I have just finished reading Brigid Schulte’s excellent opinion piece published recently in The Guardian: “A woman’s greatest enemy? A lack of time to herself”. In the article, Brigid describes reading a book about the daily rituals of great artists. She discovers, much to her frustration, that all these great, almost exclusively male, artists have been able to enjoy these wonderfully productive and creative daily routines because of the women behind the scenes who have allowed them the luxury of free time to pursue their ideas and hone their craft. This uninterrupted time allows the mind to achieve a state of flow, as coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow refers to the highly focussed mental state conducive to creativity and productivity.
The bit that stuck with me from the article was the fact that many women don’t feel that they deserve long stretches of time to themselves, the way men do. Instead, for many of us (myself included as I write this article after 9pm when my daughter is asleep, the kitchen is clean and the dog is walked, fed and toiletted), we only allow ourselves time to pursue our creative passions and ideas when, or more often than not if, all the daily chores on the to-do list are completed.
Today, I spent my Sunday afternoon at a friend’s baby shower. I ran into an old work colleague there whose second child, we discovered, is the same age as my daughter. My former colleague is back at work full-time at the same hospital where I am working part-time. I asked her about her two boys, and was told that her husband has quit his job to become a stay-at-home dad. He looks after the children during the week, but they also attend daycare on two days of the week. My colleague explained that her husband is trying to do renovations to the house so the daycare days allow him time to do so. The only other young mother who I know whose husband is a full-time stay-at-home dad has three children, who also attend day care two days a week. This is ostensibly because the husband is looking at setting up his own business. These are the only two stay-at-home dads who I know, whilst I know dozens of stay-at-home mothers. None of the full-time stay-at-home mothers who I know send their children to daycare at all! We all try to pursue our side hustles, hobbies and household renovations in the few available tiny pockets of time when our babies are napping, or at the end of the day, or very early in the morning – all times which probably aren’t conducive to achieving the state of flow.
So what is it about us, as women, that makes us feel that we don’t deserve uninterrupted time to work on our passions, or explore our creativity, or just do something for ourselves? Is it the ever present mother’s guilt? Or the mental load that just keeps weighing us down? Or just the lack of role models and societal expectations?