At first, I named this post, “26 Ways to Keep Busy on Maternity Leave”, but I quickly changed that title because I realized that keeping busy on leave isn’t really all that hard. There are always tons of chores to do around the house, and having a baby means you are always on the go. I wasn’t looking for a post about ways to keep busy, but rather, to keep entertained. Maternity leave is awesome, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the opportunity I had to take the first year of my child’s life off of work to spend time with him. I loved every minute. But some of those minutes could feel lonely and repetitive, so I recently took to the Internet to ask my fellow moms and dads what their favourite suggestions for keeping entertained with a baby on maternity leave were and was able to compile a pretty awesome list.
I’ve split the list up into two parts. Part one is full of ideas that you can try no matter what city you’re in, and part two is geared more to Calgarians (the links are specific to Calgary), although many of the activities are available in other cities as well. Google is your friend if you think some of these activities sound great but live somewhere else! I know I missed things, so please let me know what they are in the comments!
Prior to having a baby, I had fantasies about what maternity leave would be like. An entire year’s vacation with a sweet little baby in tow – what could be better? I would jog in the park with my fellow mom friends and our fancy strollers and then we’d stop for lattes or a fancy lunch before heading home to enjoy foamy bubble baths or long, hot showers. While my baby napped, I would get to work on the novel I’d been wanting to write for years, and when he woke up, I would lift him into the air and we would spin together in circles while my beautifully washed and styled hair twirled through the air and someone would snap artsy lifestyle photos of us that I could later post to my Instagram. Our house would always be clean and the laundry always folded and put away, because I would be able to chip away at these tasks little by little, rather than having to wait until the weekend to face them. My husband would come home from work to a beautiful meal every night, and we would snuggle after dinner while our baby snoozed soundly in his bassinet next to our bed.
And then I had a baby. That’s when I learned that maternity leave was not a vacation, because it wasn’t about me. It was about someone else. The tiny, poopy, crying (but still adorable and wonderful) someone else who I was now responsible for keeping alive and (hopefully) quite happy. Don’t get me wrong. I loved being on maternity leave. But it was not what I imagined.
There were no jogs with friends, because 1. I hate jogging and 2. I had only one friend on maternity leave and suck at making new ones. The fancy lunches were few and far between, because being on maternity leave also means being pretty broke. The cleaning and laundry still felt like a constant chore, only now I felt that I really had no excuse not to get them done, since I was home all day, every day. I still made time for showers, but bubble baths? Not really. Lattes? Always, always yes (thanks to an amazing Christmas gift of an espresso machine), but hardly ever did I get the chance to drink them hot.
Because I had a C-Section, the first few weeks of maternity leave were spent recovering, and didn’t get out of the house much at all. By the time I felt ready to face the outdoors, fall was ending and snow was just around the corner. Some days, a walk was all I could manage to get out of the house, because the whole getting two people ready to go out thing took a lot more work than I had thought it would, and many times we would just be heading out the door when one of us pooped our pants (spoiler alert: it was the baby). I found the winter especially hard, because I didn’t really like going outside in the cold, so our daily walks became pretty sporadic. As I mentioned before, I only had one friend on maternity leave and seemed to lack the skills to make new ones, so I found myself feeling pretty lonely at times. I probably texted or called my husband 16 times a day, which I’m sure was very helpful in boosting his productivity at work.
Recently, a friend of mine who is on maternity leave texted me to ask, “What did you do to keep busy on maternity leave? I know that there’s tons of housework to do, and laundry and stuff, and it never ends, but it becomes so monotonous. I feel like I’m losing my mind sometimes.” Bam. She hit the nail right on the head. The time with our babies is so precious and wonderful and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world and know my friend wouldn’t either. I sometimes felt guilty for saying that I felt bored on mat leave, because I knew that anyone who wasn’t a parent probably had the same illusions about it being a vacation that I had once had, and the ones who were parents probably wouldn’t feel the way I was feeling. But here was this revelation. Mat leave can be lonely. The days can get repetitive. There is always housework to do, but it hardly adds to a sense of joy and fulfillment during the day. I wanted to find out what other people did to add some excitement and variety to their days during mat leave, so I turned to the parenting oracle that is Facebook to find out.
Stuff to do With Your Babe(s) on Maternity Leave No Matter Where You Live
1. Treat Yo’Self, mama!
If your newborn is super portable (I was lucky and mine was), take him or her along with you to grab a coffee and get a mani/pedi. When B was happy to sit in his carseat for an hour, this was something I loved to do, and the ladies at the nail salon oohed and awwwed over his cuteness, so I got to beam with pride while getting my nails done.
