Moms Work To Perfect Delicate Balancing Act

More often than not, many mothers feel the strain of balancing life at work with the demands of home and often have to balance multiple schedules. In a recent article for the Washington Post Magazine, writer and mother Brigid Schulte shares what she discovered by taking a closer look at how she spends her own time. Host Lynn Neary speaks with Schulte, along with regular Tell Me More parenting contributors, Danette Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner about their balancing act.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

They say it takes a village to raise a child. But maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

Today - time management. For many mothers the idea of leisure time sounds like a fantasy, even a cruel joke. And the end of the work day at the office means the start of the work night at home, driving kids to sports practice and music lessons, preparing that nights dinner and tomorrows lunches, confronting sinks full of dirty dishes and hampers full of dirty clothes.

But what if somebody told you that you had more time than you think? In a recent article for the Washington Post Magazine, writer Brigid Schulte shares what she discovered by taking a closer look at how she spends her time. And she joins us now from the offices of the Washington Post.

Also with us to talk about time management are two of TELL ME MOREs regular parenting contributors, Danette Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner. Theyre both with me here in our Washington studio. Good to have you all here.

Ms. BRIGID SCHULTE (Writer): Great to be here.

Ms. DANETTE TUCKER: Thank you.

Ms. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Thanks for having us.

NEARY: Now, Bridgette, let me start with you - youre a journalist, a mother of two, so I gather you got into this topic from personal experience?

Ms. SCHULTE: Well, as I wrote in the story, I was part of an internal working group here at the Washington Post. We were trying to figure out womens reading habits, and all of us were working mothers on the panel. And our first hypothesis were women are too busy, we just dont have a lot of time, and my job was to find some research to back some of that up. And so I called John Robinson, who is a time studies guru, he's done, you know, spent his life's profession writing books and studying the way people use time. And so I threw that out to him and he said wrong - women have leisure time, women have more leisure time now than they did in the 1960s. You have 30 hours a week. and I about lost my mind. I thought I dont have 30 hours of leisure a week, are you nuts? And he said come up here and do a time study with me, and Ill show you where your leisure time is. And so thats sort of what started the journey.

NEARY: Okay, and once you started keeping track of your time, as he had asked you to do, what did you discover about time?

Ms. SCHULTE: Well, one of the first things that I discovered was that the forms that he gave me really didnt capture the experience of being a working mom. It basically had a category for what were you doing, and what time, and who are you with. But most working moms are, I would argue, usually are doing two or three things at once. And so I added my own category, what else were you doing to catch for some of that multi-tasking? And I found that there was very little time throughout the day that I wasnt doing at least two or three things at once.

NEARY: In the end, what did Professor Robinson say to you about the amount of leisure time that you had? Did he still disagree with you even though you added this new category?

Ms. SCHULTE: Well, I did go back up to have my meeting with him and I presented him with all of my scribbled journals, and the first thing is, he couldnt read them. So I had typed one week out and thats what we went through and he took yellow highlighter and he highlighted all this time. And he did find 28 hours of leisure in that one week.

But it was things like, laying at bed, trying to get out of bed while I was listening to NPR in the morning. Or at one point my car had broken down and I was sitting in the car waiting for the tow truck, and I just said, well, it doesnt sound very leisurely to me, and he said, well, Im not a chronotherapist.

NEARY: I know, I know, I dont even know what a chronotherapist is. Do you know?

Ms. SCHULTE: I think theres such a thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHULTE: Who tells how you should spend your time. I certainly could use one.

NEARY: Now, Leslie, let me get you involved here. Your book Mommy Wars explores the sort of tension and guilt that a lot of mothers feel in making decisions about how to use their time. So do you believe that mothers actually have more time than they think?

Ms. STEINER: Maybe a little bit. The same researcher that came up with the time diary formula says that finding leisure time is an act of will, and I do believe that. All us could probably find a little bit of time, but theres so many problems with the approach. And one is that moms are always on call. You know, as soon as we have our babies, it doesnt matter where we are, we still feel very much like were moms.

And so we kind of never get a break. So, I think the whole idea of having true leisure time once you have kids is laughable, but in some ways that laughter is the good news. And I dont know about you all, but I found Bridgettes article to be laugh out loud funny, because working motherhood, any kind of motherhood is a complete comedy. And the idea that you can measure it and dole out your time is just a complete and utter joke.

NEARY: And I noticed too that two of the researchers you talked to were men who, I dont know, they were going off taking long walks, doing all kinds of great things.

But Danette, let me get you into here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: You have been a married mother and a single mother. So what difference did you see in the amount of time you had between those two different times in your life?

