“I don’t have time for this.”
If I had counted the number of times I said that phrase this morning, yesterday, last weekend, etc. I likely would have lost count by the second day. Sadly it’s a phrase often uttered to my kids and as the spontaneous words come out of my mouth each time, I cringe a little as they stack up.
What don’t I have time for? To break up fights between two brothers? To calm crying over something seemingly irrational, but very serious to a child? To not subdue my irritation due to lack of sleep and a child not listening? Fearing running late as though what I have to go to is more important than an extra 30 seconds with someone who calls me their most favorite mom ever.
And it’s not even always children I think this phrase slips out around at one time or another, or at least passes through our mind. Friends whose perceived drama just seems to be more than we want to get into. A family member who wants to chat on the phone. Waiting in line for that fourth cup of coffee, you really don’t need, but your productivity does.
We’re all human, and as parents we’re sometimes feral humans trying to figure what the hell we’re doing and then doubting it all five minutes later. Driving away from the school, having left a child who probably needed one more hug, but after five hugs we once again panicked over that meeting we were going to be a minute late for. In the moment our frustration, our urgency and the speed at which we have to live life took over.
What haunts me, what sits with me in the back of my mind in that meeting I ended up being ten minutes early to after all, is what happens when that lack of time is directed towards us. When our children are adults and we try to call, but they live their own lives and have their own perceived time constraints and text us to tell us “I don’t have time right now.” That moment when we’re struggling and we need a friend, but our friends aren’t available and we realize we don’t have anyone who does have time for us. When we lose someone and realize we don’t get to have that time we thought we didn’t have back.
In the end, and cumulatively, the person we end up having the least amount of time for throughout these proclamations, is ourselves. If we convince ourselves we don’t have time for our children, our friends, our family, we lose time later fretting and worrying and wandering through a guilt trip we wish we didn’t make time for. Regrets are what eat away at the time we could be using to make up for those moments our life impedes our ability to slow down.
Don’t get me wrong. Parenting can be exhausting and we’re completely justified in getting worn out. There are times we just can’t dedicate the right amount of availability to that friend who needs us, or we’ve already helped them through this situation multiple times or we have our own shit going on. Those moments we don’t have time for are sometimes justified. They’re natural and just a part of the constraints of life.
If we stop for a minute, and really think about each time we’ve said it, we may find that we did have time. However, what may have been missing is our ability to truly handle that moment. Uncertainty as to how we should respond to children fighting. Anger at them not listening. A lack of words for the friend who needs us. Again, ultimately, it’s us we’re not making time for.
We all move so fast, so urgent, always late. We’re perpetual White Rabbits from Alice in Wonderland and the hurrier we go, we think the behinder we get. Perhaps the reason we say “I don’t have time for this” to children so often is because they haven’t yet learned that it’s possible to run out of time. Or at least have the perception that there are more important things than the very present moment we’re in at any given time. Maybe our mental reaction to a friend in need is an eye roll and begrudging tolerance because we can’t handle the emotion of knowing we’re worried about them. That we know what we think we’d do in the same situation, but watching someone else need to learn what they should do can be taxing. Instead of taking a deep breath and knowing we each live our own lives the way we need to survive and maybe their survival and path towards a solution is in fact having us to reach out to. The relative who calls and wants to chat on the phone is someone who appreciates that familial bond and wants to connect accordingly.
Perhaps, what we don’t have time for, is proper perspective of time. What it means. The understanding that it disappears. We can’t get it back. It doesn’t mean we won’t still get irritated, we don’t still have responsibilities that require punctuality. That we do have a friend we truly can’t help anymore simply out of a need for boundaries. But in the grander scheme of things, we can probably reduce what we think we don’t have time for. Maybe half of the moments are ones we can stay in. That half will give us all the time in the world.