Finding Our Way Back to Leisure and Life

Life As Mom Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I’m always running about 10 minutes late and so I’m always stressing about being 10 minutes late. It’s ridiculous, and I am in no way proud of this flaw. I used to be that on-time chick, the one who appreciated the value of other people’s time and didn’t want to waste it by having them wait around for me to show up. This was, of course, in my pre-Mamahood days.

When this young one joined the game, the rules changed.

It’s not the little guy’s fault, though. I take full responsibility for constantly being tardy for the party. My running-late-ness is all about me trying to do too many things at once, trying to cross off five To-Dos instead of focusing on one and getting out the door on time.

In the pink | Ms. Mary Mack

Take time to smell the what? Nah, man. I’m late!

Example: I’ll have to be somewhere at 11 a.m. Typically, I’ll overestimate how much I can get done in the hours leading up to the meeting, and end up running into the shower with no time to spare, arrivings late, breathing quickly and feeling overwhelmed. The rub of it all is, I’m quite aware that I’m messing up my time-use while it’s happening. I’ll be folding towels and thinking, “What am I doing? There’s no time for this!” I know that the world will keep on spinning if these towels stay jumbled in the laundry basket. I know that doing too much isn’t helping anyone. And I know that getting it all just-so and perfect is not a real thing. But I still finish the folding, shaking my head at myself as I return to my desk to get back to the other task that I need to finish right now. It’s a losing game, and it’s got to change.

I’ve been reading a fascinating book about this very topic: Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has Time by Brigid Schulte, a WaPo journalist and married mother of two school-age kids. The book tackles this country’s collective busyness problem, but mainly focusses on middle class working women and mothers and the reported 30 hours of leisure time per week we all have — but can’t find or don’t believe truly exists.

Overwhelmed book | Ms. Mary Mack

Schulte consulted time-use researchers, sociologists, neuroscientists, and a host of academics and experts to dig into this “overwhelm epidemic” that so many of us are battling, and looks at the costs of this time pressure on our health, our relationships, our work, and our wellbeing.

“Overwhelm is a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce.” – Brigid Schulte

Even with this anxiety hanging over our modern lives, we still hold up our busyness as virtue, a sign of our important social status and a marker of our worthiness. Because if you’re not so busy — and regularly talking about how incredibly busy you are — then you don’t really matter.

I’ve listened to podcasts with Schulte being interviewed about Overwhelmed, and she talks a lot about the importance of leisure time. The time-study data that prompted her to even write the book showed that women have 30 hours per week of it. (Four hours spent binge-watching The Mindy Project does not quite count, I don’t think.) Leisure is where we rest our souls, Schulte says. You’re able to let your mind wander, to think differently, freely, when you’re away from the day-to-day grind. It’s often said that civilization — like inventing the wheel — was created in leisure time.

I’m still making my way through the book, and  so far I’m enjoying it. Schulte includes many personal anecdotes that help make the research and studies she delves into more relatable.  I also like (yes, I flipped ahead) that there’s a seven-page Appendix titled “Do One Thing” with loads of tips and notes of hope to help you get un-busy and find your way back to leisure and life.

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What about you — can you find your leisure time? How do you avoid the “overwhelm” epidemic? Do tell. Share your comment below.

On Teaching Our Kids to Give a Damn

Parental Intel Monday, April 14, 2014

We all want our children to be happy. It’s right up there after healthy.  Above making perfect grades or buckets of money or having several fancy letters added at the end their names, it’s giving our kids the necessary tools to find genuine happiness and well-being that is important. It’s Job One for most parents. We want  to help them build the foundation for fulfilled living.

Happy gif

Over the weekend, I read this great opinion piece in the NYTimes by psych professor and author Adam Grant on “Raising a Moral Child,” and how, for parents, caring and compassion take priority over success and accomplishments.

“We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring.”

I like that Grant doesn’t sugarcoat the next section. He flat-out says that teaching “caring” isn’t a cakewalk. But he takes us through a few studies that show how praise may be the key to helping your kids absorb the “caring” lesson.

“Praising [the children in the study]‘s character helped them internalize it as part of their identities. The children learned who they were from observing their own actions: I am a helpful person.  …  When our actions become a reflection of our character, we lean more heavily toward the moral and generous choices. Over time it can become part of us.”

Happy | Ms. Mary Mack

But Grant’s piece also addresses the other side of good behavior—when a child does something “wrong” or unkind—and highlights the important distinction between guilt and shame, because each has very different consequences.

There was a lot that I liked here (obvi. See: all the quotes above), but it’s what Grant closed the piece with that earned him the MMM Gold Star (<—super valuable; trust me!). It’s so basic, but so true: Actions speak louder than words. He cites an experiment where children learned generosity and caring not by listening to what a role models said, but by observing what the adult in the situation did. It’s a challenge sometimes, doing the “moral” or good thing, but those young eyes are on us, friends. And they are clocking all of it.

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Let me know your thoughts on the NYTimes piece. Anything that didn’t quite hit the mark for you? Always want to hear your two cents. Leave a comment below.

Saving for College? Psssh — Better Pool Those Pennies for Day Care

Life As Mom, Parental Intel Thursday, April 10, 2014

There are many things about parenting in this country that make me say, “Come on, America! Do better.” There’s the cost of college, the shameful state of maternity leave compared to other countries (this infographic shows that pitiful picture), and let’s not even get into the pressure cooker that is Having it All While Leaning In and Thriving at Mommy Wars —  or whatever the new motherhood work/life debate is this week.

