Reclaiming our leisure hours

    It's little wonder that American parents — and especially moms — feel they have no time for themselves and their families.

    With more mothers working part- and full-time jobs than in the 1960s, parents together are working an average of 676 more hours per year, or an additional 28 days, according to Brigid Schulte, author of the new book "Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time."

    Men are spending more time on housework and with kids, but moms still do twice the housework and childcare as dads, Schulte says.

    While feeling overwhelmed at times is a natural part of modern life, Schulte argues women can gain more control over their time by banishing guilt and prioritizing leisure and play time for themselves. Like many working moms, Schulte says she was plagued by guilt before researching her book.

    "Why did I feel I never did enough work? Why did I worry that I never spent enough time with my kids? Did I really need to keep the house so tidy? Why did I feel I didn't deserve to relax until the to-do list was done?" she writes.

    Schulte talked to an expert on leisure and time who forced her to track her activities. A reporter, she found while she was paid to work 37.5 hours per week, she was actually putting in 50 hours, with the work broken up and logged at odd hours.

    And she was actually spending a lot of time with her kids. Research shows American parents spend more time, and more quality time, with their kids than in past decades. They are perhaps even devoting too much energy to their kids, leading to the term "helicopter parenting."

    Schulte says moms should stop feeling guilty about their children, especially since research shows kids' brains develop better when they have plenty of play time with other kids. They simply don't need to be doted on by parents or shuttled around to a myriad of activities — which only increases their stress levels and their parents' sense of overload.

    I asked my own children how much time they would like me to pay attention to them each day, thinking they would answer about three hours. My independent, project-oriented son answered about 30 minutes to one hour. Surprisingly, my talkative, social daughter said 45 minutes was fine.

    Schulte traveled to Denmark, which has a strong, productive economy but also parents who feel their work, family and recreational lives are in balance.

    She found Denmark has a results-oriented workplace, where people get their tasks done, pick up their kids from quality day care early and go home. People who work long hours and check emails late at night are seen as inefficient, unlike in America, where many workers are expected to be available 24/7 via cell phone and email, even while on vacation.

    While many American men have kept a foot in the world of play through sports, many women never experience the joy of playing anymore. Their time off is "contaminated" because they keep running through their to-do list and checking off small chores they can squeeze in.

    Schulte visited a women's group that seeks out adventurous play, from taking trapeze lessons to paddle boarding to rock climbing — activities that require people to focus and stay in the moment.

    For women to truly have leisure time, Schulte learned they must schedule in fun activities, not just hope to have time to themselves after they finish their never-ending to-do lists. Too often, moms feel they have to "earn" that time, rather than recognizing the importance of time off to preserve their own physical and emotional well-being.

    Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or Follow her at



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