Congratulations, mom (or dad) you found your passion. Now how do you make time for it? No joke, being a parent is not getting any easier. Sure, we have a lot of modern conveniences, but today’s parents live in a dichotomy that says you are not a good parent if you don’t develop yourself as a person, but that you must also not forget to enjoy every last second of your kids’ upbringing because “it goes so fast.”
Let’s focus on the parents of wee little ones for now. Older kids take time, yes, but they also spend a good portion of the day in school, so there’s that. Parents of tiny tots, listen up. Let’s get real, shall we?
This is a really cool time of life. Your kids are learning and changing so fast that you can almost see them grow if you stare hard enough. Yesterday you were pulling all nighters with tiny bundles of energy that sleep all day and party like rock stars all night. Today you are watching them chase down a soccer ball and write their own names for the first time. It’s a heck of a ride, parenthood, and those first few years are a total kick in the pants. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss any of it. Actually, I do know about you, because if you have read this far then you are probably of like mind.
Yet, you are you. You were you before having kids, and somewhere under that super parent exterior is a person who has hobbies – passions even – that are not parenting. Whether it’s a new pursuit or something you have done for years, whether it’s a business or an on the side interest, it is important.
Did you read that? What you do is important.
Your kids need to grow up seeing their parents do things. They need you, and they need you to be someone that is multi-dimensional, too. Kids love getting involved in what their parents love. But they also probably don’t want to spend hours of the day doing what you want to do, sooooo…
Let’s just admit that there is no magical solution here. Sorry. If there were I would bottle that up and sell it all day long. But there are a few things I have picked up in my own struggles to balance my woodworking passion with my family.
1. Put first things first
The rule here is family first. That doesn’t mean that every time a kid lifts their finger I come running. But it means that they know without a doubt that they are more important to me than anything else. An acquaintance once noted that his kids know they are never to lay a finger on his supplies. Now, while I am not too keen on my 2 or 3 year old darlings messing with mom’s work computer, and the saws are as yet totally off limits, they are scarily adept at using my cell phone. Limits are good, but their father and I never want them to question that they are more important to us than any thing. Things can be replaced, they can not.
So how does that translate in terms of time? The simplest way I know how to make it work is to be where you are. When you are playing with your kids, be there fully and wholeheartedly. Is that easy? Devil no. Honestly, I really stink at it sometimes. But you know what? The kids know when I am on and when I am distracted. I get a lot more traction out of spending a good, real half hour or hour with them than I do spending several hours only half there. If you haven’t given any of yourself to your family, they certainly won’t be okay with you taking time on your own passion or business. Worse, over time they may just give up on getting your attention at all.
2. Accept a new meaning of balance
Balance is not equal amounts of time spent on various activities. It does not mean that for every hour with your family you get an hour to work on your hobby. There is a woodworker I admire that wrote something one day about only spending 8 hours in the shop instead of 10 that day. I was bummed for a moment. When have I ever had 8 whole hours?! But she’s at a different point of life. For me, an hour or two to myself to work is a total win.
As a parent there will be days you just don’t make it to your hobby. There will be days you don’t touch it until they are snug in their beds, and then the moment you sit down to work little Cindy Lou Who will get out of bed for a glass of water. That’s frustrating. And maybe it helps a little just to know you are not alone.
3. Share the load
If you have a spouse, a partner, or whatever you term your companion in arms, use them. Gift each other with a little time spent alone working. Take the kids for each other. Discuss when you need some time, particularly if your passion is also your business. Chances are they understand that sometimes you need a little extra time to accomplish something.
4. Get/Use your tribe
I hope you are lucky enough to have some good parent friends around. If not, take time to develop those relationships. Be willing to watch their kids when they need some time, and hopefully they will be willing to take your kids once in a while. Take it from an introvert, it is not easy to develop a tribe, but it is pure magic when you do. And, bonus, it’s good for your kids, too! They form friendships, develop socially, and get to play with other kids’ toys. (And there’s nothing better than that.)
5. Evaluate your expectations
Do not judge yourself against what someone else is able to do. No two situations are alike. Just like I cannot put in eight hour workdays, you have limitations on how much time you can allocate to your passion. Rather than rage against the clock, embrace where you are now. Life changes fast, and before you know it you will be in another phase of life altogether. That old adage about enjoying your kids and life stages because of how fast they go? Turns out it’s true. There’s a season for everything, turn, turn, turn…
6. Assess the time you have
Do your kids take naps? What time do they get up in the morning and go to bed at night? Are there times you need to be on a computer for your hobby or business? For me, running loud power saws at 11pm (which is what it is now as I write this) is not such a great plan if I want happy neighbors. But writing this post? It’s perfect for that. Think of your time in blocks or segments. If you have 40 minutes here or there think about what you can achieve within those time frames, and then give yourself the leeway to say “Okay, that block of time is over,” and move on.
7. Make a long term plan
My kids are home with me now. This year they will both start preschool. That’s only 12 hours a week, not including times I will be in the classroom because the school is cooperative. Annnnd it’s also 12 entire freaking hours! From this perspective that’s an eternity, and my mind reals with the possibilities. So for now I have a different set of expectations about what I can accomplish, knowing that the longer range plan is to jump up my work in ways I am already planning for now so that several months from today I can hit the ground running.
What is the next phase beyond this one for you? What do you need to put in place now to prepare for it?
8. Set your limits
This is important. Whenever you get good at something people will want you to do that something. Set limits on what you will do. Learn to say no. Your time is money. You need to think about your time in terms of money. I see so many bloggers say some variation of “Here’s this awesome craft you can make for only $3!!!” and they took like 4 hours to make it, while the store version is only like $15. Again, your time is money. Put a dollar value to it. If your passion is also your business beware working gratis. Ask around and there will be no shortage of horror stories from well-meaning entrepreneurs that learned the hard way not to give in to free work.
9. Involve the kids
Get your kids involved in what you are doing! Chances are they are trying to copy you anyway, right? Teach them some real skills, or give them their own materials. Our kids have their own workbench and wood supply. Not that they don’t constantly raid my wood anyway… You never know, maybe they will keep it up and become even better than you are at whatever you are doing! Kids just love to have your approval. Take time to admire their work. And take lots of pictures, because mini me photos are really cute.
10. Don’t forget to love what you do
You got into what you do because you loved it. Whether that’s a hobby, or a hobby that grew into a business, your heart needs to be into what you are doing. If you are forcing and fighting so hard for time and getting snappy with your family over it, your creativity will suffer. In my experience, creative thrives in a good environment. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your passion is to take a break and go to the park or play a game. You never know, the inspiration for the next great thing may be waiting for you out on the trail or in the ideas of a rambling three year old.