How can we work pre-kid hobbies into our life with a toddler?

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Photo by eflon, used under Creative Commons license.
We have a wonderful one-year-old daughter who we love hanging out with, but we find ourselves feeling stuck at home. Neither my partner or I feel that satisfied, renewed or entertained by our weekends as we tiptoe around nap times, clean up after our toddler or each other, and come to terms with the fact that spending a lot of time sewing, home brewing, driving, or vegging out on Dr. Who marathons is very difficult (and not so desirable) with an active toddler. We also find ourselves getting resentful when either A) one of us takes an entire day for a non baby-friendly hobby like scuba diving, or B) one of us insists that the other DOESN'T take a whole day for a non-baby-friendly hobby.

So help us break out of this rut! What do you do for fun on the weekends that includes your baby or toddler and your partner, in or out of the house? How do you accommodate pre-kid hobbies into post-kid reality? I'm excited to hear any and all ideas! — Maya

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  1. We bought a membership to our local zoo. It's great for when we want to get out of the house, but don't want to spend $. As for your hobbies, I make good use of naptime by not cleaning my house, and instead using that time to hobby out. Also, try to remember that toddlerhood is temporary, and soon you'll be fighting for her to spend time with you.

    12 agree
  2. Our little guy is now 5, but when he was younger (and still, actually), we made sure he could nap absolutely anywhere. We kept his nap time routine exactly the same, regardless of location. Favourite blanket, soother (until we took that away), Goodnight Moon, a song, and the kid was OUT. It gave us a lot of freedom, and he napped everywhere from a pack and play in the shade at a softball game, to hotels on road trips, to the backseat of our car on a long drive to visit family. As he got a little older, we started including him in our favourite hobbies. At first he was on the sidelines, cheering as my husband ran 10k's and half-marathons, and then we started going for short runs with him, and now he does races with us (mile-long ones so far). He loves it! We do a lot of visiting with friends, and we make sure that if there aren't kids in those families, we bring lots of toys and books, and he is great at entertaining himself, or hanging out with everyone. My husband is an avid hockey referee, and I appreciate it because it's a good second income for him, and our son adores the rink, since he's spent a lot of time there. We go to games so that we can have family time on the drive there and back, and it's a fun outing for us to cheer on the ref, and run around the chilly rink. The other way we look at it is we get one-on-one time with our kid if one parent needs or wants to do something that doesn't involve our child, and we make special "date nights" with the kiddo that involve baking cookies or a movie night or playing card games.
    Good luck ๐Ÿ™‚

    1 agrees
  3. I'm not going to lie, this is a really delicate balance and it really depends on what your hobbies are. I honestly take my daughter with me as often as I can (she is almost 2 now).

    My daughter comes with me to almost all of my rugby games and practices, she plays with other kids, players, myself or my husband. It's not always easy and sometimes there are tantrums, but most of the time it allows both Anique and I to have some fun outside, both together and apart.

    I also bring my daughter to yoga once a week, in a kid friendly environment.

    Now for the times that my husband and I can't take her with us… it usually involves one of us staying home, or we both go, and hire a sitter (usually grandma lol).

    Overall it requires a lot more planning, and we have to always talk through things to make sure someone's feelings aren't getting hurt (which they really sometimes are). If feelings are hurt, then we either make a new plan or we keep plans and try to make it up another way.

    5 agree
  4. When our son is awake, it's family time. We dance around to silly music, watch My Little Ponies or Doctor Who, make a fort out of boxes. When he's asleep it's our own time to do whatever, my sewing, his painting or we play video games together. We each take full days to do our own thing once in a while because we both know that we each need that time and there's no resentment because we know that we'll get each get a day to ourselves in the future. But we do try to book things in the evenings when our son's asleep if we want to go out individually.

    7 agree
  5. I'll be honest; this has been our biggest challenge about parenting. It feels like, when the kid is asleep, we have to squeeze in everything from chores to couple time to personal time to socializing, which, let's be honest, isn't easy to do when you get 45 minutes at naptime and 8 p.m. until you want to go to sleep every night. (Our kid has never taken long naps.)

