Recently, I have noticed a number of articles imploring women to slow down. Take “me time”. Sit back, and smell the roses. It appears that, now that we have told everyone that women can “have it all”, we have discovered that having it all is exhausting.
While I understand that the authors of these articles are well-meaning, and their advice to slow down is somewhat sensible, I can’t help but feel harassed by their message. It feels like yet another thing to put on my ‘to-do’ list. Another reason to feel guilty as a parent. Another thing to fail.
“Me time” is great, if you are in a position where you are privileged enough to have the means to facilitate it. I’m not going to lie about this, I do have that privilege, to some degree. My family is well supported, so I am able to have the odd night out while my kids are taken care of. My income is high enough that I can afford a reasonably pricey gym membership, and the associated costs of the creche that the gym provides. But I know that I am exceptionally lucky in my circumstances.
Even with the privilege of adequate child care, and a supportive family, “me time” is not easy to facilitate. To earn the kind of income required to support a family of five in a city like Sydney, my husband and I both work full-time. I’m a shift worker, which complicates the situation even further, as I am often working through the night, and over the weekends. Our time together as a family is often restricted as a result. My kids have birthday parties to attend, sporting commitments, doctors appointments, swimming lessons. We are busy.
And we are not alone in being busy. Everywhere I go, I meet another parent, rushing multiple kids to multiple locations, eating pasta out of plastic containers in cars, counting a large skim latte and a protein bar as lunch. In a city like Sydney, families with two working parents are the norm. I know parents who are both working two jobs, while still rushing their kids to gymnastics, tutoring, and little athletics.
“Me time” costs money. Even putting my kids in the creche at my gym a few times a week costs me a minimum of $32 a week. An amount that I can work into my own budget quite comfortably, however it would not be manageable for many families. Other options are even more expensive – occasional care in my area costs $10 per hour, per child – which can quickly add up to more money than many families can afford to part with.
Even free “me time” has a cost. My family often comes to my rescue while I work, or when I have to attend appointments. However, my parents, in-laws, and sibling have their own lives too. I want them to enjoy spending time with my kids. I don’t want them to feel burdened by my children. I am lucky, to have their support. Many families have little support, some none at all.
So what do we do? How do we deal with the lack of me time?
From conversations I have, and people I know, we take what we can get, and make the most of it. For me, that means eating my lunch (or dinner) at my desk, so I can wander the city and pretend to have a life on my meal break at work. It’s not how I would spend my time if I had a choice, but it’s better than nothing. Sometimes, when it’s warm, I spend my break reading a trashy magazine in a park. I take an extra ten minutes, and read the news sites in peace after going to the gym. I make the absolute most of those rare weekends when I am not working, and my husband and I have been gifted care by one of our relatives. I get a coffee after I get a pap smear. I walk the scenic route home from the supermarket, and try to enjoy it, regardless of the heavy bags I am carrying.
“Me time” is important, and I am sure that most people would take it if they could. Unfortunately it’s not always possible. It’s not always going to happen, and certainly not in the way that many opinion pieces and blog posts seem to think it should. This isn’t something we should feel guilty about. It’s just the way life is.
And, if you find that someone you care about reacts angrily to your “me time” suggestion, perhaps it would be beneficial to not be defensive. They probably do need some me time. Perhaps they don’t have the resources to facilitate it. Perhaps they are uncomfortable with asking for help. A friendly ear, and a shoulder to cry on might be just the thing they need.