Thursday, October 23, 2014

Time or Time Management

I was involved in an extended discussion yesterday in a working mothers group about exercise and time management.

I am grateful this group exists. It gives me much needed perspective on what other mothers have to cope with and many times pulls me out of my own pity party. As much as I would like for my life to be different, it could be a whole lot worse. All this being said, one of my frustrations with the group is that it is not limited to women who work full time outside the home. Now I don't want to say that mothers who work part time or who work at home are not busy or don't need support. I don't believe that at all. It's just that working full time outside the home is an entirely different ball of wax and many of these threads consist of the two groups talking past each other. So yesterday's thread had a mother who works full time outside the home (works at work mother--WAWM) asking if anyone makes time for exercise. Her particular issue is that she does not want to spend even more time away from her family and having an exercise routine would demand it. I am completely sympathetic to the problem.

I am the poster child of the sedentary lifestyle. I commute over two hours a day. I sit in my office chair up to nine hours a day. We try to have lingering family dinners to reconnect in the evening which usually means another hour of sitting. I nurse the baby which is more sitting. Less now that she is older, but as a young infant, I might spend another hour or two in the evening nursing. Sitting. I do a lot of sitting and it concerns me.

I am well aware of the long term health implications of all the sitting I do. I would like to get regular exercise. I would like for physical movement to be more a part of my regular life, but for now it isn't. The reason isn't because I'm lazy (although I am) or because I need to manage my time better or rearrange my priorities or anything that can be fixed. The reason I do not exercise more is because regular exercise would require me to be away from my family more than I already am.

I am usually gone about eleven hours a day and I have about three hours in the evening to spend with my children. In those three hours we eat supper, clean up, do homework, take baths, and get ready for bed. Deviating from the schedule is problematic. I am not under the impression that these hours are "quality time" because, mostly, they are not, but it is time. So if during the regular work week I can expect to spend about fifteen hours with my children, the thought of reducing that time by 3 to 4 hours is not very appealing. Am I willing to give up 25% of my limited time with my children to exercise? Right now the answer is no. It isn't a very satisfying answer. I know that in 20-30 years I might regret sacrificing my long term health, but I also know I will regret sacrificing more of my children's childhood right now.

It is a topic I have thought long and hard about. So back to the thread. Several women jumped in to commiserate and joke about how sedentary we all are. Then several work at home mothers (WAHM)
began to talk about their exercise routines and how they fit them into their day. This was so, so frustrating. If it had just been that they wrote about themselves, it wouldn't have bothered me, but many of them decided they could help us and started giving advice. The runners began to explain how they get up early before the children are awake to go running and how we could just get up early and go running.

When do they go running exactly? Why when the sun comes up! Great, except I'm driving to work when the sun comes up. For me to go running in the morning before work, I would have to get up at 4 or 430 in the morning and run in the pitch black dead of night. My evening schedule would be compressed more than it already is because I would need to get in bed at least an hour before I do, pushing my shower time to before the children go to bed. If I were a morning person, this schedule *might* be workable, but I am not so it really isn't.

The thread continued with more advice about time management and arranging priorities and I could feel myself getting more and more agitated. Finally someone started talking about a blogger who writes a lot about time management. She, the WAHM, said she had gleaned a lot of information from this person and she really recommended her for helping everyone manage their own time. She posted the link and I clicked over. I immediately saw it was written by a stay-at-home homeschooling mother and had to quell my irritation.

Now you all know, or should know, that I love stay-at-home homeschooling mothers. Perhaps, one fine day, I will be one too. I think they are busy; they do work; they have one of the most important jobs there is to do. But. But. The time issue is just not the same. It's not. They have flexibility in their time that WAWMs just do not have.

I thought to myself it wasn't fair to write off her advice solely for who she is so I continued reading. Her first point was to prioritize sleep. I can agree with that. I definitely have found that I need a certain minimum of sleep or my productivity declines rapidly.

Her second point was to "Deduct at least two hours for 'Margin Time.'" That's when my head exploded! I have three hours a day at my disposal and I am supposed to deduct two so I have time for the unexpected. I guess that explains why I get nothing done ever. In my frustration, I went back over to the thread and explained my situation in fuller detail. That I don't have a two hour margin. My choices are either to sleep or to do something else and not sleep and that's it.

I am not detracting from the blogger's advice because I am sure it is very useful to those who have the latitude to implement it, but that's not me. And it is not most mothers who are full time WAWMs. We are not in charge of our schedules. Honestly most of us are barely surviving. We are well aware of how much we don't do, of how much we miss, and to even have the group that is supposed to understand exactly what it is like and support us filled with people giving us time management advice is irking.

