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.

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.