To Read in Your Leisure Time (Ha Ha Ha!)

If you are a Dr. Phil viewer, you may have seen the recent show on Dr. John Robinson’s time-use study claiming that “Women have at least 30 hours of leisure every week.  In fact, women have more leisure now than they did in the 1960s, even though more women are working outside the home.”*  If you are a working woman, you may have already used Google Earth to locate Dr. Robinson’s home, somewhere in the Baltimore area, and are currently figuring out how to make something very large and very heavy fall onto it.  And if you were doing this, by the way, you’d be using your “leisure time.”  As Brigid Schulte wrote, in her Washington Post article on the study, answering emails or using the computer for anything other than work is leisure time.  Other examples include:

“Watching movies with the kids. Visiting a sick friend with the kids. Talking to a friend about her leisure time on the cellphone to report this story while taking my son’s bike to the shop for repairs with the kids. Leisure, leisure, leisure.”

“Printing out a gift card to Best Buy for my friend’s son while yelling at kids and husband to “get into the car now” two minutes before leaving to go to a birthday dinner. Leisure.”

“Sitting in a hot, broken-down car for two hours on a median strip and playing tic-tac-toe with my daughter while waiting for a tow truck. Yes, that, too.”

I haven’t read the study itself, and I’m not a Dr. Phil fan.  I was turned off by his approach to the topic, which seemed to be: “Let’s tell a whole lot of working moms that they have 30-40 hours of LEISURE TIME each week, watch them all foam at the mouth and then do a SHOW about it!  HA HA HA!”  But Amy Hatch, from ChambanaMoms and ParentDish knows a whole bunch of stuff about it, AND was on the real live Dr. Phil show.  So you can read an informed person’s view about the whole topic here.

I’ve been thinking about this though, and I decided to distill the more burdensome tasks associated with mothering into two main categories.  Then I analyzed whether the elimation of these two tasks would make a statistically significant difference in how much leisure time I might have.  I decided that the answer was yes.  Without having to do these two things, I believe I could take on a whole new hobby, such as cleaning my house.  So here they are, the two most oppressive tasks of motherhood: answering questions and carrying things.

A few nights ago as I was putting Gabe to bed after a busy evening, his narrative of weird, random, end-of-the-day-running-on-fumes comments was taking a while to wind down:  “Sharks have blood in their mouths.”  (He just started watching “Finding Nemo”).  “Helicopters are sometimes blue and sometimes red.”  “I don’t have any juice.”  “Some dinosaurs eat leaves.”  And so on.  Just as he was quiet and breathing steadily, and I got up to leave, he opened his eyes and said, “Can grasshoppers walk too?” 

My brain jumped and I thought, “‘Walk too’, as in ‘walk as well as jump?’  Or ‘walk too,’ as in ‘walk the way other insects or some other life form can walk?'”  I didn’t respond, but the point is that even though we had just gone through the whole shark thing, and even though it was the 4,000th question of the day, even though were both so tired, my immediate reaction to this question was to try to answer it.  My brain still thought it through, using up precious CPU that I could have been using for a leisurely activity like paying bills on-line.

This is to say nothing of the mundane, relentless questions the older boys ask: “Where are my pants?”  “If I give you 4 quarters, can I buy a song on iTunes?”  “Can you sign this permission slip, form, homework assignment, etc.?”  “What are we having for dinner?”  “What time is my track meet?”  “Can I go to Patrick’s?”  “Can I ride my bike to the library?”   “Can I come in?”  “Can I use the drill?”

The questions, they are endless.  I imagine my brain cells as billions of tiny greyhounds, quivery and tense, always on the alert for the next question.  Real leisure time would make them implode.

Now with regard to carrying things, I had my first child 14 years ago, so including the pregnancy, during which I was carrying him inside of me, that’s almost 15 years.  15 years during which I have not once gotten out of my car empty-handed.  For 15 years (which included 2 more children), I have neither gone anywhere nor done anything without something bulging out of me, strapped to me, hanging off of me, hanging on to me, balanced in my hands, slung over my shoulder, or pushed on wheels in front of me. 

