There aren’t enough hours in the day. If I had time, I’d… How often have you heard those words? How often have you spoken them yourself? I know that I am guilty of complaining about lack of time far more often than I’d like, and I’m sure everyone around me is tired of hearing it from me. But the fact is, though, that I’m living (as we all are) in a 24-7 society, that I’m constantly on the go, and that I’m holding down not one, but two full-time jobs (one as a lawyer, one as a mom). I’m willing to bet that most of my friends who are reading this post get that.
We spend our days rushing from place to place and task to task. A typical day for me involves getting up before the sun, spending an hour or more on coaxing Peanut to eat breakfast (she’s not a great eater and is rarely hungry in the morning, and we’re devoting substantial amounts of time and energy to getting her to gain weight upon the recommendation of her pediatrician), getting me ready for work, and getting Peanut ready for school. Then it’s commute time; I’m either driving straight to the office or making a detour to drop Peanut off at school, depending on whether it’s hubby’s turn or my turn to do morning transportation. Once I get to the office, it’s a mad rush throughout the day, ticking items off my to-do list (which never seems to grow any shorter). I usually work through lunch, and often I have lunches with colleagues, either as part of firm associate bonding initiatives or as meetings. If I’m lucky, I can grab twenty minutes to myself to read while I eat. If I’m really lucky, I get to enjoy a nice long girlfriends’ lunch with Zan. Then it’s back to the grind for the afternoon, until it’s time to either pick up Peanut (a dash to get to her school during a short window – I can’t really leave the office before 5:00 in good conscience, but I must be at Peanut’s school by her 5:30 pickup time – that usually leaves me cursing at red lights, jaywalkers and slow-moving traffic, all of which seem to conspire to make me late for pickup) or head home. If it’s hubby’s pickup day, I linger in the office a bit longer, trying to cross a few more things off the list (still no shorter) before I head home to start dinner. (It feels like luxury to cook dinner without Peanut underfoot, so I try to beat them home and at least get started if possible.) Then it’s another long slog of trying to coax Peanut to eat a full meal, and we usually go through at least three time-outs for throwing food. Then bath – it’s usually about 7:30 at this point, maybe later – and the teeth-brushing-story-reading bedtime routine. Hubby and I negotiate with Peanut and try to convince her to stay in bed (ah, the joys of the big girl bed) and I may tiptoe out at some point, to finish cleaning the kitchen while hubby continues to preside over bedtime. (Hubby usually makes a good start on the kitchen while I bathe Peanut, and often has the dishwasher loaded and running before he comes upstairs, which is incredibly helpful.) I’ll pick up toys, perhaps turn over laundry, check emails one more time, and crash.
Those days leave me exhausted. And when I read the question Jessica N. Turner (wife, mom of three, blogger, speaker, and full-time marketing professional; the woman wears some hats, yo) poses in the beginning of The Fringe Hours – how often do you fall into bed at the end of the day and realize you did nothing for you? – I found myself cringing. The answer, for me, is: far more often than I’d like. In The Fringe Hours, Jessica encourages all women (young professionals, wives, moms, empty nesters, whatever their roles) to make time for themselves every day. Jessica’s theory is that when we consciously make space for our own happiness, we are better in all of our roles. We can better serve our spouses, kids, families, communities, and colleagues if we aren’t constantly putting our own happiness and fulfillment on the back burner.
It’s not a new idea. I’ve heard “you’ll be a better mommy if you take time for you” plenty of times, from plenty of sources. (I hear it a lot from my husband, who is wonderful and supportive – I’m lucky.) But Jessica approaches the idea from a fresh perspective. She spends the early part of this slim but wonderful book addressing the obstacles that prevent women from taking time for their own pursuits – guilt and comparison being big ones (and both definitely apply to me). She then moves on to advice on how to identify both what your passions are and where you might find your own fringe hours – those little pockets of time in your day that you can reserve for you. And finally, she expands on her theme with advice on how to create those hours. The book is packed full of good tips and advice, and there are writing exercises scattered throughout (I did a few, but decided to leave the rest for a re-read after I’d let the book sink in a bit and applied some of the advice).
The Fringe Hours is a lovely, encouraging book, and some of Jessica’s advice really resonated as advice I could at least try to implement in my own life. For example:
- Fringe hours don’t have to be hours. I’m not currently at a place in life where I often have a solid block of an hour or more to do something just for me. (Although I will need to find those blocks, eventually, when I start marathon training this spring.) But fringe hours can come in small pockets, too – five minutes reading in the car while you wait for school pickup; ten minutes to write a card to a friend while pasta boils. I often let those pockets slip by and I can do better about utilizing them.
- Beware time wasters. I fritter away far too many of my precious fringe hours (or minutes) on social media. I like Instagram a lot, but I don’t need to be all caught up on Facebook. I am working hard on forcing myself to stop scrolling through updates and just read the most recent.
