Take up a hobby to beat the blues
Something pop psychologist Nigel Latta once said really stuck with me.
He was chatting about being happy and overcoming depression.
He said something like: "Everyone needs a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Something that makes them feel excited, something that they want to learn about. Something they can't wait to do more of."
For many women, becoming a mother is the biggest life change they will ever experience, and the early years are all-consuming.
Whether we like it or not, what actually gets us out of bed in the morning is a wailing cry, or a toddler who at 5.30am has slept enough and is ready for the day.
Not only do we find ourselves thrown in at the deep-end in caring for our precious baby, but our lifestyle is thrown upside-down. Our freedom to do what we want, when we want it, is taken away, including some of those "recharge" activities that centred us and kept us mentally well.
The absence of intellectual stimulation and accomplishment can exacerbate feelings of boredom and frustration.
I think I was experiencing "that phase" of dissatisfaction when Latta's words reached me. He seeded the idea that early motherhood could be far less mundane and more enjoyable for mothers who had passions, hobbies, projects or interests that were compatible with domestic life.
I concluded that pursuing something for ourselves was not necessarily selfish, but necessary to ensure our mental health and therefore essential to the family's wellbeing. The challenge, however, was in finding an interest that was truly compatible with raising a family. From this I conceived of the idea of "Domestic Passions and Parenting-friendly Interests".
Author and psychotherapist Kay Douglas, put it this way in Living Life Out Loud: "Our lives are far too precious to be left to just slip away, lost to mind-numbing routine, compromise or coping. We are all here to learn, grow and express ourselves in our own unique way."
So began a stream of thinking for The Motherhood Project. Ideas about what makes for a really good mother-friendly hobby, and to encourage mothers to find one to help them through the early years of motherhood. Here's a checklist:
1. It is a genuine interest: We're not talking about finding something to do to just fill the time. A genuine passion is something that, while not necessarily without effort or commitment, does not feel like a chore or burden. Real hobbies are something to look forward to and pursue in whatever form is required.
2. It is family friendly: Your interest needs to be compatible with family life. If it can be pursued only outside of the home and without your children, requiring significant amounts of time and resources, then it may not be a good fit. A hobby that you can do alongside them, while caring for them, instead of television in the evenings, or in little moments of "me time", is a good one.
3. It encourages further learning: A good domestic passion or hobby is one that entices you to learn more. It's not just a passive interest. It's one that has you getting books out for yourself from the library, not just books from the children's section. You may find yourself scanning community education classes or even more formal learning institutions, as your desire to learn grows.
4. It becomes a mental "happy place": A good passion or interest will create a mental "happy place" where, during moments of boredom or depressed thoughts, you can elevate your mood by thinking about it, planning your next opportunity or project idea. My passions keep me awake at night (which probably isn't such a good thing), but illustrates well the concept of mental excitement over an idea or project.
5. It is something to share with your children: A good hobby is one that you can involve your children in from a fairly young age and share your knowledge and skills. Be a good role model to them by showing them how hard work and commitment to an interest or hobby can bring great satisfaction and reward.
6. It's one that challenges you: The best domestic passions are ones that from time to time require self-discipline and effort to achieve results.
Psychologists recognise the correlation between effort and personal reward. Where there is some challenge, the feelings of happiness you will get from overcoming it will contribute to your sense of wellbeing.
7. It's probably an extension of "what you do anyway": Not all hobbies will be of this nature, but I do have a theory that the most parenting-friendly hobbies are ones that are compatible with the daily routine to the point where we do them anyway. Like an interest in cooking or baking, or making your own children's clothes through a love of craft and design.
8. It involves a natural talent: Often our interests align with our strengths. When they do they are more likely to give us personal satisfaction and reward. Finding a family-friendly interest that enables us to excel in a talent area is a wonderful gift we can give ourselves and a great example to set for our children. We may also get external praise or recognition for our efforts and this can be a boost to our self-esteem.