When getting home at the end of the day, or simply getting out of the car at different times during the day, there has always been someone or something to be carried out of the car and into the house.  For example:

  • Car seat
  • Diaper bag and assorted baby paraphenalia (too numerous to list)
  • Child
  • Groceries
  • Library books
  • Purse
  • Misc. clothing such as a single mitten, one sock, the winter hat you insisted must STAY ON
  • Toys and/or pieces of toys, especially those with tiny parts
  • Candy wrappers and other food-related items (e.g. used straws, soda cans, petrified french fries)
  • 632 pieces of “art work” made by child at daycare and the things that fall off the “art work,” e.g. dried pasta, pipe cleaners, shiny beads, feathers, etc.
  • Tissues and napkins
  • Cell phones and other small electronics, esp. ones that beep or vibrate from unknown locations in the car
  • Sporting goods

One time I was driving to the grocery store and I passed my friend Jean who was walking her dog while carrying one child in a pack on her back and pushing the other in a stroller.  Just in crossing the street she was responsible for THREE lives other than her own.  Just seeing her made me so tired I almost fell asleep while driving.  Another time I was in Boulder with my friend Ann for a conference, and we took a walk in some foothills at the edge of the city.  Along the way, I kept seeing cool rocks I knew Noah and Jacob would like, so I picked them up and put them in my pockets.  It took me some time to realize what I was doing–weighing myself down with rocks to bring home for my kids.   

So I’m hypothesizing that if I could free myself to spring out of my car unencumbered, or unleash those quivery greyhounds in my brain, I might, over time, build up enough physical and mental energy to devote to myself to a leisurely hobby, like using the oven instead of the microwave.

But it will be a long, long time before I find out, because the only populations I know with leisure time are children and retired people.  At the end of Brigid Schulte’s article, she interviews labor economist Rachel Connelly (mother of 4 children), who looked at the same data as Robinson (who is 74, divorced and lives alone), and found that working mothers have next to no true leisure time.  Connelly says:

“It would be great if you could have career-type jobs where you only work 30 hours a week. Are we getting there anytime soon?  No, we’re not.  So you live in a dirty house.  You say, no, we don’t make homemade cookies.  You enjoy your kids, enjoy your work.  And know that [the time squeeze] can’t last forever.”

And perhaps you nurture fantasies about developing a highly contagious little illness that requires A LOT of bed rest and possibly an intravenous sedative.  But you DON’T read time-use studies by old men that make you feel bad about your life. 

In honor of true leisure time, here is a poem by Elizabeth Smither called “A Day in Bed with Aunt Maud.”  I think we should all get to live this way more often.  How about you?

A Day in Bed with Aunt Maud

My dear high-foreheaded aunt, good
at sums and attentive to all that love
demands, loved a day in bed.

No illness drove her there, or fever
no drenched nightgown, twisted
but the bliss of a day in bed.

She lay, she slept, she reached out
a hand towards an improving book
she closed its covers on her day in bed.

She contemplated the plaster ceiling rose
and all the world that swam around it
a spider web from her day in bed.

She lay like someone in a shroud, proud
of her stretched toes, her spine
bearing not this day on her day in bed.

She took some rations, delicate things
and a jug of fresh-made squash
she dined daintily on her day in bed.

What did you get? the others asked.
A firmer view of the world, she said
through lying down on my day in bed

and love and anything you care to ask.
They never did. Away they sped
She contemplated them from her day in bed.

Elizabeth Smither from The Year of Adverbs
© Auckland University Press, 2007

*To view Brigid Schulte’s article, which is the source of these quotes, click here

14 thoughts on “To Read in Your Leisure Time (Ha Ha Ha!)

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  1. I spent 2 hours yesterday afternoon, a Saturday afternoon, in bed watching “Pretty in Pink”! It was heaven and I can’t remember the last time I did something so frivolous!!! I spent the whole week, sick as a dog, taking care of the 3 kids, running myself into the ground keeping up with all “their stuff”. (Michael was crazy at work and then out of town for business). Sometime between Saturday’s lacarosse games and Holy Communion parties I just said…”ENOUGH!!!” I don’t know what the kids were doing but they were alive when I emerged from my bedroom. I guess a little leisure time won’t kill me (or my children)!!! Although I’m thinking that my running leisure time might be a little more like 30 hours over the past 9 years:) LOL, E


    1. Thanks for reading, E, and for your comment! I can totally picture this situation. Did you have your door locked?? When G takes a nap, I often take a nap too, and I leave a sign on the door that says, “Gabe and I are SLEEPING,” i.e. wake me up and you’re dead. 🙂


  2. I work 40 hours a week, commute, do laundry, enjoy cooking, and my kids have homework, skating, swimming, music and Scouting. We have weekly various extended family commitments and then there are the Birthday Parties, playdates and all the stuff like baking with the kids, crafts etc. I get to blog and craft only because I’m good at multi-tasking and because my husband helps a lot with the kids. Parenting is a 24/7 occupation and true “leisure” implies “time off” which of course in the true sense is very very rare for most parents indeed. I can write a blog post whilst overseeing two kids doing two separate activities… is it “leisure” ? well only kind of, the Mama radar is still switched on, you are still responsible for other people: for me true leisure is when I have 100% of the time to myself and can *really* relax.
    That’s not happening for most parents I know either. Even when they are sleeping, your kids are still dictating your routine, Do I want to watch that Film this weekend that I never got to see in the movies now that is finally on TV? Yes, will I? No… the film is on very late and Mr. Five will be waking us up at 6.05 as usual so I will grab some sleep instead or I won’t be able to function tomorrow. My question for the people who did this study is: are you only counting paid work as non leisure time? when does work in families and with kids end? In families with young kids the answer is simple, it doesn’t.


