We should all hate the passive-aggressive martyrdom of "me time"

Why is it that mothers end up having their lives marketed back to them, piece by piece, as "me time"?

One of the many things you learn upon becoming a mother is just how important “me time” is. Believe me, it’s really, really important. Without it no mum would ever survive.

In case you’re wondering what “me time” is, it’s what other people call “time” or, to give it its full name, “time when you’re not at work in which you do other stuff”. This is not to be confused with “free time,” that is, time in which you do anything you like (i.e. get drunk). “Me time,” or “time” as it was once known, is filled with activities which are kind of okay. You wouldn’t go so far as to call them interesting but hey, they help while away the hours. It’s stuff like having a bath, washing your hair, doing some sit-ups, walking the dog. Fine, but not exactly noteworthy. Unless, of course, you are a woman who has had kids. Then it’s a different story.

Then it’s “me time”! Yay! Hooray for “me time”! Aren’t you really, really grateful it exists? For this is one of the first rules of motherhood: be pathetically, ostentatiously thankful for any time whatsoever which isn’t spent wiping arses or cleaning behind the fridge. For lo! You have been granted some “me time”! Rejoice! Whether you spend these precious “you” moments drinking a cup of tea or shaving your pubes, never forget to do it with a beatific smile on your face. For you are so, so lucky! All that stuff other people, including fathers, just do — well, for you, it’s now a bit selfish to do it. But go on, we’ll let you. As an extra-special treat.

This evening I arrived home from work (not “me time”) to be greeted by my children (still not “me time”). While clearing away the dinner (STILL not “me time”) I came across a free copy of the Primary Times and started to flick through it (magazine reading! Sound the “me time” alert!). In amidst all the adverts I found an article on “me time” (how meta-“me time” is that?). Taking a further look I discovered that this time of year is particularly “me time”-tastic:

As October half term, with its round of bonfire and Halloween parties, comes to a close, perhaps now is the time for mums to claim back a little bit of that “me time” they have been promising themselves for so long.

Here that, ladies? Fire up the Ladyshave and get me-timing! That’s assuming, of course, that you’ve spent the half term giving your kids the kind of social life you only see in a Waitrose advert (if not then I’m sorry but you just haven’t earned it yet).

So what does proper, hardcore “me timing” involve? Lots of expensive spa treatments in the Gloucester and Bristol area, apparently. But there are other, cheaper activities such as “doing gentle breathing exercises in the bathroom, doing a yoga posture while waiting for the kettle to boil or taking it in turns with partners and friends to look after the children while the others get to do something fun” (NB I’m not sure who “the others” are. They creep me out, so I’m sticking to doing the downward-facing dog while waiting to make a cup of tea).

The importance of “me time” cannot be stressed enough. Whereas normal people have “time” just because it’s there and you’ve got to do something in it, mummies have “me time” because without it they’d be total bitches from hell. According to “professional bodyworker and yoga teacher Cheryl Jenkins”:

Children and loved ones have a fantastic knack of knowing how to press our buttons to make us over-react. […] When we’re over-stressed, that is exactly what we’ll do, only to regret it later. If we’re relaxed, we’re much more likely to respond to pressures in a measured way rather than allowing our frustrations to spill out.

We’re also much more likely to stop and really appreciate those special little moments, like when your child says something hilarious or you see their eyes sparkle as they experience something for the first time. After all, it’s these fleeting but magical moments that make parenthood so fulfilling.

Hmm. So there is clearly a link between having your nails done in Cabot Circus and being Mummy of the Year. Oh well. I think I’m out of the running but still, I do appreciate those special little moments. I wouldn’t say they were all that fulfilling but children talking bollocks are good value when you’re in need of something to tweet about (tweeting counts as “me time” so when you think about it that one’s a virtuous circle).

It’s not that I hate bubble baths or reading or going for a walk. It’s not even that I don’t consider some of these things to be a treat. Even so, the “me time” labelling is getting on my nerves. It’s not just laden with gender-based assumptions — “while the role of serving your family is vital, it’s still just part of the whole you” — it’s also heavily based on undertaking activities to improve your appearance. And then there’s the pathetic, passive-aggressive martyrdom of the whole thing. Oh, look at me and my “me time”. I might be in a hydrotherapy pool in an expensive spa in Wiltshire but mentally I still haven’t removed my sackcloth and ashes.

Why can’t we all just have “time”? Why is it that mothers end up having their lives marketed back to them, piece by piece?  Why can’t I just have a sodding bath without hearing an “ooh, mum’s having a night off from all the chores!” voiceover in my head? And this – blogging about “me time” – is that also “me time”? “Ooh, mum’s on her soapbox again!”

I despair, I really do.

This post first appeared on the Glosswatch blog.

Taking some "me time" to relax and read a book. (Photo: Getty)

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.