Erika Hoffman of Chatham County raised four kids and has lived to tell the tale – in print. Her essays, many of which are drawn from her parenting experience, have been published in many magazines and anthologies. Her essay "Defaced," a humorous recounting of a mother's conversation with her daughter about Facebook, was included in the "Parenthood" edition of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book series released last month.
Her kids are grown now, but that doesn't mean her parenting gig is over. This month in "Meet," we ask Erika what wisdom she collected over the years and what writing means to her now
Q. Tell us a little about yourself, and about your family.
A. My husband and I met at Duke University and were college sweethearts. He went on to medical school, and I began teaching high school. After we married and moved back to North Carolina from Georgia, we started our family, which grew to four kids and many pets. Because my husband put in long hours when the kids were young, I often had the sole responsibility of taking them to extracurricular activities, church, and sundry other events.
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Q. When did you start writing? Was it hard to find time to write when the kids were younger?
A. I was an English major, but I never wrote when my children were young. I didn’t begin writing with the goal of publication until I was an empty nester.
Q. Has parenting given you a lot of material for your essays? How do you decide what to write about?
A. Raising children gives one all sorts of fodder for stories. My kids are characters. No wall flowers or shrinking violets. They often don’t take my advice, and so there is always that great element for a story--conflict!
Q. Now that they're adults and can read what you write, what do your kids think of your essays -- particularly the ones that have been about them?
A. They don’t like to read the types of stories I write. My kids prefer reading financial reports or medical books or instructions on how to assemble something. One’s kids don’t always turn out just like mom.
Q. In his later years, your father moved in with your family. What was it like having three generations under one roof?
A. Our fourth child was a senior in high school when my aged dad moved in. She was a tremendous help to me and very solicitous of her grandpa. My dad forged close relationships with all his grandchildren. As a widower, he took each child on a major trip every summer. They were fond of Papa. They have those memories of traveling with him, forever.
Q. Did your experience as a teacher help you as a parent, and vice versa?
A. Yes. I could understand what my children needed to succeed. Being a parent also made me more sympathetic to students and their parents. So often nowadays, it seems as if everyone concentrates on the disabilities students may have instead of concentrating on strengths they do have. I think it’s better from a parent’s point of view or a teacher’s point of view to look at the positive things each kid brings to the table and not overemphasize weaknesses.
Q. When your kids were growing up, what was your favorite thing to do with the whole family in the Triangle?
A. We used to go to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham and also eat at Bullock's.
Q. What's your favorite thing around here to do around here now?
A. I have season tickets to DPAC and enjoy the Broadway plays with my girlfriends who are also empty nesters.
Q. What's the best parenting trick you picked up over the years?
A. When my oldest was a teen, I avoided confrontations and verbal altercations by writing him notes I’d slip under his door, and he’d slip notes back to me. So no loud angry words! I guess it improved written communication skills for both of us!
Q. What's the best advice someone gave you about being a mom?
A. Try not to get involved in your kids’ spats. Let them work them out as much as possible.
Q. How does your role as mother change as the kids are grown up and on their own? Is it easier now, or harder?
A. You become less involved in their day to day life, obviously. You give up control, but you’ve been doing that in incremental doses for years. You also start to treat them not as an extension of yourself or your union with your husband but as adults or friends who have their own opinions, goals, needs, and desires. I can’t say it is easier or harder. It is different. The best advice is to live in the moment and not project. Kids are a gift to you, and you are a gift to them.