Stop feeling guilty for doing what you love

Stop feeling guilty for doing what you love

Ditch the ‘should’ and follow your passion

Do you feel guilty when you spend time doing something that makes you happy? It might sound like a strange question, but think about it. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Is there some activity that you’d love to be doing more of, but it feels too self-indulgent so you rarely give yourself permission to do it?

I have this eternal conversation going on in my head.

‘Ooh, I need to write that down. Maybe it could become part of the next article. But I need to finish that novel. Could that be a chapter in the eBook? But what is the eBook even about? This or… that? What about this for a blog post… I just need to write that down.’

And so on. But the thing is, there’s always the other voice, with a different idea about my priorities.

‘I could be concentrating on being a better parent.’

And even worse, the dreaded ‘s’ word.

‘I should be being a better parent.’

With this constant roundabout of ‘shoulds’ and the feeling of being pulled in different directions by your various roles, it seems that whatever you are doing, there is always something else you should be doing instead.

glasses, notebook, candle, plant

Time is so precious. Surely we get to have a say in how we spend ours.

So how can you successfully hear both (or all) of your internal voices out, do more of what you love to do, and ditch the guilt?

This is a question that I’ve been wondering about and I’ve come up with a couple of concrete suggestions so you can stop feeling guilty for doing what you love.

What is your Guilty Pleasure?

I’m using writing as an example. But you could substitute it for anything you like to do (but feel a bit guilty about doing): playing an instrument, dancing the rumba, running, knitting woolly llamas, extreme ironing or constructing intricate gothic castles out of reclaimed knives and forks.

What is your ‘Should’?

I’m also using ‘being a better parent’ as my go-to guilt trip. And I am quite sure that many parents can relate to this. But maybe yours is something completely different. Your ‘should’ could be ‘cleaning’, ‘working’, ‘working out’. Just, basically, something other than the activity that you really want to be doing more of.

Reframe Your Hobby as Self-Care 

We are all individuals and so for us to thrive, we have our personal and unique requirements. Along with yoga, enough sleep, and walks in nature, something else that makes me feel good is creative writing. If I don’t get it, I am resentful, snappy, and just not very nice to be around. On the other hand, if I do get writing time, I’m a happier human being altogether, which includes being a better parent.

Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr’s cross.

Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way

I write about self-care, and I advocate that people need to be kind to themselves in order to flourish and spread the whole feel-good factor. However, for a long time, I didn’t allow myself a fundamental piece from my self-care toolkit because I saw the time I spend writing as me being a bit silly and selfish. I had to recognise these thoughts and this behaviour before I could turn things around. As soon as I changed my perspective and reframed writing from being a self-indulgent hobby to a much-needed part of my own self-care, then it became easier to carve in the time I need to write.

Why do I still feel guilty when I’m writing when my kids are around?

This seems pretty clear at first glance. It’s because I’m not paying attention to them and their needs. But could it also be that I feel guilty as I secretly suspect I’d rather be writing than taking notice of them?

I don’t think this is strictly true.

If you have hang-ups about whatever it is you’re passionate about doing, if your relationship with it is ‘complicated’, then there will be problems. Subconsciously, you may act childishly, trying to fiercely protect it in any way you can, rather than attributing it space and time.

If you recognise this kind of behaviour, it’s time to work on your relationship with your hobby, or your passion.

Give yourself permission to do it. Treat it as something worthy rather than silly.

cup of tea and three-act structure
A lovely cup of tea and a three-act structure

Again, my perspective had to change before I could ditch the guilt. When I planned writing time into my diary for it to coincide with kid-free time, I no longer felt the urge to be writing when I was on ‘child duty’.

Now, when I’m writing, I’m giving my attention to the process one hundred per cent. Which also means that when I’m not writing, and I’m mothering, I’m also in the moment, with my children, completely. Which rocks, by the way!

If writing is your thing too, and you have a burst of inspiration that you just have to get on to the page, that’s fine. Just make sure you have a notebook and pen with you at all times, and jot down a couple of words, enough to trigger what you wanted to write about, so you can come back to complete it later – in your child-free writing time. Or you could use your phone and record a couple of words as your memory jolt.

If you’re into extreme ironing, and the urge takes you unawares…

…just plan it in your diary!

Why do I feel guilty writing when my kids aren’t around?

I’ve come up with two main reasons for this. Firstly, I could be washing, meal prepping, cleaning, ironing their clothes (a bonus for those of you who enjoy this pastime!), planning cool things to do with them: all that fun and not-so-fun stuff a competent parent does in the background, when they aren’t physically with their children.

Again, planning your writing time in (and why not plan all the kids’ prepping too, while you’re at it?) can go far to solving this conundrum.

What about the moolah?

Another reason for my own guilt is that I’m not getting paid for my writing. At the moment, it’s ‘just’ a hobby. I am putting ‘just’ in quotes because words hold great power. By describing something that is really important to me as ‘just a hobby’ could belittle it, and shrink its importance to my well being.

Here’s a thought. What if… people were allowed and allowed themselves to pursue activities that fill them up with pleasure? What if one thing could lead to another and, quite possibly, a way could be found to attract money into the equation. We all have unique talents – somebody, somewhere, would be happy to pay for yours.

To all of you extreme ironers, people have been known to pay for this service! Well, the ironing part, anyway.

Be a guilt-free role model

Although I’m sure that writing for money would be a game-changer to ease my parental guilt, as it’s far easier to justify doing something you love if it is also putting bread and butter on the table, my main reason for no guilt still remains. It is all about caring for yourself.

