E Jane Dickson: Staying Afloat

If I don't take 'me time', I'm told, my soul shrivels and I'll be dull at parties. But my children are 'me'
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The Independent Online

Thrilled by the latest figures from the Institute of the Bleedin' Obvious, which show that 79 per cent of working mothers have no time for themselves.

The statistics are amplified by case studies of individuals itemising their stuffed-to-bursting daily agendas. What with the board meetings and the school runs and the getting the packed lunches ready, "me time" - that inelegant construct beloved of women's magazines - is getting squeezed out of the diary. Maybe it's just the phrase that grates, but I can't help equating "me time" with the kind of woman who leaves Post-It notes on her mirror reminding herself that she is a beautiful, valuable human being.

"Me time", apparently, is a movable feast. It can be a quiet moment with a Crunchie bar, an endorphin-boosting session at the gym (can you give yourself a note to get off games?) or simply listening to the birdsong on an autumn evening - something you're doing "just for you', a time when you are not defined by your professional or caring roles, all kinds of benefits accrue.

If you don't get "me time" on a daily basis, the magazines agree, your soul shrivels and you will be dull at dinner parties. I wish I didn't have to imagine, in gruesome detail, the dinner party where fulfilled and interesting women chat briskly about yoga and birdsong, but that's the kind of aimless time-waster I am.

Still, it's never too late for a new beginning. After tea, traditionally the time for scraping paint off sweatshirts and devising ever new ways of testing multiplication that doesn't make it sound like maths, I down tools and arrange myself on the sofa with a copy of Mrs Dalloway. (Virginia Woolf, I feel sure, would approve of "me time".)

"What are you doing?" asks Clara, in the wary manner of someone who enters a room to find their mother stripped naked and smearing treacle on the walls. "Just having my daily 'me time'," I tell her, and explain the concept.

"Er," says Conor, scenting some extra points for good grammar: "Don't you mean 'I time'?" "Possibly," I acknowledge, and the "me time" ticks away as we try out various linguistic models.

Clara, on the other hand, thinks it all sounds a bit selfish. "I mean," she reasons, "here we are, doing homework and stuff and here you are just lazing about."

I suppose I could outline the dire consequences of having a spiritually malnourished mother, but my heart isn't in it. Ultimately, I have no problem with being defined by my roles. My children are me. (They're certainly the best part of me.)

My job, to a lesser extent, is also me, along with a host of other less appealing and constructive components. Nor is it impossible, in my experience, to enjoy a Crunchie while filling the washing machine. By and large, it's not such a bad "me" to be. I must just find space on my wall chart to appreciate it.