2. Meet a friend for coffee, lunch, whatever.
Again, the more portable your baby is, the easier this is to do. People love holding newborns, so this is a great time to try to meet up for these types of activities. As my guy became more mobile, he had less and less patience to sit while I ate or visited, so I’m glad I got in a few lunch and coffee dates when he spent most of the day napping. If you have a toddler and a baby on a mat leave, try to meet friends for playdates at one of your homes so that you don’t have to worry about your kids running wild. This, of course, would require you having friends to meet up with, so try to bust out of your shell and meet some mamas!
3. Meet your partner for lunch.
Sometimes an hour is all you need, and who better to spend it with than the person who helped you bring your little critter into the world?
4. Attend a Mom and Tot Group at your local church or community centre.
It wasn’t until after my mat leave was over that I realized that the community centre right down the street offered a moms and tots playgroup several times a week. This would have been an easy walk for me and would have been a great way to get out of the house! Check to see if your local community centre or church has an option like this.
5. Check out Parent Link.
I had never heard of Parent Link when I was on mat leave, and I’m sorry I didn’t. They have centres available all over Alberta and offer different programs and classes that parents and kids can attend.
6. Buy an inflatable pool.
This was one of my best investments. When it was too cold to swim, but warm enough to be outside, I filled the pool with toys. This kept B occupied and, until he learned to climb out, gave him a safe space to play in that he couldn’t escape. On the warmer days we filled the pool with water and swam. Wet or dry, the pool gave me a great excuse to be outside and also prevented B from eating every pinecone, rock, and twig he could find in the backyard.
7.Visit your family.
My parents both retired on the second half of my mat leave, so I went home for a lot of visits with them. I also got to go visit my grandparents (B’s great-grandparents) on a few occasions. We missed Stu, but it was nice to be at home and relax during the day with a couple of people who know a lot more about raising a baby than me!
8. Walk around the mall.
Only do this if you have money, or the willpower to not spend money you don’t have. A friend of mine said she kept a swear jar at home and whenever she swore enough to buy some fries, she hit the mall.
9. Do crafts if you have kids old enough to appreciate them.
Make home-made play dough, bust out the colouring sheets, or set up a sand/water table!
10. Hit the spray park or swimming pool.
B loves swimming more than just about anything else, so this was a great chance for us to get out in the sun during the summer.
11. Find a walking buddy or, at the very least, a few good paths for yourself.
I liked getting out for a walk, but was finding the same route every day got a bit monotonous. See if there are some great paths near your home (or farther if you’re feeling brave), and check them out. On the weekends, my aunt and I liked to meet up to go for a walk with her chocolate lab. I loved having someone to talk with while I was getting a few steps in! Obviously, going for walks with Stu and B rates pretty high on my list as well.
12. You know all those pictures you’ve been taking of your baby every day? Print them off and put them in a photo album!
I love having a photo album filled with pictures of Beckett from the day he was born up till he was about 11 months old. Obviously, I’d love to have photos of him up until now, but I’ve been slacking. I guess I know what my next weekend project is going to be!
13. Tackle the baby book.
Whether you think you will forget which day they happened on or not, I can promise you that you will unless you write them down now.
14. Take up a hobby.
As my mat leave was coming to a close, I started to realize that my time to do something for myself was running out. I had read somewhere that you shouldn’t expect to pen the next great American novel during maternity leave, and even though I think that someone could totally get a good start, I decided to start a blog. I really enjoyed writing while Beckett was napping, and it’s a hobby I’ve held onto even after I returned to work. Likewise, I knew I had a set of watercolours sitting around in a closet somewhere, so I decided to give those a try. Watching YouTube and scouring Pinterest led me to another new hobby that I’ve really grown to love. I think it’s so important to take the time out to do something for yourself during your Mat Leave (and beyond). Doing something creative was so fulfilling and relaxing. What’s the thing you have been secretly wanting to try for a while? Go do it!
You are allowed to do this. You are allowed to do this at every possible opportunity. Do not feel guilty about it for one single second. Is there laundry to do? Floors to be swept? Dishes to be washed? FORGET IT. GO HAVE A NAP.
Stuff to do With Your Babe(s) on Maternity Leave in Calgary (and other cities too!)