- Accept help when it’s offered, and consider paying for it. If one of the grandparents offers to watch Peanut so hubby and I can escape for a date, I do try to take them up on that (although it can be hard for us to tear ourselves away from her). And I’m lucky in that my husband helps out a lot with child care and household duties – he recognizes that we both work outside the home, and we’re both tired, and he puts in his fair share on the tasks that keep our family running. But one thing I’m considering as a result of Jessica’s advice is paying for help more. Of course we pay for the regular child care that allows us to work, but I’m talking about more than that. We’ve talked about finding a trustworthy teenager to do some babysitting; that may take a backseat while Nugget is tiny. But hubby has occasionally floated the idea of a cleaning service. I’ve always rejected the idea, but lately I’ve been thinking about it. Would it be so awful to have someone in to help with tasks like vacuuming, cleaning baseboards, scrubbing bathrooms? It could certainly free up time – especially with (soon) two kids in the house. I haven’t taken the plunge, but I’m thinking about it.
- Make solo hobbies into family hobbies if they fit. I’ve written about this before, and hiking is my big example. Hiking was never a solo hobby for me – I would be nervous about venturing out truly alone – but hubby and I used to hike regularly as a couple and we’ve involved Peanut in our hikes since she was very small. It’s a different experience to hike with a young child, but it’s just as fun.
Of course, it’s one book and while many parts of it spoke to me, there were certainly aspects that are not relevant to me right now, or pieces of advice that just won’t work in my life. (It’s not one-size-fits-all, you know.) In my case:
- Jessica says that friends often ask her how she manages to “do it all” and still have time for herself, but she doesn’t do it all. There’s unfolded laundry in baskets in her hallway, and dust on her mantle. She prioritizes her own happiness. Well, that’s great advice… but there’s unfolded laundry in my baskets, too, and dust on my mantle, and I still often can’t find the time for me. I agree that it never hurt anyone to neglect those tasks on occasion… but I neglect them routinely and am still overloaded with responsibilities.
- Jessica also encourages women to jettison extra responsibilities – even ones that are “good” things in and of themselves; they can become overwhelming if you do too much. She gives, as an example, a stressful time in which she tried to participate in both a book club and a community group, and she realized that she couldn’t do both and had to drop one. While I think it’s great to know your limits, I’ve already quit every “extracurricular activity” in my life. I withdrew from literacy tutor volunteering (it was a good time for me to take a step back; my student was dropped from the program for no-showing too many sessions and we were beginning a long, stressful housing hunt). And my Stroller Strides classes (one of my favorite parts of the week) sadly ended when our instructor’s three year franchise agreement expired. I currently have no evening or weekend “responsibilities” yet – again – I still struggle to find the time.
- Get up early… yeah, right. Jessica shares an example of finding a big stretch of time in her day by waking up an hour or more before the rest of the house. I would love to do that. I used to get up early and get in a workout, and I always felt better and was more productive when I had that time for me. But I’m pregnant and exhausted, and we’re still in a bedsharing phase with Peanut, and she can’t be left to loll about in the big bed alone (hubby usually gets up early to work before the day gets started) – she could fall out. So carving out morning fringe hours is not possible right now.
Not sweating small household tasks, and getting rid of excess outside activity, are two of Jessica’s major pieces of advice, and she returns to them multiple times. And I think there are many women who need to take that advice. But for me, neither would help me to free up any fringe hours to speak of. I could, perhaps, ignore the kitchen or leave the toys scattered around after bedtime… but that’s not easy for me to do. And I have no more outside the home activities to jettison. Someday, when the kids are older, I may be able to put ore of these pieces of advice into practice. But right now, those aren’t tips that are going to free up any fringe hours for me (although I think they would for a lot of women).
I really enjoyed The Fringe Hours. It was a wonderful, encouraging book and gave me plenty to think about. I’ve already started practicing some of Jessica’s insightful suggestions. Namely:
- I’m trying to be more disciplined about carving out at least half an hour in the middle of the day to spend on myself. Sometimes that means going for a walk if the weather is decent; other times it means reading over lunch. I’ve read quite a bit more as a result. It doesn’t happen every day, but I’m working on it.
- I’m also trying to be better about not wasting time on social media. I’m usually caught up on Instagram, because that’s faster for me and I enjoy it more. But if I miss a few tweets or Facebook posts, it’s not the end of the world.
- I’m working on accepting help when it’s offered – and asking for it when it’s needed. I’ve never been great at this, but I’m doing my best.
- I’m trying to identify my passions. Jessica discusses at length the need for women to identify those things they are passionate about, and spend their fringe hours on those activities. I have always loved to read, even though I’ve been lacking in attention recently. And I’m looking forward to being cleared to run again. Fringe hours are useless if you don’t spend them on your priority activities.
Finding my fringe hours, and figuring out how best to utilize them to make myself happy, is definitely not an easy thing to do. It’s an ongoing process. My goal each day is to take at least a few minutes to spend on my own personal fulfillment – I’m still falling short, some days, but I’ve been doing better since I made it a conscious practice. The biggest challenge has been resisting the time-wasters, but even that is getting easier. I’m so glad I read this book. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me… and while I don’t expect to have large blocks of “me time” anytime soon, with Jessica’s encouragement I’m starting to see that the little pockets of time can add up, and the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Have you read The Fringe Hours yet? What resonated most with you?