Expanding your interests beyond motherhood7. Turn mother interests into other interests. When she began trying to conceive, Renée Guven, a website designer in Victoria, British Columbia, searched the Web for the stories of other expectant mothers. "The ones I found most satisfying were the personal blogs that traced a woman's story through conception, pregnancy, and birth," she says. So when she became pregnant, she created her own, complete with pictures and a message board for reader comments. Now daughter Chloe -- a.k.a. "The Bean" in Guven's digital diary -- is 3. She kept up the blog until around Chloe's second birthday."It gave me an outlet in which to reach out to other moms and share my everyday experiences while still allowing me to feel like I was using my words and my wit," Guven says. "It's good therapy!"
The idea is to take something you're already focused on -- your baby -- and make a creative enterprise of it. Some moms find their bliss in photography, for example, or becoming a lactation consultant. For Marianne Alvarez of Lodi, California, her daughter Maggie Kate's birth seven years ago produced a bounty of baby pictures -- and a new interest in arranging them in elaborate scrapbooks. Alvarez, a former wedding coordinator, got so into her hobby that she and another mom, Michele Gomez, also of Lodi, later created Gotta Crop, a company that plans scrapbooking getaway trips.
8. Downsize intellectual pleasures. Just can't handle 1,000-page historical novels anymore? Try a collection of short stories. You can enjoy the satisfaction of finishing an entire tale in one feeding session or in the few minutes before you pass out when you get into bed. Or listen to audio-books around the house or in the car.
Instead of plowing through the newspaper, scan just the front section. If anything catches your eye, tear it out and stick it in a basket. Once every couple of days, you can read these more in-depth reports. Ross switched from her daily paper to scanning the headlines on Yahoo news and other online summaries whenever she checked her e-mail.
9. Combine mental pursuits with everyday needs. Indulge in some creative multitasking. Find a book club that walks fast while discussing books. Or for a date night with your partner, see a foreign film and then play Scrabble. D'Amico tuned in to news and talk shows on public radio while feeding or playing with her kids.
Two years ago, Knoxville, Tennessee, mom Diana Seaver felt that between newborn Ryan and older siblings Matthew and Hannah, then 10 and 8, she didn't have time to do "frivolous things." But one particularly hectic day, she picked up a cookbook to find something to do with some fruit in the refrigerator. "I found a quick, easy recipe for a dessert that turned out so nice, I thought, 'Gee, I'll make a great dinner to go with it.' It was so much fun to tinker with those recipes. When my husband came home, he said, 'Why are you so happy?'"
10. Pursue activities with your baby in tow. A change of scenery alone can be stimulating. Movie matinees, for example, are a wonderful fringe benefit of maternity leave. If your local theater allows babies, and you're lucky enough to have a low-fuss tot, you can get a cheap midday ticket and your baby (who gets in free) will probably doze right through to the closing credits. Go right after you've fed your baby (and if you're nursing, wear a top with breastfeeding access, just in case). Other easy outings: museums, the library, the zoo (plenty of stroller company), or even just walking to a newsstand or bookstore to scan the covers (whether or not you actually end up buying anything to read).
11. Give yourself a break. What moms often think of as "selfish time" is actually healthy, says Laura Ellick, a Huntington, New York, psychologist -- and therefore worth paying a sitter for or asking for help to achieve. Ellick asks her husband or other relatives to watch Trevor, 3, and Owen, 1, while she hits the gym for workouts. "It's an interest I had before the baby, and it was a stress reliever," she says. Most people will be willing to help you out if you're straight with them, she adds. "Whether it's dinner with friends once a month or whatever, it's important to keep your own identity. Sure, you're a mom now, but that doesn't mean you can't wear your other hats, too."
12. Take a class. Sign up for free or cheap lessons at a music store, pottery-painting shop, language school, garden nursery, or community college.
"It doesn't have to be a big deal -- just two hours on a Saturday morning for a few weeks can be enough to get the wheels turning in your head for months," says D'Amico.
While buying a replacement window one day, Teresa Brittain chanced on a sign advertising a weekend course: "Learn to Make Glass Beads." "It sounded like fun -- to have jewelry that didn't look like anyone else's while escaping the demands of mommyhood, my job, and our house renovations," says the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, mother of two boys. Her oldest, Christopher, was 18 months at the time. Within a year Brittain left a career in retail-store development to become a glass-making artisan; ten years later, the glass jewelry she makes sells in galleries across the South. "And my favorite part is that I get to work at home," she adds.
Many moms, in fact, find their minds enriched beyond their expectations by motherhood. It's a just matter of thinking about it -- and giving your brain a little TLC.