Emily Mingledorff needed a hobby, a distraction from her corporate job in pharmaceutical sales. she says. “I wanted to lose myself in something.”
After she made her daughter’s first birthday cake, Mingledorff discovered her passion for baking. Now, her daughter is 11 years old, and Mingledorff has added a second daughter, age 8, and a son, age 4, to her family. But her love of baking is as strong as ever. In fact, it’s become central to her life and a way to connect with her kids.
Today’s parents struggle to navigate this new world of technology, Mingledorff says. And it’s not as if she can whisk her kids off to Disney World or plan elaborate outings every day just to drag them away from the screens.
Inviting her kids into the kitchen to help her figure out a recipe, measure ingredients and decorate cookies gets them away from technology and into quality time together. Sometimes recipes become math lessons. Sometimes they become life lessons.
Mingledorff and her kids sample their sweets, and then donate most of their creations to retirement homes and first responders near their Daniel Island home. They make muffins for the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center. Each muffin is individually wrapped and comes with a note her kids wrote. Children coming to the center have something to eat and a word of encouragement like “You rock” or “You’re amazing.” The family even bakes dog treats for the Charleston Animal Society.
Baking has become an integral part of the family’s life – often detailed on Mingledorff’s blog about baking with kids called “Pie Crust and Pixie Dust.”
“Now my kids love to bake and cook,” she says. “This is a hobby they can enjoy the rest of their lives.”
Hobbies are a way to play
Finding a hobby that will sustain you into adulthood is important, explains C. Anne Gutshall, associate professor and department chair of the Teacher Education Department at the College of Charleston.
“We know with young kids play is incredibly important,” she says. “It’s how they learn, make sense of things and develop empathy. Young children don’t really need a lot of encouragement to play, but they do need uninterrupted sustained time.
“A hobby is a grownup’s way of playing,” Gutshall says. “Adults who can lose themselves in something pleasurable and fun are healthy emotionally.”
Gutshall reminds parents that a scheduled activity isn’t the same as a hobby. “A hobby is something that has intrinsic value to you,” she says. “Hobbies are things we do for the sake of doing them because they give us pleasure and feed our soul.”
To help their children discover their hobbies, parents should be attuned to what their child is naturally drawn to and loves, Gutshall says. Then, parents can encourage those hobbies. For example, if parents notice a child is skilled at telling stories, they could suggest the child try writing stories over the summer.
Hobbies, Gutshall says, come in all shapes and sizes – gardening, decorating, cooking, playing or watching sports, collecting seashells or birdwatching.
“We want our kids to be able to have things that are different from work that feed their soul and allow them to meet other people who share their passion and connect on a human level,” she says.
Freedom to explore
Kathleen Fox is the owner of Creative Arts of Mount Pleasant, which offers a variety of art classes for children and adults. She appreciates the parents who let their children explore different hobbies and creative pursuits. Parents may see it as kids flitting from one thing to another, but they often need to try out a variety of options to discover what they really love.
Fox says hobbies should be something people simply do for themselves. It doesn’t necessarily have to become a business or a way to make money. And you don’t even have to be that great at your chosen hobby, Fox says, it should just be something you enjoy.
“My mom, since I was little, would say, ‘You might hate your job, but if you can come home and do something you love, it balances your life.’ [A hobby] should be a really lovely escape, something you do solely for you.”
Let the child choose
As the owner of Dance Moves of Charleston, Jessica Beran would worry when children left her dance classes, but she soon realized that’s simply the nature of children, she says. She encourages parents to expose their children to a variety of activities, especially when they’re young. By age 9 or 10, Beran says, children start to hone in on a hobby.
“If they’re going to create a hobby from dance, then it’s something you want to do more than once a week,” Beran says.
Beran cautions parents not to impress their own hobbies onto their children. Beran’s 9-year-old daughter does dance, and Beran – who has been dancing her whole life – would love to see her keep dancing. She also recognizes her daughter is becoming quite the soccer athlete, so that passion might replace dance. Beran’s 12-year-old son found his passion in football.
“It about allowing your children to make their own choice,” she says. “I want every child to love dance, but every child does not love dance.”
In the Mingledorff household, baking is the hobby of choice, but Mingledorff is aware her daughters also love art and reading, so she gives them plenty of time to pursue those activities as well.
It’s about honoring your kids and their genuine interests, she says.
“When you find a hobby you love and are true to yourself, it’s amazing what you can turn it into,” Mingledorff says.