Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Thoughts on “Me Time”

    March 10, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    Sallie wrote a bit concerning that phenomena known among women as “me time” today as an introduction to her new poll. Cindy also discussed “me time” in the context of Facebook back in January, and raised quite a ruckus {and I’m sure she appreciates me bringing it back up}. “Me time” seems to be a topic in the many battles of the mommy wars, right up there with breastfeeding/bottle feeding and scheduled/demand feeding.

    I have a few thoughts on “me time” that I was going to write as a comment on Sallie’s blog and it turned into a post, so here they are.

    Defining “Me Time”

    I think sometimes reasonable people think they disagree when they don’t because we don’t bother to define our terms. For instance, in the comments of Cindy’s post, for instance, one mother mentioned that in her past she had qualified eating and showering as “me time.” I would say that such things are not what is meant by “me time” within popular culture {as expressed by BabyCenter.com or Parents Magazine}.

    The articles that I have read over the years are referring to time spent in pursuing the self. I don’t mean this disparagingly, by the way. It is just the only way I know how to put it. The idea is that Mother have time to do whatever it is she wants to do, whatever she is interested in, and so on. Some women have “girl night” or “mom’s night out” for this purpose. Other women just like to get out alone and run a few errands without having to buckle four car seats {ahem}. These things are not inherently selfish or harmful, but please note that they are outside the normal duties of motherhood, wifehood, as well as the normal realms of hygiene and so on.

    To Need or Not To Need, That is the Question

    Before I start, I think I should mention that I do not consider the spiritual disciplines to be part of “me time.” They are time spent doing what a human was created first and foremost to do, glorify our Creator. Now, if I insisted that I needed five hours per day of uninterrupted spiritual activity, there would be something wrong with this picture because I would be spiritualizing the neglect of the duties entrusted to me by God. But very few people are extreme like this, and reading our Bibles and praying and so on is a natural and necessary part of a life lived well.

    I have heard both introverts and extroverts call “me time” a need. I am really, really hesitant to call it a need, even though I have reached times in motherhood where I was just about ready to throw in the towel, and I also have parents who sometimes call me and tell me they are coming to get my children when they see that I am reaching my end {like on a high-discipline day}.

    I think of “me time” in the same categories as I do mandatory date nights and vacations. I have heard many people talk about how stressful life is and how they need a vacation.

    My thought here is that we are settling for second best, which at the same time puts us at a disadvantage. What we really need is something above and beyond all of these things {in my opinion–this is just what I think I’ve learned, not something explicit in Scripture}. And not having this other thing we need brings us to a point of desperation where we think we need something more immediately accessible, like “me time” or a date night or a vacation. And because we are desperate, we have trouble truly enjoying those nice things when we actually get them, plus we are grumps when we don’t get them.

    The Nature of the Need

    The real need here is a rediscovery of the art of living. As our post-industrial culture has immersed itself in technology, the art has been lost, and despair sets in. Technology allows us to get a lot more done in a lot less time in a far less satisfying way.

    To go back to the comments in Cindy’s post, I remember that there was one commenter there who was raised Mennonite. Think almost-Amish, with the long black dresses and the horse-drawn carriage. She compared their society to ours. Can you imagine an Amish woman demanding “me time”? Probably not. I certainly can’t. We tend to hold up these groups and act like they are this special type of people, more self-less, more generous, more sacrificial, and so on. One thing we might be missing is that they don’t demand such things because they have created a life that is actually livable, day in and day out.

    The Mennonite/Amish life does not consist of iPhones, computers, or microwaves. It isn’t full of rushing from T-ball to ballet to soccer to home {which is a place only for sleeping}. There is no rush-hour traffic, no blaring television, no noisy radio.

    All of these things about our culture that I listed aren’t necessarily bad, but they make up a life that, when all put together, most of us find unbearable and unsatisfying.

    And we want to escape it.

    Better Off?

