When I talk to women who are actively mothering one of their biggest complaints is the lack of "me time." Being responsible for a small person (or persons) severely reduces the amount of time you can claim as your own. This seems like a no-brainer until you actually experience it.
The early days of new motherhood are usually overwhelming and surprising. You're not sure where you're time goes but you are busy falling and being in love. While I wouldn't say that love fades, there does come a point where you expect to get your life and at least some of your time back but you don't.
Motherhood is also frequently discussed in terms of conflicting demands. Whatever else you are supposed to be doing (or want to be doing or are compelled to be doing) in addition to mothering your child(ren) is suddenly done less or less well. Generally speaking, mothers feel their job/craft/art/passion is not getting the attention and time it deserves. Unfortunately, no matter how much you give them, neither are your children (or at least so it seems). It is not surprising, therefore, that time for yourself gets the shortest end of this three-sided stick.
But what exactly is "me time?" For some women it may be the time given to their craft/art/passion (rarely the "job" but possibly the career); for others it is socializing time; possibly shopping or self-care (many women I speak with fantasize about baths and pedicures); for some it is leisure pursuits such as reading or exercise; for some it may even by spending time with their child(ren) that does not include responsibilities. However I don't think "me time" is defined by an activity or a set of activities but rather by the ability to own your own time; to set a schedule or itinerary around your own desires and needs and not someone else's needs or agenda.
Whether you use "me time" for something that exclusively benefits you is probably irrelevant. I think it is the power to decide how your time is going to be used and to be able to follow through on that decision. I think it is the ability to make that decision without guilt or shame or without mentally rejecting the guilt or shame associated with it.
As painful as the adjustment to an empty nest was for me, I am now realizing how freeing it is to truly own my own time. I count myself particularly lucky (and privileged) to have a career that further extends the agency I have to create my own schedule. Academia comes with a lot of challenges but a definite perk is that most of my agenda is self-created.
I live with one person who, as a competent adult, does not rely on me for basic necessities nor does he expect me to alter my schedule to meet his needs. While compromises are made for the sake of the relationship and companionship, his daily needs are not my responsibility; my time is not his to dictate. Even when Angel became old enough for this to be true for him, the years of mother-training and the obligation I felt (and if I'm completely honest, still feel) towards him and the relationship, did not relieve this burden.
My pets do rely on me for the necessities of their daily life but their needs are so meager that they do not significantly control my time. And as I mentioned, my job has a great deal of flexibility. My students certainly demand of my time and attention; the responsibility I feel towards them shapes the way I allocate my time. Likewise other demands of academia (i.e. committee work) effects my daily schedule and can significantly decrease my sense of "me time." In fact my stress level is highest when I feel my time is spent on other people's agendas instead of my own, even when I buy into these alternative agendas.
This issue of "me time" has come to the forefront of my thoughts because I've spent the past 2-3 weeks anticipating a birth. When I am serving as a doula and my "client-mom" is in her window-of-delivery, I don't feel I can really call my time my own. I feel reluctant to make certain plans or obligations because I want to be available for the birth. I need to think about what I am doing and what I would need to reschedule should she go into labor that day or the next. Everything I expect to do (or want to do) on a given day can be completely obliterated without any real notice. This is something I got used to when Angel was small but I realize now that I have very quickly become un-used to it.
The schools here in SouthLite had about a week of closures due to the last snowstorm. This effected me only slightly. It delayed when I could teach my first class and curtailed my activities to my house instead of my office for one day. For a friend and colleague with school-aged children, it rearranged her entire week. Another week has since passed and she still has not recovered.
I love being a doula in part because I enjoy being needed. I like helping people and it is a very concrete way of being helpful and supportive. For approximately 10-12 hours I can give someone my undivided attention and it can make a huge difference in how they experience their birth. I also like the time spent with clients leading up to the birth. I like helping women sort out their feelings and thoughts on birth; being a sounding board and an educator; and mostly importantly, helping to relieve some of the stress and anxiety many women experience anticipating labor. However the more accustomed I get to owning the majority of my own time, the harder it gets to freely give that up for another person.