The Problem with “Me Time”

Does a cup of chai, a good Russian novel, and a cozy blanket constitute "me time" or true self care?

Does a cup of chai, a good Russian novel, and a cozy blanket constitute “me time” or true self care?

Happy (Very Belated) New Year! I thought now is as good a time as ever to try to get back into the blogging “habit.”

I never imagined when I embarked on my journey toward better self care (see my last post, way down toward the end) that blogging would take the hardest hit.

Focusing on self care has led me down other paths & now (maybe? hopefully?) back to blogging. I have been thinking about self care a lot & I feel I finally have something to share here in a series of posts about how we (anybody, but specifically mothers & even more specifically, outside jobbing mamas) can take better care of our individual selves.

So what is this “self care” I am blathering about? I did not I invent the term, but I’ve discovered it recently & it seems to describe perfectly the journey I am on right now.

Self care is, in short, my attempt to create a less ego-centered version of “me time.” Call it a cheap word trick if you want, but it’s working for me as a way to reframe the concept in a way that I need it to be reframed.

I have consistently resisted the culture that glorifies “me time” … especially the innocent-seeming-but-really-insidious version: “mommy me time.” I hinted at my dislike of “me time” a little here, but I wasn’t able to truly articulate my feelings because, well, I hadn’t given the topic enough thought. I’ve also tried to make “me time” work for … me… but it didn’t stick. What can I say, the term & the concept just rub me the wrong way. (I’m sure I’m in the minority here, so please share your thoughts on “me time” in the comments!)

After spending a couple months mired in trying to figure it out, I can now say this: I think the ego-driven competition (& it IS a competition) for “me time” is consumerist in nature & results in an unhealthy division of the self that drive us away from those that are closest to us, namely our children & partners.

Whoa… That’s a hefty sentence, so let me start to unpack my thoughts a bit.

When I say “me time” is an ego-driven competition, I mean that I two ways. There’s the more literal meaning: Our culture (& more specifically, the world imagined by advertisers) is competitive, pitting one Lululemon-see-through-yoga-pants-wearing mom against another. Who has the time (& money) to eat at the trendiest restaurants? To have nails & hair done stylishly? To be decked out in the hippest wardrobe?

“Me time” is this sort of fungible good that we all want more of (even if we can’t quite define precisely what we want or need as unique individuals). We’re trained to desire the time (& money… but that’s a post for another day) to pursue what makes us feel good now. What makes me “happy” in the moment. What distracts me from my real life & responsibilities.

And because “me time” is fungible, we get this idea that we can swap or “buy” (more of) it with time we might otherwise spend on other activities (including sleeping). And because we want more “me time” we might start to resent activities (playing trains on the floor, cooking, working, etc.) that really aren’t fungible.

Parents, of course, are typically in the red when it come to time, so it’s no wonder that the idea (or dream) of “me time” has a certain cache among moms (& dads). Thus, even subconsciously, we start to compare our toil-a-day lives with others… others who often seem more put together than ourselves:

So-and-so friend (or worse yet, “so-and-so blogger”) always seems to find time for “me time”! What gives? I can’t even shower before I head off to work, let alone go to a yoga class, go out to eat with my girlfriends, get my hair cut or even run a comb through my damned hair!! WTF! There must be something wrong with me! No, it’s that my partner is unsupportive! Yes, and my child is a monster who has destroyed every last semblance of my individual being!!! Argh!!!

You get the picture.

And, yes, I have experienced some version of all of the above.

… Not pretty.

Ok, so that’s the literal, keeping up with Ms. Jones, competition. It gets me nowhere really fast & I’m guessing it’s not really helpful for anyone.

But there’s another way the search for “me time” is a “competition.” And it’s an internal competitions of sorts.

Think about what “me time” really is… Ok, duh, it’s time for “me,” but who or what is “me”? It seems to me (ha!) that the “me” in “me time” is an abstract ego that is really nobody at all.

Yikes!! (I can’t believe I’m actually writing about ego… I hate Freud!)

Seriously, that mythical “me” searching for some equally mythical “me time” is not me. I actually don’t know who she is. I don’t even know what she wants to do with her hypothetical “me time.” But guess what? Who ever she is, the minute I start thinking about finding or creating “me time,” she starts vying for my attention & tries to dominate my sense of self.

In other words, the ego-centered “me” is competing with my partnered-self, my mother-self, my daughter-, sister-, granddaughter-, friend-self. My worker-bee-self, my homemaker-self & my bookmaker-self.

Wow! I have a lot of selves!

And in a sense, they’re all competing for my attention & time in any given moment. But there’s no denying that these are the selves that make me who I am. And there are probably others… some a bit buried (like my music-making-self).

