Yesterday, I posted about how difficult it can be to nurture our own identities while mindfully choosing to make sacrifices in the season of mothering young children.
So then, how do we maintain a sense of self, or prepare for the future, when we are busy living a life on hold? (Yes, I know Life with Young Children is not really a life on hold; it’s more of a beautiful, chaotic, heartbreaking and life-sustaining dance in time lapse photography that, sped up, becomes a dazzling and breathless blur of colour and sound).
Today I give you 8 Ideas to Nurture Your Self Through Motherhood. These may be common sense to some, but I hope at least one strikes a cord with you. I’ve tried to include things that require various levels of involvement and capital. A word about the links I’ve included: I’m neither affiliated with nor endorsing any of these people, but wanted to give some examples of places to get started so you’d have an idea what’s out there if you hadn’t considered some of these ideas before.
- Read—Novels are ok (and could be coupled with a book club perhaps so that you also have some adult interaction to look forward to) but I’d also recommend reading on subjects that might interest you as a career, hobby, or course of study when you feel the time is right to venture into more time away from your kids. If you want to go back to school, or start a new job after mat leave, or start a business or a new hobby, you don’t have to wait to learn about those things. You can read up on it now. Plus, it gives you something interesting to talk about when you find yourself at parties (if you ever DO find yourself at parties—I know I don’t) and you’re worried you might mention poop or the laundry.
- Take a Course—If you have occasional childcare, or a partner with a flexible schedule, and the cash, you could take a continuing education course at your local college for one term, either just for fun (like wine tasting, or Expressionism) or to gain a skill you might want to use if you decide to return to work outside (or from) the home (like Illustrator, or bookkeeping, or First Aid). Another option for fun classes is your local community center. Similarly, if childcare is an issue, you could sign up for all kinds of online courses (photography, writing, web design, project management, or even dreaming big). The benefit with these is that they are often self-paced and can be completed at night or during nap time, and they usually feature an active social network online so you won’t feel too isolated.
- Volunteer—Even once a week, or once a month, without the children gives us something to occupy our minds that is about us, and our gifts, not about being Baby’s Mom. Ideally, try to find something that isn’t kid-related (i.e. not the PTA or soccer team) unless those kid-related volunteer opportunities give you the chance to practice or gain new skills (like chairing a meeting, organizing an event, acting as treasurer, designing and writing a newsletter), rather than just baking for the bake sale or organizing the bottle drive.
- Exercise—Exercise is proven to make both our bodies and minds feel better. It reduces depression, helps with motivation, and often, gets us out of the house. It might mean a precious kid-free hour at the gym or hot yoga class, or it might mean doing Wii fit in your living room with your toddler “helping” or maybe just going for a brisk walk instead of driving to preschool. It’s going to be good for you no matter what, but if you have the time and energy to take it a step further, I would recommend trying a bunch of things until you hit on the physical activity that you really love, that you can look forward to for it’s own merit (not just for the break from parenting and for fulfilling the list of SHOULDS we carry around). You want to find the thing that becomes a part of you, even after the kids are in school, like moms who start jogging to lose weight and eventually love running marathons. Maybe it’s rec league softball, or cycling, or mountain biking, or zumba, or belly dancing, or dodge ball, or yoga, or hiking in the mountains. There’s so much out there that can grab your interest over and above walking the treadmill at the gym while watching HGTV.
- Start a Blog—Blogging can be a very fulfilling hobby because by nature it is interactive and communal (even if you do it badly), but especially so if you choose to start a blog on a specific topic rather than just as a way to keep grandparents informed of Junior’s developments. Choosing a specific topic gives you a chance to research posts, network with others in a specific field of interest, read and learn from others, and is a way to both get your brain going and discover what you’re passionate about (if you don’t know yet). Possibilities include: a photography 365 project, a recipe/cooking blog, an advocacy project (possibilities are endless here), current events commentary, literary or film reviews, parenting a child with special needs, DIY projects and tutorials. You may also have a current project in your life that you want to blog about: like “greening” your home, making meals from scratch, budgeting/changing your relationship with your finances, gardening or permaculture, simplifying/de-cluttering, or renovating.
- Start a Business—This could be the off-shoot of a hobby, like sewing cloth diapers or making felt food or knitting owl faced baby hats. You could open an etsy shop. Or maybe you make soap and you want to start selling it at Craft Fairs and Farmer’s Markets. Or you have previously used skills like bookkeeping, or web-design, or translation, or writing, and you decide to take on one or two freelance contracts (if you have the time). It needn’t be a full-time affair. (Admittedly, this is the trickiest one because it’s hard for a business not to eventually compete with the needs of your children, especially if it starts to become successful and you yearn to watch it grow).
- Self Exploration—This is pretty varied but it could include all kinds of things like hiring a life coach, taking an online class, crafting your life, meditating, journaling, digging deep, reading, getting organized, exploring spirituality by joining a church or researching a faith you are curious about, practicing mindfulness. These activities will enrich your life even if they are squeezed into the moments between everything else. Taking the time to really know yourself is the perfect foundation for knowing what you want to do when your kids are off on their own self-exploration journeys.
- Try Something New (or Old)—I want to take a moment here to mention hobbies, though it’s a tricky one. Certainly one of the reasons a lot of hobbies fall by the wayside after we have kids is that it can be hard to practice some of our hobbies with young children around. Perhaps our hobbies are just another of the many things that we’ve had to lay down temporarily while our kids are young, and that we know full well we’ll be back to eventually. That’s totally normal, but perhaps we could find a way to keep at least one, or make time to learn something new that is compatible with our child-full life. Maybe we can’t travel to Italy right now, but we could learn Italian on Rosetta Stone, or we could go to one of those paint your own pottery studios while our oil paints are packed away in storage, or we can make a point of still playing the guitar occasionally if we love it. We could knit while we watch Downton Abbey in the evenings or decide to sew new Christmas stockings instead of buying them. And no, I don’t mean you should feel like you have to make everything homemade in order to measure up. This might be the only sewing or handmade anything you do all year, but if you’re doing it for YOU (and not for pinterest), you’ll get something out of it. It doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to be often, but hopefully it makes your heart sing.
You may read these and think that you could never add another thing to your plate right now, but even the most sleep-deprived, childcare-challenged mama can get a book out of the library. It doesn’t have to be something big, but you can choose do something for YOU.
Which of these do you do already? Which of these speak directly to your heart?