Pursue Your Passion, Even With Small Children at Home

Work-Life Balance on 07.15.11
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A very bleak perspective from a "Father With Regrets" prompted me to write this post. This father of two young children abandoned all of his own dreams upon the arrival of his children. I found the piece to be an abysmally pessimistic view, but I am sure there are many other parents out there who, while they don't regret having children, might wish there was a way to hang onto a piece of their old life and dreams.

From the post on New York Time's Motherlode:

So if I knew then what I know now, I might have only had one child, or zero. I really, really lament the fact that I can’t have any of those (admittedly selfish) things any more. Instead, my life’s focus is now providing for my kids. I have committed myself to being the best darn father I can be, and I have slowly accepted the fact that all those personal dreams are basically pushed to the side because of that.

I firmly believe that pursuing one's own passions can make one a better parent, even if -- or especially if -- that means getting time away from the kids to do what makes you happy. Contrary to what this father says, you cannot "commit yourself to being the best" darn parent you can be if you are made miserable by parenting and over-sacrificing. 

When My Own Dreams Were at Risk

I've been at home with my baby girl since she was only four months old. Writing is my passion, and while Alex was small, easily entertained and less mobile, I was able to sit down and write a little bit each week. Now that her favorite pastimes include climbing and being dragged across the carpet by her ankles, I am engaged by playing with her all the time rather than writing.

When Alex wants to play by herself for a while, perhaps by tasting all of her blocks to make sure the flavor hasn't changed since the last time she put each one in her mouth, or when she wants to practice turning the pages in her books, then I will steal away to the computer to write.

Inevitably though, when she notices that I've become absorbed in my writing, she will conduct a sneak attack. She will crawl slowly towards my desk, which I will notice out of the corner of my eye. But then she will strike suddenly; before I know it, she is standing next to my desk, mashing on the letters of my keyboard.

Our Passions Get Lost in the Shuffle

It didn't take me long to realize that I can't write during the day any more, unless Alex is napping. As moms know, naptime is "get everything done" time. That's when the dishwasher gets emptied, email gets checked, a favorite TV show watched, lunch is eaten.

The older Alex gets, the more I saw myself abandoning my writing. It's so easy to abandon our own pursuits and passions while our kids are little. We fall into comfortable ruts. We are fulfilled by our children, and our old personas shift, maybe even die a little bit. Oddly, that might feel something like relief. With children, we have a purpose outside of ourselves, and we can stop suffering that fear of failure we sometimes get when pursuing our own dreams. If we have small kids, then we have license not to try.

Keep The Passionate Part of Yourself Alive

If we ditch our passions while our kids are little, then what happens when our kids get older and decide they are embarrassed by us? What will we feel like when they want us to walk behind them and pretend we don't know each other? I'm pretty sure I'm going to feel like rolling my eyes and smirking. But then what? While my kids are at the movies or are out watching a football game, it will certainly be nice to turn to my own diversions without having to pause and remember what it was I used to do with myself 12 years ago.

If I ditched my passion now, I wonder if in a few years I would begin to spend all of my energy brooding over my kids' adolescent angst, hearing the echo of that time they yelled, "I hate you!" long after the rest of the house is asleep. I know I want to keep my writing passion going so it's at the ready when I need it down the road. And guess what: I need my passion now, too. Alex is here, but Katie hasn't left the building. Nor should she have to.

I'm not saying that you should stop parenting your kids in favor of your passions. When I mean is you need to find a way to do both. If you let that passionate part of you die when your kids are young, there won't be much escape back into yourself for a wee little break once in a while when things get heavy later on.

So How Do We Follow Our Passion With Young Kids at Home?

Step one is to reprioritize. I didn't have to stop watching TV altogether, but I had to work my schedule around making writing a priority. I wanted nothing more than to catch up on True Blood the other night. It physically hurt me to avoid watching it. But in the age of DVRs, True Blood is there waiting for me when I need to take a break.

What mindless stuff do you do when you could be engaging in your passion? Think of the content you consume: TV, internet, books. If those are your passion, then I can imagine that you're all set. But if you have a passion that takes a little more effort and focus to accomplish, something creative or something physical, it can be much harder to get the time and space to work on it. See what you're currently spending time on that you could push aside.

Ask for Help

Step two, if simply putting off watching your favorite shows isn't enough and you need an extra boost, then get help from a friend or relative. My mother-in-law comes once per week for a few hours to watch Alex. Both Alex and my MIL absolutely love this time together. I used to use that free time as a vacation from life. I would run errands just to get out of the house. I would go to the pool or the gym. All fine ways to spend my time. But I could also spend that time writing, and I've begun to take advantage of those hours.

I realized that for me to really and truly get absorbed in my writing, to hit that flow, that Zen-like feeling that writing gives me, I need to get out of the house while Alex and my mother-in-law play. I head to a local hotel lobby where I can sit undisturbed with a laptop and get lost in the words.

Maybe you have a friend who would be willing to do a babysitting swap with you once a week. It can't hurt to ask. Having an extra kid to watch for a few hours a week will most likely be worth the happiness you get from pursuing an activity that's dear to you.

The easiest arrangement might be to trade solo parenting duties with your partner on the weekends. You can take the kids for an hour or two one weekend day to give your partner time to do his or her thing, and then you get the same courtesy the following day. Don't underestimate the power of a focused hour alone. You will be surprised at how much you can accomplish.

Make Some Extra Money

If you don't have anyone who can watch your child for free, then consider turning your passion into a way to make money or barter for childcare. You don't have to go so far as to turn your passion into a business, but accomplish enough to cover your childcare costs so that you can continue to do it.

Depending on what your passion is, you'll have to dream up a way to sell it. If painting is your love, then sell your paintings at local markets, fairs or on the internet. Offer photography services to families with children. Teach swimming lessons to spend more time at the pool. Sell your crafts on etsy. Or get a job as a freelance writer.

Shift Your Schedule

Pursue your passion early in the morning before the rest of the house is awake. That sounds like my personal version of hell, since I'm a night owl. I've been taking extra time to write at night after my daughter is in bed. I am far more willing to sacrifice sleep at night for my writing than I am to haul my butt out of bed early. Do whichever works for you, on one or both ends of your day.

However you do it, remember that reprioritizing, some inconvenience, or a little lost sleep -- while unpleasant in the short term -- are small prices to pay to keep your dreams alive. If you are at all like Father With Regrets, doing what it takes to pursue your passion could mean changing your grim life as an overburdened parent into one that bursts with more joy and satisfaction than you ever dreamed possible.

Katie Morton is the founder of The Monarch Company. Get a FREE copy of her eBook, 10 Steps to a Blissful You, to get started on developing extraordinary willpower for life.

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