It's All Work: For Parents, Everything Must Be Planned, Including Leisure

A recent visit from a friend that left me feeling both delighted and guilty got me thinking. Friendships, and leisure more generally, like anything else important, require prioritisation, time, and energy and planning. In other words, even pleasure is work.

Before summer; a good friend from the US stayed with us for a healthy chunk of time. It was a delight to have her around. What I didn’t bargain for was how it would impact my schedule. 


When she told me she was coming and I offered to let her stay with me, I didn’t think twice about it. But because I can work from home, I ended up spending quite a bit of my time with her - more than I’d anticipated. And the result was that I found myself at the end of her stay marvelling at and feeling guilty about how little work I’d done while she was there. 


It was an absolute pleasure to see her and spend time with her at home, in an unstructured and spontaneous way. Friendships are a hugely important source of fulfillment and joy to me. As I’ve gotten older, it’s one of the things I’ve realised I’m pretty good at - finding and cultivating friendships with solid, interesting people - and I take pride in it. But like anything else important, they require prioritisation, time, and energy and planning. In other words, even pleasure is work.


If you’re like me, the vast majority of my organisational and structuring capacity is directed at work, in the following order:

  • Income-generating Work, i.e. a job or a contract
  • Potentially-income-generating Work, i.e. Lifemin or job/contract searching
  • Never-income-generating-but-still-economically-valuable Work, i.e. running a household, raising children, volunteer work
  • Socialising, i.e. dinners, playdates etc.
  • Exercise

By this point, my organisational capacity is spent, and the things that haven’t made it onto the list include staying in touch with friends, family and close acquaintances, researching fun things for the children/our family, planning fun activities for my husband and me, etc. These are things that must happen spontaneously and organically, which means they may or may not happen in a timely fashion or in a particularly well-researched or planned way. 


Which is what happened when my friend visited. Reflecting on that experience, what I wish I’d done differently is anticipated the time that being with my friend would take away from my work schedule, and set my schedule and expectations accordingly. I should have set myself a target for how many work hours I wanted to put in while she was around - less time that I otherwise would have done, but enough to alleviate the guilt I felt at the end. 


I have another trip coming up to see friends and I’m going to try to do better about anticipating the demands on my time before, during and after the journey. It’s long-haul, I’ll be there for over a week, and there’s jet lag involved. So I’ll consider it half holiday and half working. here’s what I’m going to add to my diary:

  • Packing - 1 hour day before, ½ hour morning of
  • Work planning - 1 hour day before
  • Long-haul daytime journey there - 2 hours work, rest watching movies/TV - NO KIDS WHEEEEE
  • Tu-Fri (3 hours of focused work for 4 of the weekdays I’m there)

Is the Calivinist overachiever in my head saying, “Half holiday?? You just came back from a very long and unproductive summer break!” Well, yes. But the kinder and more normal person in my head is saying that these are among my best friends I’m going to see, whom I haven’t seen in many years, and it’s pretty much non-negotiable so I need to make it work.