Time poverty and the modern mum.

I learnt a new term this weekend at the Save Childhood Movement’s Flourish Summit in London this weekend: time poverty.The first speaker of the weekend identified it as one of the major factors shaping the modern landscape of parenting and child development.

There was a groan of recognition from the primarily female audience. Yes, we know that all too well, was the unspoken response.

Time poverty: both the lack of time, and, I would add, the perceived lack of time, is endemic in our not-enough culture.

I was reading Brene Brown’s most recent book over Easter, Daring Greatly, and she identifies the pervasiveness of our scarcity culture. When we wake, our first thought is usually that we did not have enough sleep, followed by we don’t have enough energy to start the day. Soon followed by not having enough time to be at school or work on time. And so it continues all day: I don’t have enough time to do this, enough money to do that. I challenge you to observe yourself tomorrow morning, and then chuckle ruefully at how unconsciously we continually perpetuate this paradigm in our own lives.

Lack of time is my greatest excuse and limitation. When in truth it is more like a lack of willingness to focus, a lack of patience, empathy or an unwillingness to make a decision and stand by it. As well as an abundance of choices. The uncomfortable fact is that our scarcity culture exists in an era of plenty. It is the myth that stands between us and gratitude for all we have. In truth it is a response of overwhelm.

I feel a little in overwhelm after the conference, such a deluge of speakers and messages that I am still digesting. We were encouraged to leave reflections on PostIt notes outside the conference room, and one woman observed how she did not know how today’s mothers could be time poor, with all our labour saving devices, and went on to recall her mother doing laundry and baking bread, minding her five children and holding down two jobs, and still she had time to read to them, play and cuddle.

And I felt judged. And frustrated. Because I have time to do that too. And so do you. And we do it. All of us. It’s just we do a hell of a lot else as well. And we’re not sure how much “enough” play time, or enough physical demonstration of our love, or time in nature is. And everyone, everywhere is telling us we need to do more of everything… literacy skills, and outdoor play, and reading and singing and extended breastfeeding and and and….

And I’m aware that women of a different generation didn’t have an ever growing mass of experts of every colour, and government, and school, giving them more and more (often contractictory) directions. Nor were they faced with the constant looming threat of social services if they were less than perfect. And kids could head off by themselves to wander at large in the fields and roads around their homes.

And I feel this tidal scream of not enough, and more, and all I know is that I’m tired, and it’s not easy, and whatever I do it never seems enough. And I’m not the only one. While the elder generation spoke of whistful hopes for a childhood immersed in love, and away from screens,  two of the only three questions (there was not enough time for more!!) of the weekend were from mothers of young children. Mothers of intelligence and deep caring who asked with desperate insistence: “As mothers, what can we do, to save childhood?” They spoke for my heart too.

And there were no real answers. And this is the crux. We hand our research, our damning views of the future, our blame for laziness and lack of supervision, our anxieties, or incomplete research, and our questions onto the mothers at the coal face. To the world’s biggest worriers, the ones with the most invested in these little people of the future. Mothers who are deluged with more information that any mother in history has ever had. And then we baulk when she favours Facebook over choosing from the plethora of contradictory messages that demand she take her kids more firmly in hand, whilst simultaneously giving them more freedom, whilst ensuring they always have adult supervision, whilst they practice proper risk taking behaviour.

No wonder we’re tired and overwhelmed. We may not be scrubbing laundry with our bare hands but no mothers in history have been so cerebrally overwhelmed, so vulnerable to constant scrutiny and so alone in their daily task, with such high expectations on their shoulders. And nor have any children in history.

Most of the time it feels like there is not enough of us to be all we are supposed to, and we just need to escape from it all for a moment. Thank flip for Pinterest and Peppa Pig!

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