    Extra challenge bonus: I'm an introvert and need more alone time; my partner is not and wants to spend more time with me.

    How we handle this: I get regular, during-the-day alone time, where my partner and kid do things together. Often this is Tuesday mornings when there's a music show they like, or Saturday mornings (which my partner likes to call "dad day" at the park).

    When our kid goes to sleep, we do a quick blitz-clean, taking 5-10 minutes to clear the floor of toys and straighten the furniture. Even if we do no other chores, this helps us feel like grown-ups live here. I feel like then I can do whatever I want without feeling guilty, and also do it in a relaxed, peaceful setting. (We feel extra-super-awesome when we get the kid to help us do this before he goes to bed.)

    We are really kind to each other about taking the kid so the other person can do something fun, understanding that it won't balance out in the short run but probably will in the long run.

    When we can do things with our kid, we do. We go running as a family. We go hiking or to the zoo or on other adventures around town, sometimes saying, "Screw it," to naptime as he sleeps in the car or the Ergo.

    It's all far from perfect, but it does work sometimes.

    3 agree
  6. Between getting to the dive site, gearing up, diving, maybe a 2nd dive+travel time to it, packing up, and getting home, scuba diving definitely can be all-day (and a dive boat wouldn't be particularly safe for a toddler), but if the dive is a shore one or a short boat ride away, could partner+kid come with you? They could toddle around a new place and you wouldn't be leaving partner with the kid all day as you could travel up and back together.

    3 agree
    • Reminds me of how some families work around whitewater kayaking. It's obviously not a safe activity for toddlers, but the put-in or take-out is often in a cool place that you could sit and enjoy the outdoors with the kiddo, or find a nearby hike, or go and take pictures while the other parent is out boating.

    • My parents were both avid divers. I more or less grew up in this diving club community where a lot of people had kids / grandkids with them. My dad would go off diving and we'd be left with our mom while he went diving, and then the other way around or we'd be left with someone else from the club when they went diving together. My parents then returned the favour, because everyone dealt with the same issue. I don't know if you both dive but that really worked well for us.

      Plus, a lot of the time, we'd be with the scubadiving instructors and we'd be on the beach, supervised and having fun snorkeling. Nothing beats imprisoning sea creatures in 'cages built out of rocks unter water. Until they climb out ๐Ÿ˜€

      I guess my point is: Is there a club or association that you could join and where you'd find people that share you hobby? Could you then share looking-after-babies-duties?

  7. My kid's only six weeks old, so this isn't exactly from personal experience, but one thing several people have told me is to do housework WITH your kid rather than when they're asleep. Then use naps for personal stuff. A 1.5 year old might not be too much help, but setting up an expectation that everyone pitches in to keep the house clean and functional is probably a good thing long term. It takes longer (probably a lot longer) to start, but it makes things easier long term. I'm definitely going to try it when he gets a bit older.

    As far as things like sewing or other hobbies that can be done at home go, I've been getting some mileage out of being very strict with myself about going STRAIGHT to my task as soon as the baby is asleep. Don't empty the dishwasher, don't pick up the floor. Just go do sewing (or blogging, or woodwork, or whatever). For better or worse, the housework WILL get done at some point, while the hobby stuff won't.

    11 agree
    • I just have to say that I totally agree with this! I do all laundry/kitchen/house cleaning while my little one is awake. She sees what I'm doing, can help, and then when it's nap time I can do as I please!

      (Also – This is an easy way to make cleaning fun, teaching her about putting things in the right place, matching, and spending time together!)

      5 agree
    • I recently started doing housework when our daughter is awake. I agree, if you can swing it, it definitely helps designate nap times as time for you rather than time for chores. I don't know how this would have worked when she was an infant and couldn't follow me around, entertain herself, or help.

