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.
Although I snorted my way through the article (which I finally finished 24 hours after starting it, back at my computer once the kids were duct-taped in their beds Monday night), there were lots of nuggets of wisdom. For one, we ARE busier than our mothers. Not our imagination. Data shows that moms today spend MORE time with our kids than moms did in 1965, the year I was born. We should feel really good about it, because today’s moms trade personal time for kid time. We don’t go to cocktail parties on Saturday nights – we watch Hannah Montana specials on the couch.
And we multitask like crazy, planning menus and play dates in the shower, cooking dinner while helping with homework, teaching our kids to read while grocery shopping (thank goodness for those cereal box labels!). We are really good at juggling work and raising kids. Although of course none of us feels very good about how we’re doing it.
And those 30 hours of leisure the University of Maryland sociologists say moms have – those 30 hours all moms know don’t exist? Guess what: the researchers define all those moments of waiting in Starbucks for a colleague to show, or waiting for the volunteer meeting or kids’ dentist appointment, of idling in car line because the clueless parent in front of you abandoned his/her car to run inside for a parent-teacher chat, that is defined as LEISURE TIME. Don’t bite off your tongue! This is FUNNY.
In Brigid’s case, the guru researcher told her that the two hours she was stuck in her broken down car on the edge of the highway waiting for a tow truck counted as LEISURE TIME. Ditto for the 10 minutes she spent listening to her alarm clock in the morning, trying to drag herself from slumber.
To me, the only true “me time” comes when I’m in a hotel room, ALONE, without a cell phone or computer. And this has happened exactly six times in 12 years of motherhood. My working mom friend was right, more right than every sociologist combined: moms are lucky if we get 30 hours of leisure time a year.
But you know what? I wouldn’t trade my busy, chaotic life for anything. Every one of my three kids was planned (thank you, OrthoNovum) and desperately desired. Yes, occasionally I’d like to rip out my uterus in sleep-deprived frustration. Parenting is far harder than I ever envisioned. But I love my kids and my nutty-no-leisure life. I’m sure I’ll catch up on my hobbies and exercise and travel and date nights and reading and friends when my kids are in college (or jail). That’s gonna be my me-time.
See ya – I’m late to pick up the kids.
Also on MommyTracked: Our Newsdesk asks:How Much Leisure Time Does a Working Mom Have?