We all know how important words are. Without them, we would struggle to communicate, express ourselves, or write that email to our bosses that we’ve been dreading for weeks. As a freelance writer by profession, the significance of the English language (or any language for that matter) isn’t lost on me. Ever since I can remember, I have always loved to create stories, or dive head-first into a book. There’s something so magical about the way carefully crafted sentences can transport you to any point in time. This love of literature has propelled me forward not just in life, but in my career, and shaped who I am as a person. While the books I read now are more mature and complicated, it’s the ones I consumed in my childhood that truly kickstarted this passion. I’m not alone.
Many of us have fond memories of our parents reading stories to us at bedtime. It may have been a Hans Christian Andersen tale or a classic by Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. I distinctly remember reading a C.S Lewis book with my mother at the age of 5 or 6 and being praised to the hilt when I accurately pronounced “mathematician.” Books are such an important part of education, but it goes beyond that. They open the realms of imagination, letting children feel – even for the briefest of moments – that they can do anything. That’s why, when I became a parent myself, I was so excited to introduce my daughter to these enchanted worlds where I had spent so much of my childhood.
BALANCING READING WITH LIFE
It started out with simple sensory page-turners when she was just a baby. She would clutch the material in her little fist and try to eat it most of the time, but still. It felt like progress. I was fortunate enough to have a year-long maternity leave, giving me plenty of time to do these things.
However, as a single parent throughout everything bar conception, I had a lot on my plate. When it was time to get back to work a year later, I decided to forgo re-joining my company and instead enrolled in a full-time degree course in English Literature and Creative Writing. My daughter, just under one-year-old, inspired me to really pursue what I had always wanted to do. But, while I was reading the works of Charles Dickens and dissecting the poems of T.S Eliot, I found that all my time was spent reading for study, and not for pleasure. This was the first time I remember picking up a book and thinking, “I just don’t feel like doing this.”
Fast forward five years later and I am successful in my field, writing like a demon eight hours a day for a multitude of websites and channels. My daughter has just started school, and we are tasked with reading every night. As many parents know, this isn’t always an easy task. In fact, it can be difficult. By the time I pick my daughter up from the childminder, it’s 5.30 p.m. She is happy, fulfilled, but tired.
Aiming for a bedtime of 7 p.m. is difficult when you need to feed them and bathe them, let alone factoring in writing and reading homework. That’s an hour and a half to make sure that they’re loved and educated, without factoring in any quality time – and then, there’s the bedtime story.
WILL I REGRET THIS?
As parents, we are actively encouraged to read to our kids every single day. This is a practice that I wholeheartedly agree with, but prior to my daughter starting school, I never realized quite how difficult this would be to factor into our daily schedule. I always thought, given my own feelings about books and my chosen career path, that I would breeze through this. Imagine my surprise when reality hit. My daughter loves to read, she finds it fascinating and is desperate to be able to do it herself. She’s getting there, one sound at a time, but it’s a process. She gobbles up stories like they’re gummy bears. But even she has a limit.
Some days, she doesn’t want to read, or she’s so tired after her long day that she falls asleep at the dinner table. On the flip side, after working all day myself and rushing to get everything done post-pickup, there are times when that familiar feeling creeps in and I find myself scanning the bookshelf at 7.50 p.m., thinking, “I just don’t feel like doing this.” As it stands, aside from homework, we’re lucky if we fit a couple of chapters in 3 or 4 times a week. I know this isn’t “bad” going per se, but I feel like it should be more. The cloud of guilt looms overhead as I try and balance my life between working, taking care of myself, taking care of my daughter, and keeping up with the expected reading requirements that educational establishments impose – and for good reason.
What should I do? Should I cut down my hours and earn less money to spend more time on the practice? Am I stunting her development by being a full-time working (still single) mother? I can only hope that when she grows up, she has an appreciation for the sacrifices made that gave her a comfortable, happy life, even if that meant there were days without stories. I was simply too focused on trying to make sure that hers was a happy one.