Redefining Down-time, finding Unicorn Spaces in Parenthood

Reading time: 7 minutes 

What do you do for fun?

A new term has entered my life this week, but it's actually put a pin on something that by coincidence, came up for me. It's the term 'Unicorn Spaces'.

First of all, I had an incident this week where a co-worker kindly inquired with me during a coffee break as to whether I was going to join the office gang on the ski trip they've organized for this weekend.

Forgetting how to have fun

I had a really strange reaction to the question. It seemed a little bit absurd to me that she would assume that I would get on the train at 6am and ski all day in the sunshine and snow, by choice. So even that's absurd that I would have rejected it outright because it's definitely something that I did in the past. I was a snowboarder. We spent our weekends in the mountains whenever we could. And there's nothing better- nature, fresh air, sunshine, it's so good for you.

The Mothering Cliché

And, I felt sort of disloyal to my former self in how much I discounted it as an option. Also I could see that she was bewildered. And I felt like a harangued mother that says no to everything. And when I came home that night, I mentioned it to my husband and thought, why did it seem so absurd?

To be fair to him, he said maybe we should go. We could bring the boys sledding. We can have a shared lunch. But I just couldn't pinpoint why. It didn't seem appealing to me. And it's not the time and effort, it's something else.

Finding Balance in Parenthood

Then by coincidence, the next day, I listened to a podcast on the Motherly Network interviewing Eve Rodsky. I almost didn't listen to it because I'm really familiar with Eve's work. I love the concepts behind the Fair Play cards and book. I follow it, not to the letter of the law, but certainly, it's how I tick in our relationship, and it's certainly been reciprocated, I would say. Well, let's just say that we're ironing out the kinks forever and ever and ever!

If you don't know the Fair Play cards, I really recommend looking into it. She has a podcast now on the topic. Eve is just wise and intuitive, and she's a proponent balance and fairness. And even though in parenting that doesn't truly exist, she strives for it.

Working within the imperfect

As she says, our air is polluted, but on that basis, we still have to move forward. So anyway, she's written a new book Find your Unicorn Space, Reclaim Your Creative Life in A Too-Busy World. And actually, that explained to me what my reaction was. My unicorn spaces is this studio huske product space. It allows me to be creative, to bring things into being that I otherwise couldn't find elsewhere or couldn't find in the way that I needed them.

Reframing down-time

This new categorization nailed exactly what I couldn't articulate for myself. That the free time that I will have, or willfully carve out, this weekend is reassigned to my unicorn space activities right now, at this stage in my life. By that token, it often encompasses things I can easily do from home, or within an accessible distance, or with my kids. In my case my unicorn space is interiors, design-hacking, print,  colour, organisation, storage systems.... This weekend, I want to order a print for the boys room, or the bookshelves that I have been waiting for. Pick the peel-and-stick wallpaper for the reading nook. Those activities, that planning, measuring, checking, researching...it brings me ultimate joy. 

So what I realized in hindsight from listening to this podcast is that it's not that I didn't want to take time for myself this weekend. It's just that I'm very heavily occupied by parenting, but also the slots of time that I'm going to fight for for myself are filled with things that are not things I used to do before, but rather things that I've had to find that work within the confines of my life now- if that makes sense?

 

Realizing that that's what I'm doing and framing it that way, helped me feel less guilty about not being loyal to my former life self.

 

One of the other concepts that she emphasizes is that the way that you choose what is singularly for you and set boundaries around them and are protective of that time that you dedicate to those things., the more that feeds into your resilience in parenting. It's like if you've had your quota of unicorn activities in a week, that your resilience and armor will be greater towards the stuff that goes down in parenting your kids. She gives the example of it having spent a couple of hours writing in the morning and then later in the afternoon when her kid kicks her in the face. She's less thrown and, annoyed by it.

I can definitely relate to that. If you just get your little quota. It could be called me- time. But somehow I think it does help to be more precise about the form that your me-time takes, so that it feeds you a bit better energizes you more.  Because obviously vegging on the couch scrolling Instagram, for example, is me-time, but I'm not sure if it's serving.

Flexability, Interruptions, Focus and flow

These activites are readily recognisable because they're ones in which you find yourself completely locked-in, focused and in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would refere to as a a state of flow. It's a space where you're thriving. In saying that, not only do you need to set boundaries around time slots in your schedule, and how you prioritise things, but also you have to be protective of the surrounding conditions. Unicorn spaces are not compatible with multi-tasking, or flexibility. They are to precious, to be hoarded and guarded like diamonds. They require focus and your full attention. 

As Eve puts it

since the industrial revolution we have basically said to men

we will guard your time as if its finite like diamonds, and we will insist that women treat their time as if ist's infinite like sand.

Contrast is everything

Through the Fair Play system, we learn to not flood our own schedule disproportionately. But the layer of Unicorn Space is such a life raft. Even when the work is spead more fairly, it doesn't mean that we don't need to decompress, and have elements of contrast in our lives so that each day doesn't just flood the next. 

I have had countless conversations with friends, who themselves are parents, where relationships get strained because neither of them feels they have the right to time off. It's especially problematic where one of the parents is more sociable than the other, and therefore supported by external forces, family and friends, to maintain an element of sociability.

Through this reframing, I feel I'll now give more credence to my partners need to watch YouTube videos about bike parts (specifically vague example- no idea what he actually looks at). I have to admit, I've been a bit dismissive of it at times in the past, but now I can really see that it's one of his flow spaces, and I'll be protective of it for him- as best I can. 

Mythical time slots

One of the points that she makes is that unicorn spaces, are kind of mythical. It's not, for example, going, meeting a friend for coffee or getting your hair done or, um, something like that which is also self care. She makes the differentiation that although those things are also valid and important and we don't get enough of them most of the time as parents, the unicorn spaces are almost things that if you didn't fight for them, you wouldn't notice they were missing or you would feel they were missing but you could build your life without them. They're almost mythical but so much more special for it.

How we choose to justify our passions

On a final note, I find it interesting that in a way, in the last year or two, in order to justify my unicorn space of creativity, I had to monetize it. In the working week, I've freed up days from my working schedule in my primary job to dedicate to product work. Product work is an extension of my unicorn space. So it's interesting that in order to justify it for myself and to feel better for it, I had to monetize it. But now that I have a full recognition of its value, I feel like I could frame it better and fight for it more in my day to day life. 

 

Less guilt, more recognition

This new understanding of how I structure my down time actually helped to refram my guilty conscience. Before I was thinking, 'have I completely lost my identity that I don't want to spend time for myself up the mountains?'. But having listened to this podcast, I now realize: no, actually, it's just that the things which were my leisure time before are not the same anymore. And that's okay, my leisure time is now a very purposefully plotted unicorn space activity. And when I have less intense workload with the kids, when they're a little bit older and more independent, I think the older pre-parenthood activities will creep in more and more, here's hoping!


About the author

Kate is owner and founder of studio huske, a swiss-based kids interior-products brand which is dedicated to developing premium quality, phase-less. genderless, robust, wipeable children's products. The range celebrates texture and colour and textiles which appeal to both the adult and the child's eye alike. Produced sustainably in small batches in Korea, the vegan leather textile used is OEKOtex 100 certified and has a Korean eco label. Studio huske products are intended to be a daily support in the lives of both parents and children. Designed by an architect mother for her own kids- by parents for parents.