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There's more time than you think to spend with your kids

Laura Vanderkam, who blogs at, says most people waste many of their waking hours on errands such as grocery shopping once a day, instead of once a week.

Stress-addled moms, listen up: You've got more time than you think. Just do the math, says journalist Laura Vanderkam. There are 168 hours in a week. And if you sleep eight hours a night and work 40 hours a week, that leaves 72 hours - whether it's for learning to paint or taking the kids to circus school.

Using data from the American Time Use Survey, which measures how thousands of individuals spend their days, Ms. Vanderkam concludes that most people fritter away many of their waking hours.

The aspiring time-management guru expounds on her theories at, a blog that doubles as a drawing board for her new book, 168 Hours , due out next year.

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In a given week, Ms. Vanderkam says, she works 50 hours, exercises five times, reads and writes fiction, and still spends many hours playing with her two-year-old son, Jasper.

She told The Globe and Mail how she does it - pregnant with her second child - and how others can too.

If the average working mother has ample spare time, why do so many moms feel so stressed?

We don't view our time broadly enough. Often we think of our time as a typical crunch to Tuesday, for instance, instead of viewing the whole of the week, which is more how our schedules tend to repeat themselves. The other problem is that people don't use their leisure time very well. Often we lose time in little half-hour increments. Not much intention goes into planning our non-work and non-sleeping hours, so there seem to be fewer of them than there actually are.

Why do mothers get upset when you suggest they have more time than they think?

We all feel like we're doing the best we can, and so when anyone suggests that maybe there's room for improvement, it can cause defensiveness. And part of it is a problem of affluence. As household incomes rise, people feel more time stress despite having the same amount of paid work and household work - it's just because we have more options. Being torn in different directions adds a lot of stress to people's lives.

What are common time suckers for mothers?

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Definitely housework. Women who are not employed spend 25 to 26 hours a week on it, and moms who work full-time spend about 14 hours. But that's still a lot - two hours a day. Then there are errands. An amazing number of people don't think through what they'll need to eat for the week. If you're at the grocery store every other day, you can definitely waste a huge amount of time.

Based on your research, women who are not in the work force spend only six hours a week playing with their kids and about two hours doing educational activities. But aren't the kids still getting more time with Mom?

Well, it depends. Certainly there's more time spent in the presence of children if you're at home with them all day, but often mothers are not interacting with them. So it's a philosophical question - whether you think it's important to be there or not if you're in separate parts of the house doing separate activities.

Isn't that the old argument of quality versus quantity time?

I would say that a lot of us, even if we are working full-time, spend a lot of quantity time with our kids just because there are so many hours in a week. There's nothing magical about being there between the hours of 9 and 5.

What is your prescription for busy parents?

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I tell people to actually record their time for 168 hours to see, okay, when did I wake up? When did I leave for work? A lot of parents totally miss that morning window, for example. If you've got little kids who wake up with the sun at 6 a.m. and you're not actually leaving for work until 8 a.m., well, that's two hours. Did you use it purposefully? Did you use it getting everyone ready? Or was there time to sort of relax and talk and play with the kids?

What happens after the time log?

First you figure out what you would like to be doing with your time. And, especially with parents, I say you should spend the most time on the things that you do best and other people cannot do as well. On a weekly calendar, fill in those 168-hour slots with chunks of sleep, with work, with family activities, with exercise and other hobbies. Then figure out ways to minimize or ignore or outsource everything else.

What about all the things that mothers typically look after, such as birthday presents, Halloween costumes, Christmas cards and packing snacks for a family outing?

There are these little things that kill you and we don't actually spend much time on them - it's more mental overhead than anything else. You can do all those things in less time. We buy children's birthday presents in bulk, and especially now that no one opens birthday presents at the party any more, you can give the same thing to everyone.

Out of curiosity, who does the grunt work in your home?

My husband does our laundry and I have a cleaning service come in every two weeks for a four-hour go-over. We often grocery shop together because that's something we enjoy doing, or order online for groceries. I probably cook dinner a little bit more often but if I cook it, my husband usually does the dishes, and vice versa. But I don't spend much time cooking - I don't spend much time doing any domestic work.

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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