  3. This was again, a mixture of sad and humorous, Leslie. Humor eases numerous frustrations . I enjoy every topic about which you write; you write well! “Those quivery greyhounds in my brain,” is original and just perfect. I also especially like the observation from labor economist Connelly about the divorced, old man who lives alone.
    I often joke that I was so interrupted by my children that I interupt myself. I have taken on two careers that require one answer questions from children for pay. Now that my children are long grown, I find myself carrying more than ever to work- a book bag, papers, lap top, lunch, workout clothes, something I promised someone. It is a difficult habit. I so enjoyed the list of things you carry. Gabe’s questions are wonderful. I especially laughed at the hobby: “using the stove instead of the microwave.” I have not baked bread in a year and a half. Now that is a luxury. BUT … I spent last Friday in bed! I was not sick, either. I hope you get to do so way before you are 53 years old. I have been interupted numerous times as I tried to write this response. When I began, it was quiet!


  4. I remember a day a few years ago when I was over whelmed with mothering duties of 3 kids, a job to work, a husband to be present for, a life to live and I just wanted to cry. It was even a more sinking feeling when I realized I didn’t even have time to cry. My college degree is in Leisure studies: Therapeutic Recreation. They should come up with a new “Special” population (handicapped, substance abuse, geriatrics etc) that need our services…. MOTHERS!


  5. I just saw a dust ball the size of a tumble weed roll across the apt when I opened the window. I’m feeling much better about it now that I’ve read your post. Thank you!!!


  6. This past Friday my friend Bridget and her son Mickey took Zoey to the park. And instead of going back to work, I sat on the couch and turned on the TV. I can’t tell you the last time I actually relaxed, alone, in my own house. Even though it only lasted an hour and a half before my husband came home, it felt wonderful. Luxurious. And, to be honest, I also felt a little guilty…


  7. The work-at-home dad speaks…

    As any parent with school-aged children will tell you, the shortest part of the day is the time between the kids getting on the bus to go to school in the morning and the time they get off the bus in the afternoon. Seems to me, when I was a kid, a school day was 6 1/2 hours long. When did they shorten it to 6 1/2 minutes… and WHY?

    My wife Maggie has a ‘real’ job where she goes to an office to put up with crap and politics. Like so many people these days, she was recently advised that her current position for which she had just applied and accepted has been ‘re-evaluated and re-defined’. English translation – she now gets to do far more work for way less pay… take it or leave it. Two weeks ago she was excited about her advance. As it turns out, it was really a classic ‘bait-and-switch’.

    This past week, Maggie has been leaving the house at 8:00 in the morning and coming home at 9:00 PM, sometimes toting a ‘few more things that need to get done before Friday.’

    OK, so back to the original point – I have 6 1/2 minutes to do my writing work at home, not to mention preparing dinner and the once-a-week cleaning duties. The rest of the time I get to spend… with THEM – step-daughters aged 13 and 6!

    I’m a strict routine kind of a guy. It has taken this long for the girls to finally ‘get it’. Still the 7:00 wake-up doesn’t happen unless I remind the 13 year old to set her alarm the night before. The 7:05 be-in-the-kitchen-for-breakfast rule doesn’t happen without a couple of extra bangs on the door accompanied with a loud bark, “How LONG does it TAKE to put on a skirt and a blouse?”

    Poke and prod; prod and poke. I should have recorded myself on day one – like a broken record, I say the same damned things, over and over ad nauseum. The little one would take forever and a day to eat… if I let her. “What are you, tired or something? Looks like it’s early to bed tonight… AGAIN! MOVE IT!”

    The older one is also in charge of preparing and packing lunches. She can easily turn a simple five minute project into a five hour deal… if I let her. I don’t bark at this one anymore though. She’ll just dig her heels in all the more and go even SLOWER! “It’s better at my DAD’S house,” I’ve heard on more than one occasion.

    Ready or not; finished breakfast or not, my little one is sent off to the bathroom at 7:30 to brush, floss and wash her hands and face. Sometimes she SINGS her little heart out… I have to go in and check to see what she’s up to. Other times it’s deadly quiet in there… I have to go in and check to see what she’s up to. It’s usually anything BUT brushing, flossing and washing hands and face.

    I bark, “What are you, tired or something? Looks like it’s early to bed tonight… AGAIN! MOVE IT!”

    Didn’t I say that already? Geez, I really AM a creature of habit, aren’t I?

