Hobbies Are a Luxury That Moms Cannot Afford
McKenzie Cordell

Let’s play a little game. Close your eyes and imagine that it’s Father’s Day tomorrow… What are you buying the dads in your life? Maybe it’s a new set of golf balls for your old man or a craft beer subscription box for your hubby. Or, perhaps, a fancy Japanese knife for the foodie dad or a new set of headphones for the gamer.

Now, let’s pretend that it’s Mother’s Day and you’re purchasing presents for some of the moms you know. Your bestie would probably love a cashmere sweater, and you would be thrilled to be gifted a spa voucher. Your own mom deserves a sparkling bracelet, of course, or one of those super cool Facebook portal thingies so that she can check up on the grandkids at a moment’s notice.

These are all great ideas. But do you see a pattern here?

The gifts for dads are things that they can go out and do; they’re related to an activity (probably one without the kids in tow). The gifts for mom, on the other hand, are just as lovely, but they’re not things that she can engage with—at least not sans children. (OK, a spa trip is something that one can do solo, but let’s get real—mama needs a massage because she’s been toting a toddler around all day.)

While it’s easy to think of stereotypical “dad” hobbies (golfing! Grilling! Camping!), it’s not so easy to think of non-parenting related activities that moms typically do.

And yes, we’re obviously generalizing. There are plenty of moms who have hobbies and dads who have none. One of the moms we spoke to listed tennis as her hobby and another told us that painting was a favorite pastime, although she said she hasn’t had a lot of time for it lately thanks to childcare issues. But in a highly non-scientific poll (ahem, a message sent to my What’s App mom group), 85 percent of moms confessed that they had no hobbies, while their male partners absolutely did.

Mom-of-two Lauren tells us that she used to have a lot of hobbies, pre-motherhood: “The New York Times crossword, community children’s theater, choral singing—oh, and David Mamet plays.” But then she got married and had her sons. “And I immediately stopped doing anything that wasn’t work or motherhood.”

Sound familiar?

“As far as society has come in terms of women’s rights, heterosexual two-parent families still often find themselves falling into outdated gender roles where moms take on the bulk of the parenting responsibilities, lose autonomy and have drastic identify shifts,” mom-of-two and mental health therapist Christina Furnival says. “Additionally, mothers are often the mental-load keepers. At the same time that they are busy parenting their children, they are keeping track of groceries, house duties, cleaning, errands, clothing needs, doctor appointments, family commitments, and the list goes on and on. Holding the weight of these responsibilities is incredibly taxing, and does not leave much space for dreaming up, planning for, and actually doing fun things such as hobbies.”

Furnival makes a lot of valid points, including the fact that hobbies are supposed to be fun. A hobby is also defined as an activity that is done regularly. In other words, that run you force yourself to go on every couple of weeks doesn’t qualify. (And, yes, more than one mom that I spoke to joked that “drinking wine” was her hobby.) 

“I have zero hobbies and Steve has a million,” Cristina, who has a 1 year-old, tells us, listing football, gaming, crypto, tennis and golf as just a few of her husband’s interests. (“Is crypto a hobby?” I asked. “Well, he’s always reading and talking about it and ‘investing,’” she countered. We agreed that it counted as a hobby.)

So, how is it that so many moms find themselves in this zero-hobby life?

A lack of time and energy

When I asked the members of my mom group why they didn’t have any hobbies, they all agreed it was largely a time issue. “At the end of the day, I’m too exhausted to do anything other than scroll through my phone or watch Netflix,” one mom shared. “I barely have enough time to make dinner, let alone do something fun like gardening or pottery,” added another.

Chelsea Allison, a mom-of-two and founder of maternal wellness startup Motherfigure, agrees that time is a big factor. “I think moms’ collective lack of hobbies goes back to their sense of time famine—that feeling that there’s just too much to do that has to get done,” she says. “We tell ourselves that there’s no time for our hobbies. And for many of us, there literally is too much to do in a day. As a result, many moms simply don’t prioritize their own needs. Some of us even lose sight of what those needs are. This becomes a habit, and hobbies then get relegated to the nice-to-have or even frivolous category.”

And this issue has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, Allison adds, noting that childcare has become less reliable for many families. “Doing more things—even if they’re things we love or once did—sometimes feels like taking on more work.”

The mom guilt

And then there’s the guilt factor. (Isn’t it strange how ubiquitous “mom guilt” is and how “dad guilt” is rarely heard in the vernacular?)

“There is a double standard that dads can have hobbies, but moms can’t,” says Reena B. Patel, parenting psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst and author. “The guilt comes from unrealistic mom expectations. We think we could be doing something better to help our children. Or we think that maybe our children need us even though they do not show any signs of that need—I call it ‘the just in case thought’, so we would rather sit and wait for them or be around them even if our children are independently doing an activity on their own.”

In theory, mothers know that we should carve out our own identities separate from just “mom.” We also know that we shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time for ourselves. And yet for many of us, every time we sneak away to get a manicure or—god forbid—spend the weekend apart from our beloved children, mom guilt rears its ugly head again.

There doesn’t appear to be a biological explanation for mom guilt, so it stands to reason that instead it’s something that we, the people, have created.

“Despite our many strides, our society remains patriarchal,” says Allison. “We devalue women’s work, and I think we also devalue women’s joy. Combined, our collective understanding of a ‘good’ mother is the one who consistently puts the needs—and wants—of others before [her] own. To the point where we seemingly expect her not to have needs.”

And by extension, we expect her not to have passions, interests or hobbies, either.

The case for making time for hobbies

But how important is it really to have a hobby? Well, experts argue, it’s kind of a big deal.

“While being a mom is such a wonderful and incredible thing, it often does not tap into all your skills and strengths,” says Furnival. “Having hobbies and doing activities where you are in a flow state or you are just enjoying the heck out of your time, refuels you, rebuilds you, and gives you the break from the everyday grind that you need to be the best you (and best mom) you can be.”

In other words, making time to regularly complete a puzzle or do some crafting will give you the energy you need to be a good parent.

It’s also important that kids see parents prioritizing self-care, notes the therapist. And in case you need more convincing to pick up those dusty knitting needles again: “[having hobbies] helps break the cycle of moms as martyrs for future generations,” notes Allison. 

OK, but what if you don’t have any hobbies?

Let’s say you’re ready to make time for a hobby, some sort of activity that will give you pleasure and has nothing to do with parenting. Except, well, you can’t think of what the heck to do. Ask yourself what hobbies you had before you had children, suggests Patel. Or “create a ‘Bliss List’ of things that make you smile—see if any can be turned into a hobby or at least one time activity to try out.”

Just don’t let finding a new hobby (or worrying about your lack of hobbies) become the hobby itself. In other words, if your current hobby of choice is playing Wordle for 10 minutes before bed every night then you do you.

And because moms already feel guilty enough, if you find that you don’t have any hobbies and maybe you don’t actually want any, then that’s cool too. “​​I am actually completely OK with not having hobbies right now,” Cristina says. “I will have hobbies again one day when I have the energy to make extra time for really specific ‘me time.’”

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