“It’s woo-koo-way-wee time!” my son shouts gleefully, running into his room and pulling out his bin of musical instruments. “Want to set the timer!”
I’m trying to teach myself to play the ukulele. (That’s woo-koo-way-wee to you.) I’ve been at it for a couple weeks now and my fingers are sporting some pretty serious callouses so I finally look legit. I’m terrible at it, of course, but I’m less terrible than I used to be which, theoretically, means I’m making progress.
Just to prove I’m not making this up, here’s a picture. My ukulele is pink because, well, if you’re going to get a ukulele and they come in different colors, you might as well get pink.
Anyway, I have a point here. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to practice consistently (which, as they say, is really the only way to get any better) given that I spend all day, every day, with someone who gets cranky if I try to read my bank statement for five seconds just to make sure we won’t go bankrupt if I buy another carton of milk. (Who am I kidding? My husband does the finances. The point is, my son doesn’t like it if I’m focusing on anything other than him. Because he’s a toddler and that’s pretty much in his job description.)
And I know a lot of moms who worry about the same thing. Perhaps the ukulele isn’t their hobby of choice (in fact, probably no one who is reading this right now is also trying to learn to play the ukulele. That would be so crazy if someone were though! Hi fellow ukulele mom!) but, whatever it is, they worry that they won’t be able to do it consistently and effectively because their kids will get in the way (like, literally in the way. Please move).
But, actually, it’s going really great. And there are a few things we’re doing that seem to be making the difference. So, in case you’ve been really wanting to work on your tapestry weaving or whatever, here are four tips for pursuing your own hobbies while looking after your kids.
1. Get him his own version of what you have
This is really important. I tried to take up the ukulele once before but, since my son didn’t have one of his own, all he wanted to do was play mine. While I was playing it. Which, in case you’re wondering, sounds even worse than I actually sound playing on my own. The crying didn’t help much either. So we got him his own ukulele for Christmas. His isn’t pink, so it’s obviously inferior, and it cost a lot less than mine but he doesn’t care about either of those things. Now he can play his ukulele while I play mine. Which often adds an element of the avant-garde to my rendition of “Row Row Row Your Boat” but it gets the job done. And he loves that we both have ukuleles and that we can both play them (“can” being relative on both of our parts, of course). So, if your hobby is painting, let him paint too. If it’s yoga, get him his own mat. If it’s pottery, let him play with clay. Gardening, get him his own trowel. You get the idea.
2. Set a time limit
I don’t know about you, but I tend to get pretty intense when I start a new hobby and want to do it all the time until I’m good at it (or until I get bored and give it up which is more realistic but we’re trying to be positive here so, the first thing). But that’s just not feasible with a toddler. He’s going to be excited to be doing whatever you’re doing, but his attention span is pretty limited. So set a timer. Explain that it’s time to do your hobby (I say, “it’s ukulele time!”) and tell him how long you’re going to do it for. We do fifteen minutes. (Anything longer than that usually ends in a meltdown.) I use the timer function on my phone and I let him press the start button. Then I practice. Sometimes he gets fussy and wants me to stop but I just remind him that I’ll stop when the timer goes off. And then I do stop. Which is really important, I think. Don’t be like, “Let me just do this one more thing.” When the timer goes off, put your stuff away. That way he knows to trust you and will be less whiny. And we’re always in favor of less whining.
3. Explain what you’re doing
Unless your hobby is something like seeing how long you can hold your breath, or something, you’ll probably be able to talk to your child while you’re doing it. At least a little bit. So talk to him about what you’re doing. Tell him about the different objects you need and what they’re for. I always show him my little electric tuner and talk about how the screen has to turn green for each note. And I show him the different strings and how they sound. I think this makes him feel like he’s part of the process and participating in something that’s for grown-ups. Or it just makes him feel like I’m focusing on him for a while which is really all he wants in this world. That, and cookies.
4. Have him help you
Toddlers love to be helpful. Well, not all the time. Not, for instance, when you’re trying to get him to walk up the stairs and he notices a pretzel lying on the step and has to stop and examine it for twenty minutes when all you want in the whole world is for him to get the heck upstairs. But, otherwise (like when it’s not actually helpful), they like to “help.” So ask him to bring you something you need in order to do your hobby. Or have him hold something in place for you. I have my son tell me when the tuner turns green, for example. And, if you can’t think of anything that would actually help, make something up. Like, tell him that your paintbrushes don’t work unless he does three summersaults in the other room or something.
So, will you be able to work on your hobby every single day with no meltdowns? No, probably not. But that would probably be true whether your kid was around or not. Learning a new skill is hard. But it’ll at least give you a fair shot. Plus, it’ll give you both something to do which, let’s face it, is really half the battle.