And you are showing your kids that you value yourself.

You’re being a healthy role model, and are able to look after them better, with no resentment when it is time to wash the dishes, pack their lunches, and play I-Spy (for the gazilienth time). Because you ‘shouldn’t be writing’. You’ve already had your daily dose or if you haven’t, then you know it’s planned in.

When you’re writing (if you’re not already earning the dough with your passion) then see it as recharging your batteries so that you can be a brighter, better parent or ‘just’ a brighter, better version of yourself.

Writing Exercises to Encourage your Children

I’m all for encouraging children to do activities that they are interested in pursuing, but is it wrong to guide them towards doing what you love? Am I being too directive by encouraging my kids to do creative writing projects?

Blue trainers and blue jay feather - stop feeling guilty for doing what you love

I don’t think so. There are so many writing activities you can introduce them to. I believe there is some kind of writing for everybody, and as kids are naturally inquisitive there is almost definitely a subject or form of writing that will get their creative juices flowing and let them share in the writerly love.

A Walk becomes the Setting for Adventure

I had an ulterior motive for encouraging my son to do some writing: getting him out into the countryside.

We live in a beautiful part of Belgium. There are spectacular trails to walk in the forest of the Ardennes. However, although nine times out of ten, the kids love it once they are out, they inevitably still drag their bare heels while I nag them to get those heels into socks and welly boots and out to trek the footpaths with me.

Unless… I use different language and instead of saying we are ‘going for a walk’, invite them on a ‘story journey’ or a ‘character hunt’. 

Two children sitting on tree stumps in a ring
Story time in the woods

When my son was 11, we began to play story games. You know the type of thing, one of you says a line and then the other adds the next sentence. This morphed into his own story. Once he’d got a few paragraphs in, he became excited about plot and characters, and began to look forward to our walks together so we could talk more in depth about this fantastical world he was creating to then return home and get it down on the page.

His story is based in a forest, so our walking haunts definitely captured his imagination.

An added benefit – Mindfulness

If mindfulness is all about ‘taking notice’ and really being in the moment, then encouraging kids to write also encourages them to be mindful. To be in the moment. To observe…

That has to be a good thing!

An added extra bonus benefit – Quality time together

And the extra bonus is special time spent together.

Competitions – Take part to… take part

Lily, aged 10, can be a very competitive creature. Whilst I was looking for writing competitions for myself, I spotted one for kids, organised by the NUHA Foundation, so I suggested it to her.

Inspiration had to come from one of three images. She immediately picked the photo of a white tiger and knew what she was doing. She started instantly – even before breakfast. Even before I got my wits together enough to say it was important to read the rules first.

She was all intent on making it look nice, carefully centring her green Mistral point 14 script and highlighting the best bits as she went. Luckily the rules didn’t specify black ink and Roman point 12!

Lily enjoying creative writing

I soon realised, however, that she was obsessed with winning. Even though I try to encourage her to only compete with herself – even that can get out of hand sometimes. She has perfectionist tendencies with a very high personal bar.

She was very motivated by the prize. The money.

But she was also really enjoying the process, and excited every time she counted how many words she’d written.

‘70 words! I’m so happy! This is awesome!’

And so I said to her:

‘If you carry on you have a chance of winning the prize, and that would be fantastic. But even if you don’t, listen to yourself now. You’re doing something that’s creative and that’s making you happy. Isn’t that a great prize already?’

She agreed. Seeing her big smile was a prize in itself for me.

Encourage your kids to pursue the writing craft. Not only do they develop writing skills and creativity, but it can also be hugely beneficial to their mental health – helping them to be mindful, and teaching them how to really… flow.

Balance is key

As with so many things in life, a healthy balance is key. You really can have guilt-free writing time (or fill in your blank) and parenthood (or… fill in your blank) if you plan in your passion and prioritise it as part of your self-care practice.

Time is so precious. Make sure you get a say in how to spend yours.

Competitions – The main prize is taking part… but winning would be cool too

So do you have a guilty pleasure? If so, I hope you might begin to reframe it.

You might like to check out some other fun activities to try on your own, with your kids, or with friends, here.

If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading. Do you have a hobby you’d like to spend more time doing? Do you, perhaps, enjoy extreme ironing?

I’d love to hear your comments 🙂

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  1. I’ve really enjoyed your post and ideas to encourage writing, like the story journey or story game. I’ve downloaded your quote reminding me that “the greatest prize is in the process” as it took a friend’s similar and wise words to remind me of this very point only a few days ago! Best of luck to Lily!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. Wow – I think you must be the first person who has downloaded a quote by me 🤗 It’s true though, isn’t it, that if you’re in the moment, enjoying what you do, that’s the essence of life. Thanks for your good luck wishes for Lily 🥰

      1. My pleasure Eilidh! I’m delighted to be the first, hopefully of many! I try to practice Eckhart Tolle’s Watchful Observer, where you become aware of yourself in the moment, noting what you are doing, how you are feeling and it’s proving to be a very pleasant experience!

        1. Yes! When somebody first told me about ‘mindfulness’ a few years ago, I couldn’t grasp the difference between mindfulness and meditation. Thankfully it’s become easier and what a difference it makes to well-being. It’s a life-changing practice to learn… 🥰

    1. I’m so glad this resonated with you, Natasha. It’s crazy, isn’t it, how we’ve been conditioned to feel guilty for giving ourselves a bit of pleasure! Here’s to lots of treating ourselves well in 2020! xx

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