American Women Crushed for Time: Have Themselves to Blame? (Study)

"Laundry will wait very patiently," wrote novelist Nora Roberts in What I Know Now About Success: Letters to my Younger Self. It's a lesson that the majority of American women have yet to learn.

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According to a new survey of more than 3,000 women conducted by Real Simple magazine and the Families and Work Institute (FWI), at least 50% of women say they don't have enough free time and more than 60% feel guilty spending what little time they do have on themselves. Surprisingly, 68% claim that work doesn't interfere with their personal lives. The full results are published in the April 2012 issue of the magazine.

Martha A., a former television producer who is now a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom, puts it this way, "When I had an office job, I felt my free time had to be spent on my kids, husband, and the house. Now that I'm at home, I feel guilty because of the nagging sense I don't deserve spending time on myself." Meanwhile, according to an executive summary of the survey, women see their lack of free time as the "main obstacle to achieving happiness."

At a panel discussion on the study, Ellen Galinsky, president of the FWI, said "Its like the new clean plate club." In addition to working and taking care of the kids, women feel they can't relax until all the household chores are complete. While the average husband's to do list encompasses two main jobs: repairs and yard work, the average wife's list contains at least eleven items from cooking, to cleaning, to managing household finances. "Your husband isn't going to say, 'You look really busy, you should have some free time,'" adds Galinsky.

Even though more men than ever are willing to participate in childcare and housework, women are loathe to delegate. Forty-five percent of women who say their partners have equally high standards refuse to cede control of tasks such as organizing and de-cluttering. "I love delegating," laughs Dida F., an accountant, "The question is will they actually do it? At the end of the day, I end up with doing the work."

Panel member Ruth Davis Konigsberg, editor of TIME Ideas, feels that women cling to their sense of authority in the domestic sphere and also acknowledges that men are great at "learned helplessness." Her solution? She advises women to walk away from chores they don't want to do. "It might not get done the way you want it to," she warns, "so, don't get upset about it." Panelist Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, says she knows what she's good at and has figured out that "she's bad at a lot of things," including cooking and "anything to do with aesthetics." This allows her to let go of a number of household tasks. "It's liberating to realize what you can't do."

Chua adds that she "outsources chores right up to her income level." However, one of the survey's most surprising findings is that nearly 50% of women wouldn't hire household help if they could afford it and nearly 75% wouldn't hire additional childcare. While many working women feel emotionally tortured about not spending enough time with their children, research shows that even though women's labor force rates have gone up dramatically the last fifty years, women today actually spend on average four hours more a week on child care then they did in 1965. Emily B., mother of six-year-old twins and a university professor reassures others moms, "My children go to an after school program and I would be a very unhappy person, and thus an inferior mother, if they didn't."

So, how did women get themselves into this bind? One issue is that women fill so many different roles, they can always find an example of someone succeeding in ways that they aren't. Stay-at-home moms may feel insecure because they don't hold down paid jobs, and busy working moms cringe when another mother supplies homemade cupcakes for a kid's school birthday. Panelist Claire Shipman, ABC news correspondent, says it also goes back to the way girls are brought up. "Girls are raised to be perfect," she says. "Women are capable of being right most of the time, but at what cost?" Shipman advises women to focus on being "good enough." When you make the inevitable mistake? "Don't dwell, it's a waste of time. Move on."

The executive summary recommends that women get comfortable with delegating and actively scheduling in free time. And leisure time doesn't mean a multitasking mess of watching TV, checking emails, and folding laundry simultaneously. Konigsberg describes this as "contaminated free time" which does little to lower unhealthy stress levels and restore one's equilibrium. Merele B., a real estate broker, advises women to schedule in "me-time" on the family calendar. "I write down everything I want to do for myself just like the children's appointments and events. From exercise to manicures, nothing stands in the way, unless it's a serious emergency."

Galinsky recommends shifting one's mindset. "Many women see life as a marathon, but a better model is weight lifting." After working hard you need time to rest and recover. Real Simple reports that by maintaining the current paradigm, "Women are losing the opportunity to re-energize and bring real benefit to their lives."

Copyright © 2012 Yahoo Inc.

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