If you’re a married man with a child, having as much free time as you used to is impossible.
I’m still recovering from that epiphany. I’ve always loved entertainment — computer gaming, watching TV, YouTube. As a single man, I could (and I did) waste half my free time on any of these forms of entertainment and still emerge looking fairly accomplished if I used the other half wisely. The problem with such time management was that I unknowingly believed I needed the same amount of recreation and leisure after marriage. This led to several difficulties.
I expected to have the same amount of me-time before marriage. When I could not get it, resentment started building up; my time was stolen. As a result, I would harshly demand time for myself and my wife would grudgingly give in.
Sadly, because of my idea of recreation, I furiously chased the same activities to compensate for all the fun I had missed out on, yet refreshment remained elusive. This led to more resentment, more demands for time and even more quarrels.
I furiously chased the same activities, yet refreshment remained elusive.
Experts agree that personal space is fundamental to an individual’s spiritual, emotional and mental health. The unspoken assumption is that merely having personal space would refresh us. I negotiated for personal space; I got it and I was still not refreshed. As the cycle persisted, I found myself more irritable and selfish. Other parts of my life, especially my marriage, also began to lose structure.
So, what went wrong?
A Better Way
Upon reflection, I realised that I misunderstood ‘quality personal space’, thinking it was simply akin to me-time. For some men, this may mean time with buddies, time with their toys (e.g. cars, drones, woodwork), sports or entertainment. The common thread running through these activities is time away from the family. But such a definition of personal space is incomplete; it describes the form without identifying the substance.
To clarify, recreation is important and has a defined place in the weekly schedule. But for personal space to holistically satisfy my needs (and then be quality time), it must be dedicated to my purpose in life.
Out of my wife’s very generous heart, I recently managed to get an entire Sunday afternoon off to myself to do just that. I took an honest look at myself and was reminded of three things:
Life station – I’m no longer a single man. My mind knows it but the rest of my body finds it difficult to follow; after all, I had been single for 29 years. My old patterns of time management, recreation and leisure may work for a single man but they are inadequate for a married man with a child. I needed to change my mindset.
Mission statement – Having one has been the guiding compass to how I spend my time and energy. Organisations have devoted resources to crafting their mission statements, but most of us have never given much thought to a personal one. I had one but I lost sight of it. Without mine, I was unable to allocate my time properly; I was walking without a compass.
Reorient – I needed time alone to reorient my desires to my mission statement. It is impossible for me to do this at home with a screaming child. My presence at home also tempts my wife to ask for help with the child or chores. For the greater good, I simply needed to be away for a while. And the time alone was precious.
I examined how I spent my time during the week and realised that I was totally off-centre. I wanted to prioritise my family but my schedule proved otherwise. For instance, I spent way too much time on my games than on my family. Chided by that realisation, I started to re-allocate time to the things that I needed to prioritise in accordance with my mission statement. It was a wonderful time of realignment.
For personal space to holistically satisfy my needs, it had to be dedicated to my purpose in life.
Since that fateful Sunday, my wife commented that I appeared a changed man. She’s happiest when I actually prioritise her. I wouldn’t have believed it in the past but this act on my part lets her willingly give me time away for weekly reflection, now that she sees me scheduling time for the family (as opposed to giving lip service in the past). I don’t even have to ask for it – the benefits to the family were that immediate and tangible.
The benefits to the family were that immediate and tangible.
As I learnt to prioritise my family and found the conviction to live it out, I hope that it will be the same for you and your families. Your wife will love and admire you for it.
Qinyao is married (happily) with a bubbly child. He enjoys reading and teaching in his free time.
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