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Reclaim the Weekends

When Friday evening rolls around, I instinctively breathe a sigh of relief. The workweek is finally over. Now I can relax!

Or can I? Actually, my weekends are anything but relaxing. A typical one runs something like this:

Get up early to straighten up the house, throw in a few loads of laundry, and make some phone calls before running to my 10-year-old daughter Libby's softball game. Grab lunch, then hustle over to a birthday party for 4-year-old Hank's friend. Later, drop my 11-year-old son, Cole, at his baseball game a little early so I can slip in a trip to the drugstore and get gas before the first pitch. After the game, I drop Cole at a sleepover, praying he'll get some pizza. The rest of us dine on Top Ramen and Cheerios at home around 8:30 p.m.

Sunday, there's another birthday party and a club soccer game for Libby an hour's drive away. In between, I fold the laundry, water the garden, make a supermarket run  -- and please, dear God, don't let this be the evening we invited the new neighbors over for dinner. (It is.)

By Sunday night I'm beat. I wake up Monday morning needing a weekend to recover from my weekend.

My consolation is, I know I'm not alone. While you can't stop doing laundry or skip every birthday party, you can organize your time so that when the week ends, the chaos does, too. Here, tips from real moms to help you free up Saturday and Sunday for the biggest priority of all: your family.

Attend only one big event per weekend day.

Creighton and Liza Abrams of Montclair, New Jersey, used to spend weekends ferrying their two daughters to as many birthday parties, plays, and museums as they could fit in. But when they found themselves dreading Saturdays and longing for Mondays, they realized their jam-packed schedule had to go. Now they limit themselves to one field trip or party per weekend day  -- choosing whichever activity seems the most important  -- and curtail their total drive time to an hour if at all possible. "We actually have time to do the really important things in life, like playing catch in the yard or chasing butterflies," says Creighton.

Honor naptime. Naps often go by the wayside on hectic days, but Mitch and Karen Leff of Atlanta swear they're a sanity saver for their boys, ages 4 and 2  -- and for them. "Even though my oldest doesn't always fall asleep anymore, he still needs the time to unwind. They both take an hour or so and come out much calmer," says Mitch. "And Karen and I get the chance to read or just rest."

Build more chores into the week. Terra Wellington, a mom of three in Los Angeles, takes a 5- to 30-minute block of time to tidy her house each weekday  -- whatever spare moments she can grab to fold a little laundry or wipe down kitchen counters  -- so by Saturday morning she doesn't have a week's worth of cleaning to do.
Stephanie Gallagher of Gaithersburg, Maryland, does her grocery shopping in the evening after her husband comes home from work and their two children are in bed. "The store is empty at that hour, and I don't have to worry about entertaining the kids," she says. Other moms take trips to the market or post office during their lunch hours, or en route to school pickups or after dropoffs, to shorten their weekend to-do lists. Or why not shop online after you've put the kids to bed?

Outsource whenever possible. While it may not be feasible to pay someone to tackle all of your weekend projects, you may be able to rid yourself of at least one undesirable task. If cleaning seems to rule your waking moments, it might be worth the cost to hire someone to do it for you a couple of times a month. A college student in the neighborhood might jump at the chance to pick up your dry cleaning or do some gardening for a little extra cash.

Set aside unscheduled family time.

Sue Reddy Silverman of Plantation, Florida, purposefully leaves the calendar blank on Sunday afternoons so she, her husband, and their two kids, Kalen, 12, and Corey, 3, can just hang out together at home or at the park. There's no specific agenda  -- just time to enjoy one another's company. "Kalen loves the fact that we're around to play an impromptu game of bingo with him, with nothing else to interrupt," she says.

Be more selective about social obligations. Last spring, Hank and I spent a series of Saturdays going to birthday parties for seemingly every child in his pre-school class. Looking back, we hardly knew some of the children. Even Hank complained, "Too much birthday."
One way to prioritize and pick the events to say yes to, from Tina Tessina, Ph.D., author of It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction: Before accepting an invitation, rank it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 meaning high priority. The baptism of your cousin's baby would probably be a 9 or 10; your child's tutor's housewarming party, a 2 or 3. If the event is what Tessina calls a "time sink"  -- for example, a dinner date with a friend who always runs half an hour late  -- deduct a few more points. If the invitation scores less than a 6 or 7, just say no.
Feel guilty for turning people down? Remember that every time you say yes to something you don't really want to do, you're giving up something you'd really love to do, like playing with your kids or soaking in the tub!

Cut down (or cut out) your kids' weekend activities. It worked for Ellen Ornato of Middletown, Connecticut. Her daughters, Carrie, 9, and Allie, 7, once took dance classes but burned out when weeknight rehearsals and recitals began spilling over into Saturdays. Now they take karate twice during the week, leaving weekends free for play  -- and opening up more family time with Ornato and her husband. Certainly, it can be hard for kids to stick to weekday limits, especially when they become interested in a weekend sport like soccer, as Ornato's daughters did. "But when push came to shove, they chose their friends over Saturday games," she says.

Avoid daylong projects. Recently, my husband was seized with the urge to clean out the garage. What he figured was a morning job turned into a nine-hour marathon of sorting through junk and multiple trips to the Salvation Army. By Saturday night the garage was clean (well, cleaner), but we were pooped and the kids were cranky because we'd been too busy for them all day.
A better approach: Keep a list of projects you want to finish, then dedicate just a few hours to them each weekend, so you can make progress but still have free time afterward. If you can find ways for your children to join in, you can bond with them and get the chores done, too.

Leave work at work. This may not always be possible, but sometimes we put needless pressure on ourselves to stay accessible to coworkers on weekends. Lynn Harmon, a consultant, realized this when her work pager went off repeatedly during a Saturday outing to the zoo with her 5-year-old son. Suddenly, it hit her. "I'm not a surgeon. Nothing is so urgent it can't wait." Since then, she leaves her work cell phone and pager off on the weekends.

As for me, I'm no weekend Zen mama yet, but I am making progress. When Libby's soccer-team manager called to say a Sunday game had been added to the schedule, I surprised myself by saying, "We can't make it." I also recently turned down a birthday-party invitation for Hank even though we didn't have any other plans. Instead, the kids spent part of the afternoon running through the sprinklers and playing Ping-Pong while I read a book. Later, we baked cookies together and played a mean game of Go Fish. Now that's a weekend day to love.

Alison Bell is the author of Zibby Payne & the Wonderful, Terrible Tomboy Experiment, out November 2006.

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