Why parents are poor time managers

There’s a rarefied commodity to which we’re all entitled in equal measure – TIME. Time is what keeps everything from happening at once. The clock ticks at the same pace for everyone on the planet, but it’s down to us as individuals to manage our own Time quota. And for parents, that quickly becomes (and remains) a tricky thing to do.

As soon as you become a parent, you no longer own your allocation of Time. Whether you try to hang on to it, surrender it, or gift it with love, there’ll be a feeding frenzy among those who want a piece of it – your Time.

We try to be good parents, juggling, plate spinning and unicycling simultaneously in our bid to keep everyone in the house happy. There’s shopping and laundry to be done, meals to prepare, clearing up, school stuff, walking the dog. Oh, and earning a living, before you can even dare to consider ‘Me Time’.

Seemingly endless, random things swipe at our Time allocation. Why does it have to take so long for kids to put their shoes on? What about all that Time wasted being stuck in traffic jams, at red lights, roadworks or when motorway traffic grinds to a standstill for no apparent reason?

In spite of our best intentions, we are all capable of sabotaging our own Time. We faff, we procrastinate, we get distracted – have you ever found yourself wondering what you are searching for on Google or why you’ve walked into a particular room?

Even with mobile technology at our fingertips, simple things like trying to organise your car insurance can take half a day of your life. If you’re switching utilities or remortgaging, you will be flung into an Alice in Wonderland cavernous black hole of online administration and call centre queues, from which it can take years to emerge.

On a daily basis, how many scheduled things in your Time allocation need to be stockpiled for another day, compressed or written off. Seriously, you didn’t think you’d ever actually take that spa day you won in the raffle, did you?

Have you ever noticed how, if you steal (yes, take something that doesn’t belong to you) Time to sit down quietly with a cup of tea, or ring a friend, or lie back and shut your eyes, or read – just for a moment – demands to get your Time will burst into life? ‘Where are my football boots?’ Or there’ll be screams from outside as one child tries to kill a sibling. Or everyone will congregate close to you and start a big argument. Suddenly, the Time that you stole has, itself, been snatched back. And why is it, when you’ve been looking forward to going to an amazing event or doing something really special, someone else gets ill or you’re instead required to spend your precious Time waiting in A&E?

It’s not just family that wrestles Time away from us. We live in a digital world which functions 24/7, where pictures and words are sent and delivered in an instant around the world. The insomniac head of the PTA who sends you the minutes of the meeting at 04:07 in the morning is simply a statistic – one in three adults in the UK checks their smart phone at least once during the night if they wake up. And you’re one of them as you lie in bed reading about plans for a fundraising cake sale at 04:08 hours. At 4:10 you’ll have a look at Facebook to see what’s going on in your news feed. Where’s the bloody time management in that?

If you’re fortunate (not being required to dash to the nearest hospital), you may stumble upon, or even carefully construct a window of ‘Me Time’. But then you’ll go through the anxiety of how you’re going to spend it. Are you going to enjoy yourself binge watching a TV series, or should you be catching up with friends? What about doing something active, creative, cultural or relaxing? And all those books you’ve been piling up waiting for time to read them all? Does going to the hairdressers count as Me Time, or is it a necessity like unloading the dishwasher?

In the middle of this Time Management battle, let’s not forget that we are parents and our children need us. We’re doing vital work here in shaping the next generation and making sure our kids have the best opportunities. When we acknowledge the lifetime of joy that watching our children grow up brings – so many incredible moments, milestones and memories, all the drudgery pales into an invisible and irrelevant background.

Most of us are winging it. Modern life is less structured, but we have diaries and calendars. We make plans, we go out and we have fun, and the best things happen spontaneously. We live our lives vicariously through our children, and many of us, in spite of the drudgery and the occasional hijacking of our ‘Me Time’, are happy.

We shouldn’t get het up because a train was cancelled, or moan about all the time we’ve wasted chasing around after others. In these uncertain times, our frantic, time-poor, child-filled freedom should be treasured – with or without ‘Me Time’. As Time ticks by at the same rate for everyone, we need to remember that we are the lucky ones.

© Annie Harrison, GoMunkee 2017
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