When I was a kid we would play in the backyard, with our neighbours or out in the reserve. I’d have sleepovers at my bestie's house, spontaneously organised the week before.
These days, when my kids catch up with other children it’s called a ‘play date’. And while my children do have plenty of unstructured play time at home, it’s not the same with their friends outside the home. Time with other friends needs to be scheduled. We need to know when it’s happening and who it’s happening with.
I remember the first time I heard the expression ‘date night’. I thought it sounded prescriptive. Who has to schedule a date with someone you’re sharing your life with? I do, apparently.
If I want any time alone with my husband now it ain’t going to happen unless it’s in the diary.
There’s no time for anything
My kids don’t have extracurricular overload, and still there’s no time. Our son has swimming once a week. Our daughter has ballet once a week on a Saturday morning. That’s it. Both my husband and I work reasonable hours.
And yet this is still enough to make life a finely tuned combination of paper diaries, wall calendars and whiteboard schedules.
Which includes the careful planning of anything that was once spontaneous.
How did it get to this?
Dr Lyndall Strazdins leads the work and family component of the federally-funded Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, a study of 10,000 families.
Lyndall says that in 1970s Australia most families had one breadwinner, while these days most families have both parents in the workforce. And while our hours at work have increased, the time needed to care for children and manage domestic work hasn’t changed.
Who can afford to outsource all the domestic and caring duties the stay-at-home parent (usually the mum) used to get done?
Life becomes a juggle, one that is managed by google calendars, paper diaries and wall calendars. In order to keep all the balls in the air, we now have to schedule everything. Hence ‘play dates’ and ‘date nights’.
Does parenting sound the death knell for spontaneity?
When you have about a trillion things to manage around home and work, prioritising your relationship can become more challenging.
Lyndall says that parents often value their relationships, but the choices they face make it difficult to put their partner at the top of the list.
“Parents generally invest time into their ‘top’ priorities: work, children’s care and love. It’s not that they don’t want or value time for each other, it's simply the hard choice they make daily.”
One of my oldest friends has two children, a husband and a demanding full-time job. She finds herself scheduling things her mum never did. The demands of homework and never-ending events at school fill the ‘to-do’ list to overflowing.
She says, “I have to book in date nights with my husband two months in advance. We forget to have conversations about anything because by the time you’ve worked a full-time day, cooked, done a load of washing, got children to bed and cleaned up - it’s 10pm. Then you have to catch up on work.
“If we don’t schedule it in, it doesn’t happen. There is no such thing as spontaneity and we have no spare time. And making anything joyful happen - I have to project manage it, which kills the joy for me.”
Is lack of spontaneity really a bad thing?
You should take this opinion with a grain of salt. I am a self-confessed organiser-holic. I love my week-to-view paper diary. At the start of every year, I put birthdays in my diary so I don’t forget to send a card. I put bills in my diary. It makes me feel in control.
I’m not completely insane. I do know that writing something down doesn’t make it real (otherwise I would have married Ralph Macchio when I was twelve), but it does make me feel a little bit more on top of it all.
Putting a ‘date night’ in the diary gives us both something to look forward to.
And when you do have an opening for spontaneity – like eating ice creams by the beach on a weeknight – it makes them that much more delicious.
Lack of spontaneity might be a sign of modern parenting, but I’m OK with that.
The important thing is to be spontaneous when the opportunity presents itself.
And enjoy that moment to the full.
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