A Parent’s Guide to Clawing Back Reading Time

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I have never been more tired. I have never been more productive. I’ve been writing almost exclusively about being a new parent in various Book Riot-shaped spaces because parenting infants is an all-encompassing thing. It requires many cups of coffee and some newfound superpowers like the ability to get shit done on very little sleep with very little time. My days are portioned into roughly three-hour eat-play-sleep blocks, and the sleep block is when I get most of said shit done. As you might imagine, when you’re a grown person with a full-time job and a commitment to pursuing interests outside of work and parenthood, there’s a whole lot more stuff to do than can fit into sleep blocks. We pay for a part-time caregiver so we can get full-time job stuff done, but the things I do for myself are still tough to accommodate. For instance, I’ve been struggling to find time for reading.

Let me amend that — I’ve read so many board books and little else. The thing is, I’m not just trying to read like it’s my job; I’m trying to read because it is (in part) my job. Whether bringing life into this world, some other major life change, a million small tasks, or generally living life has edged out your reading time, I’m here to share how I arrived at a turning point in my child-rearing era and made more reading time in hopes one simple but hard truth will help you too. Gather your goats: the answer is sacrifice.

Realization struck when I got the itch to write again. I tried to fit writing time into work breaks but that didn’t pan out because I need to move my body more, not less, during breaks. I tried evenings after the babies went to sleep for the night, but shutting off my brain with television always won that slot. Finally, I decided writing time was worth sacrificing an hour of sleep. Instead of going back to bed after the kids’ six a.m. bottle, I now grab a cup and hit the laptop.

The addition of an early morning writing routine has me thriving, so I took on the challenge of reading time. I reevaluated how I was spending my time and reorganized to create a sustainable, if slightly reckless, schedule (knowing that my life will not be arranged this way forever). I will note that in addition to pure sacrifice, audiobooks are the secret ingredient, offering opportunities to multitask rather than swap out regularly scheduled programming for reading time in many cases.

But sacrifice I did, and here are some of my goats:

  1. Podcast listening time. I listen to dire political podcasts like it’s my duty as a liberal. It’s important to me to be aware and abreast of what’s going on in this swiftly tilting country and the world, but there are diminishing returns when you’re cramming hours of the same sort of conversation into the would-be quiet moments of your day. So now when I’m exercising or washing dishes or doing laundry for the eleventybillionth time, I switch on an audiobook instead.
  2. More sleep. Minus those sleepless months of pregnancy, I’m good at conking out and tend to feel refreshed on about six hours of sleep. Knowing this and admitting that I can’t claim to be catching up on nine months of lost sleep forever, I decided to give up 30 minutes of log sawing at the end of my day to read a nightstand book. For nighttime reading, I choose books that help me feel rested and don’t spark my anxiety, and I choose physical books for this one.
  3. Weekend morning music. Growing up, I knew it was the weekend when Sade or Erykah Badu woke me up too early. I carry on this tradition, but lately, I’ve replaced some of that morning music time with — you guessed it — an audiobook. Sometimes I turn Peter and the Wolf on low for the babies because I can tune it out, and I still make room for music on Sundays (I don’t go to church but I do listen to Stevie Wonder).
  4. The Golden Girls. Because I have no time to spare I randomly decided to take up a sewing project. Let’s not look too closely at that and focus instead on how I thought to rewatch The Golden Girls while sewing. I rarely get to stream while doing stuff because my personal pursuits aren’t usually amenable to visual multitasking (I tried watching TV while writing once, and the results were ugly). It was fun until I realized I had to get my act together and read something for work. Goodbye, Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia. Hello, audiobooks.
  5. A few board books. My six-month-olds have no idea what I’m saying, so in addition to the board books, my partner and I read them The Neverending Story. This one’s tricky because we can only make it happen when they’re not so riled up that we have to stop every few minutes to get a finger out of an eye or intercept a frog kick to a face, but we make it work here and there.

There it is. Those are my goats. All in all, these weren’t tough sacrifices, and it’s amazing how much reading can happen in minutes scraped together. As my kids get older and more independent, I hope I remember these days and retain the knowledge that I can get a lot of shit done in not much time. I also hope I reclaim time for pointless business that serves no purpose greater than bringing me joy because that’s important too.

What have you sacrificed for reading time? Let me know in the comments!

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