Thursday, May 2, 2013

Time poverty and the modern mum.

I learnt a new term this weekend at the Save Childhood Movement's Flourish Summit in London this weekend: time poverty.The first speaker of the weekend identified it as one of the major factors shaping the modern landscape of parenting and child development.

There was a groan of recognition from the primarily female audience. Yes, we know that all too well, was the unspoken response.

Time poverty: both the lack of time, and, I would add, the perceived lack of time, is endemic in our not-enough culture.

I was reading Brene Brown's most recent book over Easter, Daring Greatly, and she identifies the pervasiveness of our scarcity culture. When we wake, our first thought is usually that we did not have enough sleep, followed by we don't have enough energy to start the day. Soon followed by not having enough time to be at school or work on time. And so it continues all day: I don't have enough time to do this, enough money to do that. I challenge you to observe yourself tomorrow morning, and then chuckle ruefully at how unconsciously we continually perpetuate this paradigm in our own lives.

Lack of time is my greatest excuse and limitation. When in truth it is more like a lack of willingness to focus, a lack of patience, empathy or an unwillingness to make a decision and stand by it. As well as an abundance of choices. The uncomfortable fact is that our scarcity culture exists in an era of plenty. It is the myth that stands between us and gratitude for all we have. In truth it is a response of overwhelm.

I feel a little in overwhelm after the conference, such a deluge of speakers and messages that I am still digesting. We were encouraged to leave reflections on PostIt notes outside the conference room, and one woman observed how she did not know how today's mothers could be time poor, with all our labour saving devices, and went on to recall her mother doing laundry and baking bread, minding her five children and holding down two jobs, and still she had time to read to them, play and cuddle.

And I felt judged. And frustrated. Because I have time to do that too. And so do you. And we do it. All of us. It's just we do a hell of a lot else as well. And we're not sure how much "enough" play time, or enough physical demonstration of our love, or time in nature is. And everyone, everywhere is telling us we need to do more of everything... literacy skills, and outdoor play, and reading and singing and extended breastfeeding and and and....

And I'm aware that women of a different generation didn't have an ever growing mass of experts of every colour, and government, and school, giving them more and more (often contractictory) directions. Nor were they faced with the constant looming threat of social services if they were less than perfect. And kids could head off by themselves to wander at large in the fields and roads around their homes.

And I feel this tidal scream of not enough, and more, and all I know is that I'm tired, and it's not easy, and whatever I do it never seems enough. And I'm not the only one. While the elder generation spoke of whistful hopes for a childhood immersed in love, and away from screens,  two of the only three questions (there was not enough time for more!!) of the weekend were from mothers of young children. Mothers of intelligence and deep caring who asked with desperate insistence: "As mothers, what can we do, to save childhood?" They spoke for my heart too.

And there were no real answers. And this is the crux. We hand our research, our damning views of the future, our blame for laziness and lack of supervision, our anxieties, or incomplete research, and our questions onto the mothers at the coal face. To the world's biggest worriers, the ones with the most invested in these little people of the future. Mothers who are deluged with more information that any mother in history has ever had. And then we baulk when she favours Facebook over choosing from the plethora of contradictory messages that demand she take her kids more firmly in hand, whilst simultaneously giving them more freedom, whilst ensuring they always have adult supervision, whilst they practice proper risk taking behaviour.

No wonder we're tired and overwhelmed. We may not be scrubbing laundry with our bare hands but no mothers in history have been so cerebrally overwhelmed, so vulnerable to constant scrutiny and so alone in their daily task, with such high expectations on their shoulders. And nor have any children in history.

Most of the time it feels like there is not enough of us to be all we are supposed to, and we just need to escape from it all for a moment. Thank flip for Pinterest and Peppa Pig!


  1. Fabulous post, thank you Lucy xx yes just this morning, not enough time. How can we break the habit of "I havent got time" ? out children need us to spend quality time with them, planning is one option it seems, but then plans are made to be changed! I think spending quality time with ourselves for half an hour every day, is the answer, not doing, not worrying, just being, with a cuppa and a wander in the garden (without worrying about the weeds) and I'm off to do it now! :) see you soon xx


  2. And on the subject of Pinterest, I saw one of those many word bite thingys, you know the ones done in a nice font and it resonated with me: " Stop the glorification of busy" it said.

  3. Oh Lucy .... I just wrote a post about being weary and stretched in every way and feeling over whelmed all of a sudden, what blessings brought me to your blog next?! Perhaps I would have written differently if I'd read this first ... but there you have it in all my honesty ... I am one of those women and I am so tired! I am of course my biggest critic (well maybe my boyfriend is!) and we all our if we don't feel guilty for x it's because of y or z, we are never 'good enough' what we do is never enough in the right way. I have no answer either ... only that I try and stay clear of the cascading waterfall of research forever making mamas feel worse about themselves and their efforts. Instead I find sanctuary (after the kids are in bed, the dishes done, the on-line banking done, the packed lunches prepared, the cats fed, laundry folded ad infinitum(!)) in blogs ... blogs of ordinary women who face the same struggles - some more than others some less, but all who stop to see beauty and take the time to share their musings and learnings and it makes me feel better ... to know we are in this boat together. Thanks for sharing this, keep on keeping on! LOVE and light X

  4. Oh delighted this is resonating. I was worrying it was a bit of a rant. But it is from the heart.

  5. Thanks, Lucy! This really resonated with me, too. This morning I was talking about just that with my mother. I like Leigh's "Stop the glorification of busy". Will have to send that one to my mum.

    It's been a lifelong thing with me though. On my wall I have "There is enough time for everything". A gentle reminder. I think that some of my angst about time scarcity may be that I feel that I am "never enough". For whatever reason...

    Just recently I've been thinking about what I am about to choose to do, and then asking myself how important it is. How important will it look if I reflect back in 5 or 10 years time. Often this applies to my time on the internet! It doesn't apply very much to housework as I don't seem to do much anyway LOL. I can't wait to read Daring Greatly - Brene Brown is another wise woman.

    Namaste, Julie

  6. and what you say about focus is entirely true for me too. I think lack of focus on my parenting skills/time leads to lack of patience and empathy ... then a feeling of dischord within my being and my home. X

    1. one day we'll have it all figured out Rose... and then they'll be grown up!

  7. I don't know what the solution is, but it's a start towards feeling better just reading this wise post and knowing I'm not alone!
    I heard the author of Raising Girls say that among the three main causes for teenage girls going off the rails is a busy, stressed mother. So I'm trying hard to rein it in!

  8. Yes yes yes! It may be a rant, but a necessary, heartfelt, comforting rant....comforting in the reassurance that we are not alone in our crazy busy minds,...
    Since starting to homeschool I have still been struggling not to rush....dragging my kids away from the serene unhurried environment of a Steiner kindergarten to a stressed out crazy mother seems a bit pointless. Its really hard to calm down. There are so many demands....but I'm trying and we're looking at bugs and flowers alot more...

  9. Thanks Hen, That's exactly why I didn't choose to homeschool - I know our local school aint perfect, but I knew I wasn't going to be either! I KNOW you're doing a super job xxx



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