Why I hate “me time”

One of the many things you learn upon becoming a mother is just how important “me time” is. Believe me, it’s really, really important. Without it no mum would ever survive.

In case you’re wondering what “me time” is, it’s what other people call “time” or, to give it its full name, “time when you’re not at work in which you do other stuff”. This is not to be confused with “free time,” that is, time in which you do anything you like (i.e. get drunk). “Me time,” or “time” as it was once known, is filled with activities which are kind of okay. You wouldn’t go so far as to call them interesting but hey, they help while away the hours. It’s stuff like having a bath, washing your hair, doing some sit-ups, walking the dog. Fine, but not exactly noteworthy. Unless, of course, you are a woman who has had kids. Then it’s a different story.

Then it’s “me time”! Yay! Hooray for “me time”! Aren’t you really, really grateful it exists? For this is one of the first rules of motherhood: be pathetically, ostentatiously thankful for any time whatsoever which isn’t spent wiping arses or cleaning behind the fridge. For lo! You have been granted some “me time”! Rejoice! Whether you spend these precious “you” moments drinking a cup of tea or shaving your pubes, never forget to do it with a beatific smile on your face. For you are so, so lucky! All that stuff other people, including fathers, just do — well, for you, it’s now a bit selfish to do it. But go on, we’ll let you. As an extra-special treat.

This evening I arrived home from work (not “me time”) to be greeted by my children (still not “me time”). While clearing away the dinner (STILL not “me time”) I came across a free copy of the Primary Times and started to flick through it (magazine reading! Sound the “me time” alert!). In amidst all the adverts I found an article on “me time” (how meta-“me time” is that?). Taking a further look I discovered that this time of year is particularly “me time”-tastic:

As October half term, with its round of bonfire and Halloween parties, comes to a close, perhaps now is the time for mums to claim back a little bit of that “me time” they have been promising themselves for so long.

Hear that, ladies? Fire up the Ladyshave and get me-timing! That’s assuming, of course, that you’ve spent the half term giving your kids the kind of social life you only see in a Waitrose advert (if not then I’m sorry but you just haven’t earned it yet).

So what does proper, hardcore “me timing” involve? Lots of expensive spa treatments in the Gloucester and Bristol area, apparently. But there are other, cheaper activities such as “doing gentle breathing exercises in the bathroom, doing a yoga posture while waiting for the kettle to boil or taking it in turns with partners and friends to look after the children while the others get to do something fun” (NB I’m not sure who “the others” are. They creep me out, so I’m sticking to doing the downward-facing dog while waiting to make a cup of tea).

The importance of “me time” cannot be stressed enough. Whereas normal people have “time” just because it’s there and you’ve got to do something in it, mummies have “me time” because without it they’d be total bitches from hell. According to “professional bodyworker and yoga teacher Cheryl Jenkins”:

Children and loved ones have a fantastic knack of knowing how to press our buttons to make us over-react. […] When we’re over-stressed, that is exactly what we’ll do, only to regret it later. If we’re relaxed, we’re much more likely to respond to pressures in a measured way rather than allowing our frustrations to spill out.

We’re also much more likely to stop and really appreciate those special little moments, like when your child says something hilarious or you see their eyes sparkle as they experience something for the first time. After all, it’s these fleeting but magical moments that make parenthood so fulfilling.

Hmm. So there is clearly a link between having your nails done in Cabot Circus and being Mummy of the Year. Oh well. I think I’m out of the running but still, I do appreciate those special little moments. I wouldn’t say they were all that fulfilling but children talking bollocks are good value when you’re in need of something to tweet about (tweeting counts as “me time” so when you think about it that one’s a virtuous circle).

It’s not that I hate bubble baths or reading or going for a walk. It’s not even that I don’t consider some of these things to be a treat. Even so, the “me time” labelling is getting on my nerves. It’s not just laden with gender-based assumptions — “while the role of serving your family is vital, it’s still just part of the whole you” — it’s also heavily based on undertaking activities to improve your appearance. And then there’s the pathetic, passive-aggressive martyrdom of the whole thing. Oh, look at me and my “me time”. I might be in a hydrotherapy pool in an expensive spa in Wiltshire but mentally I still haven’t removed my sackcloth and ashes.

Why can’t we all just have “time”? Why is it that mothers end up having their lives marketed back to them, piece by piece?  Why can’t I just have a sodding bath without hearing an “ooh, mum’s having a night off from all the chores!” voiceover in my head? And this – blogging about “me time” – is that also “me time”? “Ooh, mum’s on her soapbox again!”

I despair, I really do.