    Of course I can’t write a post without plugging one book or another, so might I suggest reading Better Off?This book espouses what author Eric Brende calls the “Minimite” lifestyle: the least amount of technology to give the maximum amount of benefit. Within the pages, I’ve been discovering a lot of “technology” in the form of tools that I didn’t know existed. Tools that are satisfying to the mind, the eye, and the soul. Technology which eases what would otherwise be a difficult life without eclipsing any of its joys.

    Brende writes:

    Since when had the Millers abstained from technology? The evidence was everywhere and inescapable: the cultivators, the buggies, the canning equipment, the countless other basic utensils and implements. Evidently technology itself was not taboo, only technologies that interfered with this plain sect’s aims. Put positively, our neighbors chose devices they thought would benefit them–the minimum necessary to maximize their ends.

    Building a Livable Life

    Early on in my motherhood journey, I wanted out. I was completely overwhelmed. I’d like to say it got easier after a year or two of experience, but actually having two children was even harder, at least until that second child was one. And then, as I began to read, I discovered that things didn’t have to be so unbearable. Our life needed certain things in it in order to be the sort of life we were happy with. My life at home with the children {without Si} needed: more discipline, better work ethic, more time outside in the sun, purpose, structure, laughter, good books shared aloud, contentment, a garden, homemade music, the list goes on. It also needed less: less television, less noise, running of errands, eating out, women’s weekday Bible studies, sloth, focus on money {or lack thereof}, keeping up with far too many old acquaintances, and so on. This is my personal list. I don’t know what other people need and I don’t pretend to.

    What I thought I needed at the time was a housekeeper, babysitter, and Starbucks, which is to say things that I thought could help me keep my typical modern life going. But I was wrong in the sense that those things would only help me maintain a life that I didn’t actually find livable.

    Well, perhaps I wasn’t wrong about the Starbucks.

    But I digress.

    Many Hands Make Light Work

    Wherever I have read about the Amish and other Plain People, the saying many hands make light work comes up. These groups tend to work collectively. Of course, so do factory-workers. But Plain People tend to live integrated lives, so work is also fun is also social. Conversely, simple jobs that have no need for “many hands” are work and also enjoyable tasks that leave room for prayer and personal ruminations. The life itself has more downtime than I ever imagined from a people who spend their whole lives tilling the soil. It is said that one of the favorite activities of the Amish is to “go visiting.” I also remembering about a couple who met twice daily to milk cows together. It was the Amish-version of a date night. Sharing a task can, as Eric Brende explains about manual labor in general, once mastered, allow the mind to soar away to great heights. In fact, Brende goes to far as to say this labor is liberating to the mind while also good for the body.

    But the concept of many hands can also be extended to the difficult times in life. Even the Amish have hard times. A barn burns down, there is death in the family, bad things happen to good people, right? Well, self-sustaining communities are also bonded together in a way foreign to highly technological societies. In those hard times, neighbors will show up and help you. Food will arrive. Comfort will be given. If your barn burned, all the men in the neighborhood will raise you a new one.

    Simple lives are quiet lives, leaving room for an introvert like me to naturally have time to think. Simple lives have space in them, I guess I could say.

    What next?

    Time is better spent pursuing a livable life. Paring down and simplifying leaves room for naturally-occurring “me time” if that is what we must call it {I hate the phrase, personally, but it seems to have stuck over the years}. This is probably the most overlooked aspect of homeschooling. It naturally lends itself to a simple life. The children and parents aren’t racing daily to and from school, to and from extra-curriculars. There aren’t pressures on the children to keep up with the technological life. And so on.

    I look forward to reading what Eric Brende has to say about living a plain life. I’ve only read the first third of the book so far. Si finds it interesting that the back of the book explains that Mr. Brende has degrees from Yale, Washburn, and MIL, yet he “makes his living as a rickshaw driver and a soap maker.”

    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit

    5 Comments

  • Reply Brandy March 11, 2009 at 2:35 am

    Marianna,

    I agree with you on the word “me-time” sounding selfish when it often isn’t! In fact, within the comments over at Sallie’s a commenter mentioned calling it “downtime” and a few of us agreed that this word captures the essence of what most of us pursue–a time to recharge and rest.

