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13th Aug 2015

A NEED for Me-time: Andrea Mara on finding interests after babies

Andrea Mara

It was 2006. I was updating my CV for the first time in a long time. And I was stuck. Not on “Current role” or “Experience” or “Referees” – the bit I was stuck on was “Hobbies”.

I typed “Reading”. It was true, but not all that exciting. I typed “Cooking” – an overstatement but not technically a lie, after all, I was cooking dinner most evenings after work. I considered “Skiing” because I’d been once, and I resisted the urge to write “Socialising”. I sat back and surveyed my hobbies section – an insipid, flavourless affair. And while I’d like to say I rushed out to join an art class or take up kickboxing, I didn’t. It took seven years and three kids for me to finally find some outside interests.

Why is it that when I had all the time in the world, I had no real pastimes, whereas now when I haven’t a moment to spare, I’ve suddenly got myself some hobbies?

It seems counterintuitive, but actually, it makes a lot of sense.

A need for me-time

Before kids, I took free time for granted. At any given moment, I could sit on the couch and eat a biscuit. And do nothing else. For an indefinite period. I had more me-time than I knew what to do with.

Today, everything is timetabled, and it’s always busy. If I want some me-time, I’ve got to find creative ways to get it. And what’s seldom is wonderful – I appreciate it more than ever. So, for example, I go to Pilates on a Saturday morning – and it’s about a lot more than strengthening my core – it’s about two hours of time that’s just for me.

Mum of two Laura has managed to grab some me-time too. “I’ve started aqua aerobics, photography club and book club since having kids,” says Laura. “I’ve definitely managed to use my time more wisely and I need it for my own space and sanity.”

Regaining a sense of self

When I went back to work after my third maternity leave, I started blogging as a means of letting off steam and feeling more engaged with the world outside my commute and my work-home juggle. It was therapy after long days at work, and it helped me to feel like a grown-up after days with the kids.

Fellow blogger Sinéad did the same. “I started blogging after I had children – it’s something I could do when I was at home with the kids when my husband was working late. I always find time to do it, as I can do it at home without a sitter,” says the mum-of-three.

Mum-of-one Jen found a creative side too. “I’ve started painting furniture since having my little girl. I needed to find something to do that was just for me, but that I could do at home in the evenings.”

“Crochet and knitting,” says Tracey, a mum-of-two. “I find it relaxing to have a hobby I can do in the house – it takes just enough concentration to stop my mind wandering to other things but not so much that it’s taxing!”

Getting fitness-sensible

My third hobby (imagine, I’d have three to write on a CV now) is running. It ticks the box for me-time and regaining a sense of self, but let’s face it, there are easier ways I could fulfill those needs – like sitting in a coffee shop, eating cake and reading Twitter.

Running is my answer to the nagging voice – the one that keeps reminding me that fitness is important too. And the great thing is, I don’t miss anything. Sometimes I leave the house and the kids are colouring while my husband cooks dinner, and when I get back, they’re still colouring and he’s still cooking. A low maintenance hobby with a high impact for me.

And while running is the go-to exercise for lots of busy parents today, some try something different, like mum-of-one Lisa. “I’ve taken up boxing – well non-contact!” she says. “I go religiously at 6.30am, two to three times a week, and although I’ve always exercised, I get way more out of this. Working five days, it’s my me-time too.”

Getting creative

Lots of women I spoke to have discovered a creative side after having children.

“Since having my kids I’ve taken up blogging, and running the local knitting/crochet group, as well as becoming more passionate about cooking, crochet, knitting and other crafty stuff,” says mum-of-three Helen.

Etain, who has three boys, took up making character cakes. “I started out making my eldest a cake for his 2nd birthday, and it all rolled from there – I even ended up doing a cake course to perfect my technique!”

And mum-of-two Jill found something that’s both relaxing and good for the whole family. “GIY is my latest hobby. Before this year all I could grow was mint and parsley (basically weeds!),” says Jill. “It’s quite cathartic to sit and focus on a small patch of soil and pull up every tiny weed while the kids go nuts in the garden around you. It’s a great way to get them interested in where their food comes from also. We got a raised bed built for very little money, and though I’m not green fingered at all, a small bit of effort and some ninja-slug repelling tactics mean we’re facing into more broccoli than our small family can eat. It’s very pleasing!”

You might be reading all of this and thinking “I just can’t.”

And I know if someone had suggested to me four years ago, in the midst of working full-time with two in crèche and one on the way, that I get some hobbies, I’d have had a hard time keeping my cool. Because if you’re already struggling to fit it all in, getting a hobby for the sake of having something for yourself might not be the answer. It seems to work best when it happens more organically when the time is right.

So it might not be now, but some time in the not too distant future, you may find yourself painting some chairs or growing some broccoli. And until then, reading the internet counts as me-time. No really, it does.
Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after her three kids, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.