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FAMILY EQUALITY PART 3: HOW TO GET MORE TIME FOR FUN

Lawyer Moms have many demands on their time. That usually means that fun and relaxation are the first things to go. What do you do when everyone else in your family is getting time for leisure except you? You create leisure time equality!

In this episode, we discuss the benefits of doing this and also the “how.” You’ll learn the six steps to creating more time for fun and relaxation – medicine that every Lawyer Mom needs!

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE

  • What leisure time equality looks like.
  • What leisure time equality can – and cannot – do for you.
  • The 3 forms of high-quality leisure time that give you more energy.
  • How to get more deliberate rest and deep play, as described in Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less
  • The six steps to creating leisure time equality in your home.
  • The hurdles that Moms face when trying to get more time for themselves.
  • The skill that dissolves those hurdles.

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to episode 5 of the Happy Lawyer Mom Podcast! The podcast that takes lawyer moms from beyond stressed and barely hanging on, to finally getting what you want at work and at home so that you can be TRULY happy.

I’m your host, Charise Naifeh and I’m thrilled you’re here.

Hi there and welcome to episode 5. This is the third episode in a 5-part series on creating equality at home. In last week’s episode, we talked about establishing equality with regard to caretaking, and in the previous episode we talked about housework equality. Once you establish equality in those two areas, you’ll find that you have more bandwidth to address another area where inequality might be lingering, which is with regard to leisure time.

Why are we talking about this? Because having the time and space to relax, recharge and actually enjoy yourself – is critical to a happy and healthy life. And having something that’s just for you – not as a lawyer, not as a mom, but you as a person, helps keep you grounded and strong, even when there’s a lot going on in your life and work that you can’t control.

Leisure time, when done right, gives you the fuel that you need in your fuel tank to do everything else in your life. It prevents you from becoming depleted.

And yet, in the legal profession, which is so centered on overwork, leisure time is widely undervalued. And when you add motherhood into the mix, finding time for yourself and for fun or relaxation can seem about as viable as going to Mars.

When I became a mom, leisure time was the first thing to go. After I returned to work from maternity leave, every spare minute was going to either my family or my work. Weekends became a series of kid-focused activities like going to the Zoo or museums or birthday parties. And then I’d get to Sunday night, exhausted and wondering how I was going to get through another week all over again.

For me, cutting out leisure time lead directly to depletion. My expenditure of energy was greater than my reserves, and that meant that daily life felt really hard. I was dragging myself through the day. I was still functioning, but not nearly as well as before kids.

Another consequence of this was that I was establishing a dangerous precedent in my family: when Mom is always around, standing ready to take care of what everyone else needs, families begin to expect that to continue.

And what are they NOT learning?

    1. They’re not learning to respect Mom’s free time.
    2. They’re not learning that Mom is her own person with her own interests and goals and pursuits.
    3. And they’re not learning how to operate in Mom’s absence.
    4. And they’re not seeing what self-care looks like, and specifically what it looks like for a mother to take care of herself.

Another consequence is that Moms lose their sense of self in motherhood. They forget who they are and what they like to do.

One year when my kids were little, we took a 10-day whirlwind trip to Spain to see my husband’s family at Christmas, and it was our first international trip with both kids. It was the hardest trip of my life: it felt like an odyssey, where everything went wrong, almost with comedic timing, but it wasn’t funny at the time. And so after we got home from, I was utterly depleted.

And I needed to recharge my batteries. So what did I do? I went to the office for an entire Saturday. It was New Years’ Eve and I was there completely alone, working, just to get a break. That was my only escape. I had cut out all other forms of leisure time, so that when I needed some time for myself, the only place I knew to go was an empty office building in downtown DC, so I could fling myself into the brief I was working on at the time.

And then when I went home, how did I feel? Revitalized? Not really. Because even though I was getting quiet time, I was still expending mental energy. My work wasn’t really restorative.

Here’s what my leisure time looks like now:

Every day, at a minimum, I spend 20-30 minutes on something that’s just for me: It can be exercise, it can be playing the piano, it can be a hot bath. But it’s like a vitamin that I take every day.

And my weekends look totally different as well: Now, everyone in the home gets to do something that they enjoy. I spend time every Saturday and Sunday working on whatever creative projects I’ve got going on. And when the weather cooperates, I also go out on my bike. The kids get to choose a fun activity every Saturday and Sunday as well, like a playdate, or swim lessons, or going to a park. And my husband gets time for what he wants to do.

So we’re all getting time to do what we want. We do have family time where we play games and do puzzles with the kids, but the kids are also expected to entertain themselves in unstructured play time. So weekends are much more restorative now.

And then at least once a year, my husband and I get away and the kids have a blast with their grandparents – so we all get a break.

