It is August. I am suspended in a hammock by a creek, listening to the shallow water burble over the rocks and the leaves rustle in the breeze. There is no wi-fi. Occasionally, a bird makes some noise in the trees. Few mosquitoes buzz, and I can hear voices nearby. Kids are playing in the grassy area behind me. I am trying to relax and steal a few moments to myself, but how do I feel? Guilty.
With my kids out of school for the summer, I am rarely alone and am always craving time to myself. Right now, I am at the annual family campout surrounded by my extended family. There is pressure here to be a part of the family by participating and being visibly present.
At home, there is no time for my own desires as I balance my contract work with river floats and days at the spray park or waterslides. Canadian summers are so short and I feel pressure to cram as many activities in as possible. We need to squeeze the most out of every day, but what if I don’t want to?
Nobody needs me right now, but I still feel that my value is tied to my usefulness.
I have a book to read, on loan from a friend, and I really want some time to quiet myself and take in the moment. In my mind I hear my mother’s voice saying, “Can’t you do something productive?” and I feel guilty that I’m not currently being useful, or at least visiting with family and making the most of every moment.
My daughter has been off running around with her best cousin-friend all weekend, and my son has become his grandmother’s shadow. Nobody needs me right now, but I still feel that my value is tied to my usefulness, and I struggle with that urge to be productive. I feel like I need to be a visible contributor to the family life experience, because if I’m not here visiting, being, doing and participating… why am I even here?
Yes, I understand that I do have intrinsic value that is not tied to my productivity, but I also don’t want to be caught doing nothing.
I see how people—in particular, women—are valued for what we accomplish and how we contribute to society. As a barely-employed person, I am not contributing much and feel like I don’t deserve time to rest because what am I doing all day anyway?
Related: Why we are doing nothing this summer
I am doing things that are often considered leisure activities: baking, sewing, taking my kids bike riding or swimming. These things aren’t always seen as work and are things other people keep telling me they would love to have the time to do, and I should be grateful for this time with my children.
But the mental load carried by moms is real. Even now in this hammock, in these trees, in such a comfortable spot, I don’t want to be caught doing nothing. I probably won’t stay here long. I’ll only read one chapter, and then I’ll go find my children, my aunt or a cousin. I will rejoin the family and be present in the moment with them. But right now, I don’t want to.
I know I am worth more than what I produce.
When I hear my mother’s voice in my head urging me to be productive, I replace it with the voice of my friend who reminds me that the need to be useful and make the most of every minute is really the Patriarchy talking. She loaned me this book, and I will read it. I don’t need to make it look like I’m doing something every moment and earning the right to take up space. I am allowed time for myself, and reading a book in a hammock on a sweltering summer’s day is a very good use of my time—even if I’m not wringing every possible experience out of a day.
How many women throughout history have been praised for how selflessly they cared for others or how they never took a day’s rest? Too many. I want to change that narrative.
Starting right now, I am not going to overwork myself for the benefit of everyone else but me. Mothers are told that our children’s health and well-being is most important, but we deserve time off, too. I know I am worth more than what I produce. Those early lessons learned by example are hard to unlearn. Those lessons kept me in place as a child, but I am no longer a child, and I do not need to be the same sort of adult as my mother was. I shouldn’t feel guilty for not making the most of every moment. I get to choose how I spend my time.
Today, in this hammock, by this creek, I am taking a few minutes stolen for me. Just me for me. Because I can. Because I am worth it. Maybe I will stay here and read a bit longer. I will make the most of this moment by allowing these perfect summer minutes to tick by while I indulge in my own desires. I will read the next chapter, after all. Maybe I will even write a new one for myself.