some thoughts on work, rest and play

I read an interesting article in yesterday’s paper about some recent research suggesting that mothers who go out to work have 30 hours free time per week, to which the reactions from mumsnetters were obviously along the lines of: you’ve got to be joking…

Not being in that category myself, I can’t say much more than that about the lives of working mothers, but what grabbed my attention was the method used to reach this conclusion.

First, here’s the part that I think makes sense:

Rather than ask people to estimate how much time they spend on certain activities per day or per week, those taking part in this research were asked to keep time diaries, logging in detail all the stuff they were doing during a 24-hour period, so that later the researchers could allocate the activities to the appropriate categories and arrive at a real total of how many minutes the person actually devoted to e.g. housework, childcare, work at whatever their job is, shopping, cooking, watching TV, commuting, etc. I think this makes much more sense than asking people for an estimate, because it’s unlikely that a person will have a good objective idea of how much time they spend on each of these things.

But where I think their method is lacking is in the either/or attitude to the use of time. The article gave a list of activities that this sociologist files under “leisure activities” and others that are filed under “non-leisure activities”, and these lists include stuff like:

Shopping – under non-leisure, no matter what kind of shopping you’re doing. which is ridiculous considering that so many women do regard shopping as a fun and enjoyable pastime, something they do just to cheer themselves up a bit. (No, I’m not talking about wheeling your trolley round a supermarket, I’m talking about treating yourself to new clothes or makeup or a handbag or whatever – or, if you are me, letting yourself loose in a stationery shop…)

Personal grooming – again, they place it in the non-leisure category. Can you honestly tell me that for the average busy working mother, having a manicure or a facial is not a wonderful bit of me-time snatched in between her errands?

On the other hand, volunteering is placed in the leisure section. Huh?

And keeping fit is in the leisure section, even if you hate exercise.

At least with reading they show a bit more discernment, and say reading is under “leisure” but not if you’re reading work stuff.

But with childcare, they lump everything you do with your kids under “non-leisure”, even if you’re having loads of fun, even if you’re just taking them along to something you enjoy doing, or using them as an excuse to play…

And commuting is placed clearly under non-leisure, but from what I remember from my commuting days, it was a mixed bag – though some of it was certainly stressful (London Underground in the morning rush hour), some of it was a great chance to unwind on your way home after a day’s work, reading the newspaper or a book and basically not having to do anything from the moment you got on the train and sat down to the moment you got up at the end of the journey.

I think if you want a real picture of how people use their time, you need to allow for certain time slots to go under more than one category. The trouble is, of course, you’d end up with a total of more than 24 hours per day… But seriously, I’ve always had a problem with these sorts of approaches to recording use of time – they’re fine when you’re doing a clear-cut job, when you’re focused on a specific task at each given moment, but trying to apply that to women at home… sorry, how do you record those minutes when you’re talking to a friend on the cordless phone whilst cooking a meal?

not to mention that some activities are restful/relaxing/recharging for one person, and a chore for another. if your husband loves tennis and insists you go play every weekend, does this count as leisure time for you? if you have an annoying neighbour who keeps popping round for a cup of tea and a chat, do you have to file that under “leisure” because you are sitting down and having a cuppa and socialising? and then, on the other hand, say you actually have a job that involves doing the stuff you love doing – is that strictly work time?

I don’t find life is quite so black and white.

6 thoughts on “some thoughts on work, rest and play

  1. i don't consider something work based on whether it's fun or not. hanging out at the pool yesterday with the kids counts as a fun part of my mom job. but i definitely wouldn't have been there if i didn't have kids. so it was a requirement (in a sense) of my "job" and not because i wanted to do it. i think it gets really squishy and gray area'd when it's something like the movie making i do. it's all volunteer work and i love doing it. i don't have to do it (though 60+ kids and their parents are expecting me to do it every year). but once it's that time of year, i have to shut everything else out in order to focus on the task at hand. and in that sense, and because there's a deadline to when it needs to be done, it feels like a job. granted, it's a job that i volunteered for, i don't have to do, and that i enjoy, but there's still a lot of pressure and stress involved. (i talked more about "what i do" in this post.)i think the hardest part about being a stay at home mom is that you're constantly on call. so its hard to get to a point where you can really relax. i tell the kids that my mom job ends at 9 when they're supposed to be in bed. but i still have to clean up after them once they're in bed, and my girls never stay in bed. they're night owls and are usually asleep by 11. i miss the days as a teacher when i could come home and be totally and completely done with my work till the next day.


  2. yes, I think the bit about being constantly on call is probably why most of the mumsnetters thought it was ridiculous to say they have so much free time. because when you have young kids you're not free even when you are having leisure time, as you say even when they've gone to sleep you're still on duty.I like what you said about how some things are a fun part of your mom job. And I guess with all sorts of jobs people do, there can be parts of the job that are fun and parts that are not – some jobs I've done have had a higher fun content than others. The most fun job was when I was linguistic editor on a messianic newspaper back home – it felt quite odd actually being paid to do it… I got to play with words, and work with friends, and feel that I was working for a good cause – what's not to like…


  3. You got to be kidding. I've always equate shopping as a chore. Anything that involves spending money on is not leisure. I think most blokes think so… so I think this report or statement on shopping under non-leisure is designed by a man. My wife thinks differently… she thinks more along your line – that shopping should be a leisure activity. Gosh! I think the mall is an evil evil evil place (especially IKEA). Every time we visit it, it means losing some money ;) (Perhaps I need to look into my attitude towards money)


  4. ditto. i don't mind going out to get things i need. but if there's something that i'm going to have to search for, and it requires more than one stop, bleh. i'm tired before i even begin. shopping is definitely a chore. if i had free time, i'd lock myself in a room with a book, not spend it surrounded by people asking if i need help finding anything. just go away already people!if i go to a store and more than one employee says hi to me or asks if i need help within the first 5 minutes, i do my best to never go back there again. annoying! i don't mind if they have a greeter and she smiles and says hi. yeah, whatever. but if i get accosted again once i'm through the door, that's it for me.


  5. You'll never enjoy shopping in Hong Kong. Actually, I don't enjoy shopping anywhere. I used to enjoy going to the book shop. Before I had children. But that only makes me more depressed after the book ship visit. It usually means "should I spend money on this book I absolutely want (not need) or should I save up for the kids?" It's an issue with opportunity cost.


  6. oh, you have those in the US too? in Israel you can't go into a shop without being accosted by a zillion "helpful" sales people wanting to know what you're looking for. I hate in the UK, though, it's perfectly possible to go in to a shop and browse to your heart's content. that suits me so much better – that way I'm a lot more likely to actually choose to buy something. I love browsing in shops – stationery shops, book shops of course, gift shops… I go for a pootle round shops as a leisurely pastime, not because I need something.


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