And about twice a year, I get away for retreats and time for myself, and my husband does the same thing. These are working vacations: but in the age of working remotely, you can work from anywhere: and when you’re a parent, getting time to yourself in the mornings and evenings provides a much-needed break.

So that’s what leisure time equality looks like.

Contrast that with what’s usually happening in the unhappy lawyer mom household, which is very often that the only human not getting leisure time is the mom. Or if she does get leisure time, it’s so infrequent that it doesn’t really make an impact on her health and happiness.

Even family vacations, which are supposed to be relaxing for everyone, are often not relaxing for moms: they can create a lot of extra work and it’s not uncommon to end up feeling more drained than before.

So today we’re going to talk about how to change that and to create leisure time equality so that everyone in the home is getting leisure time, and everyone is viewing leisure time as the necessity that it is. Just like everyone in the family gets to eat, everyone in the family gets leisure time.

And to do that, today we’re going to discuss 3 things:

  • First, we’re going to talk about the benefits that you can expect from leisure time equality – but also what you can’t expect from it, because leisure time is often expected to solve problems that it cannot actually solve. So I want to be clear at the outset about what you can reasonably expect from leisure time equality.
  • Second, we’re going to talk about the steps to creating leisure time equality in your family, so that you can enjoy its many benefits
  • And third, we’re going to talk about some of the common obstacles that come for moms when they try to take those steps, and what dissolves those obstacles.

Ok, so let’s start with what you can expect once you create leisure time equality.

If you are getting a decent amount of sleep each night, you can expect that adding in leisure time to your day and your week will bring you a vitality that you might not have felt in years. This seeps into every part of your life. If you think of energy like a bank account, high quality leisure time gives you ample deposits of energy, so that you come away from that time with a positive energy balance.

But here’s what leisure time equality cannot do:

  • First of all, it can’t make up for chronic sleep deprivation: if you’re not getting a decent amount of sleep, then leisure time probably isn’t going to have the same effect.
    • When given the choice between leisure time and sleep, sleep is probably your best bet.
  • Second, it can’t cure other forms of inequality happening in the home: many moms will take time for themselves, but the benefits of doing that will quickly fade if they’re returning home to a heavy burden of housework inequality or childcare inequality, or some other form of inequality.
    • So leisure time equality on its own is not a substitute for solving other inequality issues.
  • Third, it can’t solve a miserable, unsustainable work situation.
    • If you’re working long hours on a regular basis, or if you’re supposed to be working part-time but you’re actually working full-time, leisure time can’t fix that.
      • If you truly have no hours in the day for leisure, then the next step is to change your work situation, so that that you do. We’ll be talking about that in later episodes.
    • If you’re dealing with a toxic work environment or you have a role mismatch and you’re miserable at work, leisure time equality is not going to cure that problem.
    • Leisure time is often prescribed as the remedy for overwhelm for working moms, and although it can be a potent painkiller, it’s not a standalone cure.

When I was drowning and seeking help, I was often told to add in bubble baths. And although that can definitely help to soothe the nervous system, it didn’t help me actually solve the underlying problems that were causing my stress in the first place. It wasn’t a true substitute for that.

But what can help is adding leisure time into your life while you are concurrently building your skills and solving the larger problems. When you use leisure time to fuel you in the process of solving these problems, you end up in a much happier place, where you love your work situation, your role, your family life. And that’s when you really move the needle on your level of happiness.

Ok, so now that we’re clear on what leisure time equality can and cannot do, we’re going to talk about the steps to creating leisure time equality in your family.

There are 6 steps to doing that.

Step 1 is to cut out the excess that’s getting in the way of leisure time equality.

And that can mean 2 things:

First, it means that you cut out or cut down on all forms of “low-quality” leisure time: these are the things that fill up our free time that do not actually give us any benefit:

Low quality leisure time is a lot like junk food: it fills you up, but it’s not really helping you.

Scrolling on our phones is probably the most common form of low-quality leisure: it fills up so much of our time, without us even realizing it.

The problem is, that statistically speaking, the more time we spend scrolling, the worse we feel.

The same thing goes for any kind of activity that you find yourself doing out of habit that’s either not restoring your energy, or is leaving you more drained than you started.

And the second is cutting out the excess activities that are taking up time and preventing leisure time equality in your household.

So if the weekends are consumed by the kids’ activities, then something has to go:

You can let the kids pick their favorites, and then create a little more white space in your weekends by cutting out the excess.

If you have a lot of weekend activities that you do out of obligation, even though you find them draining, cut those out as well, or if you can’t cut them out completely, cut down on them.

This step allows you get greater enjoyment and benefit of your existing free time and it creates more space for leisure time equality to exist. Ok, so that’s step 1.

  1. Step 2 is to Consciously choose high-quality leisure time:

This means activities that actually restore your energy and trigger the release of feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters, which help us to feel better and gives us the rocket fuel we need to get through our week.

