In TV dramas that incorporate the modern domestic existence, it’s common to see the following scenario: husband and wife have the perfect life. They’re successful and happy, thriving socially and professionally, and they are both masters of their time and energy. But then, unexpectedly, the wife gets pregnant.
When the child arrives, sleep becomes an oft-granted privilege, hobbies become un-affordable luxuries, and social activity that doesn’t involve the new child are seen as remnants of a prehistoric past. This goes on and on, and soon, the parents—who both love the child very much—begin to look for something called “free time”. At first, they don’t find it. When the husband says, “I want this afternoon to myself”, the wife asks, “Why?” The husband, honest and loving as he is, says “I need some me-time”. The wife scoffs: “You can have five minutes of me-time while I change the diapers. Besides, we have an appointment at the doctors this afternoon.” The husband retreats from his extravagant dream, tail between his legs. But the wife’s tail perks up.
A few months later, the wife gives the husband some news. “I’ve been offered some freelance work, from an old client of the company. Not very much. Only a few hours a week. I think I can get it done on a Saturday afternoon. But I need you to look after Eric while I do it.” The husband, honest and loving as he is, says, “Sure thing.”
What he doesn’t realise is that the wife’s freelance work isn’t very taxing; it mostly consists of leaving the house, going to Mary’s, and drinking a glass of wine or two with the girls.
The inevitable conclusion of this Parent-Feigns-Important-Commitment-To-Get-Some-Time-Away-From-Children trope is that Parent One gets caught out, Parent Two is disappointed, and as a consequence both parents decide to take turns holding the fort so the other can have some down time.
But this trope has me wondering. Why is a request for generic free time denied, but a request for free time to “do work” accepted? It has to do with sacredness. Specifically, there’s a moat of sacredness around certain activities that even a child can sometimes not traverse. This moat exists around concepts like “work”. In dramas and romantic comedies, parents weaponise this—they realise the need for alone time is generally not as sacred as the need to work (and thus, provide for the family) so they use the latter as an excuse to get the former.
Wouldn’t it be better to avoid the subterfuge altogether? To, first, erect moats of sacredness around certain activities, second, communicate that these activities are important to us, and third, recognise that there are activities which matter just as much to others?