    By this time, the big one has finished preparing the lunches and the little one transports her lunchbox and thermos to her backpack. Meanwhile, the big one finishes her own breakfast and cleans up the dishes.

    It’s taken TWO YEARS to get this little routine working. I can’t even begin to describe the utter chaos I walked into when Maggie and I first got together. I have my doubts if they even knew what a clock was before I arrived on the scene.

    It’s a lot better today. A LOT! Still, we’re just a few minutes behind. Now the real butt-dragging begins. Oh, the little one is done; no problemo there. It’s the big one. I forgot to remind her to organize her backpack the night before. Now the little one and I get to watch her go back and forth from the living room to her bedroom; from the bedroom to the living room; back and forth…

    “Why doesn’t she just bring her backpack into the bedroom and pack it from there?” Um… we made that mistake once. The big one went into her room, closed the door and didn’t come out even when it was time to leave for the bus. Seems there was some kind of panic about ‘unfinished homework’ from LAST WEEK for which the kid was now seriously overdue!

    Well, at 13 she’s old enough to walk to school by herself if she misses the bus. I’ve given up the power struggle. She’ll move in full-time with her Dad next year when she starts high school. She’ll see if it’s REALLY better there! hehehe (Her dad is extremely strict and controlling; abusively so when he and Maggie were married – and that’s why they’re not today. Lucky me!)

    The little one is from a different relationship – HER Dad is a different ‘head-trip’ altogether. As I’ve mentioned in another comment, it’s tough enough dealing with the kids themselves, as every parent knows. Step-parenting brings other elements into the equation… seems like there’s always something to handle. It’s a HUGE added drain on the already depleted psyche.

    The evening routine is an extended version of the morning show. There’s dinner, dishes, piano practice (I’m a private music teacher so my girls put in a ‘proper practice’ every day… or else!), homework (did I mention the older one is CONSTANTLY BEHIND on homework, to the extent that she needs to stay after school every day to ‘catch up’), showers and some down time – for the little one, that is. Down time meaning Russy gets to read stories, play kid games, and generally provide the ‘quality-family’ time while Mom deals with sh.. (oops, I almost said shit… is that allowed here?)

    Funny thing about time; the 6 1/2 hours the girls are at school feels like 6 1/2 minutes. The 4 hour evening routine feels like 4 days!

    8:00 PM can’t come soon enough. The little one gets her hug and kiss; and her kiss and hug; and yet another hug and kiss, ever trying to extend that bedtime limit. I’m reminded – again – that my kiss is ‘picky’ and that I need to shave!

    “Oh, and something else about Pixie Hollow, Russy.”

    “Tomorrow… tell me TOMORROW, k? Lights OUT! Go to sleep NOW! I’ll be back to check in five minutes! You’d better be snoring by the time…” Gotta record that one, too!

    The older one is probably procrastinating on homework as usual. Maggie and I had a talk with her teacher earlier this year. We were assured that the class would NEVER be given more than ONE HOUR of homework each night. We’re now well into hour number 3. I don’t bark. After all, I KNOW it will be better when she goes to her Dad’s… FOR ME! hehehe

    I can go back to my room and try to catch my breath for when Maggie comes home. I’ll need some extra energy as I listen to her increasingly horrifying office-politic stories. My protective gear kicks in as I feel my wife is being used; sucked dry only to be spit out later by some cold and callous corporation.

    As for that time in bed… be careful what you wish for! I was hospitalized for three weeks last Christmas – almost died, in fact. Time comes to a dead halt when you are confined to bed. With a Bone Marrow Transplant coming up later this year, I’ll be looking at another 6-8 weeks of ‘bed time’.

    What was the original topic? Leisure time?

    Hey, my 6 1/2 minutes are almost up! Gotta run.

    All the best from Toronto,

    P.S. Happy Birthday!


  8. Russ, I feel your pain, homework for oldest kid here is also supposed to be “manageable” for an 8 year old. However, spelling (with a test) Math sheets, a small project every week and a daily reading book, we have found that the only way to keep up is to break it into chunks and spread it over most of the week. Getting into an organised routine with kids this age is hard work indeed, and all the *other* sport etc activities have to be squeezed in as well.. since we have a 5 year old as well, Hubby and I usually deal with a kid each so that we can actually manage it, and with dinner, household chores and getting ready for the next day for me and the odd additional bomb like “Mama, by the way, I need a Roman Costume for the day after tomorrow”… it’s often seems like the *evening* is 6 1/2 minutes long! School warns that homework will increase in the next years, I sometimes wonder how on earth we will fit it all in! You are doing well… it’s hard enough kicking our 8 year old out of bed most mornings, (we need a “time to GET UP is NOW PLEASE!!!!” broken record too BTW, any clues where we can buy one? .. and all this, without the “step” issues… take heart, you are doing GOOD!


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