Robot | Ms. Mary Mack

Does … not … com-pute.

Now we can add one more thing to the list: the soaring, often prohibitive costs of child care. A new report found that “the annual cost of day care for an infant exceeds the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges in 31 states.”

That’s day care for the babies. Costing more than college tuition. Come on, America! What the hell? There’s got to be a better way.

When I joined Team Mama five years ago, I met many newbie mothers who opted out of working because, when they added it up, financially it simply wasn’t worth it. These women were essentially working to pay for child care. It was cheaper to stay home and be the child care. Then there were other moms who just kept their juggle struggle going — piecing together day care options (hello, Grandma!), trying to make it work and make at least a little bit of sense for their families.

A friend of my sister’s, expecting her first child, works a very good job at a large company. However, they cost of the on-site day care is so high, this 30-year-old mama-to-be is seriously considering not returning to her gig after mat leave. She’s stressing about what to do about child care and the baby is not even born yet.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to work from home as a writer and journalist. I have a relatively flexible schedule, and am home when my kid arrives from pre-school. But that pre-school isn’t exactly pennies-a-day, and I have my own juggling act when it comes to office hours, household management (fancy talk for house chores and duties), and cramming in eight things into an hour.

Yes. There are no easy wins in this parenthood game. Stress and guilt and tough choices seem to come built-in. But I can’t believe that this is our only recourse as working parents: paying through the nose to have someone take good care of kids while we’re earning a living.

What about you? How did you figure out the child care puzzle? Leave a comment below. Always like to hear your take.

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No Magic, No Glitter, No Daily Fireworks, No Problem (Your Kid Will Be Fine)

Life As Mom, Parental Intel Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The strength of an encouraging word: After having our patience stretched to the limit waiting at the local pharmacy for earache medicine, The Youngster asked if he could have a wind-up toy. The crappy, plastic thing had held his attention for the last 10 minutes of our long wait.  And I — tired and annoyed with the notorious slowpoke pharmacist — conceded. But when we got the cashier at the front, the toy rang up for nearly six bucks.

Hell no. We were not doing that.

Book Road Play | Ms, Mary Mack

I told my son that it was too expensive and we were not getting the toy. Of course, tears.

“Hon, we talked about this already: You won’t get something every time we go to a store. That’s just not going to happen.’

More long tears, and the saddest sad-baby face you’ll every want to see. I held my ground, despite all the stares from other customers.

We started to walk towards the door when an older lady approached me.

“Excuse me,” she said, reaching out to touch my shoulder. “I don’t mean to pry, but I just want to commend you on being a good mother — a strong one. When my kids were little, I remember having a moment like that. My son was making quite the scene, and all the other well-to-do mothers were staring at me and shaking their heads. It made me feel like I was the meanest mom for telling my child, ‘No, we can’t afford that today.’ So I want applaud you; you’re doing a great job with him. This is life, and sometimes he will hear ‘no,’ and he’ll be perfectly fine.”

My mouth sailed open. All that trickled out was, “Thank you. I really … thank you.” She smiled. I smiled. And we went our respective ways.

The kid was still crying — although  no longer bawling whhyyyyyyy – when we got to the car. He calmed himself down to sniffles and staccato breathing as we turned on to our nearby street. And by the time we got in the house, took off our shoes and settled in, he was, as that older mom said, perfectly fine.

He went off to build a mini LEGO truck (which serves tea, I was soon informed)  and I hit Twitter for some decompress time. That’s when I read my hilarious bloggy friend Bunmi Laditan‘s HuffPost piece and nearly hurt my neck nodding. The post, “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical,” is so spot-on, and confronts the pressure that too many mothers feel to make their children’s lives extraordinary and downright dreamy by creating elaborate crafts and planning endless phenomenal activities and experiences. Of course, all of this magical living is documented on Instagram, Facebook and — the grandest showcase  – Pinterest for anyone to consume, covet, and use as further unassailable proof that: I’m doing this parenting thing wrong. Just look at what THAT mother pulled off!

It’s when Bunmi made this superb point that I practically fist-bumped the air:

“A childhood without Pinterest crafts can be magical. A childhood without a single vacation can be magical. The magic we speak of and so desperately want our children to taste isn’t of our creation, and therefore is not ours to dole out as we please. It is discovered in quiet moments by a brook or under the slide at the park, and in the innocent laughter of a life just beginning.”

Yes, and YESSSSSS!

Jupiter at home | Ms. Mary Mack

There’s nothing wrong with spending time with your kids creating fun and having little adventures. Listen, last month I had a blast making a mess with my kid painting a foam ball to look like Jupiter. I had the paints already stashed in my own creative box, and the ball cost me a dollar. Fun and done.

But it’s the desperate push to have everything be so otherworldly and perfect that is the complete waste of time and energy — almost ironically so. Here you are tearing off your shirt trying to have the most magical, wonderful, unforgettable craft, vacation or experience, and in all that frenzy, you might just miss the true beauty of the moment: time spent together living a life.

There’s also nothing wrong with kids being bored; having to play with the same ol’ toys again; or waking up to a regular, simple day without bells or glitter or shooting stars. They can handle it. After all, you did, right?

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