When you become a mother, all selfishness tends to fly out of the window. Overnight, the importance of your happiness pales in comparison to your responsibility for another human life. When you have someone completely dependent on you, not just for survival, but for happiness and prosperity, taking time for yourself can be at the bottom of your list of priorities. But is that actually healthy?
According to a study, the average mum gets only 17 minutes of “me” time a day. 17 minutes?! What can you even do with that? A quick trip to the loo and slurp down a cup of lukewarm coffee, all the while waiting with half an ear for the baby monitor to start squawking?
It isn’t good for us to lose sight of ourselves. Our lives obviously revolve around our families, but we need to be able to pursue who we are as well, without feeling overwhelming guilt at the “selfishness”.
So here’s a bit of a guide for striking this compromise: for having time for you to pursue your hobbies, while still being the best mummy you can be.
Give yourself space
When time to yourself is so elusive, you need to be able to make a space for yourself in the world. Typically, as mothers, we give over our world to our children. That means every corner of our homes become theirs, and we realise a few months down the line that we have nowhere to go to call our own.
Men often carve this personal space out in the garage, cellar, or garden shed, but it’s harder for us mums. They have a place they can go to escape, away from the screaming, shouting, and excitement of the home. But mums need this space too. Even if it’s just a bathroom which isn’t overflowing with bath toys and No More Tears. A bathroom in which we can slip down and soak in the tub with candles, salts, and soft music, and not have to worry about the children, just for half an hour.
But, what is optimal, is a space in which you can carry out your favourite hobbies. Whether it’s a music room in which you can sing and play the violin, a sewing room, or a room for painting and practising yoga.
Having this space to which you can escape is essential, but being able to undertake these hobbies keeps that part of you alive. When your children are born, it’s easy to give everything over to them, but it’s essential to keep that part of yourself alive. So if you can set up your easel in your bedroom, that’s great, but if you can spare a whole room, garden shed, or garage space for your hobby, that’s even better.
Give yourself time
With young children, sleep can be elusive, so relaxation must be sought in other ways. Without it, it’s easy to become frayed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. When your children are very young, is it possible to arrange for childcare with your parents, partner, or a friend to allow you some time to yourself between feeds? Even if it’s just an hour for a nap, a bath, or a walk in the fresh air, it will do anyone the world of good. But once they start to get a bit older, they’re in school, or they can occupy themselves for a while longer, it becomes easier to take a moment for yourself.
When you don’t need to be on feeding duty every hour, it’s easy to go out for a few hours and leave them in someone else’s care, and this is the perfect time to start rekindling interests you held previously.
Were you an avid horse rider, a competent musician, or a lover of badminton? Did you have to give all those up because you simply didn’t have the time or energy when you had young children? As soon as you feel comfortable leaving them for a while longer as they get older, take this time to go back to your hobbies.
This time is essential for your own mental health. It allows you to be you, the person your partner fell in love with, rather than just a mother to beautiful children. It gives you time to be yourself again, and let your hair down. This time, for any mother, is the best gift you can give yourself.
Take a class
Sometimes, motivating yourself to leave the house, put down the chores, and say goodbye to the kids for a couple of hours to go to the gym, go for a cycle, or play a sport can be difficult. It can feel selfish and self-indulgent, but also like a waste of time or money.
For the same reason, we are encouraged to take antenatal classes, we are encouraged to take hobby classes in adulthood. It is essential that we surround ourselves with like-minded people, support, and fun. These people become our support network, but they also become our friends. Because chances are, if you can’t get out to do your hobbies, you probably don’t have must time for friends either. So enjoying a class or a club, just once a week gives you a huge boost in your socialising, and you learn a new skill as a bonus.
So whether it’s going back to your horseriding lessons from before your pregnancy, or you’re going to give beginner singing lessons a go, surrounding yourself with support and laughter is essential. And it isn’t like taking up your new hobby is going to seriously detract from your children – it’s only an hour or so in class each week, and a few hours practising at home if you’re lucky. Just don’t be tempted to bring your kids along while you’re in your class – not only will everyone else probably not appreciate it as much as you, the whole point is that you’re supposed to be away from them, and developing yourself, not them.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Once your child is weaned and no longer attached to you, it can be tempting to try to make the most of your new-found freedom. After all, you’ve got a taste for it now, and it might be addictive. But you want your hobbies to become long-term enjoyment, not just a fleeting thing, so they need to be sustainable.
Don’t decide that all of a sudden you will dedicate all day every Saturday to your new floristry course, with badminton on Wednesdays and trumpet classes on Thursdays, because you’ll soon realise that you miss your kids, it costs a lot, and the laundry is just piling up. Start slowly with just one hobby.
A gentle change in your routine is far easier for you to get used to than a huge overhaul. A class one evening a week, even after the kids have gone to bed, could be the perfect first step into this, and it won’t even detract from the time you get to spend with your family.
Find a hobby buddy
Have you ever started a hobby, only to give it up within a month or two through a lack of motivation? We’re all guilty of it! Which is why taking a hobby buddy along with you is the perfect way to motivate each other.
If you have someone in a similar boat, perhaps a new mum with similar interests to you from your antenatal classes, you share concerns, but you will also share the desire to spend the time to yourselves. This is perfect for motivation.
When you’re feeling like it’s a slog getting to your class or your club, and you’d prefer a night in front of the telly, your desire not to let down your hobby buddy will prevail. You’ll want to get out there and help them, as much as you want to help yourself. So be sure to put the feelers out among your friends and see if you share any hobbies, and can find a time to explore these together.
With starting a hobby, getting out, and enjoying time away from your family, it’s important not to rush it. Many new mums feel the desire to return to their pre-pregnant self before they’re fully comfortable with the change. You might give it a few goes, only to keep giving up. And that’s okay.
Sometimes, you’re just not ready to be away from your family, or you might be far too tired to actually enjoy any extracurricular activities. The key is not to give up giving up. If one activity doesn’t work for you, wait a while and try something new. Exploring hobbies is a bit part of maintaining a sense of self when your life becomes so selfless, so keep on trying. And if you’re worried about leaving the kids at home, find hobbies they can get involved in too.
Are you a mum with some great hobbies? How do you juggle the two, and what do your family and partner do to support you?