One of the many things parenthood doesn’t prepare you for is the notion of encumbered time. The word “encumber” is usually associated with a burden but that’s not the sense in which I am using it.
The concept of an encumbrance I have in mind is how it’s used in government financials, where an amount of money is said to be “encumbered” or assigned and allocated to a defined purpose. It’s not spent – in fact it may never be spent – but it exists on paper for a specific purpose. It can’t be reallocated or reassigned to some other purpose without being unencumbered, usually a hassle and considered a sign of poor planning.
So encumbered time is time that is allocated to a purpose that can’t be used in any other way. For example, time spent taking someone to an appointment is time in which you are not engaged but that you can’t put to it’s best use. Sure, you could knit or read a book or harass politicians on Twitter. But you can’t paint that room or weed that garden bed because you’re not there. A job is not encumbered time, nor is any household task in which you are actively engaged: my definition means time when you are not part of what’s going on. It’s not for you.
There is a lot of that when you have kids or a family of any size. And it’s not new. Generations before us have experienced it. The concept of a name for it just came to me recently. And it’s not a case of resenting it or regretting the choices that brought you here so much as knowing what it is, of understanding it through naming it.