Let me give you some examples.
My husband recently bought himself a new exhaust for his car. (This in itself is an example of him not feeling bad about putting his interests as a priority. His car is his hobby and he was happy to spend a not insignificant amount of money on it. I on the other hand have not felt able to spend an equal amount of money on the Leonie Dawson Academy that I have been thinking about joining for months because it feels self-indulgent, not a priority, even though it could potentially benefit the whole family.) When the exhaust arrived he decided he would spend a Saturday morning fitting it. He didn't ask me if that was ok, if I minded looking after the boys while he did it (I didn't mind) He just did it. It was something he wanted to do, something he enjoyed doing so he just did it. I never for a second thought he was being selfish or self-indulgent in doing this.
Me on the other hand, when I wanted to spend a couple of hours making some art (for my business) I felt like I had to gravel and grovel with my begging bowl to him to ask for a couple of hours to myself, feeling immensely guilty for even asking. Not because he would have had any objection but because of my own personal feelings on it. Why?
Here is another example a friend of mine's husband loves mountain biking, he regularly goes to mountain biking events and even takes days of annual leave from work to go and do his hobby. Does he feel guilty about it? Does he feel like he is being self indulgent? I doubt it, because he knows that taking time for himself and his interests is important.
Why don't I feel like this when needing a few hours to myself, when he had no qualms what so ever?
A final third example, we were going on a walk round a lake near us recently and got chatting to a man who was stood with his friend who had stayed over night at the lake in a tent to do his hobby - fishing. We were asking his friend questions about the competitions his friend takes part in and what he was hoping to catch that day. The man amused us for a while, answering our questions but then confessed that the real reason his friend was camping over and spending the day fishing was to get away from it all and have some time to himself. I couldn't help thinking that this man had the right idea. But still for me to do something like; going away for a night by myself to do something I enjoy that would not only take a great amount of courage and decisiveness, but also a shed load of guilt. WHY??
I have really been puzzling over the answer to this, I am not sure I am there yet, maybe it's because historically us women have traditionally been the ones to look after the house and children whilst the men go to work and didn't take part much in the child rearing and house keeping and this feeling of responsibility has been hard to shake over the years. Like some sort of ancient garment we insist on carrying around on our shoulders, or perhaps that society still places on our shoulders; we just haven't been able to shed this relic.
Maybe men are just better at fulfilling those needs than we are. Maybe through some sort of masochism we insist on pushing and pushing ourselves without taking a break or a rest to prove something to ourselves, our partners, society? We CAN do it all we insist, and we can do it without a break. Whereas men don't feel the need to prove themselves in this way because they already receive the recognition through their paid employment. (Which leads me to wonder if women who are in paid employment as opposed to unpaid (as in the full-time-mother- role) also feel guilty when taking time to themselves or if they are able to acknowledge it as a necessity not a luxury?) I am thinking out loud now, and possibly rambling a bit.
I am sure there is plenty of studies out there which have asked these same questions, all that I can say with absolute certainty is that we NEED to take time to ourselves, it's absolutely essential, parenting is highly intense work. And just to clarify I don't think it is the fault of men that we sometimes feel guilty in taking time to ourselves, I think it is something we ourselves need to take responsibility for. I still haven't worked out how to do this without the guilt, so it anyone has the answer I would welcome it with open arms. It's something I need to make more of a priority in the coming weeks with the impending birth of our third child, but I am sure some of you will agree with me that's it's really hard to do.
I do have planned another Gentle Parenting Retreat on 22nd of May for this exact reason, so please get in touch if you are interested.