Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Me Time: Selfish or Altruistic?

In my current trawl through Mummy Lit (researching the market for the book I hope to write) I have just come across a section charmingly titled “Who The Fuck Am I?”

I sometimes wonder in this modern age if we spend too much time thinking about ourselves – what I want, me time, who am I? Is it good to be aware of yourself, does it make you a happier person, or has it been overdone with the result of creating a selfish society of people ultimately out for themselves?

Modern women/mothers can be very “me” centric; we are told to be by books, magazines and television, told to find “me” time amongst the chaos. I wondered if this was the result of feminism awakening us to ourselves or the selfish slant of modern society? But then reading Can Any Mother Help Me? I realised that women of history were interested in what they wanted too, but, being less empowered, were less able to get it and therefore often discontented.

Is our obsession with Me Time because, as mothers, we can’t just take it? If my husband wants to get a haircut he goes to the barbers. If I want a haircut I have to try and find someone to look after at least one child and get an appointment which fits in with picking up the others. Which is why I rarely go to the hairdresser!

I don’t really mind. I am immersed in my role as a mother, enjoying it, most of the time, and learning that the more you put in to it the more you really do get out of it. However, I am human and I do have my wobbles. Would they be fewer if I had more Me Time?

All modern parenting books talk about “me” time as if it were a right. But what I’m wondering about is whether this makes us selfish and therefore no longer capable of devoting ourselves entirely to family life? Is this a problem or does it create a healthier balance for all, ie, parents who are more fulfilled and therefore happier and children who can appreciate that not every minute of every day should revolve around them?

My Me Time is when the children are asleep – I guard it very jealously, this is why I get very crabby at five past seven, five minutes into “my” time, if they are chafing against my requests to clean teeth or being silly, fighting, whining they can’t get to sleep, coming out into the kitchen to ask for a drink. (As I write this the three year old is whining that his older brother is keeping him awake, I am ignoring him, in a minute I will tell him very sharply to go back to bed!)

I’ve learnt that I need some silence in my evenings to keep me sane. At the moment I’m having lots of silent evenings as my husband is working in Bangladesh for a month and a half. This has left me with three children in an unreasonably wet summer holiday (I’ve risen to the challenge and we are enjoying it – no deadlines and time to do lots of things we can’t do within the restrictions of a school schedule), but the bonus is lots of silence in the evenings for reading, writing and thinking projects – I apologise if this is making me too introspective.

I’ve just read a novel (yes, another benefit of being on my own is a lot of reading) about a group of mothers who were entirely “me” centric, dragging their babies between bars and beauticians or leaving them with nannies. At first I was scathing but became more tolerant when I remembered how debilitating having a first baby can be. Looking through my journal from when I had T they are full of my anxieties about doing things right and the overwhelming realisation that this is my responsibility, forever. This can be very isolating. I was lucky; I had a great family and community around me for support. If your pre-baby life has been consumed with a dynamic job, fashionable clothes, weight-loss, heeled shoes and socialising it must be a huge shock to have to put someone else’s priorities first. Many women struggle with this, hence the media call for Me Time.

So, Me Time, is it a good or bad obsession? We are all human, even mothers who are supposed to give selflessly to their children. I read a great quote in Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys “A mother needs others to support her, so that she can relax and do this important work. She needs to be cared for, so that she can care for her baby.” My question is, does the modern drive for Me Time make us unreasonably selfish or produce people more in touch with what makes them happier, ultimately benefiting us all?

NB, the charmingly titled section is in The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide by Liz Fraser and is actually quite helpful with lots of useful advice on why having children will completely change you and your life and how to cope with this. Hearing that other mums struggle with the same things as me and how they cope is always my greatest therapy.

1 comment:

Black and (a)Broad said...

Hello there. I've just returned from vacation, so I've been away from my blogs. I think this is the question of the century, really. I may be biased because I'm the type of person who needs lots of time to herself. Even before I had children, I could - and needed to - spend hours alone, especially when I felt anxious or stressed. I'm quite introverted in that respect. I think if more women staked their claim to their "me time", we'd have more happy moms and, by extension, more better adjusted, confident children.

My children joined my life already in progress. Sure, I must create space for them, which means whatever was occupying that space before has to go. I think the question has to be how much space am I willing to clear? Must I really put everything else in my life on hold because I've become a mom? I still haven't found the answers, and I also struggle with maintaining that balance between mother and all the other facests of my womanhood.

I don't think it's selfish to seek out time staying in touch with all the parts that make up a woman: mother, wife, friend, writer, entrepreneur, etc. We don't expect men to give up any part of themselves when they become fathers, so why the pressure on women to sacrifice everything - even themselves?

Edith Wharton refused to have children because in her day they symbolized a sort of oppression for women (at least according to her). Coco Chanel never had children. These women and artists (and role models for me) realized the commitment it takes to mother children as well as the imbalance in the expectations on men vs. women. They chose for something else. We chose to have children, but we did not choose to stop being us.

I think it's altruistic! Excellent article.