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'Me Time' for Moms Doesn't Have to Be a Myth

Photograph by Twenty20

At a birthday party last weekend, some other moms and I were joking about what would happen if one of us broke a leg.

"The whole household would shut down," one woman said. The rest of us nodded.

"It would be ugly," another woman said.

"On the upside—we could catch up on Netflix," I offered. "And take naps." A quiet reverence hovered over us all at the mention of the word "nap."

Like these other moms, at this stage of my life, indulging in luxuries like napping and Netflix only seem possible if I were sick or broken-limbed.

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We're not alone in feeling like leisure time for moms is rare, even unattainable.

Brigid Schulte, author of "Overwhelmed," recently published the article "Why Time is a Feminist Issue," which points out that women generally do two or three times as much housework and child care as men do, even if we also have paying careers. She admitted that pre-kids, she and her husband had planned on splitting the work of a family equally. But when her kids were born, "it was like these unconscious, old 1950s-era black-and-white movies started playing in both our heads."

Schulte found herself devoid of anything but "time confetti"—tiny scraps of time that aren't enough to truly relax or get lost in the flow of a fun project.

Do I want my kids to think that being a woman is about getting all the housework done, or do I want them to know that women can have fun, too?

Meanwhile, according to a 2013 study, men who are parents to young children enjoy almost three hours more leisure time per week than women.

In addition to her full-time paying work, Schulte was the one performing the majority of the household duties. She was the default parent, the one who drove the kids to their appointments, signed them up for summer camp and packed them nutritious snacks.

Even when we do find some free time, we tend to turn toward our never-ending to-do-lists instead of doing something fun or relaxing.

As women, we have a tendency to wait until we're totally depleted—or perhaps have broken a limb—to ask for help. But we don't have to.

While there are plenty of obstacles to achieving leisure time, there are also some concrete steps we can take to reclaim the right to recharge.

1. Have a sit down with your spouse.

In her article, Schulte realizes that she and her husband had no role models on how to equally divide household duties, and that lack of role models led them to a steep imbalance. So they listed all the responsibilities they had as a family and reshuffled them to make things fair, freeing up some time for Schulte to devote to herself.

2. Schedule it.

Some friends of mine have devised brilliant regular weekend schedules with their partners where they alternate taking care of the kids. One partner gets a chunk of time for whatever they choose—a yoga class, a nap, going out to a movie—while the other hangs with the kids. Then, they swap.

While this arrangement might cut down on a few hours of family time, it still leaves plenty of time for togetherness. And if your house is anything like mine, quality family time—a nice meal together or a trip to the park—often works out far better than hours on end together.

Once you plan some time for yourself, put it on the calendar where everyone can see it. This ensures it will remain as non-negotiable as soccer practice or your partner's night out with friends.

3. Say no.

Life is full to overflowing for most of us. When faced with the possibility of taking on extra work or other commitments, I often have to come back to a central question. For example, say I'm offered a volunteer commitment for an issue I'm passionate about. Would adding this volunteer commitment to my plate help me with my top two or three life goals? If the answer is no, then my answer needs to be no, too, no matter how great my passion.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Achieve Parenting Equality

4. Remember that we're modeling for our children.

It's easy to use our kids as an excuse not to care for ourselves. Maybe we work a lot and don't get to spend as much time with them as we'd like. I've had to reframe this idea and use it instead as a motivator for self-care. Our kids are watching us—and we are showing them how to live their lives. Do I want my kids to think that being a woman is about getting all the housework done, or do I want them to know that women can have fun, too? That we can do good things for ourselves? So that when they grow up, they can too?

So that finally, there might be role models for gender equality—at least in the home.

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