For days I’ve been angling to get an audience with my granddaughters. But now that the school year is in full swing, with homework gobbling up entire evenings and extracurricular activities whittling away at afternoons, scoring a face-to-face has become as difficult as landing an interview with a famously reclusive artist.
This is not, however, about my frustration, my need to know I play a role in my grandchildren’s lives. It’s really about the irrational busy-ness of today’s families and why parents are so exhausted all the time. Parenting has always been demanding and depleting, yes, but 21st-century child-rearing requires the endurance of a marathoner.
On any given weekday (or weekend), there are: games and/or practices, tutoring or private lessons, doctor or dentist appointments, birthday socials, tests to study for, state capitols to memorize, sight words to learn, projects and book reports due, and plain ol’ homework. And homework. And homework. Did I mention endless reams of homework?
Add these kid activities to adults’ jobs and housekeeping responsibilities and you’ll get a very particular and precise portrait of the bug-eyed, stressed-out parent. If there’s one common complaint I often hear from young mothers and fathers, it’s this: I have no time to breathe. To think. To be myself.
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I understand. I remember hiding in the bathroom to get away from my children, though it would take but a few minutes before one of them wandered over to pound on the locked door. “Mom? Mom? MOM!!!!”
Now, data shows just how little time parents truly have to themselves: 32 minutes a day. Just a bit over the length of a TV sitcom.
That’s according to a study, sponsored by a meal delivery service, which looked at how 2,000 moms and dads spend their time once their parental and work duties are met. If this sounds like too few minutes, consider this: In addition to jobs and regular childcare, parents typically had six car journeys per week taking children to school and other various activities, five trips to the grocery store per week, and an average of five referee sessions per week involving kids acting out and misbehaving. What’s more, because “me time” was so elusive the average parent admitted to hiding from their kids four times a week. (That’s all? Mine was a daily habit.)
This study adds to a growing concern that parents are running themselves ragged and are more burned out than past generations. One survey published a year ago in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that 13 percent were suffering from “high burnout,” a condition researchers suggest should be studied further and considered a syndrome equivalent to job burnout. Of course there’s a difference between burnout and exhaustion and between depression and gloom, though the distance may be shorter than we have previously imagined.
Still, parenting in the age of social media and high-stakes competitiveness puts pressure on a family. Wanting to be the best at everything, parents pinball between high-powered jobs, increased demands from schools and frantic extracurricular schedules — all in the name of giving their kids opportunities in an uncertain world. FOMO, the fear of missing out, is a very real worry when it comes to ensuring your child’s future. I’m not sure how this will play out, but I do know too many guilt-plagued parents who either can’t or won’t take time for themselves.
As a mother of five, I wish I had advice to give; words of wisdom that would ease the circuitous climb to launch a child into adulthood. Hiding from kids may help, but the search for balance (and mental sanity) requires more than stolen time in a locked room. It demands asking hard questions, challenging assumptions and thinking out of the pressure-cooker box. A packed calendar doesn’t usually doesn’t allow for that.