I found this article on leisure time (or the lack of it) from last week’s Washington Post Magazine by Brigid Schulte very interesting. Schulte is a working mother who sets out to disprove sociologist John Robinson’s idea that women today have 30 hours a week of leisure time. She does a time study set up by Robinson where she writes down everything she does to the minute for seven days. Bottom line is that it mostly comes down to semantics. Robinson calls leisure anything you are doing that doesn’t clearly fall into another class like work or child-care. Exercise is leisure. Sitting around listening to the radio because you are too tired to get up is leisure. Watching movies with the kids is leisure. Schulte obviously disagrees and prefers the opinion of Rachel Connelly, a labor economist who tells her women today have virtually no leisure time because it’s all “contaminated time”. Meaning even during a leisure activity you are worrying about what to make for dinner or with the kids and having to mediate their fights. (Or you are out on a date with your husband to hear a favorite band but took the baby along, just for example.) Judging by this discussion, many readers agree with Schulte.
Being a working mother with three small children and also homeschooling I can sympathize with Schulte. True moments of pure planned leisure are rare. However, I came away from the story somewhat disappointed by the ending. It seemed that the time-diary she did only solidified her own pre-existing thoughts about leisure and didn’t really lead to any significant insight or change.
As I mentioned in this post, I think one of the reasons we are so busy today is that we like being busy. It makes us feel important and needed and many of our conversations involving one-upping each other with who is the busiest. Shulte briefly touches on this in her article when she interviews Ben Hunnicutt, head of leisure studies at University of Iowa. Hunnicutt tells her, “Work now answers the religious questions of ‘Who are you?’ and ‘How do you find meaning and purpose in your life?’.”Later when Schulte tells him that she is too busy to make time for leisure every day they have this exchange:
“Ah,” he said, “one of the Seven Deadly Sins.”
“‘In the Middle Ages, the sin of sloth had two forms,” he said. “One was paralysis, the inability to do anything- what we would see as lazy. But the other side was running about frantically. The sense that, ‘There’s no real place to go where I’m going, but, by God, I’m making great time.'”
Unfortunately, Shulte doesn’t explore this idea more. I say unfortunately, because I think that this explains a lot of why we don’t have true leisure time. We don’t value it and so we don’t make it a priority.
In the end, the article reminded me of the concept of “white-clouds” and “black-clouds” in medicine. Anyone in medicine knows that during training some residents and doctors will get the reputation of being a “white cloud” or a “black cloud”. A “white cloud” is someone who seems to always have an easier time, admit less patients, etc. A “black cloud” is pretty much the opposite, someone who seems to attract disaster. Medical people tend to be fairly superstitious (just walk into an ER and say something like “It’s pretty quiet in here” and see how many people yell at you for having “jinxed” them) and so once you have the label of being a white or black cloud you’ll find other people wanting to take call with you or dreading being on with you, depending.
The thing is several studies have looked at this and determined it’s all pretty much just superstition. In one study “black clouds” didn’t have any more of a workload or admit more patients but they did sleep less, perhaps because they were less efficient. In another study, there was no difference in workload or sleep between white and black clouds but there was a difference in their perception of their workloads and of their own luck.
The reason I thought of this after reading this story it that the crux of the story seemed to me the difference between Robinson and Shulte in their perception of what is leisure. I think what disappointed me in the end was that Shulte seemed to dismiss Robinson and look for an answer that suited her better. But I do think that just as there is value in thinking about why we might enjoy being busy, there is value in thinking about how we define our leisure time. I find that for myself if I think about the things I’m doing as somehow robbing me of precious “me-time” than I become resentful. If I try to think of them as things I choose to do and to find enjoyment in, I can often find that joy. As a Christian, part of it is starting to look at all my time as God’s and not mine. And the purpose of all of my time is for His glory.
I don’t mean to end by making myself sound holier-than-thou. I often find myself grumbling inside over the time spent picking up the toys for the 1000th time that day or supervising yet another potty break for David or folding yet another load of laundry. I’m not really thinking much about those tasks being to God’s glory. But I think I’d be happier if I did.