Ms. TUCKER: Not much. I mean as a married mom I was doing about the same as a single mom, because I know I speak for a lot of moms that arent currently married, you know, sometimes still doing it by yourself. Men can do that. They can sit down and, you know, say, okay, I can do this at 8:00, I can do this at 10:00 because they dont have to deal with what I call the monkey wrenches, the things that come up in your day. You know, when the kids get sick at school or when something happens, they usually call us, they dont call dad, because what do dads say? Call mom.

So the best thing about it, when I did get the divorce and became a single mom is I did have more leisure time because then I didnt have to deal with his stuff, you know, so it was just me and the kids. But one thing Id like to point out, and I'm glad that Bridgette did the article, I too laughed but not at the content of the article; I laughed at how she indulged the professor. Shes a lot nicer than I was.

Because I would have told him to mind his business because you dont have a clue what youre talking about. But I know for moms like myself, we get our kids involved a lot. You know, my kids learn how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a lot early. They learned how to clean their room. The Barney song was one of our favorite songs. Clean up, clean up, everybody do their share.

So as a single mom its about, you know, getting the kids involved. I make my leisure time exactly where it is. I got an hour right now, oh, lets do something leisurely, you know, so it's flying by a lot, you know, daily, because you never know what your day is going to be.

NEARY: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And for this weeks parenting segment Im talking with regular guests Danette Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner about time management for mothers. Also with us is writer Brigid Schulte, she wrote about the topic in the Washington Post Magazine. And Brigid, did you just want to add something?

Ms. SCHULTE: One of the things that some women researchers and these wonderful labor economists, I wanted to cry when I found them, but one of the things that they have found that is so interesting is that what women did thats changed since the 1960s is they gave up their personal leisure time to spend their time that leisure time with their children. For that I got a lot of blowback, publishing that in the Post Magazine, but I thought that was a fascinating finding.

NEARY: Leslie, Brigids story suggests that many mothers feel guilty if theyre not filling every free minute with work inside or outside the home - is that consistent with what you have found, and do you think we should sort of just lost the ability to relax and enjoy leisure time, maybe even recognize when we've got time for leisure?

Ms. STEINER: I think that that is part of the problem. One thing that Brigid wrote about was that we moms think that we need to earn leisure time. You know that if you have cleaned up the house and done all the dishes and met every deadline, that then you can relax. And I think in some ways men are much better at just walking past the mess and just sitting down and enjoying a few minutes of leisure at a time. And for me, I feel like the way I had to find leisure is so different than anybody in the studies did. For me, leisure time is when I am alone in a hotel and nobody can reach me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEINER: And that is the only time it's true leisure. Because otherwise, even if Im in the shower or walking somewhere, Im doing six other things in my head. Have my kids finished their homework? Do we have a babysitter when we need one? Have I met this deadline at work? Maybe it's just part of American motherhood is that we have this puritanical background and we dont really feel good about ourselves unless we are doing 25 things at once.

NEARY: Dannie, do you think that theres a way that mothers and especially single mothers could build a support system that would help them have some extra time, some leisure time?

Ms. TUCKER: Oh, I totally agree. Actually, thats how we built our support system. I call it my moms friends and networks because what we found were, we were guilt-ridden, therefore I had high blood pressure at age of 29. So first of all, we decided to stop feeling guilty. We have given it our best so the guilt had to go. Another thing, we were our best resource. Okay, well, all our kids are going to practice.

All right, well, I'll run to the grocery store while you monitor practice. So, thats how we kind of built our network and our network is still together. We realized our strengths. Okay, well, Danny, you know, thats me - you tutor because youre good at tutoring the kids. Okay, well, I will help out with art and craft projects. So, we just basically realize what our strengths were and decided to lean on those strengths for each other and it has worked out great.

NEARY: And Brigid, since you reported this story, had you made any changes that give you more leisure time? Do you walk past the dirty clothes now?

Ms. SCHULTE: No, I still dont walk past the dirty clothes. I think Im too obsessive-compulsive for that. But I tell you, I think that Leslie is really right that there is a certain act of will, you have to make a choice. And so I have tried getting up even earlier to have like a few minutes to read or do something just by myself in the morning. I think for the longest time exercise was my only personal leisure, and thats just not that fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Brigid Schulte is a writer for the Washington Post Magazine and she joined me from her office in Washington. Leslie Morgan Steiner and Danette Tucker are TELL ME MORE parenting regulars and they joined me here in our Washington studio. Ladies, moms, thank you so much.

Ms. STEINER: Thank you.

Ms. TUCKER: Thank you.

Ms. SCHULTE: Thank you.

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