be going to a workplace, but you have a contract, a client, an obligation, and a deadline. If something comes up he and the kids should ask themselves “would I call Mom at [dayjob]?” If the answer is no, then they should not be calling or knocking on your door now.
Um, I think you should yell at your family. I’m serious. The fact that you haven’t considered it (and would even consider RESPONDING to a what’s-for-dinner text when you’ve asked to not be disturbed!!) suggests to me that you are not a very yelly person, but I bet you‘d yell at your kids if you thought they were, say, drinking and driving, or if they got pressured into bullying someone at school. You’d yell if it was serious and a moral issue, and when you ask for time to do something important and they don’t respect that, it is serious, and it is a moral issue. I think the captain’s suggestions are great and highly necessary—you won’t be able to break the pattern without leaving the house. But when you get back, I think you should put some negative consequences in your repetoire.
Advance note: the example I am about to give reinforces that your husband needs to take a more active role, NOT that there’s nothing to be done.
I haven’t noticed anyone else mentioning this but I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes does the “hey hon, where’s the ___” / “come look at the dog!” / “Hey, did you see this Facebook post?” holler and then realizes, oops, my partner is out of the house and has been out of the house for half an hour and in fact said goodbye to me when he was leaving.
Habits are hard! Especially if it’s a time of day when you’re usually around and these decisions are usually getting made. There either needs to be really conscious effort (by your husband) to keep folks focused on something else and aware of it, or a retraining period. The retraining period probably goes easier if you take some chunks of time and make yourself actually unavailable, ideally longer than an hour so they actually have to build some “figuring their own stuff out” muscles.
Stop linking to locks or recommending locks, please.
You can lock the door! If the family keeps knocking on that locked door, the Letter Writer will be just as disturbed/annoyed/interrupted.
LW, why do you feel like you have to explain how wonderful everything is, really? You ARE allowed to have needs of your own, without having to justify everything.
Take the Captain’s advice, and then follow up with what a lot of the comments have said. Broken record or complete silence.
If complete silence doesn’t sit well with you, just keep repeating “No” through the door. It doesn’t have to be a sentence, but it shuts up any “but you could be having a medical emergency” bullshit.
I agree, get out of the house. (Either that OR try getting up at 6, and writing 6-8!… It works!!…)
And when you are IN the house, it is possible to answer all the requests with love, but gently shifting the boundaries as well (maybe…)
Child: “Mom what’s for dinner?’
Mom: ‘I don’t know sweetie! I’m not making it. Whatever you feel like making is fine. I would personally really fancy some tomatoey pasta, so if you make that, that would be great!’
Child: Mom I need driving somewhere
Mom: I won’t be driving you tonight, baby, so you’ll have to look at buses or you could all take a taxi and pool the money together…
‘I won’t be able to help you, I’m sorry!’ – is a nice answer.
I agree with some of the posters who said that it is really tempting to interrupt the person who is working from home, and talk to them, just because they are there… (I am a grown-ass woman and I still want to interrupt my partner at his desk. So tempting!!…)
There is an amazing podcast called Magic Lessons, and in one episode the host interviews a lady who is the founder of Mommastery (if I am spelling that right). This lady describes how she found it so hard to find creative time, because her kids needed her all the time, so she used to write in her closet. At 5 am. (She reckoned her kids would run into her husband before they ran into her.)
Except… Why should LW have to be gentle and loving in her response? Her family is not treating her well. They’re trampling her boundaries. It’s fine to let them know that that’s not ok, and actually, I think it’s NECESSARY that they learn this.
PS alternatively, could you turn the tables on THEM, and when someone interrupts you, you say
‘I don’t know sweetie! (Etc)… Oh, since you’re here – I need someone to read this page and tell me how it sounds. Can you just read this and correct all the typos in it? And tell me, is THIS better or is THIS better?’
Or: ‘Oh good, you’re here. I was going to ask you (a really really boring formatting question, preferably involving loads of boring complicated faffy shit.) Uhm… Uhmm… No, I still don’t get how to do it… No, I meant I want the paragraphs formatted exactly THIS way, can you help me find out how to do that?… No, I don’t understand the YouTube tutorial….’
Or ‘Since you’ve got five minutes… Can I just read this whole thing out loud to you?… No?…’
The cunning plan here is to make the unsuspecting teenager / husband begin to sway in a trance of boredom, and get it in to their brain that interrupting mom is a really dangerous, boring, time-sinky thing to do……..
Good luck! (Sorry if I am repeating an earlier suggestion already made by someone!) (If I am – we should hang out, you evil genius, you.)
My first thought was exactly the Captain’s advice: leave to do the writing. My second thought: have a family meeting. Lay it out very clearly that Mom’s writing a book and has due dates. Interruptions can’t happen. That way everyone’s involved in hearing Mom – including Dad. Still also leave, but make it really clear that this is an Important Thing and it requires focus, energy, and concentration. If the kids are in their teens they’re old enough to understand that Mom has stuff to do and that’s how it goes if it’s laid out for them. It occurs to me that maybe the kids don’t totally get it yet, and since Dad doesn’t seem to care about the boundary they have no reason to respect it.
Hahaha! At “Dad’s meditating.”
Sorry for twice-posting but I had another idea. I wonder if OP’s work would allow her to use a spare conference room in the office every day from 5-6 (or whatever quiet time there is at the end of the day). That could solve a few problems: 1. She’s already there and can dive in; 2. The kids and husband aren’t there; 3. Maybe it helps avoid some rush hour traffic? If Mom is out of sight, it helps remove her from kids & Dad going to her for every little thing. And then it builds in uninterrupted time at home later. Not as good as Family respecting mom’s boundaries, but a possible solution to get actual work done.
