When my daughter was in fifth grade she interviewed me for a parent survey and asked,
“Mommy, what are your favorite hobbies?”
I answered that I liked to hike, read and exercise. She looked at me very quizzically, pondered my reply for a moment and then said, “You don’t like to read. I never see you reading a book.”
I was a little stunned by her answer. I had read all the parenting manuals and they said read to your child everyday to demonstrate a love for reading. I had done this religiously but apparently, I also needed to read to myself in front of the children to really drive the point home.
I hadn’t seen that curve ball coming. I weakly responded, “I know you don’t see me reading books but that’s because I don’t have time when you and your brothers are awake. There are too many other things that need to be done.”
She quickly dispatched my excuse, commenting, “If you really liked to read you would just do it.”
Perhaps she thought I claimed reading was a hobby just to make me look good. I had a credibility gap with my daughter.
Recently, I pondered this conversation from several years ago. My children are older now and it would not be a problem to read during the weekend, yet still I never do. Somehow I feel guilty about sitting down in a chair in the middle of the day and doing “nothing.” Whether it is personality or just plain habit, I always feel like I should be doing something. That is the dilemma of the never-ending at-home “to-do” list, the bane of all moms’ existence.
Further, if I am really honest about how I spend my down time, leisure is always combined with a purpose of some sort. When I exercise, I do it because it is good for me. I enjoy talking to my friends but try to combine visiting with walking the dog so I can check one more chore off the list for the day. I have friends who combine reading with a stationary bike or treadmill. But, why not read just for fun? Perhaps I got it all backwards; I should give myself permission to read not just because it is good “modeling” but because it is pleasurable. As my daughter advised, I should just make time to do it.
As solace, however, I discovered I am in good company. According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Labor survey, moms with kids at home between the ages of six to 17 spend an average of 10 minutes per day reading. If she has kids younger than age six her time decreases to seven minutes. That’s barely enough time to read the back of a cereal box at breakfast.
My new goal, a modest one, is to be above average. Rather than barely getting in a few pages while falling asleep at night I will aspire to read a book at least 11 minutes a day. Perhaps I can eventually work myself into a routine that stretches my daily average to 15 minutes. If I really want to over-achieve I can shoot for 20 minutes on the weekend.
Watch out U.S. Department of Labor, I’ll be skewing your next survey from Seattle.
Carol Lewis Gullstad, October 17, 2011