It was Sunday 22nd March when I emailed Carrie, my literary agent, telling her I’d had an idea in the bath and although it felt far-fetched, I wanted to explore it and could she please call me on Monday for a quick chat.
I am a parent educator and, as of a couple of weeks ago, now an author. I work with parents all over the world on evidence-based parenting and home education; it turns out that when a global pandemic hits and schools shut, parenting and home education experts are in demand. When lockdown started in earnest, I began receiving countless messages from parents all over the world who felt anxious, stressed and lost. Juggling home-based working with suddenly having their children home all day and trying to find the space to take care of their own needs so that they could support their children through uncertainty, so many of those I spoke to felt exhausted and overwhelmed by the pages of – sometimes contradictory – online advice (“Let your child relax”, “Keep to the school timetable”, “Don’t fall into bad screen time habits”, “Don’t stress about the TV!”).
As the scale of the crisis was revealed, it seemed clear that the reverberations of it would be felt in our daily lives for months, probably years, to come. I wanted to find a way to support other parents, but the idea of adding to the online noise didn’t feel right for me; I was in a place where I wanted to spend less time online as I found so much content deeply triggered my health anxiety, and I knew I was not alone in feeling like this. A book however – a lovely, solid, dependable book – that felt reassuring.
So I spoke to Carrie, with whom I’d been working on a different proposal, wondering aloud how fast publishers could move. It turns out, faster than I was expecting. We had a proposal out on the Wednesday, and the auction was over by Friday evening. I started writing Extraordinary Parenting: The Essential Guide to Parenting and Educating at Home that weekend, and sent in my first draft to Scribe a couple of Fridays later. Two years seems to be standard for a first book to be turned around. We went from idea to print run in a little under two months. Suddenly, one of my ambitions I’d been dreaming about for years was a reality. I’d barely had time to catch my breath.
If this sounds exciting, it was. But it was also utterly exhausting. I don’t think any author pictures themselves writing their first book with the backdrop of a global pandemic looming large, especially when you add in a husband whose workload had dramatically increased overnight and zero childcare or possibility of help from family or friends. I can’t say I especially recommend it.
In many ways lockdown has not changed our lives a huge amount; we’ve home educated our five year old daughter from day one, so although she misses her friends and grandparents (and I’ve felt guilty that she has no siblings to play with) we haven’t needed to panic about unplanned homeschooling. And my husband Sam and I can both easily work from home flexibly, which made things simpler and safer.
But in other ways it’s turned our lives upside down. Any semblance of balance has disappeared from daily life: one of us spends time with our daughter and the other frantically works, until it’s time for us to swap. Evenings and weekends no longer exist; in fact, promoting a book heavily though social media can mean that evenings are busier than ever, with posting to my Instagram account, recording Facebook and Instagram “lives” with book shops and other parenting writers, and continuing to build and grown an online presence. Every night, whoever doesn’t do bedtime tries to stem the waves of mess radiating from every inch of the house, before slinking back defeated to slump in front of our laptops.
I’ve been in envious awe of friends talking about their online yoga practices, nature journaling and DIY projects (though the dead plant which remains in the middle of our hallway perched on top of a half-empty box of toilet roll four weeks on from when I put it there has begun to resemble an art installation, so perhaps it's not fair to say I’ve been entirely without hobbies). At the start we thought it would be OK - each weekend I would cheerily say “This is almost certainly the last weekend I’ll have to work!” - but it turns out that writing and promoting a book alongside my existing client work whilst Sam works 16 hour days and our daughter wants to play is … a lot.
After coming pretty close to burning out, I’ve decided to take two months completely off work this summer. My advance from Extraordinary Parenting and my Government self-employment grant will cover me financially, and although the idea of having a long break is terrifying to me – I’m self-employed! – it’s probably better than crashing out completely. Although I’ve already had a chat with Carrie about ideas for my next book, so perhaps I won’t take the summer completely off after all …
Eloise Rickman is a parent educator who works with clients around the world through online courses and coaching, and through her Instagram account @mightymother_. She is the author of Extraordinary Parenting: The Essential Guide to Parenting and Educating at Home, published by Scribe.