BY MAURA AMMENHEUSER
"Real Simple's" April issue contains a report on a survey it commissioned about women and "free time."
The results aren't all what you'd expect. Yes, the survey confirmed that most of us feel time-pressured; half the women surveyed said they don't have enough free time. (Fifty-two percent reported less than 90 minutes daily; 29 percent said less than 45 minutes.) I found it more surprising that half of American women say they do have enough free time.
Here's the catch: The survey defined "free time" as "time that you spend on yourself, where you can choose to do things you enjoy." Then the article described everything women do with "free time." Guess what? Many "free" hours are devoted to chores - cleaning, cooking, running errands, laundry, helping children with homework, balancing the checkbook, etc.
Many of these need to be done daily, maybe weekly. I say, if it has to get done, especially on a schedule, it's a responsibility, not something that's a leisure choice. I take issue with Real Simple's fundamental premise that women are spending chunks of their "free time" on chores. If you more accurately label this as "chore time," suddenly the amount of "free time" shrinks - and you'd see far less than half of those women saying they have enough of it. Personally, I don't view time spent grocery shopping, cooking and supervising my kids's cleanup efforts as my "free time." Free time is when I finally flop on the couch with a glass of wine and a novel.
The survey notes that women are unhappy with the responsibilities and interruptions encroaching on their "free time." No kidding. Given the choice between mopping the kitchen floor and seeing a chick flick, a mom will prefer the movie. But she'll mop the floor instead, because (all together now) it has to get done.
Surprisingly - happily - the survey showed more than two-thirds of women reported that work - paid work - doesn't interfere with their personal lives. The magazine credited this primarily to the increasing prevalence of flexible work schedules. It's not the boss gobbling women's precious free time. Rather, it's those pesky chores - and our children, who of course demand a wee bit of attention. Here's another surprise: Though we often hear that working women, especially, pine for more time with their children, Real Simple reports that modern moms spend more time with their kids than our mothers did - on average, as of 2010, we're with them 14 hours per week, versus 10 hours weekly in 1965, and this despite the huge increase in women in the workforce. (Ask any mother with children under 5 years old, though, or any mom whose kids are off school for a holiday break, and they'll tell you those 14 hours can feel like 140.)
I wish Real Simple had probed this point further. Of those 14 with-kids hours, how much is spent on homework, errands, and shuttling to activities, versus true quality time? Am I alone in feeling like too much of my time with my children centers on, well, responsibilities, and too little in pure fun? When I fantasize about having unlimited hours in the day, my wish is for board games, a splash in the pool, a walk on the beach, idly picking notes on the piano or guitar, baking cookies, reading books, etc., all day. I don't need more time nagging about laundry.
Here's another intriguing point in the survey, and this doesn't speak well about us, ladies. Clearly we're frustrated that chores punctuate our "free time," but we don't delegate. OK, 39 percent of women said they assign chores to the kids. But that leaves 61 percent who don't! Furthermore, more than 60 percent of these women said their spouses have similar or higher standards for household chores, but only 26 percent frequently ask hubby to take on chores. Almost half said they wouldn't hire housekeeping help and 69 percent said they wouldn't hire more child care even if they could afford it. (What?!? My other fantasy is affording a housecleaning service even just once a month!)
Why don't we delegate? Real Simple argues it's because, first, our culture places the burden of housekeeping and childcare on women, and even when women work and are married to perfectly capable, neat-freak, baby-loving guys, we feel guilty if domestic tasks go undone, or inadequately done. (Sixty-four percent of women in the survey sometimes felt if they "did less around the house, they would feel ... they weren't taking care of it properly.") And second, we don't like the way our spouses do these tasks. (Fess up. Who else rearranges stuff in the dishwasher, 'cause your man doesn't load it right?) Real Simple says to let go of our control hang-up to find more free time and happiness.
Finally, the magazine interviewed busy women about how they find more true free time. Top strategy? Scheduling it, of course. Reserving a few hours to truly relax and have fun - no after-the-chores-are-done mentality allowed - ensures they get free time, and it actually recharges them.
Good advice. I'll follow it myself. Right after I rearrange the dirty dishes.
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