  8. I am a fully fledged morris dancer and have been lucky enough to dance with a family orientated dance side so have managed to involve my little man in my hobby and now wouldn't have it any other way. He gets to see me being me, as well as be surrounded by music and dancing most weekends! It means a few late nights for him and me missing the occasional dance, but life is all about compromise right?!? Since finding myself as a single mum my fellow dancers have become extended family, definitely recommend involving your toddler if you can, me and my son have so much fun together xx

    1 agrees
    • This is slightly off topic, but I just wanted to say yay morris dancing! My dad is a morris dancer and I have many fond memories of spending the day watching him and his fellow teammates dance. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1 agrees
  9. This has been a hard thing for us, but we came up with a decent compromise. Our son comes running with us in his stroller, we go to "dual purpose" places so our son can play in the park or whatever and we both take turns biking, jogging, what have you. And we always take one weekend a month where he stays with one of his grandparents so we can get "adult time". Each of us also gets personal time once a week to do whatever we want away from the family. We also are very clear about what we would like to get done, so that we can plan. For example, my husband wants to start a batch of home brew, so we will plan an early or easy dinner so he can start on the beer. I usually join him after I get my son in bed, and we always help each other clean up. It takes work and planning, but you can still do the things you want.

    4 agree
  10. I don't find myself spending "a lot of time" on anything, not the way I used to. But I do spend at least half an hour a day, or several hours a week, on hobbies. For me it's more a matter of changing my expectations than finding some way to have it all–I know I can do the things I love even when I choose not to spend full days on them.

    3 agree
  11. This has been a significant challenge for us as well–particularly for my partner.

    What's worked very well for us has been the creation of clear times on the weekends when we divide childcare. My husband has the mornings to himself, we do family stuff in the afternoons, and I am free in the evenings. We're flexible when needed, but I know it's been a huge help to both of us to look forward to some time dedicated to our own interests and relationships outside the family.

    And while it's been an adjustment for both of us, one of the most significant effects has been my husband's growing sense that one child may be his limit. I'm curious about other families who struggled with this issue of changing personal time/space–have any of you added a second child to the mix? How do you balance that second child with all of the needs you already have? We're struggling with how to decide about having another child (which both of us expected to want before our daughter was born, but now we're not so sure…).

    4 agree
  12. that was a concern for us as well. i wanted to have my kids close in age so they would be close/play together/ use the same things around the same time, but after having one, i was having my doubts about being able to handle 2. we have had a second child but waited until our oldest was 5 years. she is starting to spend a fair amount of time without us wanting to play, which frees us up to have time with the baby. she also helps us out and is old enough to help herself with some of the things we would still be doing if she were younger. everyone finds what works for them, but this spacing seems right for our family.

    1 agrees
    • I actually am planning on having my future babies at least 2-3 years apart in age because I would like ample time to bond with the first child before bringing a second child into the picture. I would take a nice overseas vacation with the first child if that's what it takes to establish the bond.

      Of course, I might as well do the same for the second child, maybe even turn it into a new family tradition of sorts. Just a thought.

  13. Something that has helped us a lot, are to start some new kid-friendly hobbies and activities. Now our favorite family activity has become bicycling!
    She rides in a seat on one of our bikes (we will soon be getting a trailer), we get exercise, we can go to the beach or to the park or just to get a few groceries, its a good way to get outdoors, she thinks its fun, and she is right – bicycling is really fun! We are planning on starting bicycle touring next summer, I have talked to some other families with young kids that travel by bicycle and it sounds like it would be great for all of us.

    As far as hobbies you already have, some of them can be hard. But I find I can sit and crochet while my daughter eats or watches Sesame Street, while sewing is something much harder to get done. Waking up a bit earlier gives me some personal time, if I make sure not to waste it cleaning up the house. One of my biggest challenges is using my kid-free time for something I enjoy instead of just doing more chores.

    4 agree
  14. Im no help with this topic. Sigh, we do try to tag team a lot but…. I work every other Saturday so there is little family time to split up. I also have to be the organizer of time for everyone for whatever we want to do. My free time is spent second hand shopping which is 75% errand or running errands. I think I'll go play some halo now.

  15. This too shall pass, at three he can start rock climbing, biking with a trailer is still in, camping went great! hiking is in, later snowboarding, forzza is a big favorite right now, later kinetic will be in, and gardening. For home brewing we moved up to doing ten gallon batches to get twice as much beer out of one day. Then we can split the batch to finish with a dry hop or bourbon barrel aging. This was easier when it was warmer out and kiddo could play in the garage. With both parents home and a friend to help brew, brewing has gone well. And well todderland is a super fun place to be.

