Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Myth of "Me Time"

Along with the acres of unsolicited advice random people gave me while I was pregnant about how to look after twins, they also kept insisting that I had to somehow find "Me Time" once I was a mother. So as well as the feeding, changing, burping, dressing, un-dressing, finger/toenail trimming, entertaining, educating and idolising I had to do with my babies, I was also meant to find a regular slot where I would have a glass of Pinot Grigio in a candlelit bubble bath. Riiiiiiight.......

Me Time is a myth. It was invented by childless magazine editors with (at best) a fragile grip on reality. Show me a mum who paints her nails whilst reading magazines and getting a weekly spray tan and I'll show you a bus load who take their kids to McDonalds four times a week.

Tracy Engelbrecht, a single mum of two, sums it up perfectly in her book "The Girl Who Couldn't Say No: Memoir of a Teenage Mum":

"Me Time is a lovely idea if you have a nanny, a couple of housekeepers and pots of money. And a husband preferably. If you have none of the above, an hour of Me Time a day simply becomes one more chore to add to your list. One more thing you have to fret over, when you fall into bed exhausted at midnight and scroll through the list of tasks you should have completed that day.
I've given up on the idea of special time set aside just for me, time when my children must bugger off and leave me to read Jodi Picoult, or do Pilates, or whatever takes my fancy this month.... It simply doesn't work for me. A boozy bubble bath equates to one load of washing plus hanging time, or half a Barbie DVD with popcorn, or getting to bed half an hour earlier to drool unprettily onto my pillow. Honestly, which one are you going to choose? Who likes bubble bath that much, anyway?
What works for me is grabbing five minutes whenever I can to sit and stare into space, even if it means tuning out, for just one extra minute, plaintive cries from the bathroom of "Mummy! Come wipe my bum!"... My Me Time doesn't have a special name or a special time slot. I take it when and where I can get it, and I don't feel like a failure. Now that's progress."

Of all the things to feel guilty about, not "making time for yourself" has to be the most ludicrous. I'm with Tracy on this one. My Me Time involves standing under the shower for 30 extra seconds when strictly speaking I've finished the essentials. Or giving the twins a (healthy) ready-made dinner so that I can just sit on the floor with them for 5 minutes longer. Work is, I suppose, also Me Time, mainly because it involves the luxury of actually drinking a hot cup of tea from start to finish. Small things that aren't related to being a mum.

Of course parents who are able to pamper themselves, go out for boozy lunches, travel, shop and retain a fabulous lifestyle do exist and this feeds into one of my biggest irritations - namely rich/famous people professing how much they love being a parent when it's abundantly clear that they do none of the actual parenting. I remember throwing a copy of Hello across the room when it featured an interview with Elton John about his new son, born around the same time as my twins. He was gushing about what a joy it was to be a father, whereas I had been in and out of bed around 40 times that night before giving up at 5am and dragging my weary, crumpled, down-trodden self downstairs (with babies, of course: I am never alone) to wash and sterilise 12 bottles, change numerous nappies and search fruitlessly through piles of crap for two clean babygrows. Admittedly I was not in the mood to hear about how great babies are, but I found it frankly insulting that this man could equate what he was doing with what I was doing. We're both parents, right? Well, no, actually; not if you have a nanny, a night-nanny, cook, chauffeur, cleaning staff and a medical team to deal with one infant.

The paradox is that if I won the lottery today I would march out and hire a childcare team before the last ball had dropped. The mansion, sports car, yacht and Caribbean island can wait.

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