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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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation