Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I remember my parents saying to me when I was young (and not so young, most likely), "if it is important to you, then you make time for it." And I still absolutely agree with that sentiment, the idea that our actions are what ultimately express our values. How we spend our time is the truest reflection of our priorities. But I want to quibble with one little aspect of my parents' advice: I cannot make time.
Oh, that I could. If only I could create extra time, more hours in the day to devote to those activities I value and never seem to get around to. If only I could make the time I need to get everything done. But sadly, I cannot.
The hard truth is, there is only a very limited amount of time in any given day. And when I choose to devote time to one activity, I am inevitably stealing that time from some other endeavor. This is a zero sum game. Every hour I spend doing housework is an hour I don't spend reading to my children. And if I try to do it all, I just end up stealing from my own allotment of sleep.
What ends up happening, more often than not, is that when I try to carve time out of my day that is just for me, set aside for my own selfish interests, I feel the guilt of a thief. I am all too conscious of what I am not doing. In a family, whenever one person drops the ball, another must pick it up. Thus none of my decisions only affect myself, especially when it comes to how to spend my time. Trying to set aside some "me" time inevitably means imposing on someone else to pick up the slack.
Recently, my husband asked me, concerning some trivial decision about where to have dinner or what to do on a Saturday, "what do you want?" And I answered his question with considerations of nap time and the children's preferences, and he reiterated, "No, what do you want?" And I realized that the answer to that question hardly even occurs to me. I am mentally unable to conceive of my own needs and desires outside of the needs and desires of my family as a whole. This, my friends, is a problem.
Perhaps part of the issue, in my case, is that I was never an independent adult. I was seventeen years old when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I went straight from adolescent to mother, with no stopping for a breath in between. And from the day she was born, I was first and foremost a mother. I never had a period of life in which my time was truly my own.
So this is my challenge to myself now: to find the answer, the truly individual selfish answer, to the question, what do you want? And then to find a way to steal the time I need without guilt. To let some things go. To say to myself, you are important. Your needs are important, as an individual person. I am sure I am not the only one who finds this such a revolutionary idea. Most of us squash down our selfishness most of the time, and that's not a bad thing. But it is absurd, when I am trying to teach my children self-respect, to not treat myself with that same level of regard.
Right now, I want... time to write. And this week, I promise myself, I will steal it.