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That’s not leisure time, that’s my commute

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle, Uncategorized


I read Sunday’s Washington Post article, in which Brigid Schulte talks to experts and tries to figure out where her time goes, while I was at the office, waiting for a story to be submitted. According to sociologist John Robinson, that was leisure time, even though I was at my desk. “Women have time,” he told Schulte. “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.”

I guess it all depends on how you define “leisure.” Robinson says the time I spend alone in my car is leisure time. I say that focusing on the road and trying to beat the daycare clock is not leisurly at all. He’d classify the time I spent gathering background information for this and other articles as leisure; I call it “part of my job.” Also: It’s worth noting that, per Robinson’s calculations, of the 28 hours of so-called leisure time he cobbled together from notes about Schulte’s day-to-day juggle, 18 of them were spent with kids in tow (even the two hours she spent in her broken-down car with her daughter, waiting for a tow truck — leisure).

You know how we’re always talking about how it’s quality time, not quanity of time, that’s important? It seems to me that Robinson is measuring exactly the opposite: Quanity, not quality.
“Clearly I love Caroline and Edward and Patrick more than I love salt but as much as I enjoy spending time with them I have to confess that I don’t really see it as leisure,” writes Julia at Here Be Hippogriffs. “Now that we are liberated from the notion that the only labor is paid labor how do you qualify free time?”

Meagan Francis at The Happiest Mom writes what most of us are thinking: “Yes, it may be a bit hard to swallow the fact that Robinson, an unmarried, childless man seems to be telling moms with spouses and young, needy children and demanding jobs to stop and smell the roses.” But there’s away around the resentment, she says: “We can also move toward seeing our kids as more than a job, more than an obligation, and think of them as a big part of our leisure time.”

Working moms, how do you define “leisure”? Is all free time leisure time in your book? And is all non-work time really “free” for you?

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8 comments so far...

  • I consider my kids’ time leisure time. So is mountain climbing, studying foreign languages, and a lot of other things that are far from easy. (And for me, driving time is leisure time if I’m the only adult in the car and I’m not on a conference call. I can blast my music, sing, or just contemplate life. What’s not to like about that?)

    It’s funny, I observe that more and more, people (especially women) seem to think that the ideal is to have no challenges in life, except maybe those we choose just for the pure “fun” of it. We are so used to this kind of talk, we are starting to take it for granted. But if you think about it - that mindset falls somewhere between profound naivete and mental illness.

    Unless you’re a plant growing in a mild climate on an isolated island, you’re supposed to have to work hard to get through life and bring up your offspring. Nowadays people even want to make a difference in the world - well, that means choosing to do even more work. Frankly, we are lucky we don’t spend every second of the day either chasing, fleeing, or hiding. So I frankly don’t understand this whole movement for more free time. Free time to do what? If I had more, I’d probably still use it to do something hard. I mean, that’s living life to its fullest.

    SKL  |  January 21st, 2010 at 6:05 pm

  • I’m not sure that leisure = easy or unchallenging. I’m thinking that maybe we’re more likely to consider an activity as “leisure time” if we enjoy it. So, sitting in the car for two hours because it’s broken down and AAA hasn’t arrived yet = not leisure time. But spending two hours laughing and talking with your friends as you drive somewhere = leisure time. Likewise, cramming for a French exam = not leisure time. Studying French because you want to learn how to speak the language = leisure time.

    What do you think?

    Lylah  |  January 21st, 2010 at 6:16 pm

  • Well, I went back and read the article, and I don’t understand what the problem is. She spends roughly an hour a day on TV, another hour on exercise, another on personal reading, plus leisure time with friends and her kids.

    I think the point is that we don’t realize the amount of time we use as personal time. Like the time I spend on sites like this during breaks in my work day. That’s leisure. But even if I spend an hour doing it in a day, I don’t feel like I’ve had an hour off. I don’t acknowledge it as personal time because I’m “s’posed” to be on the clock during those hours (even though we all need to take a breather at work sometimes).

    To me, the best way to transform this personal time into “conscious” leisure time is to stop taking it in tiny bits and set aside a recognizable chunk of time for it. For example, when I had a nanny, I used to take my computer to the kitchen about 5pm and “multi-task” between my kids and my work for an hour or two. For the amount of work I was actually doing during that time, it made more sense to work until 5:30 and then leave my computer until the kids’ bedtime. Before that, I felt like the whole time my computer was up, I was working. So I felt like I hardly had any personal time. After I made the change, I felt so lucky to have a nice chunk of time to really enjoy with my kids. But in reality, I was probably doing more actual work than before.

    I should probably go through that exercise again and combine all my Internet time into one or two chunks.

    But seriously, do women really think that exercise and reading the newspaper are not leisure? There’s something wrong with that mindset, in my opinion.

    SKL  |  January 21st, 2010 at 11:32 pm

  • SKL - as you so often point out, every one is different. Personally, going to the gym is a dreaded chore for me. I hate the gym, I hate being there, I hate getting up to go. But I do it because I need to maintain some semblance of physical fitness for both my job and my military duties. So, I don’t consider “exercise” in that form as leisure. I consider it work. Hell, taking a PT test (push ups, sit ups, run) is “exercise”, but believe me when I say that there is nothing leisurely about cramming as many push ups and sit ups as possible in to 2 minutes and then getting up and running two miles as fast as you can - all to meet or hopefully beat a standard.

