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Reclaim the Weekends

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.