22 thoughts on “Why I hate “me time”

  1. Fantastic article! Totally agree. I was only talking today about women carrying the burden of childcare while men swan free about their day of work and rest (ok not all families are that bad) but in the main, it is expected of women that they will do anything to the point where a simple bath, or reading a magazine, becomes a naughty indulgent luxury and neglection of 24/7 caring duties

  2. Yes, exactly this. I hate the insinuation that anything I do away from the kids is a decadent luxury rather than just, well, normal. I have to work at believing this myself too, the insidious message has indoctrinated me quite deeply!

  3. Hooray hooray, you have made my day. I’m only envious I didn’t write this myself. You are of course exactly right. Selling our lives back to us in glossy value- and assumption-laden packaging…. Usually that we then PAY for. Uh-huh. I do a lot of downward-facing dogs.

  4. Brilliant. This made me laugh at least three times on my packed train journey into work.
    I agree with everything you’ve said…. it’s frustrating that this is only a phrase usually applied to women.

    I do think the phrase/concept can be used legitimately if you also refer to men having me-time. I work full time, so does my husband. We take equal share in looking after our child and looking after the house. We both need time to ourselves and we arrange our weekends and evenings so that this happens. Mine might be necking cocktails with friends or shopping or blogging… his might be having a beer with a friend or watching the Grand Prix with one hand down his pants and the other clutching a scotch egg.

    So maybe we need to ban the phrase and just make sure that every parent – regardless of gender – pulls their weight but then also has a bit of time to themselves.

  5. I haven’t read that issue of Primary Times yet. Sounds like I should leave it unread, lest I fly into a rage! I remember the sad pathetic feeling I had when the boys were really small that just going to Sainsbury’s by myself felt like a treat. Gah.

  6. I could kiss you for this. Sometimes, my husband thinks watching TV with the kids is being ‘helpful’. But mainly I loathe the idea that a bath or a manicure I the best pleasure I can hope for out of life.

  7. I remember meeting a new mother who had been sent to a coffee shop to do her me-time. She was telling me this, but garbling her vocabulary and unclear if she was on mum-time or me-time or what she was doing. I’ve hated it this phrase ever since, and you’re insight into why is very interesting.

  8. I am not a mother and I already despise the whole “me time” concept. It’s to the point where sleeping for an extra couple of hours is seen as completely indulgent. Same goes for daring to have a bath because, you know, getting clean is suddenly a luxury. It’s ridiculous.

  9. So true! I’m not a Mum but even as a woman you get it, so it must be five times worse (and more annoying) as a Mum. I really dislike the way Mums are talked about (in ads etc – not usually in real life!) in those martyred terms. The Christmas ads are especially bad… don’t use up your ‘me-time’ watching those, Mums!

  10. I love this! I thought I was alone in TOTALLY hating the whole pampering thing. I remember reading a really good Julie Burchill article years ago about how “having a wash” has become repackaged as “pampering” and is something women are meant to do as a hobby. I also do a little inward scream at the martyr mums. What do we have to make it all so hard? Thanks for this article, good to know I am not a lone freak!

  11. Spot on! I think this commodification of every aspect of women’s lives (even of their time — how is that possible?) is one of the biggest threats to feminism. And what a clever distraction it is too. Thank you for writing this.

  12. Although I wholeheartedly subscribe to ‘feminism’ as a world view I feel sadly this is one more way in which women’s desire to escape the burden of domestic and moral expectation has been subverted and sold back to them by capitalist interests. Wow, that’s a lot of big words for me these days. Better go and cook my child’s lunch.

  13. Fantastic article and very apt for me right now. I had an argument with my partner this morning exactly because of this whole me-time myth. Today I have a day off work and the kids are in daycare. I said that I was going to be busy catching up on a load of stuff I never have time to do and he basically told me to sod off and stop grumbling because I was getting time to myself while he has to work! Wow, not only are we having normal everyday things repackaged and sold back to us as ‘me-time’ we also extremely grateful (read guilt ridden) for being given this time to sort out the sock drawer on our own. Thus time is a currency – sell us a little to buy back our stoical silence at all other times and keep women – especially mothers in our place!
    Thanks for pointing this out Glosswatch. – I hear the washing machine has stopped spinning so I’m off for some life enriching me-time right now!

  14. It’s true guys don’t have a concept of me time, it’s all been me time for me. I’ve always put my family first because I want to, always worked hard because i wanted to, always took a break when I needed one etc. But I’ve never experienced those frantic ‘will it ever end’ young children days. I think mothers are left with a post traumatic stress from seeing their life being ripped away from them. The healing is not me time in isolation from others it’s regaining the me life in the company and service of others. Me time just perpetuates the myth that the individual is happiest in glorious isolation. It is necessary when demands get unbearably high but it sucks as a residual attitude.

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