    And yes, that is absolutely my definition of exercise for myself. Dance, swim, any of those activities that raise your heart rate and are healthy that I enjoy doing don’t come under the header of “exercise”.

    Similarly, I have to read journals and trade news all of the time. It’s dry, dull and mandated to keep abreast of things in my career field. That is NOT leisure. It’s an odious task. So even though I love reading, I don’t love reading those types of papers and magazines. Therefore, it’s not leisure.

    I’m with Lylah. I think that an activity can be leisurely (i.e. “exercise” in the form of something you enjoy doing rather than exercise you’re forced to do), but I think that, on reading the links over, John Robinson is just a little out in left field or he is using a very, very rigid definition of leisure as being any activity that is not directly related to paid work.

    Hm. If that’s the case, than the exercise I do as part of my paid work isn’t leisure at all.

    My commute? Spent swearing and trying to get home alive. Road trips with DH? Fun and funny. Writing my blog? Totally leisurely. Writing the publications and plans I do? Not in the least.

    I also define “free time” as time to myself, without the demands of family or work, where I can engage in leisurely activities like writing in my blog or reading a book or collage art. I certainly enjoy leisure time with my daughter, but time outside of work spent cooking, doing laundry, cleaning or picking up after Amelie is not “free”. It’s time obligated to do things that must be done. Free time is time without obligation to anyone or anything. That being said, NO. All non-work time is NOT all free time, at least, not for me.

    Phe  |  January 22nd, 2010 at 12:31 pm

  • Both Phe & SKL are making very valid points here. Exercise you must do to keep your job? Not leisure. Exercise you do because you just like running, or hiking, totally leisure.
    Reading the newspaper on my commute? Leisure. Sure, I’m commuting, but I could be on my Blackberry pounding out emails. Now if I see a story that makes me pull out my BB and start pounding emails, leisure has turned to work.
    And I think that’s a place modern society has changed, there is more bleed between leisure & work for the white collar worker. But some of that is our choices. I choose to have a work phone so that I can have some flexibility in hours. I can leave at 3pm to take my girl to therapy if the sitter is off because I’m reachable by phone/email. When I didn’t have one, if i was off, I was off. But then I was coming in early/staying late for large projects…it’s a trade off I willingly made.

    Mich  |  January 22nd, 2010 at 1:52 pm

  • I could be wrong, but I think “exercise” for most people, including the writer of the referenced article, is a personal maintenance activity that people choose to do or not do. I agree that if you literally have to do it for your job, and you hate it, then maybe it’s not leisure. But that is unusual and it’s not what I’m talking about here.

    Personally, I choose not to do exercise unless it’s a by-product of something else I choose to do, such as take my kids on a hike. So given the same half hour other women might choose to spend on “exercise,” I might spend it on fun reading or watching the sunset - or building a cabinet or volunteering. So is that chunk of time “leisure” time or not? How can it be leisure time for me, because I don’t choose to exercise, but not leisure time for a woman who chooses to do a type of exercise she doesn’t enjoy? I think the key here is “choose.” There are many things I choose to do that might be considered drudgery for someone else. But I’ve weighed my choices and made a free-will decision to do some hard or yucky stuff. I call that leisure.

    As for whether you “have” to do certain domestic things, that’s not really a black-or-white matter. Some people feel they “have” to spend at least an hour a day cooking. I might choose to cook less than an hour a week during the warm half of the year, instead packing a quick picnic to share with my kids at the park most days. So do I have 6 more hours of leisure than those who place cooking at a higher priority? I could go through the same analysis with almost every domestic responsibility. Again, it comes back to what is a “choice.” (Obviously working and having kids are also choices, so I’m not sure why we even break those out, but I guess some folks think the distinction is important.)

    SKL  |  January 22nd, 2010 at 2:18 pm

  • I didn’t read the complete article you linked to your post, but do somewhat agree with that perspective. I consider every bit of time that isn’t spent working for my employer as leisure time (although I would totally count commute time as work time. I happen to live 3 miles from where I work, so I no longer have to commute). Even with housework on the weekends, I still consider that to be leisure time because I turn up my stereo and sing at the top of my lungs while I clean so it’s fun for me. I’m one of those odd women who actully enjoys housework and cleaning (I totally should have been a 1950’s housewife). Anytime I can be my own boss and decide whether I want to do something or not, I consider to be leisure time.

    Stacey  |  January 22nd, 2010 at 9:34 pm

  • For me, leisure is having the right to choose what i want to do when i want to do it. If its reading a book or cooking it has to be my choice to consider it leisure. If I have to read to get information when i don’t feel like it, then i consider it work.

    Exercise you are compelled to do, then that’s work.

    Time to think, reflect and make decisions on my own, that is called leisure. I agree, cleaning, cooking and laundry can be regarded as leisure only when i feel like doing it not when i’m compelled to.

    I guess it’s important for every woman to have a “me” time even if it is 30 minutes in a week. This time can be used to re-energize self and get self ready for bigger tasks both family , spiritual and social.

    Nedia  |  February 11th, 2010 at 4:33 am