In the past year or two I have asked myself the following question:
Are moms more busy than they were a generation ago? And if they are why?
After I read Bowling Alone by Robert D Putnam, I learned that people actually have gained MORE leisure time since the 1960’s NOT less. This is based on time diaries and research. As I shared this with a mom friend her response was:
“Where is this all this time? When is it all going to get done?”
Hmmm…I didn’t have a great answer.
This spring I read Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. Schulte begins her book with some of the same questions I had. As I read further into this book, my emotions were rattled and I began to ask myself some deep heartfelt questions.
Why are our days so FILLED? Do I have to live this? Why do you walk into a mom’s group and everyone is chatting about how busy they are? It’s almost like we are “one-upping” one another.
It’s about showing status. That if you’re busy, you’re important. You’re leading a full and worthy life. There’s a real ‘busier than thou’ attitude, that if you’re not as busy as the Joneses, you’d better get cracking.” (26)
What if you walked into a mom’s group and shared how you have very little on your plate or talk about the extended leisure time you spent with your kids or your spouse or by yourself? You would get sarcasm like “Must be nice” comments or “Wow, I wish I had that kind of extra time.”
Have you noticed how many moms put on their Facebook status all the things they have to do today or how stressed out they are? Somehow I question if we get the same kind of support from Facebook that we receive from face to face relationships we don’t have time for.
But the scarier question is what is our high stress levels doing to us? And worse to our spouses and our kids? Consider this study:
“For years, Suniya Luthar, a psychologist at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and her colleagues have been tracking groups of children, from both the impoverished inner city and the affluent suburbs of New York City. What she found came as a shock: Affluent kids are two to three times more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and high levels of distress than kids living in harsh, urban poverty. And wealthy kids were more likely to use drugs and alchohol.”
I realized answering the “Why are we so busy question” does not have a clear cut a+b=c answer. There are various reasons and these are some I discovered.
Overscheduling Our Kids
When I was a kid, the vast majority of the neighborhood children on my street played soccer. And we all played soccer for the same soccer association because it was the only one that existed. Many of us did not start playing on a team until around 3rd or 4th grade. Now there are many more options for activities, traveling teams, club sports, and starting as early as age 3. Children are burning out at younger ages. Schutle says:
“Research shows that encouraging kids to participate in activities they like is important, but cramming more stuff onto the schedule is not better. And there’s good evidence that it makes things worse.”
This was our first year of me working almost full time. Looking back over the year we did OK scheduling our lives, but we made the mistake of over scheduling our oldest. I am not too hard on myself because it’s a learning process for us. But it came to mind one day when after basketball practice she said, “I just want to go home and play with my Lego friends. That’s what I have wanted to do all day.” I realized she was not getting that time “to play.” Playtime is extremely important. Kids learn to problem solve, work out their feelings, and use their imagination in their play. Watch or listen to your children play–it’s fascinating.
So I asked some moms who had kids college aged and young adult children if I should be signing my young kids up for multiple activities. Was all this worth it? I got a resounding, “No” and a “Wait until junior high or early high school” and “Don’t succumb to the pressure even if it’s the cultural norm.” I told them my idea of doing zero activities this summer except for things we can do together like running at the track together, bike rides at the park, and swimming together in the local pool. I said we would do a week or two swim lessons, but not until the end of the summer. I wanted rest, regroup, ample hours of the day “to play.” Honestly it has been the best summer ever…and I feel more connected to my kids than I ever have.
We don’t allow ourselves leisure
“As I began to think more about leisure time, I realized that I kept putting it off, like I would reach some tipping point…As if leisure was something I needed to earn.”
We moms think we can sit and read a book or go for a walk once the laundry is caught up or the closet is organized or the backyard is weeded. But the truth is we are never caught up. Ever.