As a husband who has tried to be the Parent On Duty while the wife works elsewhere in the house, I endorse the “just go away” approach.
Back in my previous life as an ed student, the guy who supervised me as a student teacher said there’s a big difference between being the student teacher in the front of the room while the “real“ teacher is observing in the back… and being the student teacher in the front of the room while the “real” teacher is absent entirely. Children have this tendency to fixate on one adult as The Authority Figure, and if they’re used to seeing you in that role, merely telling them “no, treat this other person as The Authority Figure and pretend I’m not here” is… psychologically difficult.
None of the above, of course, excuses the behavior of the LW’s husband. But I think it is a salutary experience for people who were, ahem, not raised with the expectation to be homemakers to be in the position of “if I don’t do X, it won’t get done; if a decision needs making about Y, I need to use my best judgment” rather than “if I don’t do X, my partner can swoop in and rescue me; if a decision needs making about Y, I can ask my partner”.
It’s so interesting to read the (mostly very helpful!) comments and see the list of things that the LW could do besides: 1) leave 2) write
-Buy & install locks…
-Get her husband (who already doesn’t listen) on board with changes in schedule & parenting…
-Institute a complicated fine/chore system…
-Teach her family to cook healthy meals & do their own chores…
I’m gonna reiterate the OP:
You don’t have to fix your entire family dynamic in order to get space to write.
Yep, SO MUCH MORE EMOTIONAL WORK FOR HER TO DO.
Thank you for noticing this, Captain. I was side-eyeing it pretty hard too but not sure what to say.
I find it interesting that the kids know that dad is absolutely Not To Be Disturbed when he is meditating but somehow can’t figure it out when mom is writing…..and has had many discussions about her writing time…..and reiterates the discussions when they are “forgotten.” That isn’t to say I would change any of the advice. I think it’s perfect for disrupting the established pattern in a way that does not rely on the behavior of others. Still, it’s interesting to note that the kids are able to respect dad’s time but not mom’s. Also, that dad is choosing his meditation time when his children’s other parent has already arranged to be unavailable to meet their needs. It makes me think that there are deeper issues here than just the logistical ones.
” it’s interesting to note that the kids are able to respect dad’s time but not mom’s.”
Not that interesting when you realize that both parents have reinforced allowing this to happen. OP needs to follow Cap’s advice and change that dynamic on her own.
“But Mom, whyyyyy are you leaving the house to write?”
“Because we’ve demonstrated that I can’t write in the house without being disturbed.”
Hi LW. If you’re US based and can swing the expense, i just did some quick research and you can get a locking doorknobs for under $20 which can be installed easily with a screwdriver. A quick solution if you don’t want to work from a library – I know there isn’t one always close by and sometimes traffic and the act of driving can be discouraging.
I just want to a millionth the idea that if you need to write for an hour every day, you tack it onto your commute time. Leave your work desk and go directly to the library/coffee shop/ nearby university student center/ seating in a quiet corridor of a mall/ whatever, and write before you go home. Tell your husband (via text or email, so you have it to reference) “I am going to be coming home from work an hour later from now on. I need you to handle the kids and dinner.” if you think he needs it. Otherwise just present it after the fact. When the kids text you at work asking for a ride or whatever you previously could have done, the answer is “no, I will still be working. Ask Dad.” You have a contract. This is work. No one will die, and if the kids are teenagers they are old enough to understand that people have responsibilities that aren’t them. They understand that work time is for work already (presumably), this is just a little more work time.
My parents worked sales and retail management when I was in middle and high school. I learned to cook, to pick up after myself without prompting, and to coordinate with friends and tell them their parents would have to pick me up if I wanted to go someplace. I promise they will survive this change.
LW, I took the bar exam a month ago. And for a full two and a half months prior to taking the bar exam, I had to study for it. I went to my dinky town library all day, every day, and on Sundays, when the library was closed, I’d drive half an hour to the nearest city to go to Starbucks or Panera Bread, since they have WiFi and don’t care if you sit there all day.
I’m not a mom, so my level of authority and responsibility in the house isn’t nearly as high as yours. But I knew that, if I stayed home, I’d be interrupted by my parents and siblings, just as a consequence of five people being stuck in a tiny house. So I got out. And you know what? It was really nice. I worked uninterrupted for hours! I could get snacks or coffee! My boyfriend bought me a nice pair of noise cancelling headphones and I went to town, and I found I worked even faster than expected because of all that uninterrupted time.
Having to leave the house doesn’t mean that your family are bad people or that you’ve done something wrong by not enforcing boundaries enough or something like that. Sometimes, even when everyone IS trying their best not to interrupt, they still will and you need to disengage from that.
This what exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you for sharing your question, LW, and thanks for the advice, Captain.
It is good to know I’m not alone in negotiating creative space within a family! I’ve been working with my partner over the past few months on this. It took him a while to get the need for a separate space. he’s kind of a golden lab of a person, and doesn’t always see his (usually charming) enthusiasm can be really distracting when I’m trying to work. We have finally settled on getting a studio for me to work in…like captain wrote, he wasn’t going to get it until there was literal space between us. What got him into the idea was my showing him how it would be good for both of us and our relationship. I hope your husband gets there soon, too.
Shared workspaces are also an option is library or coffee shop hours don’t match your schedule!
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