I was talking to Literacy-chic over private messenger so she could talk me off the ledge. She made an excellent and succinct point:
WAHMs have "time management" problems. WAWMs have TIME problems.
And that's it in a nutshell. I prioritize sleep, I try to enjoy my children as much as I can, and I prioritize all other important and necessary tasks. Of those important and necessary tasks, exercise being one, many just don't get done. Not because I don't know they are important, not because my priorities are out of order, not because I don't want to do them, not because I don't know this one neat trick to make my schedule work, but because the time isn't there to manage.


Anonymous said...

One of my long term irritations is that the fabulous WAWM I know are the ones who take the most "me" time to include exercise, solo trips, girls nights, etc. Maybe devoting so much energy to work justifies the need for self care? (the old airplane oxygen mask question). I think the fact that you put your children first is noble, and sacrifice is part of what makes you the mother you are. I hope one day you can find the best of both worlds!


Literacy-chic said...

There are definitely women who prioritize differently. One thing I've noticed is that the need to get away correlates, quite often, to how much the person complains about the home situation--is the husband selfish or perceived as selfish? Are the kids little unruly monsters? Cue girls' night out and solo trips. Which probably points back again to priorities. Then, there's the date night phenomenon. I haven't paid a babysitter in 11 years or so, and not because my oldest is old enough to babysit: it's because we perceive ourselves as a family first, and being a 'couple' doesn't have to exist separate from being with the WHOLE family. My husband and I spend a couple of hours on the sofa together each night. Every now and then we meet for lunch. Or we sneak out to go to the grocery store or Target. But date night? Not so much. Leaving the kids for longer isn't my style. I would suspect that those WAWMs who prioritize work first and "me-time" second aren't the ones founding the Catholic Working Mother's Facebook page.

The exercise question is very relevent to me, too, as someone who doesn't take extra time away from my family. I used to enjoy yoga and water aerobics while I was a grad student (and a parent). Now, it simply doesn't happen. My HR department is organizing weekly bootcamp sessions to promote Wellness. This would mean an extra hour after work. I *like* picking up my kids from their after school program. Today, I got there at 5:30. They need to be picked up by 6. Could my husband do it? He often meets me at the school anyway, so yes. But it's time we spend together--even simply waiting in the school for the girls to wrap up whatever activity they are doing and come to be picked up. Exercise isn't happening after work. And there isn't a thing I can think of that would get me up at 5:30 in the morning or earlier.

I do want balance. But I don't want to stay at home. I do crave more flexibility--the kind of flexibility I had while teaching college classes. Right now I am an 8-5 employee. I am not terribly devoted to work. I would be devoted to work/career as a professor. But I still don't think I would be taking me-time. I think there are career women and there are family women, and the former sometimes have families, and the latter sometimes have careers. Not all 40-hour WAWMs (because the part-time crowd is different still) are cut from the same cloth.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

This is tangential, because obviously I don't have much to add about the WAWM thing, except lots and lots of sympathy. But man does it drive me nuts when morning people tell you to just get up earlier. I want to ask them how they'd like waking up at 1 or 2 am to exercise. Because physiologically that's what it's like for people whose biological clocks aren't wired for 4:30 or 5:30. It's not just a little early. It's the middle of the bloody night as far as my internal clock is concerned: Now go away, I'm sleeping!

Literacy-chic said...

Yes, Melanie!!! It has been a long adjustment for me to even be able to WORK at 8 A.M., and I admit that I actually get into gear closer to 10.

Jenny said...

I know these type of mothers and frankly I don't really understand it. I have colleagues who are parents in name only while others raise their children. I think many will come to regret what they have done.

But I will say that when you work full time and have children, any "me" time comes directly at the expense of the children because work will not allow it. And the need for self care definitely exists, some of us are just better at ignoring it than others. That's not a criticism, per se, but has more to do with temperament. I don't feel any pressing need to go out do all the things, but some do. I will sometimes go out in the evenings by myself and on those nights, I don't see the family for more than a moment or two. I do not feel guilty doing it at the frequency I do it, but I can't imagine making it a regular multiple nights a week thing.

Jenny said...

I agree with the whole date night thing. We enjoy spending time all together.

"I think there are career women and there are family women, and the former sometimes have families, and the latter sometimes have careers."

The truth.

Jenny said...

That drives me nuts too! How about you just exercise at midnight? Oh you're tired then? Well, you must be lazy.

Actually what frustrated me here was they were holding up their early morning run times as the solution when I actually am awake before they are! They are sacrificing their morning sleep to go run, but I am driving to work before they are out of bed. For whatever reason, this little detail kept escaping them.