It’s difficult… ok, it’s impossible to be all of these things at once. I need help managing all these selves in a way that works for me & those in my little circle. What I don’t need is some new-gal-self in town trying to push the others aside in a quest to push her own superficial agenda.

I need a self-manager-self, not another self trying to dominate the others. Plus, this “me time”-grabbing self seems kinda selfish. She never wants to do anything with my son or spouse. Sometimes she wants to hang out with a girlfriend or two, but usually she wants to engage in solitary activities & spend money. She cares more about how I look than who I’m with or what I’m actually doing.

And sometimes, when she’s around & not getting her way, she starts complaining about my son & spouse. She complains about having to work. She gets jealous easily. She tries to turn me (us?) against them.

Frankly, she’s a bitch.

I don’t need the drama & so I’ve decided I don’t need “me time.”

So there you have it, why I’m anti-“me time.” In my next post I’ll tackle why & how self care is radically different from “me time” & is eminently superior (in my not-so-humble opinion). Plus, I’ll share how & why I have MFA Dad to thank for my self care epiphany.

How about you? Have you ever questioned our society’s elevation of “me time” above many other kinds of “time”? Or do you love the idea of “me time” & does this post want to make you scream?



Filed under Attachment Parenting, Feminism, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Simplicity, Working

3 responses to “The Problem with “Me Time”

  1. Kate Hollander

    Hmm. I should wait to speak, perhaps, until you introduce your concept of “self-care” as different from “me-time.” I will say that, in our household, we have no kids, but two demanding dissertations, and two adults trying to write them and teach college at the same time (plus two cats, but they’re not terribly demanding!). These two adults are both social and happy to be in community (yes, weekly dinners with CSA-sharing friends, frequent house guests etc.), but at heart, are both deeply introverted–that is, we each need more than the usual amount of time alone to recharge and be even remotely pleasant and productive. So, while I suppose that our incessantly capitalist society has commodified “me time” of late, I’ve always found I have to incorporate that kind of weekly (or even daily) downtime in order to function. In that sense, I’m not at all sure it’s different from “self care.” I’m interested to hear your thoughts…but I’ll say that while perhaps “mommy me-time” has become the next thing women are being pushed to “just have to have!,” for single, childless (academic? professional? just plain) women, the idea of taking quiet alone time for something other than work is not exactly embraced.

    • I’m working on that post right now, Kate. Maybe you’ll be disappointed in the end… I think for my brain it is a matter of semantics, but an important one. We’ll see & I’d love your thoughts!

      I definitely see what you mean with the introvert thing… I’m definitely an introvert and literally need quiet time all to myself now & then. It’s really important & I know that’s how I recharge for living in a social world. I think I’m so used to that need that I’ve put it beyond the concept of “me time” or self care, but that’s definitely part of it & I’ll be sure to include that in my upcoming post. It’s so important for us introverted types!

      It’s interesting that you perceive that taking time for self care is not embraced for childless women. I think there’s less of a discussion around it, probably because there’s so much discussion around “mommy guilt” & I think self care gets very much caught up with that. As you & I have discussed before, I also definitely think there’s this under valuing of “women’s work” beyond child care that unfortunately is still off the radar & not part of any life-balance discussion. As a result, there’s also probably an unstated assumption that if you don’t have kids you have time to take care of yourself. I definitely don’t agree with that sentiment, but maybe that’s part of it? But even before having a child I feel that there was so much advertising & media-culture aimed at women (all women) to consume “me time.” So, not a real discussion of self care, but a concerted effort by corporations to push women to consume in the name of “me.” Does that distinction make sense? It’s that latter consumeristic model that has distorted discussions of self care & that I’m taking aim at. As non-conformist as I consider myself to be (in terms of being immune to advertising & media) I think that the consumeristic model has really infected my own ideas about how I should be taking care of myself. At least, it’s really set up a mental road block for me to come to a true understanding of what I need & how I can carve out the space for what I need.

      Aw, this makes me miss you so much, Kate! I wish we could sit down at Diesel for coffee & just chat!

      • Kate Hollander

        I wish we could, too! I miss our talks, and summertime dinners in your beautiful backyard! Magical.

        I’m thinking about advertisements that I see that seem to promise “me time” for women absent kids and the only thing I can think of is, like, low-cal yogurt. Like, Yummm, I eat my low-cal yogurt and now I feel pampered and refreshed?

        Somehow I feel like academic women are supposed to be able to see through that–I can’t imagine what we’re supposed to do, in terms of conventional stereotypes, to recharge ourselves…?

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