Sometimes leisure itself is overwhelming because we don’t rest enough or get out and play. I had a mom tell me she rarely goes out without her kids because she does not how to act. She hardly knows who she is apart from her kids. Another mom shared with me she doesn’t feel like she can leave. Everyone including her husband is dependent on her to clean, get ready for the next day, and put children to bed. Before you blame the husbands, a man shared with me: “I wish she would go out more. I encourage her but she always backs out at the last minute because she’d rather stay home because she’s too tired.”
We live in a Pinterest world and we don’t measure up
Consider this article Is Your Busy Season Becoming a Lifetime? from The Gospel Coalition written by Melissa Martin:
You throw a party to announce you’re expecting, a gender reveal party, a minimum of three baby showers, all graced with perfectly handcrafted decorations to capture your theme. Finally, the birth. Newborn, three-month, six-month, and twelve-month professional photo shoots. Year one birthday party? That was already planned before the kid was even born.
When toddler season arrives, craft days, themed play dates, spectacular birthdays, and multiple sport seasons will be carefully planned, then documented on Facebook, pinned on Pinterest, and joyfully tweeted for other mothers to follow, admire, and emulate.
Hear me when I say that none of those things is in and of themselves wrong or harmful. But I would like to pose the question: Is it possible that all of this work contributes not only to a dangerously child-centered home, but also to a season of life that simply never ends?
Kids love the simple. They really do. Some of my kid’s best crafts have been just throwing a bunch of recycleables, glue, markers, and crayons on the table and saying, “Go.” Some of the best outings are to local parks. I love hiking with my kids and one of the best perks is that it’s free! Pull out board games on a Sunday afternoon. Make your own pizza and watch a movie. Enjoy those moments for what they are. Of course there is room to share your life with others, but don’t feel like you have to post everything on Facebook or Twitter. Some moments are best left shared with the ones we love and savored as that alone.
Our world is not busier…it’s just moving faster
When I took my youth group to an amusement park many years ago, I vividly remember enjoying the train ride that circled around the park. I lazily relaxed on my seat and watched park goers getting in line for rides or grabbing snacks at the concession stands. I was at peace and I stayed on the train for one more ride. Don’t get me wrong–I loved the fast thrill seeking roller coasters and went on them several times. Your focus is different on the thrill rides with the fast paced dips and turns and adrenaline rush. Sometimes I think we as moms are trying to make rational decision, have conversations with our kids, and get things crossed off our to-do list when we are riding the roller coaster versus the train. And technology makes it worse.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a regular Facebook user, I check my e-mail, and I watch TV. There was an afternoon this year I had five kids running around the house wanting to eat lunch, a dishwasher that needed to be emptied, and my son asking questions about what we were doing later that day. I made the mistake of quick checking my e-mail and saw a message from someone I was writing an article about. Even though it wasn’t an emergency I felt like I could quick respond. But with the noise and the kids running around everywhere, I felt edgy and frustrated. I got impatient with my son who I felt was asking questions that were irrelevant to our immediate situation.
Those who are not stay at home moms and not working moms, but work a paid job at home like myself need to compartmentalize our life. Let work time be work time. Let computer time be computer time. Check e-mail, respond to Facebook posts when you’re free from distractions. If you try to do it all at once you’re doing very little effectively. If you’re never free from distractions teach your kids to respect your work time. If they are too little to under that, utilize times when they are sleeping or watching a short TV show. Kids can play on their own without you needing to intervene. They really can. And it’s good for them too.
Have times in the day the computer is off, or the phone is kept in another room, or Facebook is unopened. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to breathe and your life feels more in order.
Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” God gave you this day. How are you using it? Are you moving so fast that you are missing out on what is important? Are you wasting your energy on being Super Mom when your kids simply just want “you?” Are giving into distractions that are keeping you from living this beautiful day He’s given you? Take a long hard look at your schedule and make changes if you need to. It’s never too late.
*Schulte and Putnam both talk about time diaries. They really show you how you are spending your time and you notice you have more leisure time that you thought. I will post some of my own time diaries in the future, although my summer time diary is completely different than the school year.