There are lots of different ways to get high quality leisure time, but here are 3 categories that I’ve found to be particularly effective:

  1. Deliberate rest
  2. Deep play, and
  3. Connection with others.

What do these mean?

Deliberate rest is a concept that’s discussed in the book Rest, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I’ll put a link to that book in the show notes. Deliberate rest is an active and intentional form of rest that’s both physically and mentally restorative. Things like meditation, yoga, particularly restorative yoga, being in nature, walking outside. This type of deliberate rest will give you more bang for your buck in terms of restoring your energy in the free time that you do have.

It also calms your nervous system. And right now, in January 2022, most people could use a calmer nervous system. So deliberate rest helps you get that.

The second category that I’ve found to be particularly helpful is deep play, which is also discussed in Alex’s book on rest. This means doing something that’s both enjoyable and mentally engaging. Deep play hones your skills in a setting that’s different from work and allows you to step out of your responsibilities and engage your brain in something that’s both interesting and fun.

This can be sports, games, gardening, creative hobbies, music – anything that you enjoy immensely that takes you away from your role as a lawyer and a mom.

Deep play is deeply restorative and neuroscientists tells us it’s good for our mental health.

Deep play is not only fun, it’s also deeply restorative.

Then, the third category is connection:

This means connecting with people who energize and uplift you. If you’re an extravert, you’ll need more of this than if you’re an introvert.

Not all social interactions are equally restorative: many can actually be quite draining. So you’re going for the ones where you walk away feeling better and more energized than when you started. That’s the kind of connection I’m talking about.

Now, I just want to pause here and say: do you need these 3 forms of leisure? No. You don’t have to do these. Many people survive without them. But I will say that these 3 things ARE key ingredients for happiness. So if you’re less happy than you’d like to be, adding these three forms of leisure into your life will help to feel better so that you can get going and make some real changes.

And you can invite your family to do this as well. Are they getting enough deliberate rest, deep play, and connection? If they are, then maybe they don’t need this. But I will say that a lot of dads out there, especially lawyer dads, aren’t getting what they need either. And a lot of kids, particularly teens, need more of this as well. So inviting them to get what they need helps you create true equality when it comes to leisure time.

Ok, so that’s step 2.

And then step 3 is to Calendar your leisure time. Put it on the calendar, block it off.

You’ll need daily and weekly time – and also the once or twice a year getaways. Those need to go on the calendar too. Otherwise, they’re not likely to happen. This takes 30 seconds and it’s done.

Then the fourth step is to Communicate:

This is where you communicate that you’ll be unavailable to anyone who needs to know: usually, this will be your spouse, or anyone else who will be providing childcare coverage.

If anyone at work needs to know about it, let them know.

So you just communicate it and then also send any calendar invites to people who need it, so they don’t forget.

The fifth step is to Carry out the plan:

You just follow through and take the time for yourself. Delight in it. Notice how to you feel before, during, and after a little time to yourself.

And then, the sixth step is to Continue:

One Saturday afternoon isn’t enough. One girls night out isn’t enough. Leisure time works best when it’s a regular fixture in your life. So continuing means that you cycle through the different types of leisure, preferably a little each day, with a larger block of time on the weekends. And by doing that, you’re easing your family into a way of life where everyone is getting time on a regular basis.

Ok, so to recap, the 6 steps are: 1. Cut out the excess; 2. Consciously choose; 3. Calendar; 4. Communicate; 5. Carry out; and 6. Continue.

Now we’re going to talk about where people get tripped up with these steps.

  1. A lot of moms get tripped up at the outset in Step #1.
    • It can be hard to cut out the excess;
      • Especially if the excess involves things that the kids like to do.
      • It can also be hard to get out of the patterns that we’re in: so stopping old patterns and starting new ones can seem disruptive. It can feel easier to just stick with the status quo for now and put off doing this until later.
    • Step 2 can also be surprisingly hard for moms: many don’t even remember the last time they did something fun that was just for them maybe they’ve even forgotten what they used to like to do.
    • Or they tell themselves they’re getting leisure time, but it’s not really high-quality restorative leisure time:
      • Going to the grocery store by yourself doesn’t count as high-quality leisure time.
    • Another struggle happens if you’re already feeling like you’re not getting enough time with family. So guilt seeps into this and makes it hard to take time away, just for you.
    • A lot of moms worry this will create conflict in their homes:
      • Scheduling conflicts that will turn into arguments about who gets to do what.
      • This is especially true if you have a pattern of people pleasing: it will feel hard to interrupt that pattern.
    • Some people want permission to do this: they want it to come from some one else: but this can mean that they’re waiting for that permission waiting a very long time.
    • I’ve heard from some moms the fear that if they take time away for themselves, and their families do just fine without them, that this means their families won’t need them anymore.
    • I’ve talked to moms who grew up with the idea that if they’re not working all of the time, it means they’re lazy or selfish or some other equally disdainful character flaw.
      • And so they feel compelled to do something productive all of the time.
      • Or they don’t let themselves take time for a break until everything on their to-do list is crossed off – but the to-do list is never-ending, so leisure time never happens.
    • Many lawyers, in particular, worry that leisure time costs too much:
      • We’re keenly aware of the value of each billable hour and there are a lot of hours already spoken for, so we resist leisure time.
    • Another thing that happens for moms is that they fall into the “it doesn’t matter” trap, and they put off doing what they want.