  16. I'm the original question poster, and I just wanted to say– thank you all!! Wow! I shouldn't be surprised to see so many concrete and constructive suggestions here on Offbeat Family. Thank you so much for helping me feel like we're not a horrible family for struggling with this. (One of the worst parts is that I don't want to ever make my daughter feel like a burden, so then I feel very guilty when… I feel like she's a burden.) You've all given me some really great ideas, both about how to make hobby time happen and how to change the way we approach this whole issue, and I'm going to sit down and look over this list with my husband very soon. Keep 'em coming!!

    1 agrees
  17. much of what we do has already been mentioned by previous commenters. I do housework while my 15-month-old is awake, and always have. the bonus is that now I find him mimicking me washing dishes, he looooves the vacuum cleaner & swiffer, and he's getting really good about putting his books back on the shelf when he's done with them. the clean up song was the first thing he learned to sing ("clee' uh, clee' uh!")
    another one of my rules is that all toys are cleaned up before every meal time and every nap time. this may change as he gets into more elaborate toys and set ups, but for now it's awesome because now I never NEED to spend nap time cleaning, and if I'm not eating while he eats, I get to sit and knit in a nice tidy room. I've also been giving him washable markers and paper in his high chair a lot now, to keep him restrained and entertained while I'm working on my knitting/crocheting Christmas presents.
    tv and video games for the hubby happen after both the baby and I go to bed. I take the kid shopping, to the library, and to the zoo frequently, which are fun for both of us. long stroller walks feel kind of like "me" time because the baby is very content watching everything as we stroll, and doubles as exercise. when we go on family car trips, we listen to NPR and have really good adult conversations.
    oh yea, and while I was hard at work wedding crafting three months ago, I would set up baby jail around MYSELF and the sewing machine, and give baby the majority of the room. it might have taken longer with all the story breaks, but he didn't mind one bit that I was sitting and sewing, as long as I kept talking and engaging with him while he played solo. he also loooved playing with my fabric scraps.
    so in short….it can be done, but for the time being you may have to simply accept that full-day non-baby-friendly hobbies might be few and far between for a bit and focus on the things you enjoy that you can include baby in. plus, I think it's important for kids to see their parents engaged in their own hobbies and activities, as it teaches them to entertain themselves independently, about different interests, and that they're not the center of the universe (I mean, they are, but it can't always be all about them!).

    1 agrees
  18. I've discovered that the key to enjoying your pre-family hobbies to is not to give a crap about what's "family friendly" in the eyes of mainstream society.

    Obviously, if you have a hobby that's dangerous and/or inappropriate for a young child (sexually-related hobbies, for example) then yes, figure you'll have to shelve those until you can find a babysitter. But there's no reason you have to give up on your pre-family hobbies entirely.

    Involve your child! Yes, even as a tot. A child naturally wants to imitate their parents. So while home brewing is probably not the best hobby to involve a young child in, letting them help in the process of say sewing, even if it's just letting them play with two pieces of cloth as you work on the real project, talking about what you do as you work, is an incredible bonding opportunity.

    We're a gaming/pop culture/movie watching geek family here and basically said screw it to what society said was "right" for our family. We've been very relaxed with what we don't let our daughter watch/listen to with us. As a result, she's had quite a lot of exposure to a lot of movies and genres outside of the usual "kiddie" stuff. She's a quirky kid with interests.

    And we are living proof that you can totally have a Doctor Who marathon with a very active little one. Seriously, my kid does not sit still. The frenetic energy of the 11th Doctor's first season (S5) captured my daughter's heart and attention as they both bounced off of walls. She adores her Doctor.

    She's participated in many a gaming session, either as an active participant or an active watcher. We started allowing her to "play" tabletop games with us when she turned 4, letting her roll the dice and count the dots and "move" her pieces.

