What Women Can Learn From Men About ‘Me Time’

I asked the question about leisure time again and again while reporting this column, mostly to working mothers and fathers, and was greeted with laughter, sighs and the occasional expletive.
I asked the question about leisure time again and again while reporting this column, mostly to working mothers and fathers, and was greeted with laughter, sighs and the occasional expletive.


  • What Women Can Learn From Men About ‘Me Time’

Make an inventory of your life. Subtract the work, the errands, the cleaning. If you have kids, take away the parts of parenting that feel like drudgery. How much time is left for the things you actually want to do?

Zero, one mother of two young kids outside Erie, Pa., told me flatly.

I asked the question about leisure time again and again while reporting this column, mostly to working mothers and fathers, and was greeted with laughter, sighs and the occasional expletive.

“There is this constant doing," especially for women, says Cassie Holmes, a business professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who studies the relationship between time and happiness.

It’s no wonder so many Americans feel “time poor," as Holmes describes it. Work consumes much of our days. The real and imaginary pressures of parenting fill in the cracks. We miss sharing a languorous drink with friends, painting (even if it’s just a kit from the craft store), practicing the violin and camping, according to workers I talked to.

Me-time for men

Working moms might be having the least fun. Even in marriages where women bring in similar income to their husbands, men still spend about 3.5 more hours a week on leisure activities, according to a recent study from Pew Research Center.

“When I go, I go," says Stephen McCabe, who heads out for hourlong mountain-biking sessions in Asheville, N.C., three times a week. The 48-year-old engineer sees that his wife, Melissa McCabe, is less likely to allow herself time to destress or play, and he feels guilty about it, he told me.

“I can go through a day and think, you know what? I’ve completed everything I want to do in a day, and I still feel like I have time left over," he says. “I never see her going to bed feeling that way."

Holmes’s research finds that people who have less than two hours of free time per day are less happy. (So are those who spend more than five hours daily on unproductive leisure pursuits, like scrolling Instagram.)

Melissa, the general manager of an education-software company, says she’s trying to carve out more me-time. She started going to yoga and taking naps. She stopped folding socks for her family of five.

“I want that hour. I want that hour for something else," she says.

Take back your time

It’s time for us to take back our time. Without it, we get resentful and jealous of our partners, says Shawna Samuel, a leadership coach and former financial-services director. She works with female managers so focused on productivity they can only conceive of leisure time as a self-improvement project. Reserving afternoons to learn to code, or sipping a glass of wine while simultaneously networking: acceptable. Anything else feels frivolous.

“It leads to this really exhausting autopilot way of going through life," she says.

Begin by setting aside 15 to 30 minutes a day for a long-lost hobby or even just a phone call with a friend. It will feel strange at first, Samuel cautions. The running to-do list in your brain won’t cease. Your kids might be fighting in the background. Do it anyway.

“We keep waiting for a moment that’s never actually coming," she says.

Accountability can help, too. Pay money for a class, or invite a friend along on your activity. Last fall, I started swimming laps with a neighbor every week. Plagued by the thought of bailing on her, and missing our precious catch-up time together, I never skip.

Formalize the time on your calendar, even if it seems like it’s defeating the purpose.

“I don’t want to have to schedule time to relax," says Mike Barbeau, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based executive for a marketing technology consulting firm. Still, after three years of running his company’s workout-challenge group, he sees who gets stuck paying $20 into the pot when they miss their monthly target: people who don’t block off an hour to make their runs or Orangetheory Fitness classes happen.

At home, Barbeau noticed he had about an hour more each day to workout or watch a baseball game than his wife, who’s a lawyer. It’s not that he doesn’t pick up the kids from school or pack their lunches. But his domestic responsibilities are more discrete, with clear boundaries, he says, while his wife seems to spend infinite hours signing the children up for summer camp and planning family vacations.

To make their relaxing time a little more equal, he now asks if she needs help with anything before he sits down to take in the latest zombie movie. Sometimes she’ll request a hand doing the dishes, he says, and even when she says no, at least he tried.

Time together

Jillian Rothe, an engineer in Denver, has started tracking her time alone (four hours last month) and time spent with just her husband (11 hours) in an app called Toggl. The first few months of data made her realize how overstuffed with obligations her days were.

She cut back on her hours at work, switching from a job that routinely had her putting in 13-hour days, and orchestrated a biweekly date night with her husband. They rotate who’s in charge of planning dinner out or getting a reservation at Topgolf, a driving-range game. Reminiscing about times in their 20s or dreaming about vacations ahead, she feels closer to him and more like a wife and adult, she says, not just a mom of three and roommate to her husband.

Sometimes the answer is to join in the fun. Jack Kelly has long loved golf: being outside, socializing, the roller coaster of the game. After years of watching him return home revitalized from a round, his wife, Meghan Kelly, wondered if she should give it a shot. It’s good for networking, the real-estate development professional reasoned. And it looks relaxing.

Last month, she started lessons.

“I’m going to make myself love it," she says.

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