Sharing hobbies can lead to stronger relationships
At an age when many girls shun their parents, Ardie Wood, 14, and her sister, Annie, 12, of Buhl, Idaho, make time to create stop-motion films with their mom, Chelly.
"It's like our play time, but we're learning, too," said Chelly of the films they produce starring dolls on a kitchen-table stage, using her phone for a camera. The Woods' films began with the girls' outgrown Barbie dolls. Chelly made the costumes, Annie crafted props and Ardie painted backdrops.
They made everything period-appropriate, with some guidance from Chelly, who is a teacher.
"Before we did 'Romeo and Juliet,' I researched what trees were in Renaissance Italy," said Ardie.
As they perfected the craft, the trio (who plan to post their efforts on YouTube) decided they prefer the onion-skin technique. "It's still stop-motion, but smoother," explained Annie.
Next up at the Woods' family theater: "Othello."
It sounds like a lot of fun — but it's more than that when a family pursues a hobby together.
"People dismiss 'hobbies' as an old-fashioned word, but these are the things that make us human and creative," said Kevin Rathunde, a family and consumer studies professor at the University of Utah. "When family members learn a hobby together, they share what they love with people they love."
No one knows how many Americans are hobbyists because surveys are industry-specific. Plus, interests ebb and flow over time. Paper crafts, printmaking and cake-decorating are currently hot among today's 62.5 million crafters, according to the Craft and Hobby Association. This doesn't include sports or outdoor pursuits such as bird watching and astronomy, which go back centuries, or the technology-inspired treasure hunts known as geocaching.
Still, Americans spend more time doing "passive leisure" activities, such as watching TV, than "active leisure" activities that include hobbies and sports, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics .
Still, it's worth engaging your family in common activities. In "Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success & Failure," a 1996 book he co-authored, Rathunde found that "talented" teenagers spent three more hours a week on arts and hobbies than did "average" teens. Much of this was family time, he added. The talented teen was more than twice as likely to spend time with his parents than was the average teen.
Hobbies also provide an antidote to stress from work and school, for young people and adults alike.
"You're in the moment, in a state of absorption," said Rathunde. "You forget your troubles."
Active hobbies build skills, encourage cooperation and promote discovery. They also help build relationships, Rathunde said.
"While you're doing it, you talk," he said. "In my family, it's building Hot Wheels courses all over the house. I did it with my dad, and now my kids do it with me."
For some couples, shared activities can add that missing spark in a relationship. In an essay in PsychologyToday.com, David Finch, author of "The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband," explained the benefits of joining a fantasy football league with his wife.
"If it seems as though the fun is missing from your relationship, it may just be that you've lost common ground," Finch wrote. "And if that's the case, you might consider finding stuff to do together — stuff that's totally neutral, stuff that's beyond idiotic, stuff that suits both of your personalities and interests — and then make it a binding commitment."
But even couples who enjoy each other's company may find that a common hobby fosters new friendships and broadened horizons. A Christmas gift of a beer home-brewing kit introduced retired engineers Roxanne Westendorf, 56, and her husband, Rob, 55, of Cincinnati to a whole new world.
"We didn't know how (to brew beer), but we learned together," Roxanne said. On weekends, the couple attends brewing club meetings and competitions, where they meet others who share their new passion. They also collaborate on new recipes.
"He's learned to try new spices," she added. "I've learned to throw out our experiments that don't work."
Hobbies can also provide a vibrant medium for staying connected to loved ones. What began as a way to keep in touch resulted in a multi-generational hobby for Andy Wiginton of Mount Olive, N.J., and his long-distance relatives. Wiginton launched a virtual quilting bee with his mother, grandmother and some family friends back home in Michigan. They use FaceTime to transmit photos of their works-in-progress.
"You send the others squares plus a basic rule, like, 'The design must include hexagons,' then they make them in their own style," explained Wiginton, 35, a theater director. "In the end, you each have a collection of squares with a common theme to make a quilt."
Wiginton's niece and nephews, ages 6 to 12, wanted on board, too. With his supervision, they're learning to quilt during family visits.
"We've always been close," said Wiginton of his extended family. "But when we're creating together, we're the most in sync."
For some, there's no such thing as outgrowing a hobby, especially if it's the glue that reunites the family. When Emmi Buck and her brother, Spencer, were ages 7 and 3, respectively, their father told them his spare change was theirs if they sorted it, recalled Buck, 26, who now lives in Sun Valley, Idaho. The kids learned to count money, appraise unusual coins like Buffalo nickels and identify icons on state quarters.
After they grew up and moved away, their coin collecting became the raison d'etre for annual trips home to visit their parents in Gig Harbor, Wash., though, Buck admitted, "Really, it was to see each other."
"We learned a lot," Buck said. "When we have our own kids, we'll pass on the tradition."
For sisters Meghan Jenkins, 33, of Wentzville, Mo., and her sister, Kerry Gipson, 35, of St. Peters, Mo., a teenage hobby of baking cheesecakes has kept them close.
Today, Jenkins bakes cheesecakes for a living at her company, Top Tier Cheesecakes. Gipson embellishes the cakes for her.
"Meghan's the quiet, smart one," Gipson said. "So she develops healthy recipes. I'm the creative free spirit, so I like the storytelling part of the decorating."
Although they have four other siblings, "baking is our time together," Gipson said. And when they need to get out of the kitchen, they mobilize their kids for their other passion, camping.
"You can't be buried in your computer all day," Gipson said. "You have to take time to keep creating, keep learning. We teach our kids that, too. Now my 7-year-old is into bird watching. She has binoculars and a bird book, and is teaching us bird names."
In 1942, Dr. William Menninger recommended stamp collecting and checkers in an article, "Psychological Aspects of Hobbies," in the July issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Although most would disagree with his suggestion that people without hobbies have "defective personality development," much of Menninger's advice is evergreen.
You are not a machine, he warned readers. Doing "something which is different from your work" contributes to your "mental hygiene." Create, collect, compete or acquire a skill, he said. Use a sport to expend excess energy, said Menninger, who counted knitting, with its "feverish motion of needle-jabbing" as an "aggressive outlet."
"Learn to enjoy yourself," he concluded. "Find out how to play. Take nothing too seriously, least of all yourself."