Overwhelmed – work, love and play when no one has the time

overwhelmedThe minute I heard about this book, I had to read it. I have been in a dilemma about the mummy-juggle ever since I stopped having children and started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that suggested I would get my life back.

But what life would it be? I now had an enormous commitment to small people. My commitment to a big person felt like a two way street, I get back what I put in, in the very rewarding form of loving support and a shared life adventure. But small people were takers, I had to find new time to feed them, clothe them, educate them, set them on a fulfilling life path and most importantly enjoy them – after all, why did I have kids in the first place?

So the light at the end of the tunnel was blurry for me. Was?, it IS blurry, this is my mid life crisis, my big question about what I am intending to achieve with this life – I should spend at least a decade making peace with these questions and I should never fully answer them. But this book was an excellent discussion of what I am experiencing.

I had tried looking at the suite of my activities and categorising them into a bunch of life spheres that warrant my attention. Exercise, community volunteering and other things I value that have dropped off the priority list were there, but how to categorise? I had too many things and so I like this simple trio – work, love and play. I am also reading The Three Marriages and it’s trio are work, love and self so I seem to be getting somewhere with this model to work from. (and a friend has brain, body, being, love, time, family, money, passion as a checklist to trigger components of each category)

Brigid Schulte is American. They are a crazy nation, they work far too hard and I think they serve as a cautionary tale – lets not embrace all those values, and lets unpick the ones we may have inadvertently adopted. In this book she looks at the ideal worker and the ideal mother – two competing superwomen who can turn a working mother’s life into stress city. I recognise them both and I’ve some opinions about where we need to go with this. Oh? and I have I just dropped one of my trio off the radar – yes its no surprise that “me” time is the first thing to go – we’ll come back to female leisure later.

Let’s start with the ideal worker. Anyone who has given a little more than necessary to work understands that we can be engaged by our work and that its an important part of our lives and self-definition. Unfortunately many of us start to see the ideal as a superworker, completely committed to achieving in one’s profession. Workplaces, in general, do not consider the other aspects of a worker’s life and culturally we do not necessarily accommodate the whole person into our workplaces. So its no surprise that the ideal worker cult dominates and we feel successful only when we work long hours and give our all to our jobs.

Part time workers are often marginalised in this environment. Part-time mothers may have less to give to play ideal, totally dedicated, worker because the reality is that they are working full-time+ at their two jobs of worker and mother and must give to both. Men are treated differently to women because culturally we still create a women=home, men=work mentality and become judgmental as people attempt to depart from those roles.

Early feminism was successful at giving women access to the power base that is the working world. Much of the feminism debate has been structured around the relationship between women and the workforce and the drive for equality there. In starting to discuss work/life balance, family friendly workplaces etc we have uncovered an enormous problem area where the ideal worker clashes with the concept that we are more than just our working selves – but anyone who wants to serve two masters (work and family) can easily be discounted in the workforce.

Mothers, more than anyone else, need a model that allows them to hold two jobs with responsibility toward one not diminishing their standing in the other. The question that keeps bothering me is what we are missing out on when we expect people to make work all important. As a society, we are missing out on other forms of social good – childraising being just one of them.

One of the big clashes in the book is around the traditional time management sector and Schulte’s concept of time confetti. Is having time to oneself worthwhile if it is only awarded in five minute increments? Busy child filled lifestyles can cause this but I have no doubt there are other factors like the reach of our smartphones, the distractions of our notifications and the expectations for us to be ‘always on’.

Leisure is an interesting concept and we are reminded that ‘the leisure class’ in 1899 were men. Largely on the back of efforts by others because manual labour was ‘for inferior classes, slaves, dependents and all women. An interesting piece by the school of life tells us that some intellectuals of that period held full time jobs and managed to spend entire afternoons writing books while they did so. For women of the period – leisure was for nuns. It really is up to us to demand a cultural change and when we look at how different things have been in the past, it can give us hope for the future.

Schulte’s work provides plenty of great statistics. Evidence of the shrinking brain is backed up by the work Scarcity (being short on time is similar to being short on money). Peter Brown and Helen Perkins, Australian researchers, have shown that amongst working parents:

  • two thirds didn’t get everything done,
  • 57% not enough time with family,
  • half felt trapped every day,
  • 60% cut down on sleep if they needed more time,
  • 46% no time for leisure

She also provides plenty of evidence for not overworking in ‘when work works’ and models of different workplaces that have invited ‘life’ into the workplace.

The ideal worker is exacerbate by the cult of intensive motherhood. Like a stalled gender revolution, women appear to have failed to ‘let go’ and compete to provide home baked goodies instead of shop bought twinkies.

One group in America have celebrated playtime for women by going on extreme adventures with the girls – exploring the idea that we have forgotten how to have fun.

And through it all Schulte sought to deal with her ambivalence and discover her gratitude. Having a sense of whats important is key to tackling busyness and sometimes we keep ourselves so busy, we simply lose sight. Time serenity is her most important goal.

I haven’t done justice to the book here and its definitely worth a read. It has me thinking and I will post more on the Four Hour Work Week, the role of responsibility and the utopia that we should be aiming for. In the meantime, hug your loved ones and drop some things off the busy list.



About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
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1 Response to Overwhelmed – work, love and play when no one has the time

  1. Pingback: The Four Hour Work Week | changing weather by Heather Smith

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