Talking on the phone. Standing in line at the post office. Answering emails. Packing school lunches. Reading to your kids. Taking your kids to soccer practice. Helping them with their science projects. Going to church. Going to the grocery store. Going to the dentist. Just because you're not at work doesn't mean you have free time... or does it?
Sociologist and researcher John Robinson told the Washington Post last month that, in spite of the fact that we feel busier than ever, parents -- even ones who work full-time outside of the home -- have at least 30 hours of leisure time at their disposal each week. Awake and not working? That's leisure time -- even if you're chauffeuring your kids around.
It seems like we're looking at the flip side of a coin here: Now that society accepts unpaid labor (like childcare) as work, how do we define free time? And shouldn't leisure be about quality, not quantity?
In an article, reporter Brigid Schulte talked to experts and tried to figure out where all her time goes. Like many other working moms out there, she was particularly galled by Robinson's assertion that "women have more leisure now than they did in the 1960s."
I think a lot depends on how you define "leisure." According to the way Robinson measures it, the time I spend alone in my car is leisure time; I call it "my commute" (and, occasionally, "Oh-holy-#$%&*-I'm-late-for-pickup-at-school!") He'd classify the time I spent gathering background information for this and other articles as leisure because I did when I wasn't at the office; I call it "part of my job." Childcare is not classified as leisure, he says, and neither is paid work or housework, but pretty much everything else -- the time you spend at the gym, on the phone, or running errands, for example -- is. Even if you have your kids in tow.
But is it fair to label as "leisure" any time spent not pulling down a paycheck? I don't think so. Waiting at the doctor's office with a sick child doesn't feel like leisure to me, no matter what the time researchers say.
I think that maybe weíre more likely to consider an activity as ďleisure timeĒ if we enjoy it. So, sitting in the car for two hours because itís broken down and AAA hasnít arrived yet = not leisure time. But spending two hours laughing and talking with your friends as you drive somewhere = leisure time. Likewise, cramming for a French exam = not leisure time. Studying French because you want to learn how to speak the language = leisure time. And I love my children dearly, but schleping them from place to place or referring fights or supervising homework does not, to me, feel like leisure.
Meagan Francis at The Happiest Mom echoed the thoughts of many when she wrote: "Yes, it may be a bit hard to swallow the fact that Robinson, an unmarried, childless man seems to be telling moms with spouses and young, needy children and demanding jobs to stop and smell the roses." But there's away around the resentment, she says: "We can also move toward seeing our kids as more than a job, more than an obligation, and think of them as a big part of our leisure time."
Parents, what do you think? How much of your free time do you also think of as leisure time?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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