I walked into the Enterprising Moms event with speaker Brigid Schulte almost 20 minutes late, which I figured was appropriate since the Washington Post writer was going to be discussing her Post Magazine piece on moms and just how much “leisure time” they have.
Was this event “leisure time?” Or did it count toward some vague notion of “professional development” for someone who considers herself a working-at-home-mom (WAHM) but who spends far more time on volunteer work and non-paid work (i.e. blogging and writing creatively) than on bringing home any bacon. Except that I’m the one who actually buys the bacon at the grocery store — or places the weekly order it from our local sustainable farmer and picks it up during my son’s Spanish class on Thursdays from the host who has the fabulous do-not-let-kids touch garden because it drives my son crazy to wait in the car.
Although the time and energy spent on buying and preparing healthy food was not addressed here the way it would have been if we’d been at a Holistic Moms meeting, so much else was so darn familiar. Brigid talked about having had to add a “doing what else” column to her time log that she attempted to keep for time researcher John Robinson because she so rarely does only one thing at a time. Many of the attendees agreed with this notion of “contaminated time,” a concept that Robinson’s diary does not address. Mothers are always planning and strategizing. When there are two feet of snow on the ground in February, summer camp is the last thing on most dads’ minds. But if a working mom does not have a nanny or au pair and doesn’t plan to take the entire summer off from her career, she needs to put other things in place. And that takes time.
That time tends to come in fits and starts – looking into things, checking with other parents to see if their kids will go too, surfing around various email lists for convenient and cheap babysitter options to fill in the gaps. Meanwhile, lunches need to be made for tomorrow, laundry needs to be done for the day after tomorrow, and dentist appointments need to be scheduled for next month. All this adds up not to 30 lush, languid hours of uninterrupted free time per week but rather fragmented leisure time that does not feel refreshing.
Some of this is a matter of the times we are living in. Brigid noted the finding that working moms today actually spend more time with their children than stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) did in the 1960s. Our ideas have changed — about the safety of sending kids out to play on their own, about the appropriateness of using TV as a babysitter. We expect that we should be giving kids our quality time and attention. And our situations have changed. We often don’t live close to family, many of us can’t afford the kind of “help” middle and upper-middle-class white women might have depended on in those “Mad Men” days, and often the other people in the neighborhood are out at tumbling class or Music Together instead of available to hang with our kids at the park if we’re late getting home.
And not all of this new parenting 2.0 paradigm is specific to women and mothers. We are all – teens to grandparents – being inundated with a whole lot more information streams than we were even three years ago and certainly more than we were 15 years ago. The other day, I caught Ira Flatow’s “Science Friday” program on NPR about the multitasking mind. One of the guests explained that research shows that the people who consider themselves the best multitaskers are usually the least effective at it. Every time we have to choose to focus on one thing over another that is coming at us at the same time, we are taxing our brain and losing efficiency. What is being lost is the ability to sustain focus and do hard mental work for a sustained period of time.
I was listening to this program while driving to a weekend yoga retreat. I decided to bring my laptop only when I learned that the center had no wireless Internet, so I’d be free to write without the temptation to check email or sign my kid up for swimming lessons or check on the safety of one sunscreen over another. And although yoga, meditation, and eating took up most of the weekend’s days, I relished the opportunity in my down time to write without feeling like I was ignoring my husband or son. Or housework.
What I would like to see more of with regard to mom-specific scatteredness and to the scourge of multiple information streams we are all dealing with is the physical toll on our bodies. I want someone to combine the research on the always-busy brain with a holistic approach to health and wellbeing that considers, at a minimum, cortisol level with all this never-stopping and then the resulting impact of adrenal health on other aspects of physical and emotional health.
Brigid talked about the disconnect between actual data about leisure time and how we feel about it. I would like to see that disconnect measured in both qualitative interview-based research and also biophysical data taken by holistic physicians who can – and want to – look at a variety of ways dissatisfaction and frustration manifest, including our physical responses. I’m talking about saliva tests to measure hormones, whatever tests can measure neurotransmitters and their pathways, analysis of digestion and absorption of nutrients, muscle tension. While we’re at it, let’s consider not just all the information we have to deal with, but to the technology that transmits it. I’ve seen at least one product that claims that unchecked electromagnetic fields not only keep you from sleeping well but also make your skin more wrinkled! Maybe the way to get us all to chill out and put away our Blackberrys is through vanity.