Do Busy Moms Have Time?

April 1, 2010

After reading Washington Post staff writer Brigid Schulte’s time starvation manifesto, “The Test of Time: A busy working mother tries to figure out where all her time is going,” I couldn’t resist but to reach out to her to share the power of slow. I felt an affinity for her and her struggles. It seemed like the right thing to do.

She sent a lovely response, agreeing to meet for coffee if I was every in the area. It just so happened I would be. So we sat down for a chat while I was in Washington, DC in mid-March. In our one-hour discussion, we covered a lot of ground, which she wrote about in today’s Washington Post.

We talked at length about our lives as working mothers, the constant external pressure to keep it altogether, and our intense need to do this despite how taxing it can be. Her children are roughly the same age as mine (primary school); like me, she works in a deadline-driven environment, often from her home office; and, like many people, she struggles with the clock.

That is where our lives diverge.

Somewhere along the line, I consciously decided to disengage from clock combat. I began to look at time as a resource I could work with, not against. It was a subtle, yet profound paradigm shift that leaves me feeling calmer when life gets messy.

With two kids life is often chaotic and loud and odiferous. Just yesterday my son dropped a strawberry on my favorite pants, staining them a lovely red hue. We learned that berries really can stain. But we learned something else, too.

Boundaries matter.

This mind-shift of time-as-friend-not-foe happened because I saw how my children, back when they were age one and three, lived in a timeless state. To them the clock meant nothing. So why did it mean so much to me? What would happen if, for a moment, I stepped out of time altogether and walked more slowly to the car, to the grocery store, to the laundry room? What would occur if I took the risk of slow-poking it to work, thanking the fourteen-wheeler for giving cause to ease off the gas for the ten-minute ride?

Wonders occurred. My life occurred. I occurred.

Sitting in the trendy metro-area coffee shop with my new Post pal, I delighted in Brigid’s company as she admitted she delved into the procrastination chapter of The Power of Slow first. Life can be so overwhelming! Where to start! Working toward deadlines seems to help. It must as she manages to meet her timelines like everyone else. But along with the workaday routine, she is accompanied by a deep feeling of dread. Tell me really, she said to University of MD leisure studies professor John P. Robinson, where does my time go?

She even went on the Dr. Phil show to address this same issue.

It got me to thinking.

Where are we spending most of our time? If I were to calculate how much time I spent in my car, for instance, while in the US for just that week, I would say a good deal of our time is spent inside our vehicles. How can we cut down our personal traffic? Is it feasible?

Telecommuting arrangements are one way to navigate the time continuum. For moms who work without pay (read: full-time parenting), how can we carve out moments of time for ourselves? In a past essay, entitled “Minute Snatchers ~ How to Be a Writing Parent” I called time carving  minute-snatching. I’d snatch a few minutes during naptime to write. In fact, I wrote three books that way. It was fulfilling because it gave me a sense of control, something many moms struggle to regain in their lives dictated by so many external demands.

Having blocks of time seems like a luxury, yet it is possible. It really is about task management.

My kids, for instance, are home for a two-week Easter break right now. Like boomerangs that hover low to the ground, then high in the sky, they double sling-shot their way through the day. Sometimes, they make arrangements with their friends; at other times they are sitting on my lap, asking what they can do. Just when the pain point of their boredom gets unbearable, they come up with an idea. I call it skating on the fringe of creativity. They need those unstructured days to feel the timelessness of youth. Then there are moments in which they are in structured play, such as a two-day riding camp. It is about blending both to find the optimum experience.

Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we don’t.

Think of it this way: when you fill a tablespoon with water, what takes longer? Running the water at full speed or raising the faucet handle just a tad to fill it once without spilling?

The other day my son ranted about how his jacket wouldn’t zip up as he hurridly struggled with the zipper.

“Sometimes slow is faster,” I said in my best mommy voice. He smirked as I showed him what I meant.

Today he proudly showed me he could zip it himself.

“Look, Mom!” he beamed. “There really is power in slow!”

Why yes, honey, I’d say there really is.

Advertisements