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How “buying time” made me a better wife and mother

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If you change your perspective about hiring help, you may just change your life.

Growing up during the Great Recession as the daughter of a carpenter, I know my family definitely had some lean years. I went to the only Catholic school all the way across town, where many of the students’ families were very wealthy. Even in the good years, there was no way my parents could afford the lifestyles that a lot of my classmates had. But we were happy, and I had a wonderful upbringing that was often in stark contrast to some of the tumultuous childhoods my classmates experienced. So I witnessed firsthand that money definitely does not buy happiness.

But, according to a recent study, the way that we spend our money can have an impact on our happiness. Researchers found that when people spend money on time-saving services (think: a house cleaner, a grocery delivery service, etc.), it can boost our happiness a little bit, because it can give us more time to spend doing other things instead. Unsurprisingly, spending money on material things doesn’t do the same for our level of happiness.

As an adult and now a wife and mother, I still believe that money doesn’t buy happiness, but my recent experience with hiring a part-time nanny for my 1-year-old son has shown me that giving ourselves the gift of extra time can be a huge happiness boost.

Ever since we moved back to the United States from Guam late last summer, my husband has encouraged me to get a nanny or babysitter for a few mornings a week to give me some time to focus on my writing career. I argued with him for months about it – “That’s something rich people do,” I would say. I was worried that hiring a nanny would selfishly take money away from our family, and I vainly thought I should be able to balance my burgeoning writing career with being a new mom and taking care of the house all on my own. “I’ll just write whenever Gabriel naps,” I would tell my husband – when, for the umpteenth time – he would tell me to look for someone to come watch him for me a few hours a week, when I’d lament that I couldn’t get as much writing done as I wanted to, and keep the house clean, and meal plan, and grocery shop, and cook, and, and, and … But, in reality, whenever Gabriel would nap, I’d be torn between writing, and scrubbing the toilets. I would look around at my dirty house, full of resentment that I could clean or write in an hour, but I couldn’t do both. As a result, I had a file folder of half-baked writing pitches, and bathrooms hallway-cleaned, and I felt like I was drowning in both.

Everything came to a head when my husband had to leave for work for 6 weeks, and I realized I would be solo parenting on top of everything else. I showed up on a neighborhood friend’s doorstep in tears, and she immediately texted her own nanny to see if she had any availability. As it turns out, she did. I hired her for two mornings a week, for 3.5 hours each time, and it’s been the best money I’ve ever spent, and the best decision I ever made – and it only took 6 months of indecisive hand-wringing (on my part) and exasperated begging (on my husband’s part) to make it.

Now, when Gabriel naps, I take care of the house – and I do it without being full of resentment. I know I have my time set aside to write each week, and it helps me to focus on the tasks required to keep our household humming along. And even better, I come back from each of my writing sessions feeling refreshed, accomplished, and excited to play with my son. For me, writing is deeply restorative, and I’ve found that “buying time” for it is an investment in my own self-care. As a result, I’m a better, happier wife to my husband and mother to my son, and I no longer feel like I am drowning in the daily management of my household.

I realize that not everyone can afford to “buy time.” But when making my own decision to buy time by hiring a nanny, this article by Emily Stimpson Chapman helped me put it all into perspective, especially that, as she says “it is a thoroughly modern notion that people can take care of their houses and yards all by themselves.”

She continues: “for most of us, help isn’t out of reach. For $40 bucks a month, there are teenagers who will mow your lawn. For $10-$15 an hour, there are struggling moms and college kids who will scrub your floors and baseboards. You don’t need help in your home fulltime to experience some relief. Four hours every other week is enough to give you a break or knock out your least favorite chores. That’s $80-$120 per month. Or, your daily Starbucks habit.”

To make my nanny more affordable, I split her time with a neighborhood friend once a week. And, I’m fortunate that I’m able to make money at my writing, which helps offset (and may one day even completely defray) the costs, too. But whatever it is that may be deeply restorative for you – whatever “fills your cup,” as they say – consider “buying time” for it if you can. It may be more affordable than you think – and it may also be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.

 

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