“Moms have more leisure time than they think!” reads the provocative headline on ParentDish, and you don’t even have to read the comments to imagine the divisive and ultimately completely unhelpful comments from both mothers and those who love to hate mothers. And of course, there were defensive howls of outrage across the mamasphere.
A few clicks brought me to the original article in the Washington Post. It’s quite long, but very good reading. A busy mother with a full-time career as a writer set out to find both good story fodder and a solution to a problem we all face: “Most days, I feel so overwhelmed that I barely have time to breathe” she wrote. So she kept a diary of all the time she spent on various activities and handed it over to an “expert” for analysis, who told her that she has 30 hours of leisure time each week. The kicker, of course, is in the definition of “leisure.” This particular expert defines leisure time to include, for example, visiting a sick friend, watching a movie with the kids, lying in bed listening to the news on a clock radio, and “sitting in a hot, broken-down car for two hours on a median strip and playing tic-tac-toe with my daughter while waiting for a tow truck.”
The fun times in Mommyville never end, I tell you!
Seriously, though, she raises a point that few of us would deny. We’re busy. Overwhelmingly, crazily, frustratingly busy. Ironically — or maybe not so much — I’ve been reading the source material for this blog post and pecking it out in stolen moments over the course of about four days, in an ADD-inspiring dozen or so separate sessions, because that’s how my life works these days.
I have two places I want to go with this post. The first is that I’ve been a whole lot happier in my life since I stopped feeling persecuted about the sheer amount of effort it takes to keep our family on track. Never in my life would I have imagined I’d be the kind of person who runs the swiffer at 6:30 in the morning because the best time to do something is the instant I notice it needs to be done and four other things aren’t clamouring for my attention. In the not-too-distant past, I was offended at the idea that I’d be required to do any sort of domestic work (tidying the kitchen, packing lunches, putting toys away) after putting the kids to bed because the time between 8 pm and bedtime seemed inviolably sacred “me” time. And I’ve gotten used to the fact that any given moment of doing one thing has an opportunity cost of a whole bunch of other things that will not get done. Between the time I get home from work and bedtime, I almost never sit still, occupying myself with one brain-dead and thankless domestic task after another. This is the reality of my life, this constant crazy juggling act, stealing Peter’s time to pay Paul and always on the breathless brink of having it all come crashing down on me like an ill-built house of cards.
But really, I’m okay with that.
More specifically, I become okay with that when I stopped feeling maudlinly nostalgic for the times when my life did not follow this frenetic pace and I realized that whether I pout about it or not, someone still has to fold the laundry. Again. It takes a damn lot of work to run a household and a family and a job. In fact, the straw that breaks this particular camel’s back is going to be — mark my words — managing the flow of paperwork to and from the school, in addition to managing the homework and the special PJ days and 100th day of school activities and pancake dinners and friendship parties and all the rest of what it takes to be a contributing member to our school’s community.
I’m rambling, aren’t I? Okay, maybe I’m ambivalent instead absolutely content with my particular spot on the leisure-time spectrum right now, but I have to tell you, I’m feeling a whole lot better about it now that I’ve made efforts to go with the flow instead of feeling resentful about the constant demands on my time and attention.
The second place I want to go with this post is that despite everything I said in the first point, I could easily argue that I have a good deal of “leisure” time in my life. I mean, I dedicate probably five to seven hours a week to the blog and my online empire — twitter, e-mail, surfing, etc. (Probably, ahem, a hell of a lot more than that, but I am not yet willing to stare down the reality of that particular truth just yet.)
And there’s another two or three hours a week that I dedicate to photography — taking pictures, processing them, reading photography books, coveting other people’s camera equipment (that last one, conveniently, I can do while doing many other things.) My single hour at the gym on Saturday mornings is something akin to sacred time, as is the 30 to 45 minutes I spend with the newspaper and a coffee the three days a week I don’t have to go to the office. I watch about an hour of TV a day, usually in a bit of a slack-jawed stupor at the end of the day. I meet friends for breakfast quite regularly on a Sunday morning and feel like I’ve done the kids an injustice if I don’t spend some time on a weekend getting out of the house with them, whether playing in the driveway or going to the park or the library or the museum or any of the hundred other places we haunt on our excursions. And I manage to cram in 20 to 30 minutes with a book every night in bed before I go to sleep.
Count up all that and we’re well over 20 hours per week of built-in “leisure” time. Mind you, I paid a price to buy that extra time in my life when I took a 20 per cent pay cut to drop down to a four day week, so maybe I’m not representative of the kind of “career mom” they’re talking about. And, rare is the time that I’m dedicating myself fully to a single task. I swear, I will not be that mother who surreptitiously checks her Blackberry while pushing junior on the swings — I don’t even *have* a Blackberry and I feel quite smug about that fact — but I have been known to check the blog or Flickr for new comments in between reading Dr Seuss and Sandra Boyton.
This quote from the Post story stayed with me, though. “In the Middle Ages, the sin of sloth had two forms,” [the time management expert] said. “One was paralysis, the inability to do anything — what we would see as lazy. But the other side was running about frantically. The sense that, ‘There’s no real place to go where I’m going, but, by God, I’m making great time.’ ”
In the end, you control what you can, and one of the ways to control your own personal chaos is with choices. I choose to blog rather than clean the bathroom, and I think that’s a perfectly reasonable choice four times in five, as long as you get to the bathroom eventually.
What say ye, bloggy peeps? Are you ladies (and men!) of leisure, or on the fast track to burnout? Do you have to work to find balance and, more importantly, do you succeed? And, most important of all — has anyone seen the toilet brush?
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