    I mentioned another thought over there, and I’ll go ahead and repeat it here in case anyone wants to think about it and comment, but I wonder if our absence of Sabbath-keeping has any impact on this. We’ve been reading a lot of the old books, Little House books, Ralph Moody’s Little Britches books, that sort of thing, and they all have Sabbath-keeping in them. So families are taking a whole DAY every week, and the children are trained to respect, for instance, Dad taking a nap or Mom simply rocking in her chair. I wonder if part of our craziness comes from trying to live at full speed seven days per week.

    As far as your child’s first year of life goes, I canNOT imagine what it would have been like to have your husband gone so often during that adjustment period, and without family also. The lack of community definitely contributes. I had it much easier than you with my firstborn, but we were still away from family and I had such a longing for community and wise older women while making that adjustment. The way our culture structures life doesn’t lend itself to creating successful and competent mothers–so many of us are dropped instantly into the deep end of the pool!

    I am glad that things are better for you now. 🙂

  • Reply Marianna March 11, 2009 at 2:00 am

    I’m not crazy about the term “me-time” because I think it connotes a certain level of selfishness, which for me is not what is really needed. Like both you and Rachel point out one of the biggest differences between our culture and that of the plain people is community-our lack of it and their primacy of it. When my first child was born we were living 2000 miles away from family in a place we had only been in for 10 months, and my husband was working a 60+ hour week. It was HARD and I desperately needed the occassional opportunity to be off duty! I will admit that I didn’t much enjoy his first year of life. This has caused me no end of sadness. Now, some of my disatisfaction arose from societal messages with a healthy dose of a very high needs baby thrown in, but I also think we would have had a better start if we had had a community to support us. All of this to say that I really think “me-time” is less about getting away from one’s children and more about not being solely, 100% responsible for them 24/7. Things were much better with my second child…the biggest difference being that my husband was available more, and I had established a small community of friends at that point.

    A good conversation. I saw the post at Sallie’s but didn’t read the comments…

  • Reply Brandy March 10, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Jennifer,

    I hope you feel better soon, my friend!

    Rachel,

    I totally agree with you. It was late in the day when I polished the post, and rereading it I would say that there were a couple things missing from it, and I think one of them is what you said–building real community. That, too, is what makes the plain groups work–their community. The many hands making work light are not just the many children inside the home but actual members of the community. It is hard in suburb-type environments to build a geographic community. The book Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler is another book that I am halfway through, and it does a wonderful job explaining why this is. Anyhow, I’m sort of rambling. All of that was to say I agree.

    I remember once in my past that I was sort of dismayed that our culture puts such an emphasis on date nights. I felt like that was a way of telling the poor they couldn’t afford a good marriage. However, I’ve had a change of heart in recent history, for similar reasons. The reality is that we live in a certain environment that makes it extremely hard to connect in a marriage. So even though we should work for marriages that aren’t dependent on such things, we should also admit that date nights are filling the gap for now.

    So just like that, yes, Mommy Downtime is a coping mechanism for living life within the culture. I prefer the idea of creating a life in which we don’t feel the panic, the need to escape, but that isn’t to say that the escape is completely unnecessary since the reality is that we live here in this place and in this time.

    And I’m rambling again. Sorry. It is one of those days. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel R. March 10, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Thanks, Brandy; I appreciated this post. I do want to point out, though, that I think that we mamas burn out faster in this modern culture because we do not have communities working alongside us. I think this is an aberration from what should be “normal” and I think that maybe it means that we do need “me time” (or some sort of break) as a means of restoration, more than we would if our communities worked the way they should.

  • Reply Jennifer March 10, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I just loved this post, Brandy. I am at home sick this morning, able to read your blog with a cup of coffee. I am going to be thinking today about how to systematically reduce the “Stuff” in my life. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Leave a Reply