How To Read Books And Neglect Your Family

September 28, 2015

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Every week or so, someone asks me how I have time to read all those books while also being a wife and mother to two young children. It’s a valid question, considering most people have better things to do than speed read celebrity memoirs and young adult thrillers. My standard answer is usually pretty tongue-in-cheek. For example, “You should see my dishes!” or “I just don’t parent my children!”

It is not the whole story, but it’s not exactly a lie either. I absolutely neglect my dishes and ignore my kids for the sake of reading, but there’s more to it than that. But before I answer how I do it, let me tell you why.

Just like every other unathletic millennial girl, I’ve been reading under the covers until 2am since 1995 when Stacey McGill got diabetes in The Babysitter’s Club. For as long as I can remember, reading has been both an escape and joy. It’s also become a habit and discipline. Any writer knows that in order to write anything, you have to read everything. In an interview last year, the Portuguese Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago was asked about his daily writing routine. His answer was, “I write two pages. And then I read and read and read.”

So that’s why. Here’s how.

I just do it. Not every day, not every week, not when the kids are sick or I’m in the middle of projects–but most of the time I simply make the time to read. My house is rarely clean because I don’t consider being a housewife my job. Mothering, yes. Loving my children and helping them grow up, of course. But the laundry? The dishes? The piles of unopened mail and old magazines? That is not part of my job description. I help take care of those things because I live here, but I’m not putting it on my resume because most of the time everything is messy and I wait for Austin to be home so we can work on it together.

Mother first. Writer second. The rest is relationships and occasionally taking out the trash. Whenever I see friends and family who find joy in cooking or general housewifery (and househusbandry!), I think– Atta girl! Please invite me over for your casserole. I will never be that woman. I will always push aside housework and complicated recipes for reading or writing or lying on the floor while the kids try to scratch my eyes out.

Speaking of the kids, I will also always be the mom who says, “This is Mommy’s time!” or “I’m reading, please stop poking me with that fork” because 1) There are only so many minutes in a day I can play dinosaur tea party and 2) Monkey see, monkey do. And if my monkeys turn out to be readers who sometimes neglect their chores to finish the last few chapters, I will consider that a pretty big win.

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19 thoughts on “How To Read Books And Neglect Your Family

  1. WhitMc

    I love this so much. Reading in my house is as essential as breathing, also started by my days under the covers eating candy stashed around my room ala Claudia Kishi. It’s less of “finding the time” to read and more that not reading is impossible.

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  2. Jay

    I end up having to bite my tongue when someone says, “how do you have time to read? I just don’t have the time to pick up a book.” I would like to respond, “how do you have time to shower & eat?” Just like anything, life is all about choices and priorities. You and I may choose less sleep & a pile of dirty dishes but obviously, it’s because we’ve chosen to prioritize reading (or procrastinate doing dishes.) The same logic applies for, “I wish I could travel too but I just don’t have the time,” or “I’m too busy to go to the gym.”

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  3. Danielle

    Yes! This is me. Exactly me. Only I’m about a decade ahead of you on the parenting timeline and I can tell you that ignoring my kids (or expecting them to entertain themselves while I read) has indeed made readers of them as well. (At the moment my 11 year old is curled up with a novel as her after school snack before hitting her homework) So, you’re not shirking your household duties at all. You’re teaching reading to little people! And keep the lists coming. I may never get to all the books you recommend but I’ll put off every dish and meal I can trying.

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  4. Corrie

    Oh yes please! As the child of a librarian (and reader, kind of comes with the territory), my Mom and I would have regular dates where we’d go out to breakfast together, just to sit in silence and read. It’s a tradition I plan on sharing with my children. Bonus – no dishes! Certainly made reading one of my greatest pleasures.

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  5. LCCD

    Oh I loved this post so much! I’m six months pregnant and a constant reader. People ask me now “how do you make time to read” and I have the same answer, I just do. But so glad to hear a similar sentiment coming from a parent who has much less time than I have! Thank you as always for your writing.

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  6. Pingback: How to Read Books and Neglect Your Family | Papa Niang

  7. Dr Margaret Merga

    Hello! As you know, books are not dead! I’m looking for keen book readers to participate in an international study of avid book readers, the first of its kind. If you are willing to participate, please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MBXQJCV . By giving up 10 minutes of your time to share your attitudes and opinions about reading books, you can make a very valuable contribution to our understanding of what makes a keen reader. The findings from this study will be used to support and encourage non-readers to read more. For more information, please contact Dr Margaret Merga at m.merga@murdoch.edu.au . Please share this link with your book-loving friends!

    Reply
  8. heather

    This is me! and it will pay off. I am constantly complaining to my 4 kids that they read too much!!! I know, I know, what a wonderful problem. But we do have other things to do! But I love that they are reading too much…most of the time! It’s their number one destresser!

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  9. Miche

    I love that! It’s important to take time to do things you love and things that mean most to you. For me, it’s working out. It’s working out as they are playing soccer, or at the playground. LIke you, and I want my kids to understand there’s life beyond a clean house and clean dishes. Although that is a very-nice-to-have too!

    Always make time for the things you love!

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  10. momjeans2012

    Before I even read your response I knew what you were going to say… because I make time to cook. I love to cook. Just love it. Can’t imagine not doing it. Just like your reading, I don’t always get to do it and when I do, it’s because I made it a priority and put something else aside (housework, showers, books!). Friends are always wondering how I brought something homemade to the potluck or cook from scratch on a weeknight and I usually say, I probably shower less than they do. As mothers, we all have to make choices!

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  11. natiejean

    This is absolutely true and wonderful. And I always felt like I was neglecting my kids when I would try to sit and read as they played. But you’re right: I love knowing the impression I am (hopefully) leaving on them.

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  12. Ib

    hehe. I am a mom of four and a friend of mine, who is now pregnant with her fourth, recently told me “i haven’t read a novel in years”, when I told her about a new author I was into. I was thinking, “yes, but i’m sure your house is cleaner!” priorities, for sure.

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    “I don’t consider being a housewife my job” YES!! Love that whole paragraph!! I kinda want to print it out and hand it to people (ahem MIL and FIL) when they visit.

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  14. Anonymous

    You are a great writer. I don’t know how I came across your blog, but I’m glad I did. As for myself, I RARELY read and have been asking myself why that is…. I think it’s because there isn’t much I enjoy reading! (Yes, I realize that is likely because I’m not looking….) But I love reading your writing. You might be who I read under the covers till 2 am now! Well, that sounded weird. But, anyway…. :)

    Reply

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