    2 agree
  19. We are so in the same boat here with our incredibly active, very early waking and to sleep 14 month old. I stay at home full time, my husband works full time and then some as an adjunct professor, so during the week, I have the bulk of baby care and housework. Happily for us, my guy and I are homebodies, so as soon as the little guy goes to sleep at night, it is reading/Star Trek/painting/cuddling/etc time. I try to clean when my kiddo is awake (though it's not always possible) and leave his nap times for reading/exercise/etc. I've also learned to embrace the baby gate- it is as much for my sanity as his safety so I'm not constantly chasing him down and can finish whatever project I'm working on.

    The weekends we really just enjoy being together as a family since my husband usually comes home as our son is going to bed. We try to hit our old stomping grounds, plus a toddler, which works as long as we plan for it (most of the time- a particularly ill-fated art museum trip springs to mind…). And when we feel stifled by our life with a toddler, we remind ourselves that this only a very small window in our life that we are the parents of small children ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck as you figure out the balance, and let us know what works for you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. We have continued most pre-baby hobbies, but modified them a bit; so its kind of an introduction to camping, hiking, canoeing, cooking, and home improvement projects.
    So, I let the kids (have a almost 2 year old and a 4 year old…and another on the way) pour ingredients into the pots and teach about hot stoves and measuring items for cooking and baking. The kids actually eat a lot more of the food they help make! And its great to see them so proud of their 'helping.' We have gone from week-long canoe trips to car camping and 30 minute rides in the canoe up and down calm rivers. But, it has been so great to teach the kids where you find dry kindling, and to be careful of where snakes and spiders like to hide, how you set up a tent and your sleeping bag, the names of trees, and what animals have made what tracks. Both kids have learned the names of different tools and love to hand my husband the hammer, the pliers, the wrench. It definitely slows you down at first, but you have great hobbies; you just have to introduce your kids to them!

    I also second other comments about doing clean up with the kids. Even my little one puts her dirty clothes in her hamper in her room, her diapers in the trash, and they clean up toys before we move on to another activity (toys that mom cleans up go away for a couple of days).
    Good luck finding the balance; it does get better – they get big faster than you think!

  21. As a grown-up daughter, I would like to pitch in with the child's perspective. My parents would usually have me tag along to their orchestra rehearsals, meetings, sewing parties, dinners with friends, what have you. I remember these events both as sometimes boring, but mostly interesting. I got to see things that I wouldn't have seen otherwise, I got to hang out with my parents, I got to see them throw themselves into rewarding activities, and among other things it means I have strange insights into the world of Russian folk music (despite being Swedish). Amazing!

    As far back as I can remember, I've been shown that hobbies are important and fulfilling and that my parents are real people with real interests. I really appreciate that! It also encouraged me to get involved in my own hobbies, to DO things either by myself or with other people. In other words, excellent!

    This also helped when I was moving out (I'm the youngest, the baby of the family), because I know that my parents have their own interests and lives โ€“ they are not dependent on me to provide their entertainment. It also continues to make our relationship get stronger, because we have more things to relate to and talk about.

    I know it's probably difficult to balance and frustrating from time to time, but remember that it's usually worth it for the kid as well.

    4 agree
  22. When my son was a toddler we had museum memberships which included the Science Center. It was a gift for something to do outside of the house. He is almost 5 now and the museums are still some of his favorite places to go. As a history geek, I have loved watching him grow into the Museum of Natural History and getting to show him a little bit more every time he gets older. I'm also a huge foodie, so I always made sure to budget a little extra for going out to eat. My son and I would go out for brunch or lunch once a week since the prices were a little better. When he was smaller he could order a side dish and be perfectly content which also saved a little money. I also used to bring him in the kitchen with me when I was trying something out. When he was a toddler he would play toys on the floor next to me while I described the science of cooking to him. Now he loves to cook! I give him jobs to help me prepare meals and he's even made a few easy ones mostly by himself.
    The one thing that really saved my sanity was meetup.com. I found a couple great meetup groups for parents in the city. We used to go to as many activities as we could to keep us both active and out of the house. It also allowed me to meet a lot of other grownups, and participate in activities with enough little kids that they could amuse each other.

    1 agrees

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