The dream of parental free time

Fun for all ... Do parents really get free time?
Fun for all ... Do parents really get free time? 

Apparently, according to recent research from Direct Line insurance, we are supposed to enjoy six hours and 59 minutes of free time a day in order to feel truly content and rested.

“A DAY?” I hear you cry. “I’d be lucky to get that in a week! No, a month! Who gets seven hours free time a day?”

You are now lost, deep in head-shaking incredulity, imagining a life where a day is 33 hours long. Imagine the things you could do: how well-read you would be, how fit, how many interesting hobbies you would have, how your children would be the recipients of vast amounts of quality time. What a lovely daydream. 

But back to reality. Talk to any busy parent and they’ll tell you they have virtually NO free time. Conducting some research of my own (i.e. chatting to other mums at the school gates), I find this is indeed the case. Even those who do admit to having some ‘me time’ concede that it’s squeezed in to an already bulging schedule, planned with military precision months in advance. 

One friend gets up regularly at 5am in order to fit in some exercise before heading to her 10-hour shift as a doctor at a hospital. There, from the minute she walks through the door, she is inundated with demands. Her half-hour journey between work and home gives her some much-needed headspace before the demands begin again at home from her three children. By the time she has caught up with their day and cooked and cleared up dinner she’s exhausted and ready for bed by 9pm, ready to get up and do it again the next day.

Included in those jaw-dropping research findings was a suggested daily schedule, providing the framework to achieve absolute contentment. I wondered how my daily life would measure up, so I’ve compiled my activities under their headings and time suggestions.

Breakfast: 22 minutes
Breakfast in our house is an ongoing feast beginning at 6am, when the three-year-old whacks me on the head demanding “food Mummy, I so hunry”. The seven-year-old, on the other hand, requires threats and bribery to persuade him out of bed at 8am.  I usually breakfast on toast crusts while deep in packed-lunch territory. Only 22 minutes? Good luck!

Shower: 21 minutes
Bear with me while I dry the tears of laughter coursing down my cheeks. Drying is a bonus I sometimes manage after a five minute shower, during which time at least one of my children feels the need to use the loo/canvas me for my opinion on which Lego car is cooler/tell me that another child has broken some cardinal sin and is in need of punishment NOW!

Commute: 1 hour 26 minutes
The school run takes me anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes dependent on traffic, weather, and compliance of children.  My friend Kirsty once took almost two hours to get her daughters to school due to an incident involving a mobile phone, a policeman, a dog and a vet. In that order. This also had the unfortunate consequence of eating into her free time that evening, thanks to the lengthy discussion required with her husband.

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Checking social media: 18 minutes
This could perhaps be even a few more minutes, as it’s a vital link with the outside world, and one of my top means of procrastination. This can include chatting to other freelance writers, though, so it should really count as work … right?

Work: 8 hours 7 minutes
Hmm, I’m sure I can claim that work is a constant activity with one child at home every day, so it’s really more like 17 hours – at least.

Reading newspaper/online: 18 minutes
See ‘Checking social media’ above.

Lunch break: 53 minutes
Lunch what? 

Spending time with family/friends:  49 minutes
I am with family constantly and no time can be attributed to this wondrous luck. It’s definitely enhanced, though, by parallel parenting with friends over coffee. This is entirely necessary for boosting energy levels which are flagging due to long working hours.

Personal time: 1 hour 6 minutes
Covered by the shower section above.  Or is this the section for housework? These headings don’t seem right.

Dinner: 1 hour 6 minutes
Some people do date night every night? Wow.

Life admin: 45 minutes
Okay, this is surely fairy godmother territory. Imagining my life filed and orderly is like looking at sepia photograph or reading a Stephen King novel – another world entirely.

Watching TV/films: 1 hour 3 minutes
With the exception of Offspring once a week, my time limit for staying awake in front of the TV is roughly 17 minutes – at which point my husband reminds me we’re supposed to be having date night and goes to bed in a huff.

Sleep: 7 hours 26 minutes
While I might be in bed for around this amount of time, for at least half of it I’m enduring elbows in the head and suffocation by cuddle, so I count it as actually working.

So I’m not quite there in the ideal contentment and rest stakes, then. I have to admit that my life as a mum takes over somewhat; however, when I put the effort in and get stuck into a painting session, or game of soccer with my boys, there’s nowhere else I would choose to be, daydream or not.

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