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Women Continue to Feel Guilty About Giving Themselves the Gift of Time, Use Their 'Free Time' to Clean

women and stress, finding free time

Sometimes you just need an hour at the beach.

Shocker: American women don’t know how to create “free time.” And if we’re given “free time,” we use it to do things like clean our houses. Additionally, “According to a new survey of more than 3,000 women conducted by Real Simple magazine and the Families and Work Institute (FWI), at least 50% of women say they don’t have enough free time and more than 60% feel guilty spending what little time they do have on themselves,” Yahoo! Shine reports.

But you already knew that, didn’t you? Because you feel the same way, right?

Interestingly, “women see their lack of free time as the main obstacle to achieving happiness,” says an executive summary of the survey. Of course! Because what is free time? It’s quiet time. Time during which you can follow your bliss. In short, at least for your average working mother, it’s something that doesn’t really exist.

The problem with women, it seems, is that we want to – and maybe feel that we should be able to – do everything ourselves, without any help. As if needing or wanting help in the domestic sphere means we are not real women. Most of us still believe we should be working and cooking and cleaning and caring for the children and bettering ourselves emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and keeping ourselves fit, and getting our hair and nails done, and…….

… it’s impossible to do all of that. Shine notes that according to the survey, “nearly 50% of women wouldn’t hire household help if they could afford it and nearly 75% wouldn’t hire additional childcare.” And here’s an interesting tidbit: “While many working women feel emotionally tortured about not spending enough time with their children, research shows that even though women’s labor force rates have gone up dramatically the last fifty years, women today actually spend on average four hours more a week on child care then they did in 1965.”

Yes, we’re all alpha moms. Anybody remember that 2005 cover on New York magazine? I do. I saw it the year my daughter was born and it stayed fried in my brain forever. I was terrified of all that I was supposed to do and be. But I was ready to live up to the challenge! According to a 2007 piece from U.S. News and World Report, alpha moms “project independence, balance, and competence at both work and home, in contrast to past images of harried working moms and über-domestic stay-at-home moms.”

Totally. Yup. Nothing to see here. No, my business suit does not have a smudge of poop on it. That’s … investment sludge.

The idea of the alpha mom came to prominence in the first decade of the new millennium, but the attempt to meet those standards may have finally proven faulty. Claire Shipman, an ABC news correspondent, says, “Girls are raised to be perfect. Women are capable of being right most of the time, but at what cost?” Shine notes, “Shipman advises women to focus on being ‘good enough.’”

I hear that. I don’t need to be alpha. I can be good enough. That’s an idea I’ve been trying to embrace for about the last year or so, anyway. Letting go of perfectionism. Accepting the fact that, as my therapist put it, I am a single mother with a career raising a child all alone in New York City. There might be days when I don’t get to do everything on my to do list. Some days you do the dishes, she told me, some days you work a little extra hard, other days you spend with your child, but rarely will you do all three in the same day. She’s so right. On days when I manage to both work and do some cleaning, I usually don’t get to shower. When I work and shower up pretty and perform, there is laundry on my bed and dishes in the sink. That’s just how life is right now. And I sort of almost feel okay with that. I mean, I’m not okay with it, but I don’t feel bad about it anymore. And that’s a start.

Because feeling bad leads to feeling guilty, and feeling guilty is what gets us all. I don’t feel guilty anymore about not being able to accomplish all the tasks I wish I could in a day, but I do still feel guilty for taking any time for myself. Because I’m unmarried and I don’t have a partner at home, the only time I can get any time to myself without paying for a babysitter is when my daughter is in school. So I decided to stop by the beach the other morning after dropping her off (since I’d have to find a place to move my car during alternate side parking anyway), and I had to fight feelings of guilt just for being there for an hour. The one advantage to having a freelance writing schedule is that I don’t have to punch in and out at a certain time every day, so I should be able to take a “mental health” break occasionally if I need one. But a voice inside me kept saying, “You should go home. You have to work.” So much for a mental health break!

It’s not just a woman’s inherent sense of duty and perfectionism that keeps us chained to guilt, though. We live in such a harshly judgmental capitalist and consumer society, and the messages of judgement we hear from politicians, advertisers and the media cause us to judge ourselves harshly. That self-judgment hits you in different ways if you’re married or single. If you’re a married woman in a family with two incomes, you might feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses, in that you should be working hard to buy a lot of pretty stuff for your pretty home and your pretty children. Or if you’re married and you stay home to raise your children, chances are you feel pressure to maintain your home so that it can be a showpiece representing your value as a homemaker. If you’re single, maybe you feel like you have to keep yourself looking spectacularly so that you can eventually not be single. Or if you’re single with a child, you may feel like me: that you best not take any time for yourself because when you chose to leave your husband (or chose not to marry your child’s father) you chose a hard life that should be filled with nothing but working to support yourself and your child. These are the messages we hear all around us from our patriarchal, consumer-driven society. Feel bad about yourself, you are inferior, buy things to make yourself feel better and to make men feel better about you.

So what about the fact that I just wanted to clear my head for an hour at the beach when I would have otherwise been driving around looking for a parking spot?

I stood on the warm sand and stared at the sparkling blue water. I heard the critical voices, both personal to my life and general to our society. I thought, should I be working right now? I should be working right now. I have to work all the time in order to be respected. (Though of course we know women who work all the time are just as chastised for their ambitions as stay-at-home moms are for being lazy.) I thought about the imperative to work, work, work. Idle hands are the devil’s tools. Be productive! This is New York City, the city that never stops working. And then I decided to take charge of those thoughts and allow myself a moment anyway.

I took a deep breath, did a few yoga poses and picked up a few shells. I thought, “My daughter will love these.” I thought about some things that have been on my mind lately. I felt the sun on my skin. It felt great. I left after a short while, and felt very peaceful on my drive home. I went about the rest of my day with a quiet conviction. I felt rejuvenated and able to better dedicate myself to my work.

And that’s the thing. Women need to get better at granting ourselves permission to be in charge of our own lives. Even the most liberal, most confident, most free-thinking and vociferous of us are hung up on so many little things that prevent us from being able to enjoy ourselves and live without guilt.

I love this: Ellen Galinsky, president of the FWI, “recommends shifting one’s mindset.” She says, “Many women see life as a marathon, but a better model is weight lifting.” Shine notes, “After working hard you need time to rest and recover. Real Simple reports that by maintaining the current paradigm, ‘Women are losing the opportunity to re-energize and bring real benefit to their lives.’”

Exactly.

Photo via Flickr

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