News Flash: Working Moms Have 30 Hours of Leisure Time A Week!

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

Last night at a school meeting I told a working mom of third grade triplets that I was writing a story about University of Maryland time diary gurus who insist that working moms have 30 hours of leisure time.

 

“A year?” she asked hopefully.

 

“No – they say we have 30 hours A WEEK,” I told her.

 

Simultaneously we erupted in peels that shook the library table.

 

Fortunately there is a lot to laugh about when it comes to working motherhood (to clarify, the term is oxymoronic: paid or unpaid, we are all working mothers). We’ve finally figured out our lives are comedies, sitcoms without audiences, endless crazy jokes, forgotten lunchboxes, calls from the school nurse during career-making presentations, and other tightrope acts. It is best to laugh through the chaos, right?

 

Which is exactly what Washington Post Magazine writer Brigid Shulte had me doing as I read her article “The Test of Time: A Busy Working Mother Tries to Figure out Where All the Time Is Going” and while joining her on Michel Martin’s Tell Me More NPR segment exploring the same hilarious topic.

 

I first encountered Brigid’s article on my computer at 11 pm Sunday night after the kids had (finally) gone to sleep. On my split screen I was running through emails while glancing at the article. I yucked at Brigid’s opening: “Let me tell you about a typical day in my life as a working mother. Oh, wait, there is no such thing.”

 

I printed out the article and stuffed it in my purse before heading to bed. The next morning I read another page at Starbuck’s waiting for a colleague for an out-of-office meeting (the only kind we have, since neither of us has a real office any longer). Over my oatmeal raisin cookie breakfast (yum) I laughed when Brigid confessed it took her a YEAR to fill out one week’s worth of time diary data.

 

Brigid’s Type A approach to working motherhood is clearly my own ridiculous Let’s-Climb-Everest-Without Oxygen strategy: trying to be a fulltime working mother and fulltime stay at home mother AT THE SAME TIME. In case you are thinking of trying it, high-test caffeine, Lexapro and pants with an expandable waistline are far more important than org charts or two Blackberries.

 

I read more while waiting for the chitchat to subside at a volunteers’ meeting at my kids’ school. “My days are chopped up like little bits of time confetti,” Brigid confided. Yep, me too. “Check this out,” I couldn’t resist saying out loud to the other moms. “She says we act more busy than we are because ‘busyness’ is the new status symbol!” I chortled. “Moms think we need to EARN leisure time by working and doing laundry and volunteering too much…”

 

Silence around the table. The other moms looked at me like I’d stolen their Halloween candy. Oh well.

 

leslie morgan s...
01.28.10

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Couldn't agree more. Especially here in DC prestigious paid work esp in gov't or a think tank is considered very impressive...so everyone always asks "do you work?" or "where do you work?" and it's endlessly frustrating and demoralizing. Every mom works, paid or unpaid. And it is hard work!

BeverleySmith
01.28.10

I think no mother has much leisure time and the stats are misleading. It is true however that those who work outside the home have a very busy day, not just with the paid career but then with what has been called the 'second shift' when they get home. It is also true however and some forget this, that the mother at home has the first shift and the second shift too. All mothers work very hard. I currently teach school but was at home full time for several years. When home full -time I calculated once that I had 20 minutes free time per day, only and that was if I was lucky enough to have the kids all nap at the same time. If there was an interval that they were occupied I was cooking, doing laundry, etc. The work does not end. There are those who suggest that mothers at home have more leisure and watch TV all day but that is not accurate if you care at all about your kids' education. I took mine on two outings every single day and we visited libraries, museums, parks of course, malls, even toured the airport etc. Outings make kids smart. I taught them to read using a course I created called Anchors and Sails and I taught them math, science etc with experiments and games. It has been said that mothers who work outside the home because they get coffee breaks and lunchhours uninterrupted and that commute time whereas moms at home are always 'on'. This is unfair however since commute time is not leisure and the coffee breaks and lunchhours are something we all deserve. It has been said that mothers who work outside the home have less cleaning to do since their kids are often also away from the home all day- eg at daycare -but what I think is most important is that women stop one-upping each other and just see that it's very very hard whichever way you slice it. Women all put in a double shift and we should unite to ask governments to value our work of taking care of kids. It is not enough to ask government to fund our daycare since not all parents use daycare. Some use sitters, nannies, dad-care, mom-care from home-based office. Some use tag-team parenting offshifting each other and some use grandma care. The state if it values our parenting should fund care of kids period and let parents decide who provides it. A universal benefit for birth of $5,000 exists in Australia and a universal funding per child till age 18 exists in many European countries. We should do that too. Then women would feel their long day was valued wherever they chose to do the work.
I guess the final observation I would make is that when you speak of 'working' mothers or hours of 'work' and only are referring to paid work, you may wish to expand on that definition. Unpaid work is still work.

stresso
01.27.10

so what kind of PI let a researcher count waiting for a tow truck to fix a broken car in first places?!?!? Likely a man with a wife and a nanny.

Peachs Mom
01.27.10

OMG ~ this is my life: "Brigid’s Type A approach to working motherhood is clearly my own ridiculous Let’s-Climb-Everest-Without Oxygen strategy: trying to be a fulltime working mother and fulltime stay at home mother AT THE SAME TIME. In case you are thinking of trying it, high-test caffeine, Lexapro and pants with an expandable waistline are far more important than org charts or two Blackberries." And yet I still barely survive the condescending sing songy "....oh I understand" BS from her 22 yr old teacher or worse the principal (b/c she IS a working mother so she REALLY does understand) when somehow I am still not measuring up to some bizarre standard of perfection among the community of Stepford wives I live among. Sorry, I am a bit grumpy today. Must be too much leisure time.

krivera
01.25.10

OK -seriously? Those researchers must have been smoking crack when they were adding up their numbers. Me time is non-existent, but like you, I wouldn't trade my kids for the world. As the saying goes, "You can have it all ... you just can't have it all at once."

leslie morgan s...
01.25.10

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Yes -- pretty soon the researchers will be classifying housework as leisure time for moms. Since Swiffering is so much fun! And we don't "have" to do it, right? We "choose" it! Just like we "choose" to work...Ah yes, good think most moms don't have time to read those research surveys!

And by the way, Sandra Tsing Loh is a complete wack job and I wouldn't pay much attention to what she says, either.

The Suburban Outlaw
01.25.10

The Suburban Outlaw
My Dad used to say "You'll sleep when you are dead." I had no idea that all this non-stop working and multi-tasking would be the thing that will kill me. On the subject of "free time" for working women, check out some pertinent NYTimes articles from this past weekend, including two confusing ones: Sandra Tsing Loh, who works and says she needs a wife and the other about a study that says that working women who earn more than their husbands are happier because their free time is of course spent doing the heavy housework. As I swiffered my bathroom yesterday I should have known, this would count as my free time.