1. Go to the movies!
This is one I wish I would have done way more often when Beckett was a newborn. Ciniplex offers Stars and Strollers in many cities. Go check out a movie with fellow parents, so no one gives you the evil eye if your baby starts to cry. The lights are dimmed, the sound is lower, and there’s even a change table right there in the theatre. The best part is that it’s not just kids’ movies playing – you can check out awesome new releases for grownups! Wait. That’s not the best part. Popcorn for breakfast is definitely the best part.
2. Sign up for a parent and babies class at your local library.
A friend of mine told me that the public library in Calgary offers a ton of free classes for parents and babies to check out. There are ones for toddlers and older kids as well. My friend and I signed up for Baby Rhyme Time and really enjoyed it. There are some drop-in classes available, but the registered classes fill up fast, so make sure that you are online with your library card out and ready to go when registration opens if you want a guaranteed spot! If you don’t live in Calgary, see what programs your local library has available!
3.Sign up for a parent and babies fitness class.
There are a ton of them out there, and I took advantage of none. Some popular ones that friends have referred me to (in Calgary) include Mom and Baby Yoga , more Mom and Baby Yoga, even more Mom and Baby Yoga (I feel like this is a very popular activity), Tots ‘n Squats , Baby Barre, Mom and Baby Fitness classes at the YMCA , and about a million more options. All you have to do is type “Mom and Baby fitness” into Google and there will be results galore!
4. Take baby swimming lessons! (Or just go swimming).
The City of Calgary offers swimming lessons for little ones from 6-24 months for a very reasonable price ($36.50 for 7 lessons, $41.55 for 8 lessons). Look for the Swim for Life – Parent & Tot section on the brochure. If you’d rather just hit the pool, the rates here can be pretty great as well. For the Southland Leisure Centre, kids under 2 swim free, and parents can pay $7.50 to swim for an hour.
5. Try a Music Class!
6. Go to Telus Spark.
This option is catered more to kids at crawling age or older. Check out the Creative Kids Museum, which has a crawling track for babies, a toddler area, water play area, reading nook, and more. Admission for kids under 3 is free; adult admission is $19.95. Parking costs $5.00, and you can also take the LRT to the Zoo and walk over from there (it’s about a 10 minute walk). Year-round membership packages start at $60, which means it pays for itself in 3 visits!
7. Check out the Calgary Zoo!
I was surprised to learn that the zoo is open year-round, and winter is the perfect time to check out the Penguin Walk, so bundle up and get there before 10:30 to see the King Penguins do their march at 11:00 every day (weather peremitting). Kids under 2 are free, and General Admission is $23. Membership packages start at $60. We bought an $80 Engage membership for me (this includes free parking for 2 registered vehicles – just not at the same time), and a Connect Guest membership which is attached to our toddler. Since he’s free, this means anyone can use the Guest membership to take him (like a grandparent or daddy) and I don’t even have to be there.
8. Try Baby Gymnastics!
9. Check out a Drop-In Program at the Southland Leisure Centre.
There are many parented drop-in programs available for kids from walking age to 5 years available for $5.45 per child or free for pass holders.
10. Enrol your toddler in an Un-Parented Play School Class.
If you’re wondering how to keep your toddler between the ages of 2-5 busy while you mind a new baby on your second mat leave, this seems like a really great option. Two or three half-day per week classes are available either for a season or a school-year. Kids have the opportunity to play, do art, swim, and more. Play school opportunities are available at other facilities as well.
11. Go to a play gym.
We recently took Beckett to Treehouse in Midnapore, and he absolutely loved it. There is also a location in the North East. Admission on the weekends is $9.95 for kids 1-4 and $7.95 for kids 1-4 during the week. Parents are free! There was a toddler’s area with different cars to ride on, a kitchen set, magnet tables, and a ball pit and slide, as well as other activities. The big play area had tons of things to climb, two ball pits, multiple slides, and more. If your kids are old enough, you can let them run wild while you sip a coffee in the concession area. For younger kids, parents are welcome to accompany on the different obstacles.
Over and over, one of the most common pieces of advice I heard from moms and dads was the importance of finding fellow parents to spend time with to celebrate, ask for advice, and vent to. I know that a goal for myself for future mat leaves will be to try to put myself out there and meet some new parents who our family can tackle the parenting journey with. Hopefully this list will give you some new ideas for ways to get out of the house and have some fun with your babies, but if not, there’s always Netflix!