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Parents - Are You Being Short Changed by 'Me Time' Myth?

By Sally Collings - 8th November 2010

Me time. Time to be by myself, do the things that I enjoy in peace and quiet. What's not to love? Here are some of my favourite 'me time' activities:

Reading the paper
Going for a walk
Hanging in a cafe  by myself or with a friend
Going to the movies
Getting a massage (a rare treat)

Did I mention sleeping?

Time – especially time by myself – is my passport to reclaiming some energy, clarity and sanity. I suspect I’m a bit of an introvert by nature: I enjoy being with friends and family, but I recharge my batteries best in solitude. I get tetchy if I don’t get a bit of ‘alone time’ every once in a while. But with a seven-year-old and a five-year-old on board,  alone time needs to be claimed and it needs to be planned for.

It’s widely accepted that all parents of young children need their 'me time', whatever form that takes. We know we need it and we’ve earned it, yet somehow we constantly battle with feelings of guilt over it.

How’s this for a radical idea, though: maybe we are ripping ourselves off with the whole idea of ‘me time’. Maybe it’s a construct of our Western mindset, based on the premise that each individual occupies a separate box. We put up barriers between ourselves and others, and one of those barriers is the notion that we can and should own our own slice of time. After all, in the West we’re big on ‘owning’ stuff, whether it’s electronic devices, the land, emotions – or time.

In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Zen master, poet and peacemaker Thich Nhat Than tells a story about a dad who discovered a way to have more time. Allen had a seven-year-old son and a newborn daughter. Allen was a writer, so he made the decision to pull back from work while his children were young so that he could be an active part of the household.  Allen explained that he used to look at his time as if it were divided into several parts. One part was for Joey, another was for his partner Sue, a third chunk was for their new baby, and a fourth was for the household. The bits left over were for him: to write, read, go for walks.

‘But now I try not to divide time into parts any more,’ Allen explained. ‘I consider my time with Joey and Sue as my own time. When I help Joey with his homework, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my own time. I go through his lesson with him, sharing his presence and finding ways to be interested in what we do during that time. The time for him becomes my own time. The same with Sue. The remarkable thing is that now I have unlimited time for myself!’

Is it possible that we’re short-changing ourselves? Does the whole concept of ‘me time’ inevitably mean that we only get the leftovers: the scraps that remain once we've dealt out our hours to other people? No matter how much ‘me time’ we build into our days, will we always feel cheated because the day is not all ours? Is it possible that we would feel happier, more balanced and less hard done by if we simply considered the pie of time a shared one?

I’m still hooked on ‘me time’, but I’d love to think there’s a better way.

image br3akthru

Comments (2)

SallyCollings's picture

Minfulness and me time

Ah, well then you will enjoy my new book Parenting with Soul (drumroll for shameless self-promotion ...), which will be out in April. Mindfulness and being in the moment is a big theme in it, because I agree that this is an area that is so important for parents - and so hard to keep hold of in the chaos of parenting.

YvetteVignando's picture

Yes I think this needs a rethink

Parenting, partnering and working, no matter how much you love each of them, inevitably take over sometimes to the point that we feel overwhelmed. I often have to remind myself to really be in the moment with my kids, to really enjoy and savour it. I get tired and start thinking about the next thing, and then the moment is over.

I love the idea of also reframing this time with the children as always being "me time" too. After all, having children in the first place, is very much a "me" decision usually isn't it?

I agree though - I will still also savour the sleeping, the sleeping and the reading of novels, and the sleeping, as "me time".

Mindfulness is an area that fascinates me and I think it has much to offer parents. Must do some more research ...

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