Over at the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, Lisa Belkin posted this week about “Free Time For Parents.” Apparently, over in the UK, a supermarket chain called the Co-operative polled working parents about how they spent their time, and found out that their days, on average, looked like this:
Get up 6:42am
Get ready (shower, dress, coffee) 55 minutes
Get children ready 47 minutes
Commute to work 52 minutes
Working day 7 hours
Pick children up 33 minutes
Makes / eat dinner 46 minutes
Children’s play and bedtime 1 hour 9 minutes
Household chores 1 hour 13 minutes
Work from home 1 hour 12 minutes
Go to bed 10:45pm
Spare time = 1hour 30 minutes a day
Lisa asked “Does this breakdown sound familiar? Or does 90 minutes of free time sound high to you?” There were a range of comments, but a reasonable number echoed one poster who said “Wow — I’d KILL for 90 minutes of ‘me time,’ even once or twice a week let alone daily.”
These comments always make me scratch my head. No one has to read the New York Times website. So that strikes me as a leisure activity (and yes, I know that someone may need to be at work and is reading it there… but isn’t it amazing how we make space for “me time” during the workday?) I think that 90 minutes of free time is pretty low for a workday, and the tally will be much higher on weekends. Here’s a stat: According to the American Time Use Survey, the average full-time working mom watches almost 90 minutes of TV a day. This is TV as a primary activity (not a secondary activity, like the TV being on during dinner). Just like posting on the New York Times website, sitting on the couch watching TV is hard to count as anything but leisure.
One person’s experience does not define an average. But I personally had over 90 minutes of free time yesterday. I spent 25 minutes running on the treadmill. I read for half an hour while my husband took the kids to the apartment building’s playroom in the evening. My husband and I watched The Daily Show (TiVo’d) for about 25 minutes after the kids went to sleep, and then talked with each other for about 30 minutes before going to bed. So that’s at least 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Now, granted, I work from home, so I don’t have a commute. I live in NYC and don’t have a car, so I don’t drive around places and convince myself that I “had” to do those errands or kids’ activities. I live in a fairly small apartment, so there’s just not much house to keep tidy. We ordered sushi, so there was no cooking (for the adults). Then again, I worked 9 hours yesterday, which is more than most people do, and my kids didn’t actually go to sleep until 10pm. If they’d gone to bed at 8pm like normal 3- and 1-year-olds, I would have had even more free time if I’d wanted it.
As I wrote in 168 Hours, I think modern parents like to claim we have no free time because it’s a way to show how dedicated we are both to our work and our families. We also have this perception of leisure time as meaning something decadent, like a massage at a spa. So if we’re not at the spa, we think we have no free time, even though we’re spending hours parked in front of the tube or hanging out on Facebook. The fact that we don’t use our leisure time well doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
We all like to complain, but there is a big downside to this claim to have no free time. It makes young people — young women in particular — think that there is no way they can build a career and a family and still have time to sleep, exercise, volunteer, read a book, or all of the above. But you can. I hope more of us will start talking about the leisure time we do have as a way to change the conversation from one of “no time” to choosing what is a priority. I have free time. And I’m guessing you probably do too.