I was in that trap myself. It took me years to get out of it, but I finally did. Here’s how:

A few years ago, I decided to go on a news fast for a few weeks, so I took a break from reading or listening to the news, and from social media. Without realizing it, I was doing Step 1: cutting out the scrolling that was filling up all of my free time. Once I did that, it turned out I had more free time than I had realized.

And then I came across something new to me, which was songwriting. I heard a podcast interview with a songwriter who wasn’t a performer: and she was talking about the creative process that she used and collaborating with other songwriters, and I don’t know why, but that lit a spark for me: It sounded fun.

So I began to dabble in songwriting, in tiny, bite-sized bits of time: For me, this was deep play. It was a high-quality form of leisure. So that’s step 2: I made the conscious choice to add this into my life.

Then, I began to calendar it and spend 20 minutes a night on this and an hour on Saturdays taking classes on songwriting; I communicated it to my husband so that he could take the kids on Saturday afternoons, I carried out the plan, and I continued with it. I was doing the 6 steps. And here’s what happened:

Even though it wasn’t a big investment of time, the return on that investment was huge. It was a game changer.

This was something that I was doing for the sole reason that it was fun: I didn’t see myself going into the music industry – I just wanted to have fun and do something that was just for me. Not for my job or my family – but for me.

And what I found was that this one thing gave me an energy that I hadn’t had since before my kids were born.

It gave my husband his wife back. It gave my kids a much happier mom. It gave my employer a much more energized attorney.

And eventually, it gave me the fuel I needed to go on to make some major shifts in my career.

And when I saw the effects of this one thing, I realized that all of the reasons I had come up with for NOT taking time for myself paled when compared to the actual benefits that I was seeing, not just for me, but for everyone around me.

And I’m not a unicorn: I’ve since learned that this is replicable. When a mom decides to get happy and begins to make positive changes in her life, including adding in high-quality leisure time, good things flow from that.

Often, surprising things flow from that. One happy discovery that I often hear from clients is that their productivity and billing increase when they add in leisure time in this way. Others report that their marriages improve. The benefits of this are many.

The hardest part of this is getting over those initial hurdles at the beginning: those struggles that, if we boil them down, all come down to some form of fear that every act of leisure will result in a winner and a loser. If we take time for ourselves, it will be to someone else’s detriment, or it will cause some sort of harm or backlash later down the line.

And it seems like this is just reality. If we take time away, someone’s going to lose out. And so we either don’t take time for ourselves, or if we do, we often feel guilty about it.

So what’s needed here is a mechanism to switch into a different mode of thinking, at will, when we’re stuck in a zero-sum-game quagmire.

And that mechanism is a skill that I call win-win thinking.

What win-win thinking allows you to do is to shift out of that zero-sum-game way of seeing the world, and start thinking more globally about how everyone involved can get what they want.

When you have this skill, creating leisure time equality is no longer something that’s “good for you, but bad for them.” Instead, leisure time is constructed in such a way that it actually serves everyone: your family, your employer or clients, you and your health.

And when you do that, the fear that someone is going to lose goes away. Fear exists in the realm of the zero-sum game, where there’s a winner and a loser. But when you adopt the skill of win-win thinking and you’re keeping everyone’s benefit in mind, and the prospect of losing goes away, and so the fear diminishes.

When moms learn this skill, they’re able to finally get over those hurdles that are keeping them stuck, so they can take the steps to create leisure time equality and raise the level of happiness in their homes. It’s especially essential to lawyer moms, who have so many competing demands on their time and energy.

It’s applicable not just for creating leisure time equality, but in many situations at home and at work.

So, if you’re tired of playing a high-stakes game against yourself and you’re ready to try on another way of thinking to get better outcomes for everyone, then the skill of win-win thinking is for you.

Ok, so what’s the next step? Stay tuned for Episode 6 because we’re going to be talking about how to create career equality in your home. A lot of lawyer moms are trying to play a major league game without the time, space, and resources they need to do that, which sets them up for frustration and exhaustion. Career equality turns that around and gives you and your career what’s needed to thrive. So stay tuned for that and thank you so much for being here today! Have a wonderful week!

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