When I was a kid, I used to think I could juggle. I would grab two balls and toss one in the air while I switched the other one to my next hand before catching the first ball. I was pretty proud of myself until I realized I was doing it completely wrong. It’s not really juggling if only one ball is in the air at a time. Also? It’s not really that impressive until you master the three-ball cascade.
As an adult, I’ve gotten a little better at juggling. I’ve got my home life in one hand and my work life in another, and I know that it’s nearly impossible to focus solely on one without dropping the other. So, although the whole working mother dilemma continues to grab headlines, I can attest that it is, in fact, possible to have both (in a sort of happy medium kind of way). The challenge that I am facing is not whether I can balance work and family, however, but whether I can juggle work, family, and that third, elusive ball: hobbies.
By day I work for an educational publishing company as a content editor, developing interactive apps for whiteboards and tablets. By night I am caregiver to my 19-month-old son. I am his chauffeur (to daycare and back), his chef, and his personal groomer. I am his teacher, reading him books, pointing out colors and letters, and helping him form new words. I am his playmate, chasing him around the couch, playing hide and seek. I am his nurturer, his disciplinarian, his coach. I am all of these things in the course of a couple hours each weeknight and two full weekend days. By the time his little butt goes to bed, I am exhausted and drained. Usually that means I curl up on the couch, play a few games of Fruit Ninja on my phone, and pass out. But on these nights I’m left feeling unfulfilled -- like there’s something else I’d rather be doing with these precious few hours of free time, but I’m too zonked out to do them.
For my husband, who is a wonderful father and partner, balancing work, family, and hobbies is a lot easier. Since his hobby is sedentary and doesn’t require him leaving the house, he can participate in an activity he loves while the baby is asleep. He’s an avid gamer who, although has had to cut back a little on spending and playtime, still logs about 2-3 hours of gaming a night. He’s made a sacrifice, but not a very large one. Sometimes I feel bitter that he’s able to have it all. But it’s not his fault that his hobby is something easily done in the comfort of his home.
So what about someone who craves activity or community in her hobbies? Someone like me? Before having a baby, I enjoyed happy hours and wine tasting and yoga and going to the gym. I liked hiking on weekends or shopping in the city with girlfriends. Now, if I want to fit those activities into my life, I have to make some major changes.
Could my husband pick the baby up from daycare one day so I could go to happy hour after work? Nope. He works an hour away from Lucas’ daycare, while I can literally walk to the place from my office. Could I go take a dance class or work out during my lunch hour? Sorry, folks. The nearest gym to my workplace is too far away for me to drive to, change, and work up a sweat during the 30 minutes I have for lunch. Could someone watch Lucas on a weekend morning so I could take a yoga class or get a massage? Feasibly that’s possible, but there are very few options in the small city (really more like a farming town) where I live.
And after commuting about 2 hours every day all week and then running around after my toddler, sometimes the last thing I feel like doing on the weekend is hopping in my car and driving 30 minutes to do, well, anything. I still participate in the occasional city shopping trip or wine tasting. But it’s not something I can factor into my weekly schedule the way a good hobby should be.
So maybe I need to get some new hobbies, ones that I can easily do from my couch. My husband has been encouraging me for the last couple of years, but I guess “get a hobby” is easier said than done. Sure, I like to read and listen to music and watch TV, but it doesn’t give me that same buzz as an activity that gets my creative juices flowing. What else can be done from home? Knitting? Crafting? Painting? Meh. Just not my cup of tea. If I have to search and search my brain for things I possibly like, then I don’t know how committed to them I’m going to be.
Of course, the one sedentary hobby that I love is also part of my career: writing. I’m a fairly avid blogger, and recently, my husband and a couple of our friends have launched our own site. Now every night I’m in front of my computer, editing the daily content we publish, messing around with ways to market on social media, and scanning the Internet for information on how to increase traffic. I’m having a lot of fun with it, but at the same time starting to feel a little stretched thin, as Bilbo Baggins would say, “like butter scraped over too much bread.” This website has become more than a hobby to me. It’s almost like a second job. (A second job that I love, might I add.) But it’s morphed into something that must be done, instead of something that I can choose to do whenever I want.
Recently, when I complained to my mother about feeling stressed and experiencing some chest pains, she told me, “Stop messing around on that blog and pay more attention to your baby.”
So there it was. My mother saw my one hobby as detrimental to my ability to be a good mother. And perhaps she was right. My head was reeling with so much information, between my real job and my hobby job, that I felt overwhelmed when my son started acting out of line, hitting me and my husband, and presenting other challenges like a week of diarrhea and waking up in the middle of the night. It was just too much, and it sent my delicate balance toppling over.
Part of my problem is I don’t know how to have hobbies. Everything that started as a hobby for me has turned into something more. I took my first dance class at age 7. By the time I was 10, all other extracurricular activities were sacrificed in the name of dance, which eventually became my career. When a back injury sidelined me, my only other hobby (writing) became my second career. I know it’s kind of a dick thing to complain about. I’m lucky that I’ve had two careers doing things that I love! But I guess when you get right down to it, I just don’t know how to do something for the pure joy of it and nothing more.
Despite that revelation (because I literally just realized it as I was writing this), something still nags at me. I know I’m not the only working mother who’s unable to factor hobbies into my life. When I take a mental survey of my friends who are working moms, it seems there’s one common denominator: they don’t have time for hobbies, but their husbands do. Is it because, despite both partners putting in full-time hours at the office, the mothers still shoulder more of the burden of child care? Perhaps.
I know I can’t speak for everyone’s situation, but if I’m to be truly honest with myself, the real reason why I’m unable to juggle all three balls is because I don’t have the motivation. My husband is motivated to game, so that’s why he games. If he were motivated to play in a soccer league, he might do that, too. And if I were motivated to participate in any of the hobbies I listed, I’m sure he’d understand and take care of our child while I did.
I’ve listed many excuses over the past year-and-a-half of being a mother as to why I don’t have hobbies. If I only didn’t have a herniated disc, I could take a dance class. If only I brought Lucas to a different daycare, my husband could pick him up, too. If only I lived in a better city, there might be more fun stuff for me to participate in. Those situations could eventually improve, giving me the tools necessary to go after my old hobbies. But the energy? I don’t know if I have the damn energy to follow through. To make all those changes just so I can schlep my ass to a jazzercise class once a week? What’s the payoff? (Oh right, pure joy. Gotta work on that.) It’s doable, as I believe anything is doable if you really want it. But I’m just not sure I can manage one more thing in my already over-budgeted time.
Maybe my hobby is sleep. If that’s the third ball I have to juggle, for now, I’ll take it.
Follow Wendy on Twitter @wtg22